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.

 

UND Football: Three Thoughts After Hawks Soar Past the Bearkats

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

Yesterday, UND was able to head down to Huntsville, Texas and knock off a top five opponent in the Bearkats of Sam Houston State. A lot of good things happened for UND in this one, and some things happened that they will want to adress before playing another team in Idaho State at home that runs a similar quick-strike offense to the Bearkats. This 24-23 win puts the Fighting Hawks in the playoff discussion, but they need to follow up their arguably biggest non-conference non-FBS win in the Bubba Schweigert era with a continued emphasis on improvement and development for the win to have an even bigger relevance come playoff time.

The Good 

Starting quarterback, Nate Ketteringham can make most throws in this pro-style offense. During the game-winning drive alone he made a superb, high-lofting throw to Izzy Adeoti to put UND in position for the touchdown to Noah Wanzek. The 48 yard pass was perfectly lofted in between two Sam Houston State defenders. Adeoti timed his route perfectly and made a superb catch between two defenders, helping get UND into position for the go ahead fade in the end zone to Wanzek a few plays later.

Tank Harris lived up to his nickname yesterday. He was in the middle of a lot of strong play for the Fighting Hawks up front. His high motor is fun to watch on a weekly basis. His compete level, combined with the amount of reps he will get against Idaho State will make for an interesting facet to next week. UND being able to generate pressure with its defensive line alone, lead by Tank, helps the secondary get more options to cover another fast team in Idaho State.

One more positive area for UND out of yesterday, the running backs. We all know UND has a strong running game that relies on John Santiago, James Johannesson, and Brady Oliveira. What was nice to see yesterday in particular was the balance and the rush per carry average, everyone in this rotation averaged at least 4.1 yards per carry, over a first down per three carries. The diamond formation this team has employed combined with its lateral quickness with players like Adeoti have provided a needed wrinkle to utilize all three rushers in more ways this year.

Things to Build Upon

Penalties, while UND did a lot of things right yesterday, penalties and cleaning up some things are always a thing this staff wants to build upon. If UND can limit their penalties to less than one per quarter I think absent playing penalty free that this staff would like those numbers.

On defense, UND’s secondary had a superb day yesterday in the fourth quarter and first half. One thing I would like to see the team build on is defending the quick pass and lateral plays in general. They had multiple missed tackles yesterday on short passes that lead to big Bearkat gains. Also, these short passes are not a Bearkats only feature. Mississippi Valley State generated all of its offense through quick passes against the Fighting Hawks. Washington had 437 yards through the air on 45 attempts. That being said, the secondary has gotten better each week defending against big plays. Now locking down some more underneath routes and limiting gains are the next step for this continuously developing defensive backfield.

Regarding the Bengals

Idaho State played FBS foe California tough. The Bears knocked off the Bengals 45-23. That being said, the Bengals were able to put up 319 total yards of offense in a balanced attack. Idaho State’s quick strike offense will be another issue for the Fighting Hawks. The Bengals run some of the same setups that Sam Houston does.That being said, UND now has a lot of experience facing spread-type offenses that like to push the tempo. On a friendly field for homecoming six days from today, the experience UND has gained in their first three tests will benefit them against Idaho State. When the crowd is on the Fighting Hawks’ side, it just comes down to defense. If UND can turn a few first down potential passes into small gains and force third-and-long scenarios, then with a boisterous Alerus Center crowd, good things can happen for the Fighting Hawks.

UND is definitely “in” the playoff conversation now. That being said, how long they stay “in” the conversation is dependent on what they can do the rest of the way. That all starts this upcoming weekend as the Fighting Hawks defend the Alerus Center for the first time in three weeks on Saturday against Idaho State.