Week 8 Preview – Southern Utah Thunderbirds

The Game Vitals


Game Time
 - 2:05 CT

Opponent - Southern Utah at Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City, UT

Game Notes - UND

TV - None

Online Streaming - Big Sky TV                                                                                         

Spread - Southern Utah -5   O/U 43

 

Southern Utah Breakdown (1-7 record)

– Offense = Shotgun, Spread, 3-4 receivers, 1 running back

– Defense = 4-3 or 3-4

– Last Meeting:  2012 – UND won 33-29 in Grand Forks

The T-Birds are coming off a blowout 56-28 loss up in Pocatello, ID to the Bengals of Idaho State.  They hung around in the first half but the Bengals turned it on in the second half and ran away with it.  SUU has played a hellacious schedule in 2014 and we are not surprised that they are currently 1-7.  The combined record of their FCS opponents is 26-11 and three of them (SDSU, SLU, EWU) are going to be playoff teams.  Oh, and they played two FBS schools (Fresno State & Nevada).

Offensively, the Vikings are a passing offense operating out of a shotgun/1 RB setup.  They employ 3-4 receivers at all times and will motion the back out for a 5th.  SUU is averaging 23 pts/game on the season and an impressive 310 yds/game passing.  They do average 106 yards per game rushing but have struggled to get their running game going in many of their games this season.

The offense is led by QB #2 Ammon Olsen.  On the year he is 137-230 for 1,808 yards and 13 TDs vs. 8 Ints.  The BYU transfer had decent mobility and will run if pressured but seems to prefer to find a receiver if at all possible.  His arm strength appears to be alright and he has pretty good accuracy on his ball.  He has gotten pressured a ton this year and like most QB’s, gets fairly inaccurate during those times.

WR #6 Chris Robinson is the T-Birds leading receiver with 38 receptions for 636 yards and 5 TD’s.  The 5’8″ speedster is used all over the field in a variety of sets and motions and UND best keep track of his location on the field this week.  WR #3 Justin Brown has 33 receptions for 570 yards and 3 TD’s this year and is the bigger receiver of the two at 6’2″.  Olsen does not discriminate in the passing game as 8 different players have more than 10 receptions on the year.

Defensively, Southern Utah is hard to get a handle on.  They play a 3-4 defense much of the time but then sometimes they appeared to be in a 4-3 look for their base defense.  The defense is led by All-Big Sky DE #53 James Cowser, who is having another huge season for the T-Birds.  Cowser has an unbelievable 18.5 TFL’s and 9.5 sacks in 2014.  The guy is a beast of the edge and UND will definitely need to chip with a RB or double with a TE on play-action passes.  The strength of the T-Birds defense appears to be there defensive line with the weakness being the secondary.  On the year SUU is giving up 40 pts/game and 550 yards/game of offense.

North Dakota (3-4) Keys to the Game

  1. UND Offense – Run the Ball (like everyone else has been able to do).  Run the ball right at Cowser and slow him down that way, getting him out of rush mode.  If UND rushes for +125 yards they win the game.
  2. UND Defense – tackle the receiver and make them snap it again.  Like most passing offenses, they don’t want 10-12 play drives.  They want a few dink-and-dunks and then hit the big one.  Knock down or tackle the big one and make them do it over… and over again.  Mistakes will come.  UND is a bit undersized at corner with Chris Brown and Chris Carter being around 5’9″-those two need to use their technique and get into the bigger SUU receivers.
  3. UND Front Seven – have your best pass rushing day yet.  The SUU offensive line is an average unit, having given up 25 sacks already this season.  UND has pressured the heck out of most every team they faced and need to do it again this week.  Olsen will be standing back there 50+ times on Saturday.

Time to even up the record at 4-4.  SUU is down this year, obviously, but have played a very tough schedule so it’s tough to make an all-encompassing assessment of them.  Coming off a bye, UND needs to regroup for the second half and it begins on Saturday out in beautiful Cedar City, Utah.

The Prediction

North Dakota  21

Southern Utah  13

 

 

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First Half Review and Thoughts

Thought we would hammer you with stats, thoughts, & opinions now that UND is done with their bye week and moving on to the second half of the 2014 season.

