For the first time in 18 years the Herd has had to head north to face UND (they were still the Sioux back then). A lot has changed in that span. Namely the Bison have become the most dominate team in FCS history.
Other than it is a road game, there isn’t any newness to this match up. We played them in 2019 and dominated them 38-7. In their final year in the Big Sky, we faced two common opponents, Montana State and Nicholls. Nicholls eliminated the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs 24-6. We beat Nicholls 37-13 after a slow start. UND squeaked by the Bobcats in Grand Forks 16-14, we buried them in the semi-final game 42-14. I bring these comparative scores up to show our pummeling of UND wasn’t a one game aberration. We dominated the Hawks on both sides of the ball. We limited them to 68 yards rushing (2.6 YPC) while we amassed 266 yards on the ground (5.3 YPC) and held a 35:06 to 24:54 Time of Possession (TOP) advantage.
Last spring it didn’t get any better for UND. They came in ranked #1 in some polls and had a chance to show their muscle. Other than a 74 yard scamper by Otis Weah (Jackson Hankey didn’t have the defense set by the snap of the ball and missed his cut back fill lane, remember I played MLB for Code Green), they gained 87 additional rushing yards in 23 carries (3.8 YPC). Otis is a strong weapon that came out of nowhere in the spring along with the steady QB-ing of Tommy Schuster. Still this offense that averaged 410.3 YPG versus all other opponents only got 304 versus Code Green along with 13 points in a spring that Code Green isn’t proud of.
How did the Rams do last spring? We had to overcome bad QB-ing (8-19 with 2 INT’s), but still dominated the line of scrimmage to the tune of 316 rushing yards (5.9 YPC) and a TOP advantage of 36:37 to 23:23. Early in the first half we lost Kobe Johnson and only had two RB’s the rest of the game. Luepke and Gonnella were up to the task garnering 273 yards between them in 40 carries (6.8 YPC). To do this you have to be DOMINATING at the point of attack. I have re-watched this game twice. The Ram’s were just plain kicking butt. Our OL is all back and will face the same DL & LB corp from UND. As I mentioned in my Non-conference game analysis, UND has faced three teams with no noteworthy RB’s. These three top backs have gained a total of 148 yards in 36 carries (4.1 YPC). This is average run defense by the Hawks. Our bevy of backs are much better than what they have faced to date.
The erstwhile War Hawks from up north have been filling the air waves with that they will have to be “more physical” or “show greater physicality” this time around. Do ya think? You can recognize it, but doing it is another thing.
The Non-conference highlights for UND are they won on the road versus Idaho State (a team that had given them trouble in the Big Sky). They used “trickery” to jump out on FBS Utah State 21-7, but couldn’t use their ground game against one of the worst defenses in the FBS. Utah St ranks 121st at 463.2 YPG in Total Defense, 98th in Scoring Defense (29.8 PPG) and 112th in rushing Defense (200 YPG). Factoring out holding the Hawks to 65 yards, they gave up 245 YPG to the other three teams they have played. It isn’t a good look for your offense if you can’t turn to the run game to preserve your lead? They played sloppy against Drake (5 TO’s), but managed to get 4 TO’s in their column so it was only a minus one in TO’s. Early in the game, Drake was moving the ball on the ground and didn’t look over matched by the Hawks DL.
To me the biggest differentiator between the Bison and the Hawks is the talent level and depth the Herd has. It’s a simple would you trade their roster for our roster?
· We have depth in DL, even with the loss of Waege. To stop Weah and Skokna we need to maintain gap integrity and get penetration. UND’s OL has 3 new starters from last spring, and they couldn’t move us then. Utah State, which isn’t as good of defensive unit as Code Green, shut down the Hawk’s run game (65 rush yards, 47 for Weah on 17 carries). The DL needs to put pressure on Schuster. With his quick release, we have to get hands up in the passing lanes.
· I think you might see more of a rotation of our bigger LB’s on run downs (Hofstedt 226 LBS, Kubitz 222 LBS and Wisniewski 221 LBS). All have played early in the games so far.
