The Game Vitals
Opponent – Cal Poly Mustangs @ Alex Spanos Stadium, San Luis Obispo, CA.
Game Notes – UND
TV – None Radio – UND Radio Network
Online Streaming – Eversport
Spread – Poly -7. Total = 64
The UND Football team heads out to California this week to play in arguably their biggest game since the move to D1 began in 2008. UND is mostly healthy this week, with the exceptions being DE Daquan Baker (out), DE Drew Greely (out) and RB Brady Oliveira (out).
What you are going to see out of UND is an all hands on deck, all pages of the playbook available, all-out effort to win this football game. This will be a tough, physical four quarter game folks. Win and UND has a real shot at their first FCS playoff berth.
Cal Poly (4-6) Breakdown
— Offense = Triple Option
— Defense = 4-3
Offensively, Poly is averaging 35 points and almost 500 yards per game this year, with 410 yards of that average coming on the ground. We have been pretty braggart about UND rushing for over 400 yards in the last 2 games, but that is actually what Poly is averaging…..per game. Pretty amazing.
Senior QB Chris Brown is the catalyst for the rushing attack. He has rushed for 1,016 yards and 11 TDs and thrown for 635 yards and another 11 TDs. Wide receiver Willie Tucker is the big play threat with 13 receptions for 315 yards (24.2 yd avg) and 6 TDs. Tucker is usually WIDE open due to teams worrying about the run so much.
There’s really nothing more oxymoronic than the Cal-Poly offense – so simple, yet so complex. So easy to gameplan for, yet so difficult to defend. You know what they are going to do, but can you stop it? There are many different variations and blocking schemes to run out of in the “triple option” and the Mustangs employ all of them. Every position has to be on point and not lulled to sleep. Dive, QB keeper, pitch, and then a playaction option pass down the field. The UND defense has to be disciplined in their reads and assignments this week, or we will see what we have seen against Poly in the past – too many big plays.
UND’s corners and safeties will be called upon again this week on the perimeter/in space and will be integral in run support. They have to be sharp and patient with their run/pass reads and still be able to be aggressive in attacking on the pitch. Easier said than done.
Defensively, Poly is a base 4-3 team, like most of UND’s opponents this season. The Mustangs are giving up 34.5 pts/game and 456 yards of total offense per game (290/166). While those stats show big numbers, we believe they are a sound unit in that they appear to be well coached and adjust well on the fly.
But, from what we have seen and read they are a pretty tame defense as far as pressure goes. Poly likes to sit in their 4-3 alignment and “read & react” vs. coming from all angles with pressure. They remind us of UC-Davis or Northern Colorado in that respect. Poly has only 16 sacks on the year (UND has 27).
A key statistic working in UND’s favor this week is Poly’s struggles on third down as a defense. Opponent’s are converting at a 44% rate vs. the Mustang defense (11th in Big Sky), which is leading to those inflated yardage numbers.
The strength of the Poly defense is probably their defensive line. Led by #95 Kelly Shepard (6’4″-250). Shepard has 5.5 TFL’s and 2.5 sacks on the year. With the way that Poly plays their defensive line doesn’t put up huge numbers but they do a decent job at the point of contact.
The three LB’s for Poly are their leading tacklers. #43 Tu’uta Inoke is the leading tackler from his ILB position with 86 tackles and 4 TFL’s. #11 Burton De Koning is second and #36 Joe Giantino is 3rd. All three of these guys are bigger linebackers, ranging from 230-250 pounds. These are the type of players that RB John Santiago is going to have to make miss to break his weekly long runs. There will be many chances on Saturday.
#1 safety B.J. Nard leads the Poly defense with 3 INT’s. Much like UND, Poly has not gotten many INT’s this year with only seven to their credit. We think there will be opportunities in the passing game this week for QB Keaton Studsrud and his WR’s.
North Dakota (6-4) Keys to the Game
- Defending the big pass play by Poly. The Mustangs will run, run, run, run, run, PASS, and when they pass it’s usually a home run ball. If UND can defend that big pass play and make them get their yards on the ground they have a very good shot at winning Saturday.
- Make QB Chris Brown pitch the ball more than not. He is their leading rusher and would like nothing more than to keep it on the option. Force the ball to be given up and a potential for fumbles will come with it.
- The UND offense needs to win this game. Long, methodical run-oriented drives capped with TD’s will break Poly’s spirit in this last game of the season. They are done after tomorrow so motivation could be questioned. However, they have seniors playing their last games of their careers too so pride could make up for that.
- Keeping Poly’s option offense OFF the field will disrupt their rhythm. When the option is in rhythm it is a thing of beauty – when its out of rhythm it’s an ugly site.
- Tackling. You cannot afford missed tackles against this attack, specifically when it’s “out the gate” on the perimeter. There will be plenty of 1-on-1 tackling situations that UND needs to win. As we mentioned earlier, this is incumbent on the secondary.
UND needs to play their most complete game of the season vs. this well-disciplined Cal-Poly team. Poly is better than their record indicates, as they have played a hellacious schedule this year with the likes of Arizona State, Northern Iowa, and Montana encompassing their non-conference slate. We feel UND will have the ability to wear down Poly and the offensive side of the ball and do enough defensively to beat the Mustangs on the road in this game.
North Dakota 37
Cal Poly 28