Here is UND’s Big Sky Conference statistical ranking through 7 total games (13 teams):

  • UND Offense = 13th – 13.7 pts/game.
  • UND Defense = 2nd – 22.7 pts/game.
  • UND Total Offense = 13th – 231.3 yds/game
  • UND Total Defense = 2nd – 334.6 yds/game
  • UND Rushing Offense = 13th – 78.1 yds/game
  • UND Rushing Defense = 1st – 126.9 yds/game
  • UND Passing Offense = 12th – 153.1 yds/game
  • UND Passing Defense = 4th – 207.7 yds/game
  • Turnover Margin = 0.00.  12 giveways and 12 takeaways.
So when looking at the stats, UND’s offense is dead last in most categories and UND’s defense is 1st or 2nd in most categories.  Hence, the 3-4 record.  Not completely surprised by the offense struggling but the defense has been a total shocker to us.  They have done a 180 since last season in pretty much all areas, specifically, tackling and gap integrity.
Last season, the UND defense recorded 14 sacks in 11 games.  This season through 7 games the UND defense has 17 sacks.  

Last season the UND defense had 48 tackles-for-loss for a total of 177 yards.  This season the UND defense already has 60 TFL’s for 223 yards.  Huge difference there and a main reason why they are getting off the field on third down at a 65% clip, good for second best in the Big Sky.  

The offensive rushing numbers are similar to last season but the 2014 offense is throwing for about 130 yds/game less.  They have also thrown the ball less than half as much in 2014 as they did last season so those numbers are skewed a bit.

The UND offensive line is still struggling to find consistency or any sustained success.  Pass protection has been a mixed bag, not as bad as some think, but their run blocking has been consistently average-to-poor.  78 yds/game and an average of 2.3 yds/rush isn’t going to get it done.

Losing senior WR RJ McGill to a season ending knee injury hurts bad.  He was the bonafide leader of this team, not to mention the most consistent and best WR.  McGill also returned kickoffs so UND has to scramble there.

A group that has over-achieved this year, bigtime, is the UND defensive line.  There are zero all-conference type players in that bunch.  Plus, they lost Kyle Woodsmall a few weeks ago, along with Shea Walker quitting.  Now they are rolling with 7-8 total defensive lineman, all of which are lunch pail type of players.  When watching the games over again, this group works their tails off every play to hold the line and allow guys like Will Ratelle and Taj Rich to rack up huge tackle numbers.

We love the energy that Jordan Hinojosa has brought to this team .  The guy is a fireball of emotion and epitomizes the type of effort that we touched on above.  He has the tools to be disruptive in the backfield but his best trait is pure effort.

Let’s also keep in mind that the UND defense is doing all of this without the aid of a consistent, booming punter to pin other offense’s deep in their own end.  With returning punter Mitch Meindel suspended for four games, UND was forced to use true freshman walk-on punter Connor Bolduc.  We preface this by saying that Bolduc has done a pretty damn good job considering he is supposed to be a scout this year and did not get named the starting punter until 7 days before the SJSU game.  He hasn’t gotten any punts blocked and has put 10 of them inside the 20 yard line.  However, there have been many cases where the UND offense drove out to around their own 30-35 yard line and the opposing offense then ended up starting at their own 30-40 yard line after the punt.  35-40 yard punts are not good enough to consistently win games.  A good punt at the end of the game can win the game.

True freshman defensive lineman Brandon Dranka is going to be good.  He has the “horsepower” to rush the passer and consistently disrupt plays in the backfield.  On the year he has 14 tackles, 3 TFL’s and 1.5 sacks.  Not bad for a true freshman in a 3-4 scheme.

UND ended up playing 10 true freshman this year.  They also ended up red-shirting two juco transfers (Dylan Bakker and Charles Flowers).  Kind of a strange year.

The remaining schedule is favorable to UND as Eastern Washington is the only ranked team left on the schedule.  That being said, UND is going to be a dogfight with every team it plays the rest of the year.  They are not equipped to blow anybody out so it will always be a grinder, every week, all game.  Good drama for the fans, anyway.  Winning 4 of the remaining 5 will go a long way to getting this thing back on track.  The remaining schedule is:

8.  at Southern Utah (1-7)
9.  at #2 Eastern Washington (7-1)
10.  vs. Weber State (0-7)
11.  vs. Northern Arizona (4-3)
12.  at Northern Colorado (2-5)

 

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Coming Off a “W”, Headin’ into a Bye

The UND Football team earned a huge comeback win on Saturday vs. Portland State, beating the Vikings 24-16 in what turned out to be a fantastic football game.  The ending of the game, with all the chances PSU had to tie it, was second-to-none as far as drama goes.  UND now heads into a much needed bye week with a record of 3-4.  That sounds a heck of a lot better than 2-5, I know that much.

