Well, here we are – the final week of 2012 for UND. It has flown by in a hurry. For the second straight season, UND heads out to Greeley, CO to take on the Northern Colorado Bears in a matchup of old NCC rivals. UND beat the Bears 27-25 in 2011. UNC (4-6) is currently one of UND’s fixed “rivals” in the scheduling setup by the Big Sky and are coming off a 42-34 victory over Weber State. Amazingly, they have now won back-to-back games for the first time since 2003. Game time is set for 1:05pm CT.
UND Defense vs. Northern Colorado Offense
Once again UND is set to see a wide open, passing offense. The Bears throw the ball at a 3:1 ratio vs. running it. On the season they average 25 pts/game and 353 total yds/game. That ranks them 11th and 12th overall in the Big Sky, respectively. UND will see a bunch of 3 and 4 receiver sets with decent amount of running game sprinkled in. UND’s corners will be tested continuously in this game as it appears the Bears have their passing game rolling are sure to attack a vulnerable UND pass defense.
QB Seth Lobato, the reigning Big Sky player of the week, is having a pretty good season for the Bears. On the season Lobato is completing passes at a 58% clip and averages 258 yds/game passing. He has 17 TD’s vs. 9 INT’s. The 6’5″ junior is no threat to run the ball as he only has 48 rushing yds on the season. It appears to be a battle of 6’5″ pocket passers coming up on Saturday as Lobato is similar in stature to UND’s Braden Hanson.
Lobato’s main target in the passing game is senior WR Dominic Gunn. For those of you UND fans that are rejoicing that Patrick Walker is no longer around (see 315 yds receiving vs. UND last year), Gunn may be nearly as good. On the year Gunn (5’11″-170) has 49 catches for 639 yds and 6 TD’s. Junior WR Jace Davis also has 46 catches for 591 yds and 2 TD’s.
Defensive keys to game
- Pressure on Lobato. He has been sacked 21 times on the season and UND must get to him consistently to try and throw off the timing of their pass-heavy offense.
- Stuff the running game early. UNC, like most every other Big Sky team, will try to run the ball early and see if they can get UND on their heels to enable them to fire up the passing game. Shut down the run game early and make them throw the ball 40+ times. They have been playing pretty good football lately and will want to run the ball to control the game and end the season with a win.
UND Offense vs. Northern Colorado Defense
This UNC Bear defense is allowing 30 points and 405 total yards per game with 227 of that coming through the air. They have shown a very versatile and diverse defense throughout the season that will give multiple looks up front and in the secondary. We have seen them run 3-4, 4-3 and 3-3-5 alignments on many different occasions and virtually every different type of coverage to compliment their fronts. The UNC defense is led by a trio of senior defenders in safeties #32 Marcel Gibbons and #30 Jordan Bible and linebacker #52 Herve Tonye-Tonye.
Offensively, with UND coming off their bye week and having some time to heal up and scout the Bears defense, we feel that UND will stay aggressive with their playcalling in the season finale. With power back Mitch Sutton done for the year, the balance of pass to run should lean to the air attack. But we do feel UND will still run the ball to keep the UNC defense honest. However, if there is success early in the inside and outside zone running game, that could change things. We think there could be some potential for freshman PJ Sparks to see some carries this week to replace the physical running of Sutton. It would be nice to be able to move the chains and run the clock to keep the UND defense fresh.
Senior QB Braden Hanson will be looking to go out with a bang this week. He should see a lot of zone coverages and will have to be able to make the proper safety reads pre-snap and take what the defense gives him. He’s been notably successful doing this most of the season, and needs to not try force this issue into tight spots downfield this week. The fresh and well-rested UND receivers shouldn’t have any issues getting open with their same passing attack that they have used all year.
The UND offensive line play will determine the direction and flow of this game. Are they able to pick up some decent yardage in the run game to keep the UNC defense honest? Are they able to protect in the passing game, along with the running backs? These 2 factors will be key in determining the success of the offense in Greeley on Saturday.
This is an improved UNC Football team. We all know what happened last year in Greeley with the awful UND pass defense and record-setting day for the UNC Bear passing game. Big plays were the sole reason why the game was as close as it was last year. If the UND defense can make UNC drive the ball this year, it bodes well for UND and the tempo of the game overall. Special teams and field position could also play a big factor in favor of UND.
This is a huge game for the UND program to end the season. They have a chance to finish at .500 in the Big Sky Conference in their inaugural season and can finish with an overall winning record. Hopefully the seniors lead and the underclassmen play their hearts out for them to send them out on a winning note. It would also to be nice to hit the recruiting road and offseason on a high note. Plenty of motivation for UND to win this game. This is a tone-setter for 2013 and beyond in the eyes of the players, coaches, recruits, fans and alumni.