Week 1 Preview – San Jose State Spartans

The UND Football team opens the 2014 season this Thursday, August 28th out at San Jose State, an FBS program from the Mountain West Conference.  Game time is set for 9pm central time.  The Spartans were picked 5th in the MWC-West Preseason Poll and were 6-6 last season.

TV:  ESPN3  Radio:  All UND Radio Affiliates.

UND Defense vs. SJSU Offense

UND is going to see an offense that is typical of most collegiate offense’s these days: shotgun, spread look with 3 receivers, maybe 4, and alot of read-handoff zone running plays.  They like to employ one running back and a tight end to with those three receivers.  Hog (balanced) and Tom (trips) formations with the tight end in the game.   SJSU runs a no-huddle offense but does not operate at a frantic pace, like Baylor or Oregon.  They will usually setup and take 15-20 seconds of the play-clock trying to read the defense before snapping ball.

SJSU only has 5 returning starters on offense and lost some of their heavy hitters from last season in QB David Fales, WR Chandler Jones and WR Kyle Nunn.

QB Blake Jurich won the fall camp battle vs. Joe Gray to be the starter vs. UND.  Jurich has backed up current NFL QB David Fales for the past two seasons and has not seen much action at all.  He attempted six passes last season total.  At 6’4″ he will have the ability to survey the field in the passing game and does have a past history of being able to run the ball.  Jurich was in a camp-long battle with soph. Joe Gray but won the position after the second scrimmage.  Gray is the runner of the two and UND must be aware when he enters the game, which is inevitable being it was such a tight QB race.

SJSU’s main RB, Jarrod Lawson has been suspended for the first two games of the season, vs. UND and Auburn.  He was their leading rusher last season with 788 yards and 4 TD’s.  The man to take his place is #3 sophomore Thomas Tucker (5’10-195).  He ran for 338 yards last season.  We fully believe that SJSU will run the ball much more than they did last season now that Fales is gone.

WR #15 Tyler Winston is their go-to-guy at wide receiver.  The 6’2-190 sophomore had a huge freshman season for the Spartans with 58 receptions for 858 yards and 5 TD’s.  Winston is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball and will need full attention from the UND secondary.  A guy who has blown up in fall camp is converted RB #7 Tyler Ervin.  He is apparently their speed guy and has made multiple long receptions in fall camp.  If Ervin is in the slot that could present problems for the UND safeties.

The weakest part of the SJSU offense appears to be the offensive line.  They only have two players back that actually started a game in their careers in junior Wes Schweitzer and senior David Peterson, who is their best OL and a Rimington candidate.  This bodes well for the UND defense as they must get a good effort from their defensive line to try and slow down Tucker and the SJSU run game.

Expect to see at least four true freshman playing for the UND defense vs. SJSU.  Corner Chris Carter, Corner Deion Harris, DE Drew Greely, and DE Brandon Dranka will all get some playing time in the game.  We believe Harris to be the nickel/dime defensive back.

Keys to the game for UND Defense:

  1. Defend the long ball.  SJSU is going to take their shots deep.  They have deep threats to do it and if UND is able to defend the majority of them, using the much-improved technique and overall play that we have seen through fall camp, they will have a shot.
  2. Slow down the run.  They won’t stop it but they need to tackle well from the LB and S spots to make them snap it again.  Made/missed tackles will once again be the difference for this UND defense.
  3. Get off the field on third down.  Give the UND offense as many reps as they can to try and get their own running game going and control the clock.  There are going to be multiple three and outs by the UND offense, we know that.  The UND defense needs to return the favor and get a few of their own.
  4. Recognize the screens early.  SJSU is going to run alot of screens – bubble, quick, slip, etc.  UND needs to recognize these as they are developing and react up to stop them.  If they don’t they will continue to see them throughout the game.  Screens are a tough play to defend on a consistent basis.

UND Offense vs SJSU Defense

The UND offense has a lot of questions marks entering the first game of 2014.  Joe Mollberg is under the spotlight as the sophomore QB will be counted on to make big strides this year under center.  This first game against the Spartans could be a big indicator on the direction of his development under 1st year coordinator Paul Rudolph and his new offense.  In addition to that, there is an unknown element on the right side of the offensive line and how effective they can and will be in the run game.  The wide receiver group also has something to prove with graduation, attrition and youth at that position since last season.

