UND heads into Week 7 of the 2013 season with a 2-4 record and in desperate need of wins as they close out the last half of the season. Last week UND lost to Eastern Washington 35-14 at the Alerus Center. This week’s opponent, Sacramento State, is 3-4 on the year and is coming off a heartbreaking 39-38 loss to Northern Arizona at home, a game where they led much of time but gave it up late.
Game time is set for 2:35pm CT at the Alerus Center. The game will be televised on Midco Sports Net and can be watched for free on WatchBigSky.com.
Former UND Athletic Director Terry Wanless heads back to Grand Forks for the 1st time this weekend as Sacramento State’s AD. Wanless has been there for the past 11 years and was the UND AD from 1990-1999.
UND Defense vs. Sac State Offense
Sacramento State brings yet another Pistol/Spread offense to the Alerus Center this week. They operate exclusively out of the Pistol or Shotgun and usually employ 3-4 receivers with a single back behind or next to the QB. On the year, Sac State is averaging 27 pts/game but that includes two FBS (SJSU, ASU) games to start the season where they were shutout. Just last week they put up 38 points in their 1 pt loss to NAU. The Hornets are fairly balanced, averaging 153 yds/game rushing and 244 yds/game passing.
At the controls for the Hornets is #12 Garrett Safron. The junior signal-caller is having a pretty good season thus far. On the year, Safron is 154-252 for 1,696 yds and 17 TDs vs 9 Ints. Safron has decent arm strength and is fairly accurate. He is also showed pretty good speed when keeping the ball in the zone-read game and is a definite threat to break one if left a seam. Last week vs. NAU he kept it on the zone-read and went up the middle for a 50 yard TD. On the year, Safron has rushed for 287 yards.
The Hornets recently lost their main running back to injury in Ezekiel Graham, who torched UND last year for 140 yards. We do not know if he is returning this week. After trying out a few RBs they seemed to settle on Juco transfer Brandon Kellerman. Kellerman, 6’-0-225, had 15 rushes for 56 yards and a TD last week vs. NAU. Safron and Kellerman should do the bulk of the running for the Hornets on Saturday.
Safron’s main target in the passing game is junior #2 Deandre Carter. Carter is having an excellent season with 38 catches for 528 yds and an astounding 11 TDs through 7 games. #13 Morris Norrise appears to be more of the possession guy as he has 44 catches for 395 yds and 3 TDs in 2013. Both of these guys are legitimate threats to UND in the passing game and will demand attention throughout the game.
Being Sac State’s offense is similar to EWU’s and ISU’s in terms of scheme and formations, we see them playing much the same way they defended those two offenses. Early in the year UND was blitzing like crazy by bringing 6 guys consistently. This seemed to lead to gaping holes and missed tackles, which led to big points on the score board for the opponents. The last two weeks UND has appeared to play more of a base defense and only bring 4-5 guys, leaving the rest playing a zone look and reacting up to the ball. Maybe it’s a coincidence but tackling has looked a bit better and overall gap integrity has been much better. Hopefully, we see more of that this week.
UND Offense vs Sac St Defense
From here on out, we truly feel the remainder of the schedule will be determined by this one important statistic. If the UND offense can just continue to improve on what it has been doing and get Mollberg more comfortable and confident each week, we see no reason why this offense can’t continue to improve and become prolific. If they hang on to the ball and convert their red-zone opportunities into points, they will be in every game and have a chance to win. They’ve got the talent. They just need to be smart and execute.
In last year’s game in Sacramento, Mitch Sutton and UND’s offensive line controlled the game from start to finish running the ball. The running game needs to continue to get carries, hopefully at least 25/game at minimum. You could see and notice the tempo difference last week against EWU. It doesn’t even have to be as effective as last year, just a threat.
Sacramento State is a 4-3 defense that likes to blitz. They will send 5 and 6 man pressures pretty frequently throughout the course of a game and like to play a lot of ‘one-high’ safety looks in Cover 1, as they showed last week against Northern Arizona and earlier this season against Southern Utah. The UND offensive line and RBs will have to be sharp in pass protection. You could see a lot of ‘3-step’ and ‘quick 5-step’ timing plays from the gun by UND to help with the blitzes and pressures by the Sac St. defense. Mollberg will have to get the ball out on time on these plays as the OL and RBs will be protecting accordingly (cut blocks, etc).
We wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of shuffling on the o-line if play continues like it did last week, specifically on the edges. Whether it’s a new starter or a rotation of some sort throughout the game, we feel it would be justifiable. Devin Barton could be a candidate to get more playing time moving forward.
Things are starting to ease up a bit in the schedule department for UND. They are done with the best the Big Sky has to offer and are now mostly playing teams that are similar to them in the preseason rankings. Sacramento State is a team that has talent and has won big games in the past (Colorado) but are definitely beatable for this UND team. We are seeing a breakout game for the offense and ,hopefully, the defense will continue to show improvement and create some turnovers to setup the offense with short fields. Part of the problem with the offense is that they are not good enough to have to go 80 yards every drive. Creating turnovers leading to quick scores is our recipe for success this weekend.
Sac State 24