Vent about a tent: UND Football Opinion

This Saturday, the Fighting Hawks Football program heads south to Louisiana to take on the Colonels of Nicholls State. You will read plenty about on field happenings from other outlets and this one as well before, during, and after the game on Saturday.

The primary focus of this article is simply to implore the NCAA to, frankly, do better when it comes to awarding bids. In any other sport, at any other time, this situation of a visiting team playing for its season to continue would not be in any way acceptable.

I understand that Nicholls State is in the middle of renovating their facility and upgrading their facilities for visitors in the long run. That is great and should continue. I also get that during the season, some times accommodations need to be made and that no one will be happy with them fully.

What, to me, makes zero sense is how the Colonels, as a part of their facility profile they had to submit for this bid had this issue over looked by the Selection Committee. Those deciding who gets to host these first round games knew the locker room situation and thought this was fine. Assuming that the Colonels bid more than UND,  I understand why they were awarded the game, but again, any explanation for why seniors should have to play their potentially last game getting dressed in a portable tent while showering in what look like rent-a-showers, to me is not good enough.

Heck, I do not even think UND should be hosting as some fans do because of this facility issue. I just do not think the committee acted fairly towards its student-athletes that play this game. One of the goals of the NCAA, that I have heard constantly in everything it does is to make the student athlete experience better.

What part of making a team get dressed in a tent in a parking lot for a postseason game does that? Why is the money from the host institution seeming to be your only consideration? Assuming Nicholls State bid more than the Fighting Hawks for this game, I understand why it was awarded to them to some degree. Heck the tents may even be fantastic, but this creates the appearance of impropriety.

If you are a Bison fan reading this article, ask yourself this, when the Bison have to travel on the road in the FCS, or if they keep playing at the level they are, in the FBS one day, for the playoffs (assuming some level of expansion) would you be ok with this? I think we all know the answer.

Teams playing through renovations is quite fine and a part of sport at any level. What matters here is the fact that this is the postseason. On a humid day in Louisiana, one team will have a home field advantage not because of their fans being there, but because it appears that the NCAA decided that the money it gets from a team is worth more than a fair playing field.

This reeks of disrespect on the NCAA’s part. I do not think it was intentional but it comes off that way. Nicholls State should not be allowed to host this game, because before a single fan walks into the stadium, and before ESPN starts their broadcast, the deck, to some degree is stacked against UND. The last plus 80 degree day in Grand Forks happened on August 24, right as UND was wrapping up fall camp. I will surely bet it is not as humid here as it is in Thibodaux year round.

Nicholls State, congratulations for making the tournament, this article is not about your team or your bid. This is a simple request to the NCAA for future tournaments to simply do better. Having to dress in tents for what could be some of these seniors’ last ever football game is not in any way an advancement of the student-athlete experience.

As stated, UND does not need to host this game, I would have preferred Nicholls State being sent on the road to somewhere with better facilities for them to practice. The Fighting Hawks could have traveled as well.

With all of this being said, Saturday’s game will be electric and pit one of the best senior signal callers in the nation in Chase Fourcade against a pro style defense with novels worth of schemes it can run on a weekly basis. This article is simply a simple request to the NCAA for future FCS playoff matches, when selecting a host, value student athlete experience a little bit more than the guarantee you receive.

In short, NCAA, please, for the sake of everyone, do better.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, and under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

“Young Skokes” helps UND Football earn a 36-18 victory over Southern Utah to stay in 2019 FCS Playoff discussion

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

After the game he had, freshman running back for the Fighting Hawks, Luke Skokna stepped up to the podium as the first player to talk to the press. He illuminated a lot of key things throughout the week leading up to him getting his red shirt pulled playing in his fifth game as a freshman. For example, he noted that his position coach Malcom Agnew was critical in his development throughout the year and helped him get ready for this moment. In addition, he mentioned how positive his injured teammate Cam McKinney always is and how the two have bonded throughout the year.

