UND (3-4) enters their much anticipated matchup with the Griz on a low-note after a 45-38 loss the Northern Arizona last week at homecoming. Montana (3-4) also is coming in to the game off a loss, losing to Southern Utah at home 30-20. Last weekend, both North Dakota schools and both Montana schools lost their football games – at home. Strange weekend. This season has been a tough one for the Montana faithful as they have already lost four games, something that is relatively unheard of in Missoula - for a full season. They are mathematically still eligible for the playoffs so we expect no quit in Montana and they shouldn’t leave anything on the table.
This weekends game is set for 2:40pm central time at the Alerus Center and will be televised nationally on ROOT Sports.
UND Defense vs. Montana Offense
Montana runs the Pistol spread-read-option type of offense that so many teams are running these days. They are averaging 240 yds/game on the ground and that is how they would prefer to win the game. They are led by a pair of very good running backs in #28 Peter Nguyen and #26 Jordan Canada, who have combined for 868 yds and 4 TD’s on the year. Their other main runner is the QB Trent McKinney. McKinney has done a nice job filling in for last years starter Jordan Johnson, who ran into off-season trouble and was kicked off the team. McKinney is a true dual-threat QB as he has ran for 444 yds and 7 TD’s, while throwing for 1,277 and 8 TD’s. He will be a key to stopping the Griz offense that comes into the game averaging 30 pts/game. One of McKinney’s favorite targets is All-Big Sky TE Greg Hardy. Hardy has 18 catches for 130 yds on the the season.
A key to the Griz offense is spreading you out and trying to find lanes which to cut back into. This type of offense has been a major problem for UND this season. UND is giving up 230 rushing yds/game overall this season and it isn’t hard to figure out what the Griz are going to do on Saturday once you read that statistic. We see Montana giving UND a steady dose of read-option football until UND proves they can stop it.
The Montana offensive line does not appear to be as good as they have been in the past but are still a solid group. Across the board the offense is still a dangerous group that can put up points, that is, when they are not turning it over. Montana’s achilles heel this year has been turnovers – they are -5 in turnover margin and it has killed them in big games thus far.
I know we sound like a broken record but UND must tackle better to have a chance in this game. Montana will spread UND out and try to run to whichever gap presents itself. The defensive line must be more sound in their gap responsibilities.
UND Offense vs. Montana Defense
The Montana defense enters the game giving up an average of 27.6 points and 362 total yards, with 256 yards coming through the air and only 106 on the ground per game. They run a base 4-3 defensive alignment with a 2 high look, but they will also lineup in a “stack” 3-4 alignment in certain downs and distances to give a different look up front and bring pressure. The Griz defense is led by #58 DE Zach Wangenmann (think Clay Matthews), #56 LB Brock Coyle and #37 LB Jordan Tripp.
After watching some film of Montana throughout the year and against Southern Utah last week, 2 things specifically stuck out to us.
One, Montana blitzes A LOT. It seemed as though they blitzed every play against the multiple WR attack of the Thunderbirds last week. This will be a huge challenge to the UND OL and WRs. Both groups will have to execute their assignments and be sharp in blitz pick-up in order to have success in the passing game. The UND WRs will see a ton of man coverage – it’s up to them to get open. Braden Hanson should be licking his chops.
Two, Montana’s defense is fast – to the point where we kept saying ‘wow’. Their front 7 is solid and their safeties get downhill in a hurry in run support, which is one reason why they are so good against the run statistically. They are probably average in pass coverage overall as a secondary, hence their big passing numbers given up.
The UND passing game may have to get a little more conservative this week against the pressure of Montana by using quick 3 step drops and executing the screen game. Braden Hanson is very good at checking down to his backs and WRs when needed – something that is VERY underrated. However, we still think that the UND WRs can get open against this Montana secondary and their man coverages in the vertical passing game. The question will be whether or not the pass protection can do their job and give Braden Hanson time to make the throws.
UND has every chance in the world to win this game. Montana is somewhat down this season compared to their usual Top 5 FCS type of team they have. UND has shown they can score points on pretty much anyone. They have also shown they cannot stop anyone. This one should be tight once again, much like last week’s game vs. NAU. We want the UND team to show us they can win a high-profile game like this one. We though they could win last week vs. a ranked NAU team but they could not get the stops to do it. Could they bear down and get the much needed stop towards the end of the game this week? We think so.
North Dakota 31