The highly ranked teams just keep coming to the Alerus Center. For the third game in a row, UND will be taking on a top 10 team in the country for a 2:30 kickoff in Grand Forks. This time it’s the #10 Montana State Bobcats, who carry a 2-2 record on the year and are coming off a wild 52-38 loss to Stephen F. Austin down in Nacogdoches.
The Bobcats beat UND 55-10 out in Bozeman last season and that beatdown has to be weighing on the minds of the UND players. MSU did pretty much whatever they wanted on offense and defense, rushing for an astounding 436 yards and recording 8 sacks. This season, however, the Bobcats are experiencing a little more trouble than in the past due to a variety of issues, one of them being injuries. They lost All-World QB Denarius McGhee for 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury, which mean he will not be playing this weekend vs. UND. That alone is a huge blow to MSU but then you factor in they have lost three of their top wide receivers in Kurt Davis, Tanner Roderick, and Kurt Flotkoetter for multiple games and you can see why they are struggling. Neither of those three receivers are playing this weekend. There are also a couple other defensive lineman, linebackers, and defensive backs that have missed time.
UND Defense vs. MSU Offense
The Bobcats bring a high-powered shotgun spread offense into the game this weekend that is averaging 34pts/game this year. As we mentioned above, MSU will be without their All-American QB Denarius McGhee this weekend. Taking his place is sophomore Jake Bleskin (6’1″-195). Bleskin has done a decent job filling in for McGhee, going 49-80 for 641 yds and 4 TDs vs 4 Ints. All four of those INT’s were last week vs. SFA. Bleskin does not show anywhere near the arm strength of McGhee or the running ability. He appears to be more of a short to intermediate thrower and not much a running threat, although he will take off at times.
RB #25 Cody Kirk is once again the main running threat for the Bobcats. Kirk has 68 rushes for 232 yards and 5 TD’s on the year. The Bobcats running game hasn’t got off the ground this year and is nowhere near the threat it was last year. We think part of that has to do with the loss/threat of McGhee but something else must be going on, too. The offensive line is missing one player this weekend, starting RT Alex Eekhoff, but has been intact for the first four games of the year. Their offensive line is solid and will be a handful once again for UND’s defensive front.
The main receiving threat is #86 Tanner Bleskin, the brother of QB Jake Bleskin. Bleskin, 6’3″-218, is the Bobcats all-time leading receiver with 2,268 yards in his career. He is a possession receiver and physical mismatch for most defensive backs and UND will need to be aware of where he is at all times. So far this season Bleskin has 31 catches for 421 yds and a TD.
Defensive Keys to the Game:
- Stop the run. MSU has struggled to get the running game going thus far in 2013 but if they watch last years tape of the UND game (436 yds) they will think this may be the game to get it back on track. However, the last two games MSU has only rushed for 98 and 107 yds, respectively. UND needs to continue the trend of stacking the box and forcing Bleskin to beat them through the air. UND has shown they will blitz, blitz and blitz some more in an effort to slow down opponents running games and we think that will continue on Saturday. Look for UND to bring six guys consistently to try and slow down Kirk and the Bobcats ground game. We are expecting DL Seth Stanchik, LB Will Ratelle, and possibly LB Dayo Idowu to return to the lineup. Nothing official yet but the bye week could have helped them get back.
- Tackle in space. MSU is going to spread UND out with three and four receiver sets and try to use short stuff to get their guys the ball in space. UND will need to show improved tackling to get the Bobcats off the field on third down, which hasn’t been as hard for opposing team’s this season as in past years. The Bobcats are only converting 34% of their third down opportunities.
UND Offense vs Montana State Defense
The Bobcats play a 4-man defensive front with ‘hybrid standup’ defensive ends who play with their hands off the ground. The very athletic D-Ends really like to twist and stunt to use their athletic ability and try confuse the offensive pass protections of opposing teams. They like to mix up their coverages considerably but play lots of cover 4 and man coverage looks in the secondary. Montana State is giving up an average of 26.8 points and 388 yards per game so far this season. They are led by #41, defensive end Brad Daly who already has 8 sacks this season and 28 for his career. He will be a handful for the UND O-Line on Saturday.
The UND Offense needs to get back on track after last week’s disappointing effort where they made too many physical and mental mistakes. Much of that falls on the leader of the huddle – The Quarterback. Joe Mollberg (whom we expect to start the game) needs to show moxy and leadership and take the game by the balls. This game is not winnable without very good play from the UND QB’s.
There shouldn’t be much new from the offense. They just need to execute the gameplan in the passing game and hope that they can make the running game a threat, if nothing else. Since the Bobcats like to blitz a lot, the UND WRs and OC Luke Schleusner have to be licking their chops with the thoughts of the opportunities they might get for 1 on 1 coverage. It will just be a matter of holding up in protection. The twisting and stunting defensive fronts have presented problems for the UND offensive line this year. The running backs may be called upon to help out before they leave the protection on their check down routes. They will have to know where #41 is on the field at all times, as will Joe Mollberg.
Offensive Keys to the Game:
1. Get off to a good start to build momentum and confidence for Mollberg and the offense in general. Move the sticks early and often. Throw the ball to the running backs out of the backfield – “check down”. There is no problem with checking down to the backs, in fact, it has been so wide open at time this year it would go for huge gainers if they did it.
2. Make MSU respect a running game. If the Bobcats can just tee-off without consequence and send 5-6 man pressures all day, UND will be in trouble.
3. Hold up in protection. Max protect, chip with RB’s, do whatever it takes to give Mollberg time and confidence to stand in there and make his reads/progressions/throws downfield. Switch up snap counts and cadences to keep the defensive front off balance.
When making our prediction for the week we like to take into account all factors. Offense, defense, injuries, home field, travel, coaching, etc. In our opinion, a good portion of the intangibles like home field, coming off bye week, being rested, and getting healthy all favor UND. The offenses are a wash and MSU would get the nod defensively. MSU just made a long trip to Texas, their second in trip down there in three weeks. Now they come into the Alerus Center, which has never been kind to visiting teams that are making their initial appearance. MSU put it on UND big time last year 55-10 and that will surely be fresh on the minds of the UND players.
Putting the Montana debacle out of our minds, we do think that UND has a legit shot in this game. Montana is a better football team than Montana State, just as they were a better team than SDSU, according to all who saw both teams play. MSU is still a pretty darn good team, despite all the injuries, and are ranked #10 for a reason. However, we feel like they are ripe for the picking this Saturday. Its going to a be a wild one, both teams will score, but in the end we think UND can pull the upset and will. After taking SDSU and Montana in consecutive weeks, we are going with the good guys.
See all of you at The Alerus Center.