McKinney and Skokna are both, as UND Head Coach Bubba Schweigert says “home-run hitters” capable of quick scores and capable of changing the course of a game with a simple juke or two. Skokna produced a lot of those as, filling in for an injured McKinney, he finished the day with 16 yards on a mere 11 caries with two end zone visits among them to spur UND forward to a 36-18 win to move to 7-4. Finally, senior wideout Travis Toivonen, who was waiting to chat with the media loudly praised his teammate yelling joyously “Young Skokes!” supporting his teammate when Skokna finished his time with the press. On his redshirt being pulled so he could play today, Skokna “everything happens for a reason.”

The game opened up for the Fighting Hawks who weathered a tough storm in the first half full of turnovers and gifting Southern Utah chances to score on short fields, which they converted on two out of the three turnovers. Thunderbirds quarterback Chris Helbig quietly had a nice day against a stout UND defense, utilizing a lot of crossing routes and underneath looks to go 24-42 for 258 yards (one touchdown) with only one interception on the day.

His ability to extend plays and convert on key third downs helped Southern Utah hang around through into the third quarter. UND had to adjust their coverage a bit to disrupt some of the crossing looks presented by the Thunderbirds and as the game went on, thanks to the help of Defensive Coordinator Eric Schmidt’s staff, UND’s defense reasserted themselves in the second half.

One standout was Mason Bennett, although he did not get a sack, he finishd with five tackles and a quarterback hurry. He sometimes had to work through double teams and still set the edge for the Fighting Hawks quite well along with standout Jaxson Turner who finished with six total tackles on the game. As those two work back to full health, if UND gets to play again next weekend, good things could happen.

Now What 

Tomorrow is Selection Sunday for UND. They will know around 11:30 or so what the fate of this 2019 group is. They will have a first round game next weekend, or their season will be over with the 30 point loss at Idaho State, and the Weber State potential upset slipping through their fingers being the the two biggest marks on their record one could concede to the committee for letting in a similar team with a similar resume who won one of those games that UND did not. At the end of the day, projections are great, but the committee’s is the only one that matters, let’s see what happens.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

Just Win: UND Football

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Remember the 2018’s UND Football  Team’s final result on the field? They lost a winnable game to Northern Arizona on the road. Had they secured that victory they most likely would have been in the 2018 iteration of the FCS Playoffs.

Well, this year’s team featuring both multiple program-defining wins over ranked teams, and head scratching losses like a drubbing on the road at the hands of the Bengals of Idaho State, has a chance to make the playoffs. Their ill fated loss to the Wildcats of Weber State, the number three ranked team in the country, one could argue, did not change what needs to happen the next two weeks, nor the impact of this team’s perception in the big picture.

This team plays its final two games at home at the Alerus Center against two sub .500 Big Sky teams in Northern Colorado and Southern Utah. If there was ever a cases of a team looking to play spoiler these next two weeks will provide two teams looking to do just that. They could put Fighting Hawks fans on the other side of the equation from Head Coach Bubba Schweigert’s first year where his side spoiled the playoff hopes of Northern Arizona to end his first season as head coach of UND Football.

This article is simply to point out a few things I have seen this week on social media. First off, could UND be ranked higher? Well yes, and given its resume one could argue for that as several Fighting Hawks fans and media members have done. If I had a vote in the FCS Stats Poll which is compiled by media members around the country, well I could see ranking the team anywhere from 20-30 (if you include those receiving votes). To me 26 in the media poll is not as big of a slight as some have argued as this team, for all of its success this year, has not won more than two games in a row once this season. That streak included winning on the road barely against a Cal Poly team that for all of the good they have done this year, will not be in the FCS playoffs and currently is 2-7.

Are all the wins over ranked teams impressive?

You bet they are.

Are those wins alone enough to get this team into the playoffs?

No they are not.

If this team does not win its last two games, they will not make the playoffs and by that point the media poll will not matter.

