The Game Vitals
Opponent – Cal Poly Mustangs
TV – Midco Sports Network
Radio – UND Radio Network
Online Streaming – WatchBigSky
Spread – Cal Poly -5.5. Total = 62.5
Cal Poly Breakdown
— Offense = Triple Option
— Defense = 3-4
Offensively – From a personnel grouping standpoint, Poly runs the triple option primarily out of 30 (three RB-zero TE) sets, but will sprinkle in some 20 personnel, as well. They have also shown some new wrinkles in their running game with how they line up formationally in the backfield and how they block certain plays up front.
Poly brings an offense that is fresh off two huge wins over SDSU and Montana. Against SDSU they scored 38 points & against Montana they scored 42 points. This offense is clicking on all cylinders right now and the 2 key players are senior QB and Air Force transfer #7 Dano Graves and fullback #5 Joe Protheroe, who leads the country in rushing yards with 557. Graves has shown the ability to be able to be more effective as a thrower than Mustang QB’s of the recent past. Yet another element to the Mustang offense that UND needs to keep in check on Saturday.
Graves, 5′-10″-190, threw for almost 10,000 yards in his high school career and over 60 TD’s on one season. To say he is a passing threat at any time is an understatement. Poly usually has a glorified running back playing QB. Not this year.
The UND defense must make sure they get some shots on Graves and make him feel uncomfortable. In the film we have seen so far, the opposing defense’s have not done that.
On the perimeter, pursuit angles must be on point and guys need to get off blocks and restrict the alley for the pitch player. Another concern is the Poly RB’s running up the seam on play action, where they have already had many big plays this year and have beaten UND, specifically, in the past. Discipline and reading keys will be paramount this week.
Also, stopping Poly’s fullback dive (#4) will be critical all day long in attempting to keep Poly out of 2nd and 3rd and short situations. Poly will get their rushing yards on Saturday, but the defense needs to make them uncomfortable in terms of down and distance. They don’t want to give the ball to the fullback up the middle consistently. They give it to him to get a first down, change it up, etc.
Always a big key to the game when playing a triple option team is fumbles. Read-handoffs and pitches put the ball in limbo and fumbles happen. UND needs to create confusion up front leading to errant pitches and poor handoffs to the fullback. Poly has fumbled nine times this year but only lost three of them.
As he was last year, safety Cole Reyes will play a big part in the success, or lack thereof, for the Mustangs running game. If you think Poly doesn’t remember that from last year’s tape, you are sorely mistaken. Reyes will spend the majority of the day down in the box again. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if Poly gameplans around him specifically to give their offense a better chance at moving the ball.
Defensively – The Mustang defense has transitioned back to a 3-4 this season with the return of former DC Payam Sadaat. Last season Poly played a vanilla 4-3 that didn’t bring much pressure and liked to sit in their cover 2 shell. This year is much different.
Poly is bringing pressure from their safeties and linebackers at a much more frequent rate, much like UND. They don’t move their front three like UND but pressure much the same way.
Thus far in 2016, Poly is giving up 30 pts/game and 359 total yds/game. They are only giving up 109 yds/game on the ground, although that number is skewed a bit by playing pass-happy Montana. But, their schedule has been very tough and 30 pts/game is respectable.
The leader of the Mustang defense is undoubtedly #48 Josh Letuligasenoa. The OLB leads the team in tackles with 30 and also has 4.5 TFL’s and 1 sack. He plays on the end of the line much like UND’s OLB’s do and is a tough matchup when he rushes off the edge. UND will more than likely have some help to his direction early in the game depending on how their tackles/tight ends are doing against him.
A trouble spot for this defense in 2016 has been forcing turnovers. They have only forced four total, with two coming by fumble and two by interception. Conversely, the UND defense has forced 12 turnovers.
North Dakota Keys to Win The Game
- Play a clean game. 100+ yards in penalties is way too many. Granted some of them were terrible calls but they were still called and killed the offense’s momentum.
- Slow down the option at the line of scrimmage. Make them think by clogging lanes for even a split second as Graves heads down the line or reads off his fullback. This gives the linebacker and safeties time to get downhill and off their blocks.
- Put big #92 Tank Harris over the center to occupy him and keep ILB’s Connor O’Brien, Donnell Rodgers and Dylan Bakker free to move down the line.
- Cole Reyes and Zach Arnell – have a day. Those two can clean up a lot of mistakes up front on Saturday. Poly is not as patient as some might think. They will go for the big one if consistently tackled for 1-7 yard gains. If UND’s safeties can tackle at a high rate and keep the long runs from happening it will go a long way to UND winning the game.
- Work the perimeter with John – Work the middle with Brady. It has been tough sledding so far in 2016 for John Santiago. He has had some nice games but nothing like last year. This week there will be some chances to run wide and get him loose. As usual, Brady Oliveira will be the hammer up the middle if it turns into that type of game again.
- UND Offense: Score in the first quarter. Sounds crazy, I know. But UND has not scored an offensive point yet this year in the first quarter. Let’s get some confidence early and get the crowd into the game.
This is perhaps the biggest game of the season for UND as we look at the schedule. No, it is the biggest game of the year. Poly is the best team on their schedule and beating them and getting to 3-2 on the season will be a giant step towards achieving their goal of making the playoffs and winning the Big Sky Conference title. Poly has those same goals at this point, however.
UND has bigtime success vs. the Poly option last year. The problem is that gave Head Coach Tim Walsh a template of what UND likes to do vs. them. This year’s Poly offense is much better. Can DC Eric Schmidt adjust to what he is seeing this year and slow them down, getting them out of rhythm? We think so.