Genius: How UND defeated No. 24 Sam Houston State 27-23

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into this game, UND had some things to work on, and moving forward into the bye week before playing the always challenging Eastern Washington on the road, they still do. With that being  said, today the Fighting Hawks were able to not only earn a must win game at home against the Bearkats with a tough win, but they did so by out scheming them.

The 28-24 win had a lot to do with not only the players, true freshman Tommy Schuster came on after starter Andrew Zimmerman exited with an injury and did enough to keep his team in the game, while making multiple tough throws in coverage to UND’s talented possession receivers like Noah Wanzek. In addition, on defense Jade Lawrence finished with two interceptions, and Jaxson Turner and Mason Bennett among others made life tough for the quarterbacks of the Bearkats.

That is not what drove things in a vacuum today. It seems to be a common theme for opposing coaches to note how many looks UND’s defense provides. This Eric Schmidt lead defense is a lot closer to a pro scheme that utilizes the skills of the players he has to define different iterations of what to run as opposed to looking to shoehorn players into roles.

Last week, NDSU head coach Matt Entz noted the need to not teach too much of what UND’s defense to quickly because they can run a because the defensive playbook that is so deep. This week, Bearkats’ head coach K.C. Keeler called UND Head Coach Bubba Schweigert’s ability to scheme so well on defense “genius.”

When asked about that, Bubba aptly deflected praise onto Schmidt and his staff for collaboratively coming up with the best schemes each week for that opponent. While UND lost last week against NDSU, their defense had some moments of brilliance in part due to scheming, they forced NDSU to adjust on the fly, and the Bison to their credit did so. Today, UND’s ability to adjust on the fly to the high powered offense of Sam Houston State proved to be the difference.

In the fourth quarter, the Fighting Hawks simply schemed correctly to put Noah Larson in the right place on a 4th-and-2 that would have put Sam Houston State about 10 yards away from scoring the go-ahead and likely winning touchdown.

The Bearkats ran kind of a swinging gate formation where a lot of the line starts over on the sideline. Quarterback Eric Schmid took the ball and ran right at the defense. Thanks to the scheme drawn up for that scenario, Larson knew to rush and he made the difference in the end with making the stop.

Going forward, we will see a different team against Eastern Washington than the one that took the field tonight. UND wants to use the bye to get healthy. We could potentially see Nate Ketteringham back under center for the Fighting Hawks if he is sufficiently healed from his injury sustained against Drake.

UND does have some things to improve on for the Eastern Washington game, and they will be discussed here and elsewhere, but for today, this win keeps them solidly in the hunt for a playoff bid and shows them a way to compete with fast and high skilled teams, if they can execute the drawn up schemes, then maybe more coaches might call Bubba or his staff geniuses or some other iteration of the word.

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.

UND Football 2017: A Look at the Culture Bubba Has Built

UND has not had the best results on the football field.The Fighting Hawks finished 3-8 this season. However, Fighting Hawks fans, do not let the record fool you. This program is fully committed to building up its own culture and the past season does not change that.This team has shown it can bounce back even within the season. One example of this is its home win against Northern Colorado after a tough road loss the week prior. The coaching staff has done a relentless marketing  job of this program . Below are a few reasons why fans can remain confident in UND and this coaching staff despite the record not being what anyone wanted coming off of a Big Sky Championship.

The Coaching Staff Recruiting Fans and Players Alike

Coaches have to recruit and build the program right? Yes, of course, but one thing that changed  out of necessity after the Mussman years was more recruiting not just of players, but of fans.

That has completely changed since Bubba Schweigert became head coach at UND. His entire staff is an incredibly visible presence in the community. Every time I have seen any of them at a hockey game or any other UND event they are always supporting their fellow athletic programs.

In addition, very rare is a Friday before a home game that Bubba does not take a stack of tickets, and head to the quad behind the library and interact with a lot of students, and hand out all of his tickets.