If this team wins one game, and finishes 6-5 they will not make the playoffs again despite finishing with two winnable games and having a win against the number three ranked team in the country just elude their grasp. Then the questions about why this team did not schedule 12 games in a year where that was possible will consume part of another long winter of regret in Grand Forks.

All of this is to say the following. Should this team as built assuming it gets back its defensive line stars in Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner and gets healthy for these last two games make the playoffs, well yes. Will the media under ranking UND for a few weeks matter? No it will not. Attacking media members who watch a lot of FCS ball weekly for not having UND ranked higher, after a loss, in a poll meant to be a snapshot of the moment to see who the best 25 teams in the country are is at best myopic.

I do think that you could argue the team be a bit higher and that’s fair. This piece of my opinion is designed to remind Fighting Hawks fans of the reality of the day. If UND does not win its last two games we will have the following things to be upset about at the end of the day.

Again, a great mostly injury free Fighting Hawks side with great wins came up just short of the playoffs despite having a chance to play an extra non conference game in a 12 game season and finishing its season against two teams whom they should win against.

That is it, that is the list right there. Head Coach Bubba Schweigert and his players are focusing on winning two more games at home. If they do, Sam Herder of Hero Sports thinks they will be in the FCS playoffs based on how things stand at the moment. Regardless of where they get in the big dance if they do make it, then that will be the time for this team to prove people wrong. They need to punch two more sections of their ticket to earn entrance to the 24 team FCS playoffs.

From there, everything is possible for this team, and then they can then work to prove those in the media who have undervalued their wins due to not winning more than two games in a row all year. They have to make the tournament first, all else to this team is secondary.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

An idea for UND Athletics road trips to bring the community together

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

One of the first things I learned about Grand Forks when I came to UND is how passionate this fanbase is about its athletics at-large. One of the other things I learned pretty fast is how expensive it is to be a college hockey fan, and a fan of a lot of teams when they travel on the road, single game streams for some sports alone can range from 7-10 dollars, and more and more the only option available is to purchase a month long stream that can cost around 30 dollars to follow college hockey.  For that, you also have to make sure you remember to cancel the auto renew to see your team play on the road or hope Midco Sports picks up your game on the road as they have done when UND played Duluth and Omaha in hockey last season.

What’s a busy fan of UND Athletics who doesn’t want to pay for athletics streams to do?

Well this is where the Athletic Department and Learfield Sports could step in and save the day. One thing that could sell as a sponsored right fairly fast is designating an official watch spot for all UND Athletics road matches. Not only for men’s hockey, but for football, volleyball, soccer, men and women’s basketball, softball, and any other sport that is being live streamed in any fashion. While the games for some of these sports are free, i think that there is an element of revenue out there to be had for the athletics department and Learfield who helps them sell sponsorships for their media entities.

Imagine for a minute, for the big road match up UND Football has today against Weber State, a bevy of fans gathered at a local place, perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings. While they may stream the game already I believe an element of community is not being as engaged as they could be. Imagine having I Heart Media (the official radio rights holders to UND Athletics)  on hand with one of their wonderful radio personalities on site with giveaways and specials on food and drinks during the game. During pregame for football today, you could have I Heart on site and have one of their hosts getting messages of encouragement for UND Football and all sports. If a fan’s message is selected for the pregame or use in further ads, they could win a gift card from the sponsor, say Buffalo Wild Wings or whomever gets the deal.

Then, the UND Home of Economy Radio Network could spice up their ads promoting further UND Athletics broadcasts with organic content from fans most passionate about the team. You could even work with alums for Men’s Hockey and other sports in town to provide another reason to attend. If a program graduate (say Ryan Duncan for Men’s Hockey) wants to guest host you could have them help amp up fans,and maybe sign autographs.