We expect to see a ball control offense early on, more so than last year.  The running game needs to be the catalyst for the tempo of the offense.  Even if it’s tough sledding early on, we think there will be persistence there to help Joe Mollberg feel more comfortable when dropping back to pass by keeping SJSU guessing in defensive playcalling.  Having said that, it’s really unknown by us as to how UND will want to try attack the SJSU defense and what their game plan will be.  There are so many unknowns right now regarding the Spartans defense.

One big reason for this uncertainty is that the Spartans have a new defensive coordinator in Greg Robinson.  Robinson was the D-coordinator for the Denver Broncos during their back-to-back Super Bowl runs with John Elway in 1998 and 1999.  He has since held defensive coordinator positions with the Kansas City Chiefs , Texas Longhorns (twice), Michigan Wolverines and was head coach for Syracuse from 2005-2008 – quite the resume to say the least.  Robinson ran a 4-3 at Syracuse as the head coach, but in his latest stint as DC with the Longhorns in 2013, he ran a “stack” look in a 3-4 similar to what UND runs.  This just adds to the uncertainty on what we believe UND will see tonight.  We’re betting UND has had a tough time prepping for his defense because of this.

A couple things we think might be imminent:  a blitzing SJSU defense given the inexperience of the UND offensive line and the problems UND showed on film last season picking up pressure; SJSU cornerbacks challenging the UND wideouts in press coverage on the line of scrimmage, specifically on the backside of 3 by 1 sets.  When in zone coverage, we think SJSU could potentially play a lot of cover 4 in balanced sets when they aren’t blitzing.  It will be interesting to see if the young UND WR corps will be able to get off the line in press-man situations.  That could be a big factor in the success of the UND passing game.

Keys to the game for UND Offense:

1.  Control the tempo of the game early on.  Weather the storm in the run game and any other potential shortcomings including early turnovers.  Do not abandon the running game unless absolutely necessary.  We expect to see a minimum of 12-15 carries by the UND RB stable in the first half.
2.  Ease Joe Mollberg into the passing game.  Build his confidence by using his athletic ability with boot and rollout looks to give him easy reads and possible run/pass options on the edge early on.
3.  Execute screen and draw game to slow down the defensive pressures we believe SJSU will use early and often.  They cannot become comfortable pinning their ears back by sending 5 and 6 man pressures, specifically on 3rd down early in the game.
4.  Play the field position grudge match.  Even with the youth on special teams and defense, UND needs to rely on making the field longer and make the Spartan offense have to drive the ball on long drives.
5.  Turnovers.  Any more than 2 for the UND offense spells trouble.


It’s going to be a battle of which staff can adjust when the unknown’s become known’s.  Obviously, SJSU has the better overall athletes on the field.  Can UND come together on offense enough to sustain drives and get points?  Can the UND defense hold up in the back end with all their youth and inexperience?  Will the two true freshman kickers be able to perform under the bright lights out in San Jose?  Too many question marks and peach fuzz in all three phases tonight, in our opinion.  We’d love to be wrong.

San Jose State   27

UND   14

5 Responses

  1. New UND

    Unless we can effectively pressure their QB our secondary may be in trouble. Starting corners can cover, but they are small. They will have to be able to get off blocks and make open field tackles. Fresman Chris Carter is ready, but Deion Harris is inconsistent and prone to give up a big play. Flowers should definitely be in the 2 deep and Safety William James will be challanged athletically. I understand their were some issues with injury and maybe he is still learning the system, but Domo Blackmon looked good in practice at FS.
    Our O-line will ultimately be the difference in the game. They will have to protect the QB and allow us to extend drives. Otherwise, it will get ugly early.

    1. The timeless question: try for pressure and leave DB’s alone or put guys back to help and rush four? Like we said, the unknown’s will become known’s and the game plan will then evolve.

  2. Josh

    Any word if Cheatom is going to play? Also, what’s up with Shea Walker? Is he eligible to play? Or injured?

    1. Cheatom was left home on this trip and was not injured. Tells us they didn’t like something.

      Walker is suspended for two games and did not practice until roughly halfway through camp anyway. He will help the team but is not counted on.

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