The start of a new season of Fighting Hawks Football is upon us UND fans.
The bitter taste that was the ending of the 2018 season is officially in the rear view mirror. ‘Hope springs eternal’ – and every other preseason cliche you can think of.
Finishing 6-5 and missing out on the playoffs is hard to forget. We expect an energized group of Hawks come Wednesday.
What We Know
The schedule is a beast but should bring out the best in them. Playing three Top-10 teams in the first five weeks will give UND a gauge of where they are at and should have them battle tested for Big Sky play.
The offense will look much, much different than it did the past five seasons. Gone is the pro-style, tight end-heavy offense of Paul Rudolph.
The new UND offense will be a contemporary, spread look with 11 personnel as the base formation (3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 running back). Tight ends will be a variation of Alex Cloyd to Travis Toivonen (bigger WR).
The tight ends won’t be asked to maul people anymore at the point of contact. They will need to be route runners and blockers = downfield threats.
Look for UND to recognize and take matchups at the line based on size & skill set of their big receivers (Wanzek, Toivonen, Maag). Back shoulder fades, slants, skinny posts, etc.
Senior QB Nate Ketteringham will be the guy under center. This offense is what he played in at Sacramento State so the familiarity will be there. Ketteringham has the tools and arm strength to have a big year but needs to have time and needs to set his feet consistently to do it. He throws the nicest deep ball we have seen in a long time.
Absolutely love the mix of running backs that UND has this season. Senior battle-ram James Johannesson will be the inside guy that can wear you out and run the clock when winning late in the game. Austin Gordon is the flash guy with good speed and some power. Cam McKinney is the home run threat – ultra quick and can make guys miss.
Noah Wanzek is going to have a HUGE year. He amassed 52 catches for 685 yards and 6 TD’s in a run-first offense. The senior from Jamestown is the poster child for what you want in a Fighting Hawks football player – hard working, quiet but with an aggressive mentality on the field. We could see Wanzek catching 75+ balls this year.
True sophomore Matt Waletzko is gonna be a dude at left tackle. He stepped in as a freshman last season and played alright considering he was 18 years old and had zero experience. Look for him to take a big jump this year. At 6’7″-320 he is a mountain out there protecting Ketteringham’s back side.
The competition along the offensive line is going to be a camp talker for sure. This group needs to be better as a whole this season and with the new zone-based scheme of Freund’s we may see the improvement we’re looking for. The addition of new OL coach Joe Pawlak will bring a different mindset to this group and should help with their development.
LG Ryan Tobin is the veteran of the group and will be a solid player. Senior Patric Rooney has had a nice career and will be the rock of the offensive line, once again.
After that it’s going to be a battle for the right guard and right tackle positions. Junior Nate Nguon should be fully healed up and could have an inside track on one of those positions. The talk of spring ball was Kyle Hergel, the 6’2″-300 strongman out of Canada, that brings a mauling style to the position. He could play either guard or tackle. Juniors Bennett Helgren, who played extensively last season, and Sean Russo will be the others competing at right tackle.
Cade Peterson will have a big season punting for the Hawks. As a true freshman the struggles were real early on, which is obviously understandable. However, the light bulb turned on at the end of the year and Peterson launched a few that made us believe he has something there. In 2018, he averaged 39 yards per punt but averaged 45/punt vs PSU and 42/punt vs NAU to the season.
The special teams for UND needs to be exponentially better than they were last season. To call last seasons performance a failure is an understatement. The Hawks had three punts blocked, which should never happen, and also ran a fake field goal that didn’t work. Big kick returns were the norm early on but that seemed to be shored up later in the season as kicker Brady Leach became more comfortable.
Here’s the deal: UND isn’t good enough to play badly on special teams. Their offense doesn’t put up video game numbers and never will. Their defense has been good over the years but not dominant. They need ALL THREE PHASES to be clicking in unison to win big games and make the playoffs. Last season that didn’t happen.
True freshman who we see playing more than four games:
- NG Elijah Beach – he has the size at 6’4″-260 to log some good reps at a position of need.