Does this require more work to figure out? Of course it does. Is it an opportunity for UND and Learfield to improve fan engagement and sell a big rights deal to a local restaurant to further engage passionate Fighting Hawks fans and provide an outlet for those looking for that sense of community that only things like sport can bring even on an away game? Yes it does. I am sure outlets around town already stream games to some extent, and some surely will even without “sponsoring” official watch parties.

What they cannot bring to the party that Learfield and I Heart Media can is further incentive driving fans to one spot, the engagement possibilities leveraging media rights holder I Heart Radio, and potential to increase revenue and engagement for UND Athletics, Learfield Sports, and local businesses looking to provide giveaway items to the most engaged fans in town. Bringing together fans all around Grand Forks is something UND Athletics does on a weekly basis, why not leverage that community on away games for any sport to help the Athletics Department bring in more revenue to hit its goals.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of UND Athletics please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about UND Athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.

UND Football: Bye Week Musings

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Heading into the bye week, the Fighting Hawks fly in where most expected them to be if things went right, 2-1 with the one loss coming to North Dakota State.

What we did not expect from this team is getting there with an offense incapable to this point of running the ball consistently save a few big plays and winning two games without Nate Ketteringham to lead them.

What does this mean going forward? Here are three things to look at post bye week for this team.

Who starts at QB next week against Eastern Washington? 

Well if Ketteringham is healthy, I expect him to get the nod as he has lead this team pretty much since he came here. When needed he makes the big throws and does enough to keep the team in most games. This staff likes Schuster quite a lot and does not want to risk him losing a red shirt year to play in a few extra games without a need, based on what I have read. I realize that Ketteringham is not who a lot of fans want to see based on the wonderful exploits of Schuster against the Bearkats.

However, I also know one is a leader who may not make every throw that Schuster does, but knows how to manage a game a little bit better due to his seniority, and knows more of what he will face against the Eagles. I could be wrong of course and Schuster could play, but as Drake saw starting a true freshman on the road against a tough defense can, at the first sign of issues put you at more of a disadvantage. Schuster brings a lot to this team, and having him for the first four years of Missouri Valley play, barring injury to others or severely not ideal performance, is worth more in the long run.

Is he Trey Lance, no he is not, could he develop into the next Keaton Studsrud with time, perhaps a little better? I think so, he has a lot of raw traits that Studsrud did without the immediate need to play as a true freshman (I realize he came on later in the year due to injuries but he did so without the four game leniency for saving the redshirt that Schuster has afforded to him) with the four game redshirt rule (saving Schuster for only injuries if Ketteringham can play is the way I think this staff is leaning).

On defense

This team has a defense that can scheme against anyone. They did well against the Bearkats considering how long they were on the field. One thing I have noticed from the first three games as an observation, is this team’s ability to consistently tackle on the edge and in the second level. They did keep the ‘Kats hemmed in a bit better than their time against NDSU, but it seems whenever this team has to play a dual threat quarterback, they face issues limiting their sucess. Part of the reason, I think, Sam Houston State tried that swinging gate formation on the fourth-and-two that sealed the game for UND, was because they showed the same look earlier before running a base look and their quarterback, Eric Schmid was able to run right through. If the Kats go back to that base look perhaps last week ends a bit differently.

Second level tackling and edge tackling need to keep up for this team to have a chance against any quarterback, like all world Eastern Washington QB Eric Barriere next weekend.

Need for speed

With Izzy Adeoti recovering from an injury and Cam McKinney moved to running back, this team does not have many over the top players on the edge that can run past players. They rely on strong possession wideouts and a lot of jump balls. While that has worked for them so far, I am expecting more teams to scheme for the fades and jump balls as we move forward with safety help and running two high schemes most of the time.

Until UND can run the ball more consistently or find someone outside who can break a game open over the top with consistency, be it through moving McKinney back to wideout or Izzy getting healthy or someone else whom we have not seen, this team needs a different element on the edge to make defenses think twice about how they are scheming for an offense that needs more options.