This, in turn, has lead to a complete revitalization of the student section. Now, the students have often helped lead chants and pump up the crowd which has, in-turn caused numerous crowd-induced penalties and timeouts over the years.

Bubba’s staff has turned the Alerus Center back into the tough place to play it once was during UND’s Division Two days.

One final example of this culture change, is Bubba’s assistants helping out. It was quite impressive to see assistant coach Travis Stepps handing out tickets to studying students in the Memorial Union this past Thursday imploring them to come. Everyone on Bubba’s staff has bought into the holistic recruiting that had to take place to win back fans and recruits.

The Next Man Up Mentality 

Throughout this year, from star defensive back Deion Harris being out for the season, to losing senior QB Keaton Studsrud for a couple of points in time due to injuries, no one on this team has used injuries as an excuse. The best example of this is at the middle linebacker where it has used more than three players as its projected starters were out due to injury.

Because of these increased reps to all of the backups coming into the season, players like safety Jordan Canady and all of UND’s backup offensive lineman that had to play will be more ready to shoulder the load heading into next season. These tough reps now will pay benefits to UND in the future as it plays a tough independent schedule the next few years before heading into the SEC of FCS Football, the Missouri Valley.

One Final Thing

Fighting Hawks fans, this year has been tough. No one,especially this coaching staff, is happy with a team that finishes 3-8 after winning a championship.

However, as some of you are seeing with the Green Bay Packers, the team looks a bit different without Aaron Rodgers leading things right? Is it fair to say that no matter how good things are with their backups in, that they have to develop and learn their games with reps to improve? I think so, and now Green Bay can have a better setup in the future as they now have had to gameplan without their star.

UND has had that problem with a lot of its positions this year as more than half of its projected starters have not played, or have stopped playing due to injury.

This staff took over a 3-8 program , and lead it to a playoff berth a short three years later. Let’s see what this talented staff of Bubba Schweigert can do in the offseason to bring in some depth in areas of need, and develop its current corps of returners. This program is in a completely different state than it was after its last 3-8 season. Do not let a copious amount of injuries change your mind on that fact.

This past week, Bubba noted his thanks for the atmosphere at the game and how the fans reacted. He lamented that his team could not do enough to keep the fans in the game. For next year, look for more changes from the UND roster to stay competitive with the tough independent schedule it will play.

One thing that will remain the same is the dedicated staff Bubba has to help him sell his vision of day-by-day, tough, hard working football to fans here in Grand Forks. UND fans want to see winning football. This staff has an offseason to bring that back to Grand Forks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hawks Fly to the Playoffs-What Now?

After UND’s Big Sky Championship, and a 9-2 record, what do they need to do to advance in the FCS playoffs? Here are some of my quick thoughts.

 

  1. Start Strong
    1. Many times this season UND has had to come back to finish out key victories. Often times UND has played a 30 or 45 minute game and stil come out on top. The Hawks have been better as of late but will nto be able to get away with any slow starts in the playoffs.
  2. Feed Thunder and Lightning
    1. Make sure that Brady Olivera and John Santiago get at least 15 touches each. Both  running backs have proven to be effective for UND this season and both bring different strengths to the game. Santiago will make you miss while Brady will run you over.
  3. Keep the Defense on the Sidelines
    1. If the UND offense can control the ball for at least 35 minutes I believe it has a chance to go far. The UND defense has been at its best when it has had a chance to rest and rotate players in and out. If Richmond has the ball for more than 35 minutes the path will become tougher.

UND Football 3 Thoughts-On to the Hornets

After a key win over Cal Poly at home, UND football heads out west to take on Sacramento State. Here are some thoughts on the game last week, and this week.

