The Sioux kickoff the second half of the 2011 campaign by hosting the Cal-Poly Mustangs this Saturday at the Alerus Center. Game time is 1pm. The Sioux (4-2) are coming off a bye week. Poly (3-3) comes into the game on a two game winning streak after beating Central Oklahoma and Southern Utah in back to back home games. Their three losses on the year were to two FBS opponents (San Diego State and Northern Illinois) and Montana. They also handed a good ol’ fashioned beatdown to MVFC member South Dakota State in San Luis Obispo, 48-14.
UND Defense vs. Cal-Poly Offense
As they have for many years, Poly is running the triple option and having great success doing it. From what we have seen (San Diego St. game), they line up in the triple option about 80% of the time, with the shotgun formation taking the other 20% of the snaps. That is a little wrinkle they added in the off-season. The will throw out of it but it is mostly to give the defense another look as they simply run a read-option between the QB and RB.
Poly is averaging 33 pts/game. Most of the damage is done on the ground with 260 of their 385 yd/game average coming via the running game. That ranks them #5 in the country in rushing offense. With UND only giving up 75 rushing yds/game, this truly will be a game where whoever can exert their will on the other will win the game.
Poly has lost 7 fumbles on the year. The one drawback with running the option is ball tends to be dropped or pitched errantly at times.
QB #3 Andre Broadus is back from injury in 2011 and is running the offense as good as it’s been run in a long time. The Sioux did not have to face him last year due to injury but he will be running the show on Saturday. He is a good sized QB (6′-0″-205) and is perfect for their triple option offense. On the year he has carried the ball 105 times for 484 yards. He had 11 rushing TD’s on the year and 3 passing. He is a bigtime threat everytime he touches the ball.
FB #34 Jake Romanelli is their leading ground gainer with 107 carries for 550 yards and 6 TD’s. He is the prototypical bruising triple option FB. They will give it to on the dive as many times as the other teams will let them. UND has had success containing him in the past due to their 3-4 scheme.
TB #1 Mark Rodgers is their main pitchback in the option game. He has outstanding speed to get to the perimeter. The like to do quick toss sweeps to him and let him use his speed to get to the sideline and turn it up. On the year he has 382 yards rushing and 1 TD. He also is their leading receiver with 134 yards and 2 TD’s.
Poly does not possess that bigtime receiving threat that they have had in the past. 6’5″ receivers Ramses Barden and Dominique Johnson terrorized defenses in this option offense over the past 5 years but both are gone. Now it seems Poly is more relying on the 3-headed monster of Broadus-Romanelli-Rodgers to win games for them.
One big plus for UND when facing a triple option team is that UND run’s a 3-4 defense. It is naturally built to stop the option due to the outside linebackers sitting on the end of the line and having a NG cover up the center. The OLB’s can either slam down hard and take the QB, forcing the pitch. Or they can slow play it and then commit late to one or the other. Or they can simply go straight to the pitch man and completely take him out, hoping that the ILB’s will scrape over the top and be there for the QB. We see the Sioux trying to take the ball out of Broadus’s hands by slamming the OLB’s down quickly to force a pitch. Then, it is up to the corners, safeties, and ILB’s to get off their blocks and get to the pitch-back (usually Rodgers).
One overlooked part of the 3-4 defense vs. the option is the NG position. By having him head up over their 250lb center, he can control those A gaps and help neutralize the FB dive game (the second part of the triple option). We expect Poly to possibly give the dive handoff to Romanelli a bit further down the line, more around the B gap. That is where the natural hole is vs. a 3-4.
We see the Sioux being solid on the fullback all game and forcing Broadus to pull the ball from the fullback with the OLB waiting on the end of the line. They will try to option him but UND should try to force him to pitch it and beat them to the outside. Option teams want to get the fullback quick hitters up the A gap and run the QB around the end (or cut it up when it’s there). The more they have to pitch it, the better it should be for UND, assuming the corners get off blocks and tackle well.
If the Sioux can get good solid NG play, have their defensive ends not get cut and then be able to crash down, have their OLB’s take the QB before he can cut it up, and have safeties and ILB’s get off blocks to scrape over the top, they should have a good shot at winning this game. Literally, every time they run the down-the-line option, those are all the things that need to happen. Not easy.
UND Offense vs. Cal-Poly Defense
The Mustangs are 4-3 defense with a lot of cover 2 and cover 4 looks in the secondary. The strength of their defense seems to lie in their defensive line with the talent and depth they have there. This group is geared up to stop the run and they have done exactly that all year. Poly has 8 seniors on their defensive line depth chart – yes, 8. Their secondary is also solid and are led by Asa Jackson, who as we reported via Twitter earlier this week, is injured and questionable for the game this week. Jackson is a returning All-GWC performer and has the size and talent to potentially be playing on Sundays next season. If he’s not at full speed, this could have a huge impact on the UND passing game as they will have both sides of the field to choose from without concern.
The UND offense will have to feel their way through the first quarter or so to see how much success they have running the ball, especially given the fact that Emmett Lynch’s replacement will need some time to get settled in, whomever that may be. We think freshman Shea Walker will take his spot at guard. We’ve also seen Connor McKendry moving down and taking reps at guard, with Caleb Gillson taking the tackle reps. Either way, the coaches will have to decide which makes the most sense after the 2 weeks of prep they’ve had. If we had to guess, we think that both guards will hail from Cretin-Derham Hall on gameday (Kleason & Walker).
This is an obvious matchup of the 2 strengths on each side of the ball. Poly is good against the run, UND is good at running the ball. If UND can somehow run the ball for 150-180 yards on the day and mix in an effective and efficient passing game, and not turn the ball over, then we feel good about UND’s chances. The return of Mitch Sutton could be huge this week as he no doubt will be carrying the ball between the tackles to pick up the tough yardage and ease the workload on Jake Miller and Jer Garman. Joey Bradley’s play once again will be paramount and under the microscope. The Sioux cannot continue to be ineffective with the downfield passing game and need to loosen up the Poly run defense with some intermediate and deep strikes down the field. Not the easiest thing to do in 2-deep coverages. Should be lots of corner route combinations to stress the corners and safeties. Bradley needs to continue to manage the game like he has all year, but now needs to grow into a playmaker and take the next step in his progression as UND’s QB. UND’s slot receivers need to have a big day. Seth Nichols and RJ McGill should also have their opportunities to make plays in between the hashes against the 2-deep Poly coverages.
This game will be won and lost in the trenches on both sides of the ball. However, the team that can make the big plays downfield and not turn the ball over will have the advantage. The UND secondary cannot fall asleep and allow Poly big plays in the passing game and the corners and safeties absolutely MUST get off blocks and tackle well on the perimeter on the option pitch – can’t stress this enough. The winner of this game has the inside track on the Great West Conference title heading into the home stretch of the season. Home teams have benefited that last 2 years and we see the UND homecoming crowd being a factor on Saturday.