New offensive coordinator, Danny Freund, has done a great job opening the playbook and giving teams more to think about, and going forward for the future of this program finding or rediscovering an outside speed runner to open up the inside more will help everyone out in the long run.

 

What needs to happen: UND-Sam Houston State

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Tomorrow, UND and Sam Houston State will battle in a Potato Bowl that could serve as a playoff game for both of these teams. Whomever walks out of the Alerus Center victorious will have a slightly easier path to the FCS playoff bracket, while the loser will be faced with a week of self reflection and have to string together near perfection to achieve the same fate.

For these Fighting Hawks, here is what needs to happen in order to soar on to their next test against national powerhouse Eastern Washington on the road in two weeks.

Breakout with big plays

I want to see the second half offense against Drake that started when Andrew Zimmerman came on in relief. While it is important to have the ball for much longer than a ‘Kats team that runs a prolific spread offense highlighted by two mobile quarterbacks, Eric Schmid and Ty Brock. How do you mitigate the power of running quarterbacks as an offense? Well hold the ball longer and fire up some big plays. While the Bearkats certainly provide more of a test than the Bulldogs did, UND has to be willing to dive deep in the playbook against these ‘Kats to have a chance.

In addition, until UND can find a true over the top game breaker on the edge, these Fighting Hawks will need to be able to keep the ‘Kats off guard with their schemes and use deception and option looks to open up seams for Zimmerman to throw into.

Convert when you get over the 50

Last week, UND had some good drives against NDSU that were snuffed out. Be they interceptions or bad blocks or anything else, this team left chances on the table to dramatically alter the momentum of the game. How do you fix this?

Well, if you make the opponent’s territory you need to get points. Sam Houston State runs their tempo like a fast break and when you let their offense onto the field, it had better be because you just scored, preferably a touchdown. UND has to improve efficiency when they get good drives going. For Saturday to work well for them, watch how many times UND gets points of any sort when they cross into BearKat territory.

Edge Tackling

Schematically, UND played a sound game against the best FCS program, arguably in the history of football at this level. The Bison often ran through missed tackles on the edge to extend drives and force UND to use its untested depth up the middle which made it harder for their players to stay fresh on defense.

For as much as these ‘Kats use the edge of the field on offense, UND must sure up their tackling on the edge to match.

If not, the ‘Kats could walk out with a well earned win. In that vain, if the Fighting Hawks can sure up the edge of their scheme, then getting more reps to get big plays and converting more drives becomes easier. Up the middle, this team with its starters is quite stout regarding tackling and ending plays before they flourish.

On the edge, and down in the depth chart, that is not always the case. If the edge can be fortified then the potent offense of the ‘Kats hopefully will find themselves wandering in the wilderness all day while the Hawks can soar ahead, if not the playoffs slip further out of reach for a team wanting only its second Division One playoff spot in its history and first since 2016.

Prediction: Not a lot to go on in comparable opponents for these teams. This game for both of these sides is the first comparable FCS test either one faces in a battle for the playoffs. If the Alerus Center can maintain its loud start throughout and Andrew Zimmerman’s arm can come to life when needed, and the ‘Kats cannot run their fast-break style offense all game, then maybe UND can eke out a victory, but it will be close and most fans in attendance will be on the edge of their seats all day long.

UND 33 Sam Houston State 30 is my guess in what promises to be a Potato Bowl for the ages.

Surveying UND-Sam Houston: Three Thoughts

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

This weekend, the Fighting Hawks take on the Bearkats of Sam Houston State. Here are some thoughts on this one based on what we know UND needs to build on and where Sam Houston could both challenge them and face challenges.

Sure up the edge rush

Sam Houston loves to throw the ball. Expect the Bearkats to throw 35 or more times this Saturday during the Potato Bowl. One thing that will go a long way to determining how things go is UND’s edge rush. Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner have been impressive in both the Drake and NDSU games so far and will have to lead the way for the Fighting Hawks on defense as is to be expected.