  1. Eric Schmidt needs a pay raise. The Fighting Hawks’ defensive coordinator has completely made over this defense from its Pre-Bubba (head coach Bubba Schweigert) days. UND swarmed Cal Poly all day and forced them to completely alter their gameplan. The strong play of defensive tackle Tank Harris forced Cal Poly into more passing situations. In addition, Deion Harris has played so well this season that Cal Poly exclusively focused on Torrey Hunt’s side. This allowed UND to dial up more blitzes and rush Cal Poly’s timing.
  2. Keaton Studsrud is slowly getting better in first quarters. This was his best week as UND played turnover free in the first quarter and set itself up to do well in the rest of the game. Keaton did all this with a backup center and a patchwork offensive line.
  3. Give Brady Olivera 25 or more carries every week. Give John Santiago 15-20 when he is healthy and split him out wide more. Olivera is playing the best football of his career. His run where he absolutely ran over a defensive lineman reminded me of Marshawn Lynch’s bruising run against the Saints in the 2011 NFL Playoffs. Olivera’s play is reminiscent of Lynch, strong in space with a quick burst and the ability to generate enormous yards after contact. If UND runs formations with Santiago at the wing and Olivera in the back field, defense becomes much harder for the opposition. Who do you target? The guy that can make you miss or the guy that can run you over? If Santiago plays more wideout with Olivera as a running back, this opens up a new dimension for UND. They could even run a triple option out of a non-traditional triple option formation.

Three Thoughts-UND Football

Time for another three thoughts on UND Football going forward after a tough 17-15 win in Bozeman over Montana State. UND takes on the high-motor triple option offense of Cal Poly next weekend at the Alerus Center. The Mustangs upset the number six team in the country this weekend. I will repeat myself multiple times regarding one thing. Anyone who can be in the Alerus Center needs to go and stay all 60 minutes. UND needs all the support it can get from the community.

Here are some thoughts on this past weekend and Cal Poly this weekend.

  1. UND must improve its first quarters. Every week UND has either squandered chances or been forced to play catch up from its poor first quarter showings. This past weekend it started off on the wrong foot by fumbling on its opening drive. This only cost them three points.
  2. Keaton Studsrud has to have a better showing this weekend. Every week he seems to miss three to five open wideouts. If Keaton can play a full 60 minutes UND will be able to counter the running game of Cal Poly with simple ball control. A strong offense with a diverse playbook is the best counter for the triple option. In addition, if Studsrud has a stronger game it will open up more opportunities for UND’s strong running back duo of Brady Olivera and John Santiago.
  3. UND’s defense has carried them this season. The Fighting Hawks have one of if not the best defenses in the country. Eventually the offense has to step up and mount more than one or two sustained drives throughout the game. Cal Poly is a strong enough team to keep the scenario of another South Dakota like comeback from happening again. If the offense can possess the ball for more than half of the game, UND has a much better chance of winning. This is the toughest opponent UND has played so far, UND needs all the help it can get. This is true from both the offense and the fans. If UND gets a packed Alerus Center for all 60 minutes it will help its cause. UND students once again need to show up, be loud and respectful, and stay all 60 minutes. The Fighting Hawks’ wins have not been easy but the games have been fun for all 60 minutes.

UND-USD: Game recap

The home opener for University of North Dakota football against University South Dakota was on Saturday, 9/17.  The first quarter of the game was quite intense, USD scored first with a field goal at 8:47 and UND responded eight minutes later, when Junior Cole Reyes makes an interception and runs it 33 yards for a touchdown. The second quarter was all about USD, with UND’s Travis Toivonen (Fr) completing a 11 yard pass from Keaton Studsrud (Jr) for a touch down at 9:23. USD get one field goal and three touchdowns ending the half leading UND 27-14.

At the start of the 3rd, USD comes out strong and scores another touchdown. UND ends the 3rd with Reid Taubenheim (Jr) kicking a 32-yard field goal, 34-17. The 4th was all about UND with Studsrud having a touchdown pass to John Santiago (So) , while Deion Harris (Jr) picks off and runs it in for a 33-yard touchdown return. Taubenheim also completed another field goal. Ending regulation with a tied game 34-34.