  1. QB controversy anybody?  After Joe Mollberg exited the game late in the first quarter due to a concussion-related symptom, fellow sophomore Ryan Bartels came in and didn’t get much done, only completing two passes before halftime.  However, Bartels must have settled in mentally over the halftime break because he came out in the second half and immediately led the UND offense down the field on a beautiful 13 play – 75 yard drive that ended in a Bartels 1 yard TD sneak.   Bartels ended the game going 14-23 for 151 yards and 1 TD, with another TD rushing.  UND has a full week to decided what they want to do but we are assuming that Mollberg will continue to start once he clears protocol.
  2. The UND defense continues to play inspired, high-quality defense.  They gave up a TD on the first drive of the game, a drive that saw the Vikings move right down the field at will and easily score on a 50-yard TD pass from Kieran McDonagh to WR Stevie Coury.  From that point on the Vikings never saw the end zone again.  The coaching staff made adjustments to the little wheel/scissor route that PSU kept running and made it a non-factor, slowing down their offensive production.
  3. We are extremely happy that Alex Tillman transferred to UND from the University of Houston for his senior season.  Tillman broke open the game for UND with a thrilling 95-yard punt return for a TD midway through the fourth quarter.  Tillman was the one who essentially won the Stony Brook game with a 92-yard INT return for TD.  He is a true leader on the field and a cornerstone of the UND defense and special teams.
  4. In a bit of a twist, UND turned to senior RB Jer Garman to carry the load as the game wore on and he didn’t disappoint.  Garman ended the game with 17 carries for 56 yards but also caught a huge pass from Bartels that went for 30 yards.
  5. Redshirt freshman walk-on WR Josh Seibel from Bismarck High had an unpredictable break-out night for UND.  Seibel ended the game with 9 receptions for 60 yards and four of those catches were for first downs.  From everything we have heard, Seibel has never played WR before but is obviously showing tremendous athleticism.
  6. We tweeted about the offsides call on UND OLB Brian Labat at the end of the game.  He wasn’t offsides, at all.  So what happens?  Well, the line judge on the OTHER side of the field calls him offsides, the same guy who threw three flags on that last drive.  On tape, Labat clearly OK’s his alignment with the line judge on his side.  BTW, Portland State had a bad snap on that play and lost 10 yards.  They would have been back around the 17 yard line on fourth down.  Instead, they were at the 4 yard line on third down.  Here is a picture to illustrate the play (the ball was just snapped):

 

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Week 7 Preview – Portland State Vikings

The Game Vitals


Game Time
 - 1:30 CT

Opponent - Portland State at Alerus Center, Grand Forks, ND

Game Notes - UND

TV - Midco Sports Network (No Fox College Sports, once again, because of the Big Sky’s “deal” with Root Sports)

Online Streaming - Big Sky TV                                                                                                            Spread - Portland State -1

 

Portland State Breakdown (2-3 record)

– Offense = Pistol, Spread, Zone-Read.

– Defense = 4-3

– Last Meeting:  2013 –  Portland State won 14-7 at Portland.

The Vikings are coming off a solid 23-14 home victory over the Aggies of UC-Davis in Big Sky conference play.  Their two wins this season are  Western Oregon (D2) and the aforementioned Davis, while two of their three losses are to FBS teams (Oregon State 29-14, and Washington State 59-21).  Tough to make out exactly how good/bad they are at this point.

Offensively, the Vikings are a fairly simple zone-read, spread type of team.  They like to run the zone-read handoff alot or have the QB keep it when running the ball.  The Vikings are averaging 23pt/game and 363 yds/game of total offense thus far in 2014.  They are a very balanced offense with 189 yds/game rushing and 174 yds/game passing.