In addition, when I say edge rush I also mean perimeter tackling. Last weekend against NDSU, multiple times UND had a Bison trapped for a short 2-3 yard gain or a loss and missed a tackle on the second level. Those gains quickly morphed into momentum killing plays that lead to or themselves produced touchdowns. The Bearkats are just as fast as, if not faster on the edge than the Bison ( who are far better clearing lanes in the box and running over a lot of teams they play (see their opener against Butler for some examples)).

If UND can limit the missed tackles and confuse whomever the Bearkats have under center whether Ty Brock or Eric Schmid, then they can improve their odds. The defense of Eric Schmidt is one of confusion, and delayed blitzes and stunts. For this defense to work you have to be alright with whomever is not blitzing being able to consistently tackle. That is the biggest area of improvement to look for this weekend for the Fighting Hawks.

Who are these ‘Kats?

Sam Houston has not played an FCS opponent yet this season. They have hung in against  FBS New Mexico losing 39-31, and soundly defeated NAIA Oklahoma Panhandle State University 77-0. We do not know a lot about how these ‘Kats will look against an FCS side yet because we have not seen it, so I am wary to judge Sam Houston to severely to the good or bad based on their limited resume. That said, I know what these ‘Kats are good at and it is speed and tempo.

When UND played the ‘Kats in Texas and had to challenge the Sam Houston State offense last season, and did not succeed the tempo of the game reminded me of a fast break in basketball. When Sam Houston State rolls, no matter the personnel, under the offense of Head Coach K.C Keeler it can feel like being over matched on a fast break against the Michael Jordan lead Chicago Bulls.

Look for the ‘Kats to push the tempo and run a lot of plays quickly. If Sam Houston State can limit substitutions by Schmidt’s defense than up the middle could become really open really fast. UND’s depth up the middle has yet to strut their stuff this season, and will be tested on Saturday.

Final Thought

These Fighting Hawks are a good team. Andrew Zimmerman as the starter under center has a great arm and will show it off this weekend. These Fighting Hawks need to connect on a few deep passes to combine with the power spread offense they are now running. If UND can only run check downs and are forced to look underneath they fundamentally do not have the same speed on the edge that the Bearkats do, at least yet. We have seen flashes from Cam McKinney at running back this season and hopefully Izzy Adeoti is able to play soon, but this Fighting Hawks team needs someone of their big group of wideouts to be able to break a game open early over the top of a defense.

To wrap up, UND is dealing with flukes, that is proving which of their past two weeks is not who this team is. For everyone wearing their Kelly Green in the Alerus Center, they all hope that last week in Fargo against the best FCS program as a start of renewing an in-state rivalry was the fluke. If you are a fan of the Bearkats, well you hope that UND’s week one performance against Drake was the fluke.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Is this the 2013 team that blew out Valparaiso before having a season so mired in infamy it lead to the ouster of former head coach Chris Mussman? Of course it is not, this is a team rooted in strong fundamental football concepts instilled by this staff since day one of their reign. Is this a team ready for another crack at the upper-echelon players of the FCS be they Eagle, Duke, or Bison? Well we do not know that yet.

If this team wins Saturday that conversation can continue. If this team loses it realistically needs to run the table or at most lose one more game to stay in the playoff conversation. This team needs a signature triumph and an 8-3 record competing as an independent or a 9-2 record to be considered for the playoffs. Saturday at the Alerus Center is the next chapter and what happens there will help determine these Hawks fate.

 

Sound start: UND Football takes opener 47-7

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

The University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Football team had a lot of questions around it going into this season. First among those concerns is the offense. Under new offensive coordinator Danny Freund how would an offense built around speed and tempo fare. Well we got our answer against a Pioneer League team with a first year coach. The offense put up a whopping 437 total yards on the day and was able to engineer a smooth second half after a slow start.

The defense played relatively well all game, and were lead by their speed rushers, Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner off the edge that made life miserable for Drake’s true freshman quarterback starting his first college game, Ian Corwin.