· Hawks have possession/route WR’s, not burners who stretch the field. Our DB’s will face challenge of screens, picks and trick plays. I don’t think a steady diet of this will turn the day for UND.
· Here’s where I think the biggest difference in talent lies. Our OL is significantly better than theirs. UND’s DL is a smaller/quicker unit (exceptions are their NT’s with three at 290, but none are quick twitch athletes. Remember Towson had two 305 LB NT’s that weren’t worth a shit against our OL). The guys who have the most reps that will be lining up over our OT’s are 260, 255 and 250 LBS. We average 308 LBS in the OL. Also every one of our lineman can pull. I think both Volson & Jensen are bubble NFL prospects (Free Agents). None of their DL is NFL caliber.
· I think Babicz & Gindorff will provide matchup problems both in the run and passing game. The average spectator doesn’t realize what these two behemoths do for our perimeter run game. Hawk’s OLB are 215 & 225 lbs in their five man front. Babicz and Gindorff at 255 & 267 lbs win this match up. If they are assigned to kick out on the edge, they far outweigh 175 to 200 lb DB’s. Remember these two throw key blocks in our jet sweep packages to Watson, Sproles, Henderson and Luepke.
· With 5 RB’s, we will always have fresh legs in the game. As I said earlier, last spring after 4 minutes left in the first quarter, we only had Luepke and Gonnella to tote the rock after Kobe went down with a leg injury. To these two we can now add TaMerik Williams (9.1 YPC), Kobe (6.1 YPC) and “Mighty Mite” Jalen Bussey (9 YPC). Look for an increased work load for Williams as he learns the play book and becomes acclimated to our multi-optioned offense. Not one of these backs is slow. Both Luepke and Kobe took deep throws versus Towson. There isn’t a LB on UND’s roster that can cover these backs downfield.
· Who does UND have that can cover Watson one on one? We have three very talented WR’s alongside him in Sproles, Raja Nelson and Braylon Henderson. Between Watson, Sproles and Henderson we have run four WR jet sweeps for 71 yards (17.8 YPC) and 1 TD. This is just another pressure put on the defense. You better think twice about rushing from the weak side and giving up contain.
· Lastly, but not least, there has been a significant upgrade in QB play from the spring. Zeb’s first three games produced 32/57 (56.1%), 122.7 YPG, 3 TD’s and 2 INT’s. Quincy’s first three games has produced 22/32 (68.8%), 127.3 YPG, 3 TD’s and 1 INT. The big difference is in the QB run game. Zeb in first three games had 10 net carries for 3 yards (now that put’s fear into a LB’s heart, NOT!!). Quincy has 22 carries for 114 net yards (5.2 YPC) and 2 TD’s. That does put fear into a LB’s heart. Quincy can break a long TD run at any time. Zeb, not so much and defenses knew and could scheme around it. Zeb was 13/35 in 3rd down conversions (37.1%). Quincy is 15/28 (54%), good for 3rd in the FCS with teams with 3 or more games under their belt. Expect the playbook to open up even more in Grand Forks.
In summary, if Code Green maintains its current course of playing sound gap football and flying to the ball, we will contain Weah and Skokna in the ground game. If DB’s and LB’s play solid assignment football in the pass game, the Hawks aren’t going to march up and down the field dinking and dunking us to death. Remember, Albany had some early success in this style of rhythm pass game, but it fell flat for a whole game.
We will have to play sound on special teams. Skokna can break a punt or kickoff return at anytime.
On defense the Hawks will need more than bravado to stop our run game. If they try to continually stunt on defense, they will get burned sooner or later. Vegas has the Herd as 10.5 point favorites on the road (that’s “we’re not expecting a nail bitter” in bettors language). I am stating that if the offense doesn’t score more than 30 points they didn’t do their job well. If the defense gives up more than 20 points, they didn’t play to their potential. In other words I see the score being like the last three games 34-9 or 35-7 or even 34-13. In other words, nothing much has changed in the NDSU versus UND formula. Go Bison!!