That was definitely a tale of two halves for the UND football team.
After playing similar to how they had previously played on the road in the first half of Saturday’s game, the Hawks came out with renewed vigor and took it to Cal Poly to eek out a 30-26 win. It cannot be stated enough how important this win was to their 2019 season and playoff chances.
The Hawks are now 4-3 on the season with three more home games left on the schedule – starting with #12 Montana State this coming Saturday at the Alerus Center.
First off, we were pretty damn worried at halftime after watching the UND offense go through the motions in the first half. There was very little spark other than one good 12 play-75 yard drive (once again) and only putting up 7 points vs. a pedestrian Mustang defense was extremely concerning.
However, to their credit the UND offense came alive on their second drive of the 2nd half following a nice 20-yard Mikey Griebel punt return. UND scored their next four possessions in a row and sealed the comeback victory.
Total yards were 368 for UND — 363 for Cal Poly.
The UND offense had zero turnovers on the day. The team only had 3 penalties for 19 yards. That’s the recipe for a road win right there.
The makeshift offensive line had to re-make themselves once again, this time during the game. We knew LT Matt Waletzko was going to be out before the game kicked off but then center Patric Rooney left the game – meaning new LT Nate Nguon had to shift to center and Sean Russo had to enter the game at LT. The injuries along the offensive and defensive lines are a major concern right now. To their credit the offensive line kept QB Nate Ketteringham upright and kept the running game going to the tune of 134 yards, which is about what UND is getting these days.
Ketteringham had an outstanding second half and finished the game 20-30 for 234 yards and 1 TD vs. 0 INT’s. He also snuck in a TD. The offense flowed very well in the 2nd half and the throw he made to Alex Cloyd for the game winner was actually a pretty tough pass due to the pass rush and play fake prior to that. More on “The Play” in a bit.
Nine different Hawks caught a pass on Saturday, led by Brock Boltmann with five catches for 60 yards. Boltmann also added 8 rushes for 40 yards. We did notice that UND tried to have him pass out of the “Brockstar” but the rush got to him and he had to eat it.
The biggest play of the season, by far, went down in the 4th quarter with 1:58 left in the game. UND is down 26-24. Poly has just kicked a field goal to take the lead back and all momentum. However, UND has plenty of time left on the clock (3:29) to get back down into field goal range. They do just that – methodically moving the ball down field through a combination of runs/passes which eventually go them to the 4th and 2 play that will be remembered for a long time.
Bubba Schweigert per Grand Forks Herald article – “We got the look we wanted,” said Schweigert of Cal Poly’s defensive scheme. “But Alex still has to execute that play. He got across the formation and there was a lot of traffic. Nate put it out there and the big guy rumbled into the end zone.”
UND lined up in a what eventually became an unbalanced look as far as blocking personnel goes. They had fullback Brett Finke at a wing off the edge of tight end Cloyd. Noah Wanzek is on the line on the other side with Boltmann wide of him but off the line. The key to the play is the motion of Boltmann back across the formation, which turned it into a heavy-left set. This also made the OLB who was lined up across from Cloyd turn his gaze to Boltmann in case of the jet sweep.
The play-action by Kett to James Johannesson then sucked up the linebackers and there was nobody left to cover Cloyd, who snuck out from left to right across the formation. Another key is Wanzek running a slant from the right side, essentially clearing out his defender and leaving absolutely nobody on that side of the field for Poly.
Ketteringham executed the play-action but when he turned around he had a defender coming at him, forcing him to throw it to Cloyd off his back foot, which is typically not good. He got it off cleanly, however, and Cloyd actually made a pretty tough catch to haul in the pass and turn it up for a 39 yard TD. If UND makes the playoffs, remember that play.
The stones it took to call that play on 4th and 2 is actually something to marvel at. That was a complicated play to pull off and Danny Freund had the confidence in his guys to execute it. Unreal play call and damn good execution by the players.
Defensively, it was definitely a bitter sweet victory for UND. They didn’t play all that well but bowed up in the red zone on several occasions in the 2nd half to keep the Mustangs out of the end zone.
The real downer in the win was the potential loss of senior All-American candidate DE Mason Bennett due to injury. Bennett hurt his leg in the first half and had to be helped off the field. We aren’t big speculators about injuries but it doesn’t look good. Let’s hope the best for Mason, who is one of the better representatives of UND Football we have seen, both on and off the field, in a long time.
UND also lost NG Jalen Morrison to injury, which could keep him out for a couple weeks. DC Eric Schmidt was down to the skeleton along his DL in the second half. They had five guys left and four were freshman (Schoenfelder, Johnson, Pierre, Beach) and the other one was a sophomore (Seguin). Oh yah, and they are facing the triple option, where the lineman alternate randomly between cutting and base blocking so you never really know what’s coming.
As you can imagine after reading the above synopsis about the defensive line, Cal Poly was able to get a major push most of the game. Their dive stuff was working so well that fullback Duy Tran-Sampson ran the ball 40 times for 173 yards. UND can typically handle the dive with ease but were far too light and inexperienced to deal with the aggressive blocking schemes of Poly’s triple option, along with Poly knowing the situation and deciding to drop the plow.
The Hawks should have true freshman DE Isaac Moore available this week but they still need at least one more body. TE Beau Foix could be an option to switch over to DE. He did play defensive line in high school but would need to learn alot of stuff pretty quickly.
With that being said, the UND inside linebackers played their tails off all game and probably had a hard time getting out of bed today. Donnell Rodgers and Noah Larson were responsible for the Tran-Sampson dives the entire game and it showed in the boxscore. Those two combined for 29 tackles and were all over the place throughout. Very impressed with what the work that the Hawks ILB’s put in on Saturday under tough circumstances. Rodgers also added a sack and a TFL.
The UND defense did notch two sacks so that was good to see after getting shutout vs. ISU.
DE Jaelen Johnson became much more active as the game went on. He ended with 8 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 TFL’s. Johnson is going to be counted on more than ever with the loss of Bennett.
True freshman RB Luke Skokna was quite impressive in his debut on the kick return team. He returned four kicks for a total of 83 yards with a long of 45. Skokna has a bright future ahead of him.
A bit concerned with the kickoff team lately. They gave up another long 52 yard kick return in the second half which setup a Cal Poly touchdown. They seems to be getting washed down a bit and the one guy who may make the tackle misses. With the injuries defensively UND cannot afford to be giving up 25-30 extra yards on a kick return.
Punter Cade Peterson pooched another punt inside the five this week, using some nice english to stop it short of the end zone.
It wasn’t pretty but it sure as heck was entertaining. The Hawks got that elusive road victory and kept themselves in the playoff picture.
Next up is the Bobcats, who are coming off a bye and are sitting at 5-2 on the season. MSU is playing good football this season and always play UND tough. They like to run the ball straight at you so it will be interesting to see what UND does along their defensive front this week to try and slow down that rushing attack.
Big picture – if UND wins this game they get to 5 wins, which means they only need to win their last two at home vs. bottom feeders UNC and SUU to get to 7-4. Beat Weber State on the road and they could be 8-3. Or they could lose them both (WSU & MSU) and be 6-5, which as we know all too well leaves you at home wondering what could’ve been.
Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Athletics.