The 2019 season is behind us, which naturally means we need to look ahead to 2020.
The Hawks will enter their maiden voyage into the Missouri Valley Football Conference as a playoff team with a 7-5 record. It was a highly entertaining season, no doubt, but also one that ended with a thud and left fans wanting more.
Can the 2020 Hawks make the playoffs again? Can they take that crucial next step and win a playoff game? It will be interesting to see but there is no doubt that ‘Springball 2020’ will be very telling in trying to answer those questions.
As we mentioned previously, UND joins the MVFC in 2020 and with it they rejoin their old foes NDSU, SDSU and USD. All three will be on the schedule every year and when NDSU is at the Alerus Center, UND will travel to Brookings and Vermillion. Vice-versa the next year – and so on.
As far as the schedule goes, it’s a tough slate for sure. The MVFC media likes to make everyone believe their conference is a healthy mix of the SEC & Big 10 in their best years but we’ll have to take their word for it until a full season plays out.
In 2020, UND plays everyone except UNI & Indiana State. They have Valpo, SDSU, Missouri State, USD & SIU at home. Not bad but their road slate is tougher with Kansas State, YSU, WIU, Portland State, Illinois State & NDSU.
The season gets underway Thursday, September 3rd at home vs. Valparaiso.
Offense – 5
Defense – 8
The starter’s returning stat can be misleading because some guys split time, like James Johannesson, so calling him the starter was probably just a title.
UND loses two-year starter Nate Ketteringham and only brings back one QB in freshman Tommy Schuster. This past week on Twitter backup Noah Grover announced he is transferring at semester break.
UND is signing 2020 commit Reid Neal on December 18th and Neal will be joining team for second semester. So they should have two QB’s for sure. The Hawks are also looking into the FBS transfer market, as well.
It’s obviously a bit concerning that they are so short on QB’s right now but former QB Brock Boltmann will also be taking some snaps as he is the emergency QB.
Schuster came in due to injury and valiantly led the Hawks to a victory over Sam Houston in Week 3. He went 17-33 for 165 yards and 1 TD in a little over two quarters of action. At 5’11-190, he is a smaller QB but is extremely cerebral and one of those guys who coaches describe as a “gamer”. Has a great feel for the game. At this point it appears its Schuster’s offense come September 3rd.
Running Back (0)
The Hawks lose Johannesson but return the freshman sensation Luke Skokna. They also return Cam McKinney and Dalton Gee. McKinney showed some flashes of speed and homerun ability but we need him to do it more consistently. Making a guy miss in space is a crucial element needed in this backfield.
Otis Weah will be the wild card as he sat out 2019 for academic reasons. If he can make it through the year he will definitely contribute in 2020.
Wide Receiver (1)
UND loses two of the best in recent memory in Travis Toivonen and Noah Wanzek. They do return 6’5” Garett Maag, who caught 59 balls for 610 yards and 5 TD’s. Maag needs to take that next step and be dominant on a weekly basis. The Brockstar, Brock Boltmann (31-243-2), returns after emerging from out of nowhere to become arguably the offense’s most valuable player for a good part of the season.
Freshman Chrysten Cochran will be the smaller, quicker threat in the group and could be on track for a big year. Mikey Griebel, Jacob Odom, Tyler Burian, Pedro Schmidt and Adam Zavalney will be all be battling for the backup spots and more importantly spots on the travel team.
(Edit: Izzy Adeoti is no longer with the team).
Tight End (0)
UND loses Alex Cloyd, who had a gigantic senior season when throwing in his efforts on special teams. He was the only tight end to catch a pass in 2019 so guys like Derek Paulson and Hunter Pinke will more than likely be blockers again with freshman Billy Riviere being the main receiving threat. The tight end position is turning into more of a bigger WR in Danny Freund’s offense. See 2020 commit Elijah Klein (6’7”-220), for example.
Offensive Line (4)
This group overachieved all season and we praised their efforts many times. They lose senior center Patric Rooney but return four starters, plus Matt Waletzko, who did start but hurt his knee mid-year. Waletzko is the best OL on the team and will be big to get back. The other starters returning from right-to-left are Nate Nguon, who may move to center (which is better for him), Ryan Tobin, Kyle Hergel, and Donny Ventrelli.
The nucleus of Waletzko, Hergel and Ventrelli can win games for UND over the next two seasons. However, they need to develop depth and develop a lot more size than they had last season. The only guy big enough was Waletzko and he actually lost weight to become more agile. The entire offensive line was too light this year and it cost them in the playoffs when UND could not run the ball.
One thing that became very clear watching Illinois State in the playoffs is that a big, physical offensive line can beat up a majority of their FCS opponents. The Redbirds couldn’t throw the ball at all vs. SEMO and UCA but they didn’t care – the Redbirds simply pounded them both into the ground and are now playing in the FCS quarterfinals.
