I have really enjoyed the spring football season thus far, folks. I think I could get used to this.
The Fighting Hawks took down the #3 ranked South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday by a final of 28-17 and in the process energized a fanbase to levels not seen since the early 2000’s.
There were a hair under 4,000 in attendance due to covid restrictions but you wouldn’t know it listening to the crowd reaction after big plays. It was loud and raucous all day. Almost like after 10 months of being pent up in their houses the UND fans were ready to let loose.
With the win the Hawks improved to 2-0 and most likely a Top 5 spot in the latest FCS poll (their highest ranking ever).
The Rundown – Offense
Once again it was a slow start for the Hawks offense. They failed to get much going on their first drive going 3-and-out but on their second drive they picked things up thanks to a beautiful fake punt pass from Cade Peterson to Garett Maag. Maag took the underneath drag route 23 yards for a first down and the Hawks went on to a methodical 15 play-75 yard drive capped off by a 1 yard Otis Weah plunge.
Without that fake punt I don’t know if UND keeps this thing as close as they did. The Jacks defensive front was stout most of the game and moving them was an issue. Not many teams have over the years and it appeared the Hawks were going to struggle as well.
QB Tommy Schuster was as advertised once again. Cerebral, shifty, calm and just plain solid. He ended the day 20-32 for 184 yards and 1 TD vs 1 INT. That interception was his first and UND’s first turnover of the year. It was also on a gutsy 4th down play to try and end the game where he was trying to make a play. No fault there.
Schuster was elusive all while standing his ground in the pocket when needed. The Jacks were going to bring pressure to try and rattle Schuster, that much was clear. But the freshman from Michigan was stout all day and never got sacked. That is now zero sacks in two games by the opposing defenses.
One play that stuck out to me was when Schuster scrambled on 3rd and 8, eventually finding Jake Richter for a 16 yard gain. Schuster somehow sees Richter back across the field while having defenders in his face and getting laid out shortly after releasing the pass. You can’t teach that, folks. Here is the clip:
Otis Weah continues to impress during his inaugural campaign as a Hawk. Weah added two more touchdowns to go along with 88 yards on 17 carries. His long 40 yard run to seal the game was all Otis. There was nothing there and he pulled a quick spin move and shot out the right side and down the sideline for the TD. He did fumble at around the 5 yard line but as its gone lately the ball bounced right back up to him and he fell into the end zone. The kid is special.
Garett Maag had another solid game with 5 catches for 87 yards and 1 TD. He spun the defensive back around on a little out route for his one touchdown, showing precise route running. I challenged Maag a bit in the pregame show only because I know he can do it and Maag had a much more consistent game in week 2. He now needs to mentally lock in and dominate on a weekly basis because he can, there is no doubt about it.
The Hawks have only been penalized six times for 46 yards through two games.
The Hawks had 177 yards rushing and 207 yards passing on the day. That is ideal if you are an offensive coordinator. Chewing clock and getting first downs through the air.
The Hawks offensive line is playinggood football right now. Not great, but very solid. I mentioned they allowed zero sacks again this week but the run blocking is night and day better vs. last year. LT Matt Waletzko and LG Ryan Tobin are really playing well. When the Hawks need two yards they go left.
UND was 9-18 on third down conversions. That’s a good number.
The Hawks are now +7 in turnover margin. They don’t turn the ball over and have very few negative plays. I would say they could improve on first down as there were a few too many 2nd and longs but they did better in second half in that department.
TE Derek Paulson has really had a nice start to the season. A bit unheralded, the senior from Wisconsin has caught some timely passes and turned into a go-to guy for Schuster.
Speaking of unheralded, the emergence of freshman receiver Marcus Preston was hard to miss. The Kansas native caught 4 passes for 31 yards and two of them resulted in first downs. Bright future for that kid.
The SDSU defense is pretty good, that much was clear. Hard-hitting group and fast to the ball. For the Hawks to put up 391 yards and 28 points is definitely encouraging. That might be the best front four they face all year.
The Rundown – Defense
I was pretty damn nervous after the first 15 minutes of football Saturday. SDSU moved down the field with little resistance their first three drives hitting multiple long passes, punctuated by a 76 yard TD pass to Jaxon Janke, who torched UND all day to the tune of 161 yards and 2 TD’s. His brother, Jadon, added 109 yards receiving. To say they gave UND issues would be an understatement.
Not quite sure what was going on but I mentioned it looked like a jailbreak during those the first 20 game minutes or so. Jacks running all over the field uncovered with Hawks DB’s chasing. The last thing I was worried about in this game was UND’s secondary vs Jacks receivers. In the first half that feeling could not have been more misguided.
I don’t think the Hawks made any changes at halftime other than telling their corners to stop getting beat long because they didn’t the entire second half. The only offense SDSU had was throwing deep balls. The Hawks secondary bowed up and that took care of the Jacks offense the rest of the way, only allowing 3 points in the second half.
For the game the Jacks had 405 yards of total offense with only 96 of it coming on the ground. Containing Pierre Strong was a major point of emphasis and the UND defense did that on Saturday. Strong ended the game with 95 yards on the ground and 0 receiving yards, which was a surprise.
SDSU QB Mark Gronowski played a really nice game, especially considering he is a true freshman. The Illinois native threw nice deep balls that only his receivers could get and had nice poise in the pocket. He ended the game with 309 yards and 2 TD’s.
The front seven for UND played well again this week, especially in the second half. They didn’t get much pressure at all in the first half, which led to Gronowski being able to survey the field and let his deep routes open up. But, they kept at it and the twisting/stunting eventually broke through flushing Gronowski several times late in the game.
After the break UND was able to start generating pressure with only four rushers, which allowed the back end to cover up deep and not allow the deep bombs to occur. The Hawks ended the day with three sacks.
I really like the play of the linebacker corps right now. Krzanowski, Haas, Larson, Turner, and Navratil (the last three each had a sack) are very active and this group looks as good as it has in years.
The Jacks had 261 yards of offense in the first half and only 144 yards in the second half.
Time for the Hawks to forget about this one, stop reading headlines, and get ready for South Dakota. The Yotes are 1-0 on the season having just beat Illinois State on the road 27-20. They forced seven turnovers in the game and came back from a 17-0 deficit. This is a good football team and ironically they are starting a true freshman at QB, Carson Camp, much like SDSU did last week.
Buick Bob Nielson will have them ready to play, we know that much. The UND/USD game is typically a good one and this year is shaping up to be the same.
Kickoff is at 5:00 pm this Thursday at the Alerus Center. Yes THURSDAY at 5:00 so get out of work early and get to the Alerus!
P.S. – another positive from Saturday was the fact that NDSU got six different kinds of dogsh*t kicked out of them by the team that UND destroyed the week before. I slept well on Saturday night.