The offense is led by QB Kieran McDonagh, a 6’2″-230 pound junior who is in his third year of running the Vikings offense.  He is a dual-threat type of QB and is a load to bring down when running the ball.  He has good arm strength but his accuracy is fairly average.  McDonagh is 79-155 for 770 yds and 4 TD’s on the year to go with 5 INT’s.  When watching him on tape, McDonagh appears to get a case of happy feet when pressured and will move out of the pocket fairly quickly to evade any potential pressure, which is inevitable on Saturday.

WR #89 Kasey Closs is the bigtime playmaker for the Vikings.  He had a huge year in 2013 for the Vikings with 1,167 yards and 8 TD’s and is off to another good start in 2014.  Kloss has 23 receptions for 274 yards and 2 TD’s.  He is a big target at 6’3″ and has great hands to go with it.  Closs is a guy that UND will need to be aware of on Saturday as he is adept at slipping behind offense’s once the Vikings running game gets churning.

Defensively, Portland State employs a 4-3 defense.  They are not crazy with blitz pressure but when they do they will bring a bunch of guys (6 or 7).  Most of the time they appear to bring their four defensive lineman and try to let them create the pressure on the opposing QB.  The Vikings appear to play a lot of man-to-man coverage on the outside with safety help over the top.  This could be an issue for UND’s young wide receiver corps, who have had some trouble getting free from defensive backs this year.

North Dakota (2-3) Keys to the Game

  1. Shut down the Viking running game, just like they did to the Griz and Bobcats ground attacks.  Portland State is not a passing team, they are a 50/50 type of offense.  Take away one part and they become dramatically less effective.
  2. Get Kyle Norberg and the inside running game going.  If PSU is going to operate out of a base 4-3 as they have shown, UND needs to be able to pound it up in there for 4-5 yards a pop.
  3. We have heard UND may be dinged up at wide receiver but have not seen anything concrete.  McGill, Ferguson and Walker all have missed a day or two each this week.  UND needs all hands on deck, every week, if they want to get this going.  Who is able to play will be something to watch for on Saturday.

I am going to come out and say it:  UND needs to win this game.  Homecoming Week, a mid-level Big Sky team, a bye next week.  UND came close last week vs. Montana but couldn’t pull it out.  They have shown improvement each and every week and if that trend continues that should be able to scratch and claw their way to a third victory in 2014.

The Prediction

North Dakota  17

Portland State  13

 

 

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Monday Morning Thoughts

The UND Football team came up short on Saturday losing a heart-breaker 18-15 on a last second Montana field goal.  It was a great game to watch and the atmosphere in the Alerus Center was as good as it’s been in  the last 4-5 years.

  • The UND defense played a pretty good game again for the 3rd straight week.  Coincidentally, they scored a defensive TD for the third straight week when Chris Brown stepped in front of the Smithwick-Hann pass and returned it 14 yards for the TD.
  • Montana had 42 rushing yards on 34 carries.
  • Total offense was 279 for UM to 241 for UND.  I would say UND’s plan of running the ball and slowing down the game is working pretty well two games into the Big Sky season.  Both games vs. the Montana’s have been low scoring.
  • QB Joe Mollberg seems to be settling in to the new offense.  The way he carries himself and his overall throwing is exuding confidence now where it did not appear that way early in the season.  Mollberg was 15-24 for 196 yards on Saturday.  Note:  he spread it around to 7 different receivers vs. Montana, one of which was freshman Dev Ferguson who is becoming Mollberg’s favorite big-play target.  Ferguson had 3 receptions for 65 yards.
  • One of the major offensive issues right now is bad snaps.  When watching the replay, however, one was Mollberg’s fault, one was Boas’.  The snap on the safety was terrible and Mollberg had no chance.  The snap at midfield that went by Mollberg’s head was easily catchable and he was ready for it.  Not sure what happened.  Bottom line, they need to get his figured out NOW.  They are now costing themselves games when looking back at it.
  • UND was missing it’s best offensive lineman.  RG Brandon Anderson came down with an apparent eye infection/injury the day of the game.  Freshman Brandon Miller filled in for him and did a pretty good job considering he had zero prior experience.
  • OLB Brian Labat had a monster game with 4.5 TFL’s, 0.5 sack and 3 QB hurries.  The OLB’s are starting to come around as Reinecke and Idowu both have been much more active making plays the last couple games.
  • Timing got off on the potential game-winning kick by Reid Taubenheim.  The snap was slightly high but kind of fumbled by holder Connor Bolduc, who is also a true freshman.  Take their lumps early and hopefully it pays off later with Taubenheim kicking a late one to win a game.

