Northern Arizona brings their 4-1 record (2-0 in Big Sky) to The Alerus Center on Saturday as the #16 ranked team in the country. The Lumberjacks have signature wins, both on the road, over FBS member UNLV (17-14) and Montana in Missoula (41-31). It’s safe to say that they will not be intimidated by a big Alerus Center homecoming crowd, which should be over 10,000 strong. NAU is the 3rd ranked opponent in a row that UND will face. This game could have a bearing on the direction of the rest of the season for North Dakota.
UND Defense vs. Northern Arizona Offense
The UND defense, which has struggled mightily vs. the run this season, has another potent rushing team coming to Alerus Center this weekend in the UNA Lumberjacks. They are averaging 176 yds/game on the ground and 191 yds/game through the air, showing they do both facets very well. One interesting stat we came across was that UNA has not turned the ball over in 18 straight quarters. That is almost unbelievable. UND will need to stop that streak on Saturday to win this game.
UNA runs a multiple formation offense, working both under center, out of the gun, and out of the pistol formation. They will utilize all possible sets with WR’s, TE’s, and RB’s. There offense is somewhat similar to UND’s.
The UNA offense is led by QB #5 Cary Grossart. The senior is connecting at a 70% clip on his throws and has thrown for 3 TD’s on the year. He is not much of a threat to run but appears to be more of a “game-manager” type of QB. Gets the ball to his WR’s in space and hands the ball off.
The Lumberjack offense begins and ends with RB #34 Zach Bauman. The all-world Bauman is averaging 118 yds/game and has 7 TD’s on the season. Besides using Bauman in the running game, they like to throw screens to him and they do it very well. Bauman possesses very good speed as seen on the first play of the game vs. Montana where he broke a 75 yard TD run and was never touched. UND will need to key on Bauman to have a chance in this one.
Something is going to need to change this week for this UND defense or they will get gashed again by yet another rushing attack. UNA will stick with the run if its working and that could be a major problem for UND. The passing game of UNA is nothing great so we feel as if UND should be OK in that respect. However, they will need to show some sort of ability to stop the run or UNA will not have to pass anyway.
UND Offense vs. UNA Defense
UND will be facing one of the most aggressive defenses they will see all year in Big Sky play. The Lumberjacks bring a base 4-3 alignment up front, but will show many different looks in the secondary with cover 0 and cover 1 blitz packages. They were overtly aggressive defensively against Portland State last week on Big Sky TV. Northern Arizona’s defense is led by #94 senior DE Jarrett Bilbrey and #20 junior safety Lucky Dozier. They are giving up an average of 23.6 points and 346 total yards, with 160 of it coming on the ground and 186 through the air.
We suspect that if healthy, Braden Hanson will be the starting QB this week. If Northern Arizona continues to be as aggressive defensively as they have been all year, UND could have a big day offensively, particularly in the passing game. If they see man-to-man coverage a lot, the ball will be flying down the field. We will personally be licking our chops when we see blitzes and man coverages from the NAU defense.
The effect of the RJ McGill injury is probably flying under the radar more than it should. RJ is a complete WR with lots of experience and will be sorely missed in the passing game. Up the depth chart go Kenny Golladay, Tyrhe Ivery and Blair Townsend. All 3 will have increased roles in the offense now with McGill done for the year and all 3 will have to step up big for the UND offense in his absence.
Having said all of that regarding the passing game, UND really needs to get the running game back on track and the o-line needs to get back into the groove of dropping the plow. Mitch Sutton has not run with the same fervor and power since the Sacramento State game. We think he may have a nagging injury of some sort. Sutton, Jake Miller and Jer Garman all need to remind people of their talents and run with passion and explosiveness this weekend.
Keys to the game:
- UND has to win the turnover battle, which will be easier said than done given the record of the NAU offense over the season. They simply have not turned the ball over.
- We’d like to think there could be some balance to the offensive production this week, but we believe the passing game will be there to be had more. UND needs to throw the ball successfully.
- Hold NAU RB Zach Bauman to less than 150 yards rushing.
- Offensive line pass protection for Braden Hanson. Make him feel comfortable int he pocket early and pick up the blitzers in pass protection. That means the RBs too.
- UND defense needs to get the NAU ball-control, clock-eating offense off the field.
- Kenny Golladay. Kenny Golladay. Kenny Golladay.
We are interested to see how the boys respond to the effort they showed in Cheney last weekend. This game will show what they are really made of mentally. We’d like to think they have what it takes to move on and play well this week against a nationally-ranked opponent in front of a big UND homecoming crowd. We hope we are right.
Northern Arizona 37