USD won the coin toss and went on the defensive, which was followed by a quick touchdown from Santiago with a 25 yard run. USD answered with a touchdown to tie the game again at 41-41. UND then forced a field goal making the score 44-41. This is when everyone’s heart stopped, the ten minutes that followed was an emotional roller coaster for both teams. UND had two touchdowns called back for being just inches short of the goal line. Finally, on the 3rd attempt, Studsrud made a 1 yard run to make the winning goal. Bring UND record to 1-2.

Sadly, many of the student body left at the end of the 2rd quarter, missing out on the amazing end of the game. My pick for MVP, would be John Santiago. A sophomore, had two touch downs, one rushing and one receiving. Santiago ran for 142 yards with an average gain of 6.4 yards a carry. Runner up, I would say is Reid Taubenheim, completing five field goals and in doing so kept us in the game.

I just want to say thank you to the staff at the Alerus Center for helping me find my way round and making sure I had everything I needed!!

Look Back and Ahead: UND Football

UND nearly upset Bowling Green this past weekend, falling short on a two point conversion with seconds left to take the lead. Here are my thoughts on the game and what UND needs to modify to win the Potato Bowl against South Dakota this weekend.

  1. The Fighting Hawks have to better react to adjustments on defense. Once Bowling Green adjusted for the exotic blitzes UND ran, the Hawks could not generate as much pressure. The defense played a great game for the most part. One concern for me is the big plays. Bowling Green scored the majority of its touchdowns on big plays like their long passes. If UND can adjust its blitzes and run one extra defender in the secondary it should be fine. The Fighting Hawks have a good enough run defense to not need extra blitzes in running situations. In addition, the defense does not need to stack the box to succeed. It is good enough to afford the luxury of having an extra defensive back more often.
  2. The offense improved from the Stony Brook game. One area it needs to improve on more is making simple throws in the first half. Keaton Studsrud has looked out of sorts these first two first halves this season. He needs to get off to a better start in the Potato Bowl. The offense cannot have too many three and outs in the first quarter. The poor play of the offense directly contributed to UND having to come from behind against Bowling Green.
  3. Fans need to show up and stay. If the Alerus is full and rocking all game UND has a better chance of winning. Students (writing this as an alum who missed less than five games in four years), please please please do not leave this game at half time! Show up, be loud, be respectful! UND needs its student section to be full all game. The best moment for me at UND games even during the Mussman era was the players coming over and thanking the students left for coming and staying. The atmosphere at the Alerus center is unique. Do not complain about how bad the football team is when the team is exciting.That excuse has not been valid since since the coaching change. Our team plays a strong physical game and has at least a top five running back in the FCS in John Santiago. In the past, our defense was the biggest issue. Now our defense is winning us games and keeping us in most of them. Show up, be loud, and have fun this weekend. Students get free tickets and transportation, UND needs you, the team needs you, and the town of Grand Forks needs you to show up this weekend. It should be a great game against South Dakota as UND looks to get back to winning on the way to a FCS playoff birth.

3 Thoughts- UND V Stony Brook Recap

This is the first blog back in a bit. Here are some quick thoughts on the UND loss against Stony Brook. Look for more as we get closer to hockey season.

  1. UND’s season is not over. They have to adress replacing production of deep threat Clive Georges and improve on the offensive line. However, UND’s defense nearly won that game on its own. Defensive Coordinator Eric Schmidt and Defensive Line Coach Jordan Gigli did an outstanding job rotating personnel on Thursday night and the defensive line set the tone for everyone else.
  2. Keaton Studsrud played one of the worst games of his career on Thursday. I have never seen Studsrud miss so many easy throws set the offense back like he did. Credit to Stony Brook, as their defensive line was pressuring Keaton all game. If Studsrud can find his form again UND should be ok.
  3. While this loss was unexpected, it does not doom UND’s playoff hopes. It serves as a wake up call  that preseason expectations do not get you to the playoffs. If UND can use this week’s game against Bowling Green to improve on some of the things that need it, they should be fine going forward. UND can still make the playoffs, but it has a lot of work to do to make that goal a reality.