FCS Playoff Preview – #7 UND Fighting Hawks Vs. Richmond Spiders

The Game Vitals

Game Time – 5:00pm – Alerus Centerdownload

 Opponent – Richmond Spiders

 Game Notes –  UND

 TV – DirecTV 789

 Radio – UND Radio Network

Online Streaming – ESPN3 (WatchESPN)

Spread – UND +3.   Total = 55

Richmond Spiders (9-3) Breakdown

— Offense = multiple formation

— Defense = 3-3-5

OffensivelyThe Spider offense is very balanced as their run to pass ratio is approximately 50/50.  They overwhelmingly run out 2 personnel groupings:  12 and 11.  So, they like to use their tight ends on the field.  Richmond will run multiple formations under center, out of the gun and in the pistol.  The offense is led by sophomore #7 Kevin Johnson, who had his redshirt pulled last week prior to their 1st round playoff game against NC A&T.  Multiple injuries to the QB depth chart dictated the move, including star Kyle Lauletta, who tore his ACL on the last game of the regular season.  Johnson is 6 feet tall and is definitely a dual threat QB.  All he did last week in his first start of his career was go 15 for 21 for 315 yards – in a playoff game.

The Richmond offensive staff did a great job last week using Johnson’s strengths by rolling him out and running boot to get him on the edge and in space for the run-pass option to get him comfortable and confident.  Because of their effective run game, their play action passing game in the pocket is also dangerous.

Richmond likes to stack 3 receivers to one side close to the formation and run a variety of patterns and routes from it.  Defensive secondary calls and execution out of these looks will be paramount.  Wide receiver #12 Brian Brown is the best WR on the team with 70 catches for 1254 yards and 10 TDs.  He’s the guy the UND secondary needs to stay on top of down the field.  Brown is an electric play maker and most likely an All-American.

In the running game, redshirt freshman running back #20 Deontez Thompson is an impressive runner with 859 yards and 9 TDs on the season and a 5.8 ypc average.  However, he is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.  A huge threat is their RB slip-screen game, which they execute very well.  The Spiders will run power, counter, inside zone and outside zone primarily in the run game and they do it well.

On the offensive line, the Spiders are big, physical and talented averaging 300 pounds across.  They are led by 2 senior All-CAA performers at guard and center.  Guard #58 Thomas Evans and center #55 Nick Vergos were 1st and 2nd team respectively.

Richmond averages 31.2 points per game and 430 yards of offense, with 150 of that coming on the ground and 280 via the pass.  They will get their yards and points.

So in summary, UND is facing a balanced multiple formation offense with an athletic dual-threat QB, stud RB, All-American WR and big & talented o-line that has won 3 playoff games over the last 12 months or so.  Scary, huh?

Defensively –  The Spiders operate out of a 3-3-5 scheme.  Coach Danny Rocco is from the Al Groh coaching tree and this is the defense that most of his disciples have run.  The three defensive lineman are typically space eater, two-gap players.  The linebackers are the inside playmakers and the secondary is a more physical type of player.  The Richmond defense most closely resembles Stony Brook.

Richmond has been a stingy defense in 2016.  They are allowing 22 pts/game and only 305 yds/game of total offense.  They do give up 149 yds/game on the ground, which is a good sign for UND, but only give up 156 through the air per game.  That is impressive.

Richmond has lost multiple starters on defense throughout the season but none bigger than future NFL’er David Jones at safety.  They have enough depth because of the quality of their program but losing their main play maker is equivalent to UND losing Cole Reyes.

The Spiders main man on the defensive line is #98 Winston Craig (6’4″-290).  He is a load out their at his defensive end spot and will cause UND problems if they cannot control him or at least neutralize him.  On the year he has 52 tackles, 11.5 TFL’s, and 8 sacks.  They will move Craig around so he cannot necessarily be game-planned for, if need be.

The leading tackler and playmaker on the Spider defense is ILB #46 Omar Howard.  Thus far in 2016, Howard has 88 tackles and 8 TFL’s.  He is one the guys that is counted on to make the inside tackles and help control the opposing run game.

Overall, Richmond is not a big pressure team and like to keep you in between the numbers with their OLB’s flexed out.  Also, unlike most every Big Sky team, they play a lot of zone coverage in the secondary.  UND was used to seeing man-to-man coverage out on the corner pretty much every game.  That will not be the case on Saturday.

That zone play does help Richmond in run support as their secondary will not be turning their back to the play and running with the UND wide receivers.  However, it will allow UND’s bigger WR’s to find soft spots in the zone and post up for a quick, short gain.

North Dakota (9-2) Keys to Win The Game

  1. Shake off the rust early.  21 days off will undoubtedly leave a little rust on the team.  Get out there and make some plays early to get back into the flow.
  2. Run the ball right at Richmond.  Against a 3-3-5 defense the best way to attack it is straight ahead.  They are a athletic, quick defense so going laterally will probably not be the best route to take.  Inside zone and the power running game will be the ticket this week.
  3. Get Keaton warmed up right away.  Studsrud has had a few game where he took a full half to get in sync with his WR’s and on target.  That cannot happen in the playoffs.  Get him going with some hitches, curls, back shoulder fades, etc.  It seems like when he does catch fire, he stays on fire the rest of the game.
  4. Turnovers.  Richmond is +12 on the season, which is good for 11th nationally.   UND is +17.  Win the battle, once again.
  5. Make Richmond drive it on offense.  The UND defense needs to stay over the top of the vertical passing game.

The Prediction

UND is venturing into unchartered waters this weekend.  How will they react in the first quarter is the big question.  This game is a bit different in second half decisions are going to be made knowing there is the possibility of no next week.  This is one-and-done football from here on out.

Special teams will be huge. Richmond kicker Griffin Trau is 21-24 on field goals this season (he had 4 last week alone) and is perfect on extra points at 39/39.  UND punter Austin Dussold needs to continue where he’s left off all season by flipping the field and pinning Richmond deep.  The Spiders have a dangerous return man in #18 Dejon Brissett, who returned a punt 92 yards for a TD last week.  Their return game is a big concern in general.

However, their kickoff coverage team is dead last in the CAA.  There will be big time opportunities for John Santiago to break one in this game.

Richmond was a semi-finalist last year.  They have the pedigree.  Oh, and by the way, they were the #7 seed last year.

We feel a healthy, motivated, up-start UND team at home can bring the UND program/fans their first ever FCS playoff win in school history.  It will not be easy.


North Dakota  30

Richmond  28