What we hope to see this weekend for the annual homecoming game is a pissed off team that is hungry for a win.  They had a chance this past weekend but didn’t get it.  The level of competition will be less this weekend vs. Portland State.  If UND keeps their level of play high and doesn’t regress they should be OK.

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Week 6 Preview – #7 Montana Grizzlies

The Game Vitals


Game Time
 - 1:30 CT

Opponent - Montana at Alerus Center, Grand Forks, ND

Game Notes - UND

TV - Midco Sports Network (No Fox College Sports because of the Big Sky’s “deal” with Root Sports)

Online Streaming - Big Sky TV

                                                              Spread - Montana -17   O/U 43.5

 

Montana Breakdown (3-2 record)

– Offense = Pro-style, normal tempo

– Defense = 4-3

– Last Meeting:  2013 –  Montana State won 55-17 in Grand Forks

Montana is coming off a comfortable 35-10 victory or Big Sky cellar dwellar Northern Colorado.  Their two losses this season have been to NDSU and Wyoming, so obviously their record is a bit deceiving.  Their three wins are not very impressive, however, in South Dakota, Central Washington (D2) and UNC.  They are a pretty damn good team but still kind of a mystery until they plays the best Big Sky teams and get some quality wins.

Offensively, Montana has  been a fairly consistent offense.  They run a pro-style that incorporates fullbacks and tight ends, very similar to UND’s offense.  They want to try and pound you with outside zone and stretch running plays and then hit play-action passes.  On the year the Griz are averaging 27 pts/game.

The offense is led by QB Jordan Johnson, who is one of the best QB’s in the country.  Johnson is a dual-threat and will tuck it and run if pressured.  He definitely presents an issue for UND on Saturday.  Thus far in 2014, Johnson is 66-121 for 681 yards and 6 TD’s.  He has also ran for 61 yards.

WR Ellis Henderson is the Griz’s big play threat at WR but he has had injury/illness issues early in the year.   We have not confirmed whether he is playing or not.   However, RB Travon Van and RB Jordan Canada still present a nightmare for UND DC Eric Schmidt.  Both are extremely explosive and can break it at any time.  Van is averaging 8 yards per carry and UND must be aware of his alignment on every play.  They love to move him around and try to create mismatches or exploit voids in the coverage.

Defensively, Montana appears to use a pretty standard 4-3 defense.  They will shade over/under along the defensive line.  They are not an overly crazy pressure team, seeming to pick and choose their spots to blitz.  The Griz defense is only giving up 17 pts/game  thus far and are going to be arguably the best defense UND faces all year.  DE Zack Wagenmann already has 8.5 TFL’s and 7 sacks in five games.  He will be a handful all game on Saturday and may even need some extra attention from the TE’s and RB’s to block him.

North Dakota (2-3) Keys to the Game

  1. Get after their offensive line with constant pressure.  The weak point of their offense is the line.  Bring pressure from all angles and keep them adjusting.
  2. Limit the big plays.  Montana State got UND on a few big plays that put UND behind.  UND needs to try to keep making Montana snap it again.  We see a methodical type of game plan from the Griz this week.  They feel their defense can win the game, therefore, we don’t think they will try to get too wild.  Tackle them when they do try.
  3. 20+ completions by QB Joe Mollberg.  I know it sounds lofty but we do not think UND will be able to run the ball much this week.  The Montana defensive front 7 is pretty good and will create a lot of pressure this week.  Mollberg needs to build off last week’s game where he found the TE’s and FB’s for short-intermediate gains.
  4. Weather the storm early.  The Griz are a fast-starting team so far in 2014.  The UND offense cannot get behind or it will be a long day.  Be around at halftime and then they got a shot in this thing.

UND surprised a few by how they played last week out in Bozeman.  It showed the UND is possibly improving as the season goes on but also shows that they are nowhere near the top of the Big Sky.  IMO, the Bobcats are not as good as advertised, probably the 3rd or 4th best Big Sky team, and this week will give more of representative look at where UND is compared the to the best in the Big Sky.  Montana is a physical, sound team with playmakers on the outside and will be a tough squad to beat on Saturday.