One concern for the Fighting Hawks to keep an eye on on the offensive side of the ball is the health of starter Nate Ketteringham. He left after a knee injury and his backup Andrew Zimmerman finished the game. He did put up multiple strong throws to engineer the bulk of the second half production for the Fighting Hawks as they used a 35 point second half to cruise to their 47-7 victory over the Bulldogs. The offense featured multiple gadget plays throughout this one, including a reverse flea flicker and wideout pass by Noah Wanzek that drew a defensive pass interference call.

With all of that being said let’s look at some good from today, and concern areas for next week as UND faces their best opponent they will play all season on the road in Fargo, the Bison of North Dakota State. The defending national champions play a relentless physical style of football that no other team can truly prepare you to face.

What Went Right 

This offense under Freund’s tutelage is 100 percent different than where it ended last season. He has called it a power spread offense and today we saw what that means. You will still see UND run the ball, but it will be from the shotgun a lot of times. What that allowed UND to do was utilize a lot of different looks and test out players in different positions.

Seeing Zimmerman be able to come in for an injured Ketteringham and deliver multiple perfectly thrown balls to spur the majority of that prolific second half, provides some reassurance going into the NDSU game next weekend. In addition, the offensive line played quite well no matter who was in and stymied what Drake wanted to run with their pressure schemes.

What to improve on 

This section will be very granular about the game against Drake, however this is not so much meant to harp on things from a big win as it is pointing out a few things to keep an eye on going forward.

The defensive line depth will be the biggest issue this defense faces all year. I am by no means the first person to say that, as Tom Miller of the Grand Forks Herald and the folks at UND Football 360 noted the depth of this group as an issue. Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner are great and both had wonderful games. Beyond them, up the middle this team will have a lot to prove against the superb ground game of the Bison next weekend.

In addition, this team has to do better when it has momentum on its side. Multiple games in FCS football today changed on a dime because teams let their opponent hang around. Drake hung around through the first half being within two touchdowns. While I think Drake will play quite well in the Pioneer League this season, UND has to put together a full 60 minutes against whomever they play. If this team cannot put a full game together it does not have a lot of a chance against the Bison.

Going Forward 

Can this team defeat NDSU? Yes it can. Do they need to play the best game of the Division One era and have a few things go their way to have a chance next week in Fargo? Most definitely. This team will nitpick every aspect of week one in hopes of improving on a few things to make next Saturday in Fargo more interesting than the vast majority of those attending the game will expect it to be.

 

 

 

UND Comes Up Short Against Idaho State 25-19: Three Thoughts

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

Yesterday for the combined Potato Bowl and Homecoming game, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks looked good in the first quarter. The offense went a perfect five-for-five on third downs. The defense combined with a roaring crowd kept the Bengals of Idaho State out of the end zone. Two drives resulted in touchdowns, and the defense held the Bengals to two field goals. That was the best quarter of the game for UND. From then on, the game completely changed as UND was only able to convert one third down on their last ten attempts. Here are some thoughts regarding yesterday.

The Good 

Noah Wanzek had another nice game for UND. The Fighting Hawks went to him five times for 109 yards including a nice touchdown in the second quarter. He is building a nice campaign for UND this season and it is good to see him getting these quality looks. In addition, the three UND running backs all had some contribution with John Santiago leading the way on the ground with 111 rushing yards and a touchdown. Brady Oliveira ran over multiple Bengals on his way to an 87 yard ground game.

On defense, especially early, UND was able to get home and generated three sacks on the day. UND’s defensive line and ability to get home without blitzing has and will continue to help them as the year goes forward.

What to Improve This Week

Regarding things to build on, the Fighting Hawks have to work on defending the intermediate pass. When Idaho State head coach Rob Phenicie noted the big day they expected their slot wideout, Michael Dean, to have before the game that made me wonder what teams are seeing in the short and intermediate passing game to give future opponents that impression. He finished the day as the leading wide receiver for either side with nine catches for 130 yards. Dean had the one long play up top for 49 yards, beyond that most of his and the rest of the Bengals’ passing game utilized intermediate plays to challenge the Fighting Hawks.

