UND had their destiny laid out in front of them before the ball was even kicked off Saturday. Win and go to the playoffs – more than likely hosting a home game. Lose and the season’s over.
In what was a fairly ugly game overall, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks jumped on the Hawks early and never let them back in it, winning 31-16 down in Flagstaff, Arizona. With the loss UND ended the season at 6-5.
We say that UND had their destiny set in place before the game for a reason. A source told us Saturday afternoon that all UND had to do was win and they were in, no matter what else happened around the country. Now, some other losses by bubble teams certainly couldn’t hurt but we found that very interesting, to say the least. In hindsight, given all the carnage that happened on the final week of FCS play, UND was a LOCK if they had won.
Here at UND Football 360, as many know, we have a longtime friendship with members of the UND staff. We’ve played and coached with each other. We value and respect these freindships and relationships. We know how hard it is to coach college football and how easy it is to second-guess coaching decisions. But again, in this writeup we are going to lay it out as we always have; objectively, fairly and honestly.
First off, the UND offense (26 points/game) slowly regressed as the season went on, culminating in what you saw Saturday. 202 yards of offense against a poor NAU defense is almost unfathomable. Northern Colorado scored 42 points against them four weeks ago. But the game was a microcosm of what had been brewing for awhile now. UND only scored one offensive touchdown all game (21 yd TD to Wanzek) and that was the result of a muffed punt where they were setup on the NAU 29 yard line. The prior week against Portland State, UND could only muster 222 yards of offense against a defense that gave up 74 points this week to Eastern Washington.
UND was 2-18 on third down against NAU on Saturday. It shows how many times they were setup by the defense but failed to do anything with it (more on that below).
The UND offense is completely predicated on being able to run the ball – they need to run the ball as much as they need air to breathe. If they cannot the offense ceases to function. Unfortunately, Saturday was more of what we saw the last four weeks. We know that Coach Bubba Schweigert wants to run the ball and control the clock, play less defense and wear down their opponent. But at some point you have to be able to score points as well. The slow down game is not what college football is these days, especially if you fall behind like we saw vs NAU. Honestly, from a layman’s view it is seeming that UND is just way too deliberate in their insistence on running the ball and not taking chances. To the point it paralyzes them and they cannot do anything different. Also, the tendencies they display on film offensively on a week to week basis showed predictability and opposing defensive coordinators noticed.
We suggested for them to go to an up-tempo pace in the second half, which they have done a few times in the past for maybe a drive or two. Snapping the ball with 15-17 seconds on the clock rather than 5-7 seconds is not going to have any bearing on the game or your own defense. But it might get the players hearts started and get QB Nate Ketteringham a sense of confidence and rhythm. Perhaps his skill set is better suited in that type of offense.
Ketteringham had no rhythm at all for the past 4-5 weeks and slowly got worse as the season went on. Against NAU, he was 13-29 for 109 yards-1 TD-2 INT. With tempo they could start pounding the ball quicker out of the gun and throwing some short stuff to give the defense something to worry about between plays, maybe even cutting down substitutions, thus wearing them down up front. But no changes/adjustments were made.
Another issue that has arised over the past few years is the need for dominant offensive lineman in this run-first pro-style offense. When you’re starting senior, junior, 2 sophomores and a true freshman across the front line, you are not going to be dominant. The line did well early in the year, particularly in pass protection but slowly faded as the grind wore on. Not surprising considering they are young and not fully matured. Recruiting needs to be better along the offensive line if UND is going to try and play smash mouth football 11 games a year. Both for depth and identifying and evaluating quality talent.
The following chart shows the rushing yards as the season went on:
As you can see the rushing numbers ramped up nicely to Sacramento State, where they rushed for an astounding 480 yards. But the next week against the best defense in the conference, Weber State, they essentially got shut down and so did the UND offense. From that point on they struggled mightily to get any consistency. Rushing for only 83 yards in a game where the playoff spot is waiting for you against an inferior opponent is extremely concerning. The longest run vs NAU was 15 yards.