The Prediction

Montana   23

North Dakota  13

 

 

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UND Hall of Fame Weekend

This weekend’s game vs. Montana is also the annual Hall of Fame weekend.  This year there are two people/groups being inducted that have UND football ties.  Former Head Coach Roger Thomas and the 1965 Football Team are the 2014 honorees.

Per the UNDsports.com press release:

Roger Thomas (Football Coach, 1986-98; Athletics Director, 1999-2005): Amassed a 90-43-2 (.674) record as head football coach and guided UND to five NCAA DII postseason appearances (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998) … Won three straight NCC championships from 1993 to 1995 … Four-time regional coach of the year and three-time NCC Coach of the Year … Oversaw the opening of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, Betty Engelstad Sioux Center and Alerus Center, as well as NCAA titles in men’s hockey (1999-2000) and football (2001) during his tenure as athletics director … Later served as NCC Commissioner from 2005-08 … Currently serves as athletics director at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

1965 Football Team: Went 9-1 overall and became the first team in program history to compete in a bowl game … Defeated Northern Illinois 37-20 in the Mineral Water Bowl … Outscored opponents 248-85 on the season, an average score of 28-9 … Offensive tackle Dave “Butch” Lince was named first-team All-America by the Associated Press and quarterback Corey Colehour was named honorable mention.  Six players went on to sign professional contracts or have professional tryouts.  Eight players were named to UND’s All-Century Team in 1994.  Five players, plus head coach Marv “Whitey” Helling are UND Hall of Fame individual inductees.

I personally was one of many who were lucky enough to play for “RT” back in the late 90′s and have the utmost respect for him as a coach and a man.  Just a great guy who was the classic head coach type.  Stood off to the side or at midfield and let his coordinator’s run the show.  If he didn’t like how things were going he would blow his whistle, stop practice and read everybody the riot act, then fire it back up again.  It didn’t happen often but when it did, it worked.  Thomas just knew how to deal with and communicate with all players in effective, tactful ways.

We won a lot of games under Thomas but the great thing about playing for him was he made it fun.  He would make sure to keep things light when appropriate, as to not wear anybody out with constant harping and intensity.  Thomas was also the coach who turned around the UND program in the late 80′s after taking over from Pat Behrns and should also be commended for hiring assistant coaches such as Dale Lennon, Bubba Schweigert, Rob Bollinger, Tom Dosch, and Jeff Tesch.  Four of them have went on to be head coaches at the FCS and D2 level.  The only one who didn’t certainly had the makeup to do it, but chose to go the fundraising/administrative route and has done pretty dang well for himself.  It should also be noted that Thomas was the head coach that signed the class of 1997 that won the national championship as seniors, along with assistant coaches Lennon, Schweigert and Dosch.

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Montana State Game Thoughts

The UND Football team lost their Big Sky Conference opener 29-18 to Montana State on Saturday out in Bozeman, MT.  It was obviously a much better showing vs. the Cats this year compared to last year, when MSU thrashed UND 63-20.