UND needs to get serious about their zone running game and use the passing game as a complement. Averaging 121 yards rushing per game was OK this year as they got their feet wet in Freund’s new offense and did what they had to do to win games (throw the ball), but that number needs to rise dramatically next year.
Defensive Line (2)
UND loses one of the best to ever play the position in DE Mason Bennett. His shoes will be hard to fill but they do return two starters in their three-down defensive scheme. Sophomore Jaelen Johnson had a decent first season, nothing 5 TFL’s and a sack. NG Jalen Morrison is back and should progress after having a full season under his belt. Junior Graham Devore played quite well at times after moving over from tight end. He brings size and twitch to the position. Backups Quintin Seguin and Ryan Schoenfelder will bring experienced depth.
The wildcards of this group are the young guys. Elijah Beach, Isaac Moore and Chandon Pierre all played this year but preserved their redshirts. Luke Lennon has been drawing good reviews and will be good with added size. Steven Keech has the size at 6’5”-250 but was injured last fall so needs a lot of reps.
Much like the offensive line, this group needs to get bigger. UND got pushed around way too much this past season and it will only get worse next year when they face teams that strictly want to run the ball vs. pass it.
Giving up 193 yds/game rushing is not winning football. The front three need to be respected to the point they eat up blockers and free up the linebackers. Far too many times the opponent would leak their guard out on the linebacker knowing they could base block the UND lineman. The problem was the UND lineman didn’t beat his guy and make the play, so everyone was blocked, basically.
Inside Linebacker (1)
UND loses Donnell Rodgers, who was the captain of the defense and had an outstanding 2019 season. His sidekick, Noah Larson, is back and should build off his solid season of 82 tackles and 2 INT’s. Filling Rodgers shoes will more than likely be soph. Caden White, who played more as the season went on. The depth will be provided by Jake Rastas and Kaden Wolsky.
This unit more than likely needs to look to the transfer market as the depth is down right now and will need to built up before 2020.
Outside Linebacker (1)
Seniors Jade Lawrence and Andre Steiger depart this group but UND returns their best linebacker in Jaxson Turner, who racked up 44 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 4.5 TFL’s. Ray Haas will be back in the mix after being injured late in the season but playing significant reps in 2019. Bryden Swenson also returns and got some experience at the end of the year due to Haas’s injury. We have heard good things about freshman Josh Navratil, meaning he will be in the mix come fall. Also, there is a possibility that safety Ty Shannon could move up to OLB, which would greatly help the group’s athleticism.
The Hawks return both starters in Jordan Canady (87 tackles, 1 INT) and Hayden Galvin (63 tackles, 1 INT). Backing them up will be soph. Kadon Kauppinen and junior Jeremie Dominique, who redshirted in 2019.
To be frank, we need more from this group – 2 INT’s isn’t going to cut it. The best defenses UND has had were led by their safeties, most notably Cole Reyes in 2015-2016. They need to knife down potential long runs and also make big plays vs. the passing the game. There were not nearly enough of either the past couple seasons and the defense suffered because of it.
UND returns both their starters at CB in senior Evan Holm and soph. C.J. Siegel. Holm is their best cover guy and will be huge to have back after taking a redshirt in 2019 (played in 4 games due to injury). Siegel had a breakout freshman year showing excellent ball skills and speed, notching 2 INT’s and 10 breakups.
Freshman Sammy Fort and true sophomore Caleb Nelson will be the backups, along with Hayden Blubaugh, who started off and on over the season. Fort has a bigtime upside and will battle the starters for playing time. This unit had a solid year overall but things like run support could definitely improve. There is a chance one of the above mentioned corners could move to safety help with depth there. Nelson, in particular, has the size to play both.
UND returns all three of their main special teams guys – all juniors. Kicker Brady Leach improved as the season went on, which is definitely encouraging. Leach ended the 2019 season 12-16 on field goals, including the game winner vs. UC-Davis.
Punter Cade Peterson returns after averaging 35 yards/punt. He did drop 17 punts inside the 20 and several of them were inside the 5. His pooch game has improved nicely.
Long Snapper Ross Hinders returns and the nicest compliment we can give him is we didn’t notice him or say his name all year. That’s a good thing, folks.
Brady Stevens is also back at kicker after handling the majority of the kickoffs in 2019. He seemed to also improve as the season went on. We notice teams fielding them around the 0-5 yard line much more often.
This team can win some games in 2020 with the talent they have on the roster. But, it will all depend on their line play. If UND can run the ball effectively and stop the run much better than they did this season the Hawks can win 7-8 games. I don’t care how many skill guys you got – if the holes aren’t there nothing is going to happen.
The nice thing is the majority of the team got a taste of the playoffs and played vs. several of the top teams in the FCS (Weber, NDSU, MSU). They know what it takes to beat the best.