- DE Steven Keech – word is he showed up bigger than they expected. All of 6’4″-6’5″ and around 250.
- CB Sammy Fort – has the tools to be a good one. May take his lumps early but he has a big future.
- CB/S Caleb Nelson – would be pretty cool to see him out there with his older brother, Lenny, in their only season together.
Defensively, UND gave up 22.6 points/game last season – which is solid but can be better. Areas they can improve upon are 375 yards/game of offense and allowing 38% conversion rate on third down. The 37 sacks they registered were outstanding, however.
We know for a fact senior DE Mason Bennett will be a disruptive force on the inside once again this season. The Winnipeg product has 9 sacks and 7 QBH in 2018 and we expected the same or more this season.
After Bennett, it’s a bit of a “DL by committee” approach this year. Senior Carl Engwall and sophomore Quintin Seguin will be the other defensive ends. We have heard sophomore Zeke Ott will not be at fall camp due to injuries but have not seen anything definitive. That hurts depth as Ott had a bright future.
Sophomore Jalen Morrison is up to around 270 now and should be the starter at nose guard. Morrison will be counted on take the next step and follow in the footsteps of Tank Harris as an everyday, consistent force in the middle.
The wildcard of the DL group is defensive end Jaelen Johnson. The former walk-on has shown great twitch off the edge and will be a part of pass-rush packages this fall.
Evan Holm and Hayden Blubaugh are going to form a solid FCS corner tandem. Both broke out last season and we expect the progression to continue. What’s nice is UND has depth at corner now with promising freshman C.J. Siegel pushing for a starting job. Competition breeds success.
When UND is best on defense is when they are getting dominant safety play. If you look back it’s really simple to analyze. Cole Reyes and Zach Arnell had big years in 2016 and UND notched 20 INT’s and went 9-2. Since then UND hasn’t had a dominant all-conference type of player and the result has been big plays given up. Reyes was the master and flying up and knifing down a running back for short gain in open space. That needs to start happening again on a game-by-game basis.
Enter junior Jordan Canady. At 6’2″-210, Canady is a physical presence who is also one of the faster players on the team. He can matchup vs. taller WR’s and take on the slot guys, as well. Canady notched 3 INT’s last season and showed glimpses of elite playmaking ability. Time to be the leader of the defense and take over some games.
Lenny Nelson will be a good guy to have next to Canady out there at safety. He is a steady player and veteran leader that’s always nice to have on the backend. Ty Shannon will be the wild card at the safety position. The junior out of Denver has played consistently for two seasons both on defense and special teams. He is one to watch.
A wildcard of the safety group is freshman Kadon Kauppinen. The Wisconsin product is a bigger safety like Canady and has the tools to be a good one.
The linebacker group will be a strength of this 2019 UND defense. Returning starters on the inside, Donnell Rodgers and Noah Larson, combined for 136 tackles, 13 TFL’s and 4 sacks last season.
On the outside junior Jaxson Turner is a guy we expect to take the next to dominant level. He has played two full seasons now and has the size (6’2″-220) and speed to be a disruptor off the edge and in space. Turner had 59 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 7 TFL’s last season.
We guarantee the addition of Ray Haas to the OLB group will be a huge boon for DC Eric Schmidt. The 6’5″-230 junior is an imposing figure at the end of the line. He can be a factor when rushing and dropping into coverage by using his condor-like wingspan to get into passing lanes.
There are a bunch of variables heading into the season but the nice thing is they are exciting variables to think about. New offense, new OL coach, 14 starters returning and a bunch of experience behind them, both kickers back with experience.
To sum it up: this team has the talent to win 7+ games and make the playoffs. Being its a 12-game season but UND chose to only schedule 11, they most likely need to win at least 7 to get in.
We have heard nothing but positive things about the energy level over at Memorial Stadium since spring ball. Let’s hope it translates into a playoff run.
Let’s get ready for some 2019 UND Football! The home opener vs. Drake on August 31 is right around the corner.
Photos courtesy of fightinghawks.com and Eric Burton.