We mentioned how well the offensive line protected Ketteringham early in the season. However, the chart to the right shows some glaring issues as the season wore on – a rapid digression and decrease in productivity.
Through six games UND gave up six sacks. That includes Washington and Montana, who are very aggressive teams. But once again starting with Weber State, the time that Ketteringham had started to disappear and he began to get happy feet and show a lack of escapeability. Panic seemingly set in at times for Ketteringham. The last three games of the year the Hawks gave up 14 sacks.
Statistically speaking, the UND defense was actually pretty steady throughout the season even though it seemed up and down. They gave up 20.4 points/game against FCS competition (including ST and defensive TD for opponent), which is more than adequate to win 7-8 games and was Top 20 in FCS overall.
The overall play of the defense was ‘good’ but not consistent. Against NAU they only gave up 270 yards of offense with 80 of it coming on that last drive. The long TD pass was a result of a blown coverage on the wheel route where it looked like the slot receiver, Emmanuel Butler, got a late start off the line and confused the secondary. Containment of the QB on the edge in scramble situations became a serious and repetitive problem when it mattered most on 3rd down.
Before the last TD drive to end the game, the UND defense had forced seven 3-&-outs, 1 fumble, and 1 INT in the previous nine drives. They were playing well enough to win the game.
The 3-4 scheme itself is not the issue and hasn’t been when fully stocked with talent. The secondary needs to be fairly dominant however, for it to be at its best and this season they were not. Things started out alright as CBs Evan Holm and Deion Harris fought their way back from injury. Holm peaked during the middle of the season when he dominated games vs Sam Houston State and Montana. Harris never seemed to get on track fully, notching only one interception. The safeties were adequate but never dominant themselves. This defense puts stress on their secondary by blitzing OLB/ILBs and forcing 1-on-1 coverage much of the time. When pressure doesn’t get there it will lead to big plays, but big plays should also be made by the Hawks defenders and that didn’t happen nearly enough in 2018. UND only had eight interceptions all year, led by safety Jordan Canady with three.
Losing Tanner Palmborg late in the season and Austin Gordon early in camp hurt the depth and playmaking ability at the OLB position down the stretch. OLB’s need to be the big play guys off the edge in this 3-4 scheme and other than flashes of brilliance by Jaxson Turner there wasn’t much going on lately from those positions. We have been told that former UND OLB Ray Haas is back on campus and plans to join the team at Christmas break – that would be huge boost to that position group.
Special teams also had their fair share of glaring issues throughout the season. Youth at the specialist spots were only a small portion of the problem however. Yet another concern to analyze. To give up three blocked punts in one season is unimaginable – heck, to give up one is almost unacceptable for most head coaches.
When it comes to kickoff coverage, which lacked greatly at times this season, UND needs to find 5-6 guys who want to take pride in running down as fast as they possibly can and hitting somebody. The kickoff team at UND used to be a source of pride for players as they took it as an honor to be selected for it. Some of UND’s best teams have had upperclassmen and starters playing special teams at a high level and with pride.
In the end, UND finished the season a disappointing 6-5 and will be home for Thanksgiving and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. There’s much to be addressed and fixed as UND self-evaluates and goes on the road to recruit prior to the early signing day in December. They have one final year of Big Sky Conference play next season before heading into the Missouri Valley in 2020.
Next year’s schedule is daunting to say the least.
|Sept. 7||at NDSU|
|Sept. 14||Sam Houston State|
|Sept. 28||at Eastern Washington*|
|Oct. 5||UC Davis*|
|Oct. 12||at Idaho State*|
|Oct. 19||at Cal Poly*|
|Oct. 26||Montana State*|
|Nov. 9||at Weber State*|
|Nov. 16||Northern Colorado*|
|Nov. 23||Southern Utah*|
UND has road games in 2019 against the #1 (NDSU), #2 (Weber State) and #3 (Eastern Washington) seeds in this year’s playoff field. They also host the #6 seed (UC-Davis). In addition to that, they host Sam Houston State and Montana State.
This UND program needs to adjust itself before taking on that schedule. Lots of work to do for Head Coach Bubba Schweigert before August 31st.