  • The UND offense ended up with a season-high 293 yards of total offense.  
  • A positive stat for UND offensively and defensively:  Third down conversions – UND 8-18  MSU 3-13.
  • The UND offense started out slow again but really came on in the second half.  They actually got into a nice rhythm for the first time this season.  OC Paul Rudolph did a nice job mixing up the run and play-action pass to keep MSU off balance.  
  • UND ran a jet sweep first play of the game.  Something tells me that was a way to appease the “change it up” crowd.  
  • QB Joe Mollberg had his best game of the year thus far.  Even though we hated the pick-six, which should not have been thrown, he still seemed to lead the offense well on Saturday after the slow start.  He was hitting all the intermediate throws in the second half and seemed to really be in a rhythm.  
  • One minor request of Joe:  put some more juice on those “out” and comeback routes.  QB’s have to zip those out routes, they cannot be finesse passes.  He almost had two more picked off that were thrown to the outside of the hashes.  Minor thing, yes, but easily correctable because Joe has the arm strength.  
  • UND defense played alright for most of the game.  MSU came into the game with a highly-ranked offense that was averaging 480 yards/game and 41 pts/game.  UND held them to 329 yards and 29 points, 7 of which were scored by the MSU defense.
  • As improved as the UND defense looks compared to the last few seasons, they are still a long ways from where they need to be.  There are still way too many assignments missed by all, but some of those are getting covered up by the extraordinary effort that the 11 defenders are giving every game.  UND fans have not seen this level of constant intensity on defense in a number of years. 
  • An example of that effort was the hustle shown by ILB Ben Peters.  MSU threw a pass to WR Gates, who then broke it up the field.  Peters, who is not one of the faster UND LBs, kept hustling and caught Gates after a 67 yard gain.  Three plays later the UND defense held MSU to a field goal.   If Peters had given up on the play, Gates would have waltzed into the end zone for a TD.
  • The gap integrity by the front seven is improving every game.  MSU couldn’t get anything going on the ground and that was due to the UND defense being lined up right and executing the way it is designed.
  • MSU did most of their damage through the air, getting UND on a couple long passes off well-designed plays.  Prukop threw for 267 yards on Saturday.  
  • In our game preview, we said the key to the game was making Prukop hand the ball off.  UND did that and kept themselves in the game.  Prukop ended the game with -18 yards rushing. 
It was a step in the right direction for Bubba Schweigert and the UND Football program.  MSU was able to hit a few big plays, making a big pick-six and that was the difference in the game.  UND is not quite there yet with being able to make those big plays but what we do like is they cleaned up some mistakes from prior games and gave themselves a chance.
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Week 5 Preview – #13 Montana State Bobcats

The Game Vitals

Game Time - 3:05 CT

Opponent - Montana State Bobcats (Bobcats Stadium – Bozeman, MT)

Game Notes - UND

TV - None

Online Streaming - Big Sky TV

Spread - Montana State -19

 

Montana State Breakdown (2-2 record)

– Offense = Spread, no-huddle, hurry up

– Defense = 4-3

– Last Meeting:  2013 –  Montana State won 63-20 in Grand Forks

Montana State is coming off a devastating 52-51 loss at home to Eastern Washington last week. They were leading much of the game but lost on a Mario Brown TD run with 27 seconds left.  Very entertaining game between two of the best offenses in the country.

Offensively, Montana State is as good as they have ever been.  They run a hurry-up, no huddle spread straight from the Chip Kelly school of offense.  Very similar to what is being run at Oregon still to this day.  The Cats will spread you out with 3-4 wide receivers and try to gash you with runs/sweeps/jet handoffs.

The offense is led by first year QB Dakota Prukop.  He has seamlessly filled the shoes of former Cat QB Denarius McGhee, who is one of the best to ever play in the Big Sky.  On the year Prukop had led the Cat offense to a 41 pt/game average and an impressive 485 yards/game.  Prukop himself is 64-95 for 881 yards and 7 TD’s.  Oh, did we mention he is also the leading rusher for the Cats?  Yep, he has already ran for 412 yards in the first four games, tacking on another 6 TD’s rushing.

Defensively, Montana State appears to use a pretty standard 4-3 defense.  They will shade over/under along the defensive line.  They are not an overly crazy pressure team, seeming to pick and choose their spots to blitz.  The Bobcat defense is giving up 33 points per game thus far in 2014, albeit they have played some pretty good offenses in Eastern Washington and Arkansas State.

North Dakota (2-2) Keys to the Game

  1. Remember last week when we said UND had to “play their best defensive game of the year”?  They did.  But now we really mean it.  Stony Brook’s offense was offensive, as it turned out.  Montana State’s offense is one of the best in the country.  Whole ‘nother animal this week.
  2. Take away Prukop and let RB’s Shawn Johnson and Anthony Knight beat you.  UND’s OLB’s need to go to the QB this week in the zone-read game, very similar to how they played Kierra Harris a few weeks ago.  Make the running backs beat you, not the QB.
  3. The Bobcat offense will put the ball on the turf, fumbling 5 times already this year.  This offense is similar to a triple-option offense in that way, they like to ball fake handoffs and at time there can be snafu’s.  Get on them.
  4. Run the ball.  The Cats defensive line is not nearly as good as Stony Brook’s D-line.  They are a solid unit but don’t have the dude’s UND saw last week.  Get a push and let newly found RB/former LB Kyle Norberg chew up yards.
  5. Have a day, Conor Bolduc.  UND is going to need Bolduc to have his best day yet punting the ball.  Gotta help the UND defense out by making the dynamic Cat offense go full fields.

