The Fighting Sioux open the season on Thursday night at home against an FCS opponent, the Drake Bulldogs. The Dogs come into the game with some momentum based on their 7-4 finish a year ago. They are picked 3rd in the Pioneer League preseason poll. 4th year coach Chris Creighton has done a nice job since taking over for Rob Ash, who left for future Big Sky foe Montana State. Creighton has a record of 21-12 at Drake. The game will be televised on the Fighting Sioux Sports Network, Fox College Sports – DirecTV channel 623, and the Midco Sports Network.
UND Defense vs. Drake Offense
Drake returns 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball. They run a shotgun/pistol type of set where they have 1 RB and 4 WR/TE. Senior QB Mike Piatkowski (1,854 yds – 15TD’s – 7 ints) leads the offense. He is coming off a knee injury that cut short his 2010 season but was on pace to have a great year. He stands around 6’1″, very similar in size to Sioux starting QB Joey Bradley. After watching Piatkowski and Bradley we have a feeling they are going to be very similar type players. Piatkowski likes to get rid of the ball on quick hitters to his receivers. Alot of 3-step. His favorite targets are #33 Drew Blackmon and #3 Joey Orlando, who had 41 and 35 catches last season, respectively. The both stand around 5’9″.
All five members of the offensive line are back, led by RT Evan Lawrence, who was First Team All Pioneer League last season. They are going to lead the way for running backs #30 Pat Cashmore and #4 Trey Morse who both had around 350 yards rushing last season. The matchup in the trenches will be one for Sioux fans to watch. UND is returning the Killer B’s along the DL (Brenneman, Bellmore, Benjamin) and going against a Drake OL that is returning all 5 starters should be a good test to start the year.
We don’t see the Sioux bringing much pressure in this one, at least early. Drake gets rid of the ball so quickly so it defeats the purpose of blitzing. The Sioux would not get there in time. Which forces them to take option #2. Sit back and cover while trying to get pressure with 4-5 guys. This way they have a guy on each side who can hole drop and try and take care of those quick slants and hook routes. We are not worried as much about the run as we are about the 3 step game. The corners are going to need to be confident and play up on the receivers to force them to run longer routes than they want to. The Sioux should have an edge in athleticism in that matchup. However, we do believe that if the Sioux can get up early that the normal amount of pressure (5-6 guys) will happen quite often.
UND Offense vs. Drake Defense
Drake returns 6 starters from last year’s defense, led by 6-1, 222 pound senior inside linebacker Tyler Moorehead. This is the guy that is the key to Drake’s defense as he is very active and always around the ball. Also of note is that UND freshman linebacker Will Ratelle’s brother, Mike Ratelle, is a junior defensive back for the Bulldogs. Drake is an undersized 4-3 defensive front who likes to play a lot of 2 high secondary coverage, whether it be cover 4 or cover 2.
Look for UND to establish a running game early since they should have an advantage physically. This will make things easier for first year starter Joey Bradley and make him more comfortable when he is called upon to execute the passing game. We expect offensive coordinator Greg Breitbach to keep things simple early in order to get Bradley some confidence. Short passes and the screen game would be a good way to do this. Mitch Sutton and Jake Miller should get the bulk of the carries, with Adam Shaugabay and Spencer Bickel spelling them if need be. Don’t be surprised to see Jer Garman in the mix as well as a “scat back” change-up if they have already decided to pull his redshirt.
All indications are that TE Seth Nichols is out for the game tomorrow being we haven’t seen him practice all week. This could lead to more 3 and 4 WR sets with Greg Hardin, RJ McGill, Blair Townsend and Tyrhe Ivery being the primary guys. That’s 3 sophomores and 1 freshman if you are keeping track at home. Upperclassmen Chris Anderson, Drew Daggett and Jon Heimler will no doubt still see action as well.
UND needs to see this offensive line be physical and take control of the line of scrimmage from the start to help what we think will be a controlled, short passing game for a new QB. Deneui, Kleason, McGurran, Lynch and Quesenberry need to put their mark on this game right away and sustain drives for chunks of minutes at a time.
Once again this year we will offer our slightly biased prediction of what is going to happen in the game we preview. Hopefully, we will be a bit more accurate than we were last year.
The Sioux have got a lot to prove. To the fans, to the Great West Conference, and most of all to themselves. This could be a statement game that helps erase the memory of last season and starts off 2011 the right way. We see a few positional mismatches that lead us to pick the Sioux in this one by a fair margin. It will be a good game to attend and should give us a decent gauge of where this Sioux team is at heading into the season. Alot has been said about Drake being from the Pioneer League, which is non-scholarship. Lets remember, these schools have plenty of “grants” and “aid” available to give to potential recruits in place of a traditional scholarship.
North Dakota 37