UND played superb defense in three quarters against arguably one of  the best passing teams in the country, Sam Houston State, on the road last week. What was a point of improvement from that game was either missed tackles in short and intermediate routes that turned into bigger gains, like the game winner to Mitch Guller yesterday. Absent missed tackles, opponents are taking advantage of UND by setting up systems to get the ball out quick to minimize pressure, and utilizing their fastest lateral wide receivers to run a sort of west-coast type offense to beat them.

Absent the intermediate game turning into big plays, UND had a bad game against the run yesterday. It is rare to see such a stout run defense like UND give up 273 yards on the ground to anyone at this level. Idaho State averaged 5.9 yards a carry utilizing quick run-pass-option plays. Ty Flanagan and James Madison were able to find gaps up the middle for a team forced to defend the perimeter routes and limit big plays up top. For the most part, UND defended the deep ball well, but the intermediate and underneath plays often were what did them in from the second quarter onward.

Finally, give credit to Idaho State Quarterback Tanner Guller. He did not give up on more than one play that should have been sacks for UND. He is tough to bring down, and turned multiple negative plays into short gainers for the Bengals.

What Now for UND?

Now UND has to get ready for Northern Colorado next weekend. The Fighting Hawks travel to take on a Bears team that is 0-4 to start the season. Looking a bit more into their record, they had a close call against upstart McNeese State to open things up, losing 17-14.

Regardless of the opponent, UND has a formula that they have shown can keep them competitive with anyone. This team still has a stout run defense and front line that will keep them in every game. They have a quarterback in Nate Ketteringham that can make any throw presented to him. Finally, they have a superb backfield which can run through or past any team that sets up superb play-action opportunities throughout every game.

If UND can contain teams that like to spread the ball around and force teams to either run through them or throw over them then the rest of the year could look more like the first quarter yesterday, not the last three.

 

UND-Idaho State: Three Things

Today, UND takes on Idaho State in the Homecoming and Potato Bowl combined game here at the Alerus Center. Here are some thoughts on today for both teams, this should be a good test for the Fighting Hawks to see where they are a week after upsetting a superb Sam Houston State team on the road. For Idaho State, this will be their Big Sky opener and their first gauge of where they stand in the conference. While UND is an independent, this game matters a lot to a Bengals team who under second year coach Rob Phenicie look to make it to the top of the Big Sky.

Guarding the Gullers 

Junior quarterback Tanner Guller and his brother, junior wide reciever Mitch lead the way for the Bengals on offense. Scheme wise, his ability to create big plays will go a long way to determining the outcome of the game today. Mitch is a big play wideout for the Bengals with proven ability to create big plays. Coming into this game, 26 of his 82 catches have gone for more than 20 yards. How UND defends the short and intermediate routes and its ability to make first tackles will go a long way to determining the outcome of this one.

Delivering in the Diamond

UND’s utilization of all three running backs this season at once has been something fun to watch. John Santiago, James Johanneson, and Brady Oliveira have looked superb when together. This formation, combined with increased utilization of its tight ends and different looks have given the offense a fresh flavor this season. This look gives UND a lot more ways to utilize its running game, and has created a lot more chances for the occasional play action pass to stretch the defense.

Can the Jets Fly?

UND has a few receivers (jets) capable of breakthrough speed. Look for Izzy Adeoti’s reps and involvement to keep going up as his speed and difference-making ability becomes more evident each week. In addition, Cam McKinney provides a nice compliment to the possession wideouts that get the start for UND today. These two wideouts will be called on more as the year goes to make some different plays and open up things for their running backs.

Look for more today on this key game for both sides as UND faces all Big Sky Schools for the rest of the regular season.