We were completely wrong last week in our prediction.  UND came out and took it to Stony Brook defensively and found a way to win the game.  This week the UND defense faces an entirely different production in the MSU Bobcats offense.  UND will not “stop” the Cats but need to tackle well in space to try and slow them down.  There is going to a be ton of 1 on 1 matchups in space that UND needs to win to even have a shot.  That being said, it’s going to be tough to accomplish on the road in a hostile environment.

 

The Prediction

Montana State  39

North Dakota  13

 

 

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The Struggling UND Offense

UND got a much needed 13-3 win over Stony Brook on Saturday to raise it’s record to 2-2.  However, it came with a ton of questions from the fan base about UND’s uber-struggling offense.  UND’ offense only put up 6 points against a pretty good Stony Brook defense and had trouble moving the ball the entire game (the UND defense scored a TD).  They are now four games into the season and the UND offense has not made much progress at all and it is beginning to concern some.

Here is the way I look at:

  1. The offensive scheme is fine.  Pro-style, fullback, tight end, two wide receivers.  Nothing unusual there and it’s run by thousands of programs at all levels.  The new staff is not changing the overall scheme four games into a season so people can stop wasting their time talking about it.
  2. The offensive scheme/system is being installed for the long haul, meaning for the next 4-5 years.  The pieces are not in place but the staff is trying to be move them around.
  3. The offensive line is struggling mightily to get a consistent push.  They had a few glimmers of hope on Saturday but nothing consistent at all.  This has been an issue all season and for a team that wants to be “run-first”, it’s a real issue.  When you can’t run, but want to be a balanced offense, you won’t be able to pass either.
  4. Pass protection is not too bad.  Probably a B- if we had to grade it.  QB Joe Mollberg has gotten pressured this season, yes, but not anymore than was to be expected coming into the year.
  5. The running backs are still missing the few holes that were created or are late to getting there.  UND started converted linebacker Kyle Norberg at running back vs. Stony Brook.  Norberg is a power type of runner who played fullback in a triple option offense in high school.  There were a few times where he completely missed the wide open backside running lane and plowed into the back of his own OL.  However, it was Norberg’s first game running the ball since high school so we are not blaming him for anything.  Just pointing out facts from the game.  Like we said, there weren’t many holes to find.
  6. The young UND wide receivers are getting pressed at the line and having trouble getting open consistently.  Teams are manning up on the outside and getting after the UND running game on the inside.  They know UND cannot beat them through the air so they are loading up on the run.  UND is definitely missing the height/size/speed they had at WR last year.
  7. What we want to see more ‘unique’ plays to try and extend drives and/or gain yards.  Jet sweep to RJ McGill, bubble screens, 5-10 yard passes to the tight ends, QB draws, quick slants, three-step fades or fade stops. The tight ends have been non-existent since Kyle Ruhe got hurt and a guy like Zach Adler needs to be that pass-catcher from the TE spot.  Also, we have seen a few QB draws this year and they have worked for the most part.  Against Stony Brook, Mollberg took off twice in a row gaining positive yards each time.
  8. Finally, the play of Joe Mollberg.  Considering everything I just said it is very hard to blame Mollberg too much.  He has made a few plays this year and also missed a handful of wide open receivers.  QB is a RHYTHM position, they need to get in a rhythm, and it’s quite obvious to all that the UND offense has no rhythm.  I think Mollberg has the tools to run the offense but cannot get going.  He then makes a poor throw which sets everything back once again. Honestly, they could try Ryan Bartles but I don’t know if it would make much of a difference.  Nothing is clicking.  It’s easy to play QB when your O-Line kicks the hell out of everybody.
Like we said earlier, not concerned with the scheme as much as we are with the execution/timing of the scheme.  UND should stick with it but possibly dig a little deeper to run 3-5 unique plays a game to try move the chains or hit the big like they did last week to Dev Ferguson.  Mollberg threw that ball perfectly and it was well-timed call by OC Paul Rudolph.  (They did try the reverse-pass again with Ivery but he smartly tucked it away when the receiver was not open).
UND fans need to realize that the offense “is what it is” and the calls and formations are not changing.  Personnel and down/distance play-calling can change but the run/pass ratio is probably not going to.

 

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