The UND football team is back in the Alerus Center again this week taking on a familiar foe from last season. The #11 ranked Montana Grizzlies come to town with a 1-0 record after shellacking the #6 ranked Appalachian State Mountaineers 30-6 in the their season opener two weeks ago. The Griz were off last week.
Gametime is set for 6pm this Saturday at the Alerus Center. The game will be televised on Midco Sports Network and also will be picked up by Fox College Sports (Directv 623).
The Griz enter the game on a high note after destroying Appy State in the season opener. Coming off a 5-6 season a year ago many questioned if the Griz had lost their ways, so to speak. Well, we are here to tell you it doesn’t appear so. They are looking like the Montana teams of old and will be every bit as good as the SDSU team that came into the Alerus Center last week and beat UND 35-28. UND beat Montana last season 40-34 behind QB Braden Hanson’s Big Sky record setting 660 yard day. WR Greg Hardin also set the Big Sky record with 330 receiving yards in that game.
UND Defense vs. Montana Offense
After watching the Griz offense in Week 1 vs Appy State I can definitively say they are much, much better than last season. They have abandoned the spread offense for a Pro-style offense. QB Jordan Johnson, the starter from 2011 who had to sit out last year due to off the field issues, is back and didn’t appear to have much rust on him. Johnson, who was 19-23 for 251 yds last week, will work out of the Pistol while also being under center a good part of the time, too. The Griz like to employ a fullback and tight end most of the time, along with two wide receivers and a tailback. Like we said, Pro-style. It is quite obvious they want to use their size advantage to run the ball on teams and then set up play-action for Johnson to have a pass-run option. The Griz like to get Johnson on the run by using boot-legs and rollouts. He is very dangerous in those situations.
In the running game the Griz like to run power right at teams. Their offensive line, led by RT Danny Kistler, averages 6’6″-305 across the line and appears to be fairly athletic also. The pass protection vs. Appy State was pretty good and their run blocking was the same. They will more than likely be the best OL UND faces this season.
Our biggest worry in this game is how to stop RB’s Travon Van (#8) and Jordan Canada (#26). They are a dynamic one-two punch that keeps coming at you all game. Both show very good quickness and cutting ability. Against Appy State, Canada went for 25-112 and Van 20-118. Each ran for a TD. As most people know, UND has had major issues stopping the run the past two seasons. Last week vs. SDSU, UND gave up 295 yards to RB Zach Zenner alone.
The Griz passing game does not concern us nearly as much their running game. With only two receivers in the game most of the time, they pick and choose their times to take a shot. Passing is not what they want to do. They will do it to move the chains but want to win the game on the ground. Johnson is more than capable of throwing the football for big yardage but we are more concerned about their running packages, for obvious reasons.
Defensive Keys to the Game:
- Front Seven has to play their “game of the year”. The Griz are going to test them early and often with Van and Canada and if the UND front seven does not offer some resistance they will continue to pound it at them and wear them out. Have to get Montana in some 3rd and 6+ situations early.
- Safeties need to provide major run support. They will be unblocked on a good number of plays and they need to fill the alley or step up in the hole and make the tackle for a 2-3 yard gain. If they are late getting there or start missing tackles it is going to be a long game for UND fans.
UND Offense vs Montana Defense
The Griz bring their 4-3 defense once again this week to The Alerus. They play some 2-high looks in the secondary, but will roll down a safety and play cover 3 when necessary. They are coming off a game in which they held down Appalachian State to 6 points, while giving up 328 total yards and creating 2 turnovers. Defensive end Zack Wagenmann, linebackers Jordan Tripp and Brock Coyle lead the Montana defense that returns 9 starters form last year’s squad.
We are interested to see how the Griz defense responds to last year’s game against UND, particularly in the secondary, where Big Sky records were shattered in the passing game. Will they play the UND WRs straight up, or will they give extra help and attention to #84’s side? We know that they are going to want to get pressure on the UND freshman QBs, but at what cost? Sending more guys puts more pressure on the secondary. They could play over the top of Hardin with Cover 1 and “2-Man” looks to try get the best of both worlds. To start the game, Mollberg will have to be able to make the proper pre-snap reads and react on the fly to what the defense gives him. We feel like there are some opportunities to be had against this Montana defensive backfield, given the assumption that Mollberg has time to throw the ball. Mollberg’s feet, athleticism and improvisation skills will be put to the test this week. Montana will try confuse Mollberg by trying to roll down late and disguise coverages to test his mental game.
This is a fast sideline to sideline Montana defense, but we think the UND north/south downhill running game needs to get going this week. We’re hoping to see a barrage of UND running backs rotated in and out to change the pace and style of the running game with power, counter and inside/outside zone plays. PJ Sparks, Jer Garman and Adam Shaugabay all bring something different to the table and complement what Jake Miller does. If UND can run the ball 25-30 times on Saturday, we think it bodes well for the offense. A 60/40 pass to run ratio or better would be nice to see.
We hope to see Kenny Golladay get used more in the vertical passing game this week. He has been used a lot in the shorter, intermediate routes and passing game. His length, jumping ability and hands can be used to their advantage. He can be a big ‘stretch’ factor for UND throwing the ball. Golladay, Hardin and Jameer Jackson will have to eliminate drops this week and play to their potential as a unit, which is through the roof.
Injuries on the offensive line are a concern with center Shea Walker and left tackle Joe Kleason both questionable to play on Saturday. Devin Barton came in last week in the 2nd half to replace Kleason and did a commendable job from what we could see. He will be called upon again this week and will need to help solidify the pass protection and running game.
UND had a chance late in the game to tie it up and steal one from SDSU but couldn’t finish it off after making a valiant comeback from down by 21 early in the 3rd quarter. As we stated last week, the UND fanbase is waiting for them to win the “big game”. We stated that until they do, we need to be objective and pick who we truly think will win the game. This week is no different. Montana is a seasoned, well-built team that is playing with a huge chip on their shoulders after last year’s very “un-griz-like” 5-6 record. We are no different than the UND fanbase. We need to see that UND can beat an upper echelon FCS team before we start picking them to win.
North Dakota 31