north-dakotaThis week the Montana Grizzlies head back to North Dakota to hopefully get revenge on a rather embarrassing loss last year where we saw UND shatter a few passing records against our secondary in a loss that guaranteed the Griz would be missing the playoffs. This year’s team appears to be more solid in its scheme on offense, it has its leader (Johnson) at QB back, and the defense has some renewed confidence. All of which will be tested in a major way this coming Saturday. Let’s get this going:

University of North Dakota: 1-1

69-10 win vs Valparaiso: UND worked to establish some ground game in this blowout, rushing for 255 yards against an inferior Valpo defense. UND added in another 286 passing yards with Ryan Bartels throwing for 212 and Joe Molberg throwing for 74. Valpo was held to just 174 yards and went 9-23 passing.

28-35 loss vs #6 South Dakota State: SDSU grabbed a big 35-14 lead but saw UND come storming back on the arm of Joe Mollberg who came in to replace Ryan Bartels who was missing wide open targets far too often. SDSU dominated in the trenches with their main running back rushing for 295 yards and 3 TDs, meanwhile their QB added in about 160 passing and 2 passing TDs. UND’s two QBs combined for 437 passing yards and Mollberg had about 260 of those yards plus 2 TDs. Greg Hardin was… well… Greg Hardin, 207 receiving yards. SDSU controlled the clock with 35:00 TOP and they forced 3 turnovers. SDSU’s problem was they got complacent with a 21 point lead and just went totally cold. They did not do well on 3rd down conversions and let UND almost tie up the game. UND had the ball with a few minutes left and were looking to march down the field to tie the game and force OT but an interception ended the game.

Players to Watch

#84 Greg Hardin, WR – In just 2 games Greg has 370 receiving yards and 3 TDs. This guy is the best WR in the Big Sky if not the FCS. He is fast, he can break tackles, and he makes up for QBs mistakes. Against the Griz last year and in the SDSU game I saw him adjust and come back to grab floating/wobbly passes and then break a tackle and turn them up field. Greg demands double coverage if you hope to contain him. Greg’s also their main kick returner and he’s already taken one in for a TD in the Valpo game.

#14 Joe Mollberg, QB – I’m going to take a guess that the 6-2, 230 pound Mollberg will start the game for UND. Against SDSU he was more accurate in the passing game, especially on deeper passes. He also looks like he can escape the pass rush a little better. Bartels is the other QB we may see, he’s a tall QB as well but was mis-firing on a lot of passes against SDSU.

#19 Kenny Golladay, WR – Kenny actually has more catches than Hardin (13 compared to 12) but his numbers otherwise are less. 175 yards and 1 TD for Golladay, he’s a tall guy as well at 6-4, a big possession WR that looked pretty quick against SDSU. Kenny’s also the primary punt returner, he’s already got a TD on a kick return in the game against Valpo.

#3 Jake Miller, RB – Jake is the primary running back that UND leans on. What’s interesting is that he’s got 140 rushing yards and 3 TDs this year… not bad, but 108 of those yards and all 3 TDs came against Valpo. Tough to say if, when facing equal talent that UND doesn’t run well OR that they just had to start passing a lot more once they were down a few scores.

#83 Jameer Jackson, WR – Jackson caught my eye against SDSU. He’s another big and physical WR (6-3, 237). He RAN in a TD out of the wildcat on a play where he hit and ran over a few SDSU defenders. He also had 60 receiving yards in that game as well. Watch for him all over the field.

#53 Garrison Goodman, LB – I believe he’s their starting middle linebacker, Goodman leads the team so far with 10 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack and 2 pass break ups. He only played about half the season last year before an injury cut his season short and he still finished 4th on the team in total tackles.

#4 Daryl Brown, DB – Brown seemed to be all over the field in the SDSU game. He’s got 10 tackles already and even a TFL.

#46 Dominique Bennett, OLB – was the team leader in sacks last year and already has 1 this year as well as a team-leading 4 QB hits. Pass-rush seems to be his specialty, he’s also got 9 tackles so far this season.

General Stats

– UND’s offense is averaging 138 rushing yards and 361 passing yards per game. Compare to Montana’s defense which allows 123 rushing and 205 passing.

– UND’s defense allows on average of 190 rushing yards and 125 passing yards per game. Compare to Montana’s offense who is averaging 246 rushing yards and 251 passing yards.

– UND is -3 in turnover margin, UM is +1

– UND’s current average TOP is around 29:00 while UM’s is 36:00.

– UND’s punt return game averages 16 yards per return, UM allowed just 5 yards per return against App.

– UND is still perfect when scoring in the red zone (10-10 with 9 of those being TDs) while UM is just 63% (5-8 with 4 of those being TDs). Granted 1 of UM’s “failed” RZ attempts was the kneel down at the end of the App game.

– On defense UND has allowed scores on 3 of the 4 opposing team’s attempts, 2 of those being TDs. For the Griz they’ve only allowed 1 score in the red zone on just 1 attempt but no RZ touchdowns yet.

Keys to a Grizzly victory

1. Pass rush. Mollberg and Bartels need to feel the turf a lot. The D-line has to get to the QBs and disrupt their game all day long. SDSU hit a nice stride early disrupting Bartels and forcing a lot of errant passes. That will go a long way to keeping the passing game in check. This could be a huge game for our D-line, UND is breaking in 3 new guys on the O-line. If our front 4 can get to the QB and then there’s the occasional Tripp or JP blitz as well that will really put their pass attack on it’s heels

2. Pass coverage. Look, they’re going to get yards, UND is going to come out tossing the ball early and often. They’ll look at the App State game and take a few things away that they’ll look to capitalize on. I think they’re going to test Hermanson big time, he still showed issues in the App game with some bad angles and what looked like being out of position, also stumbling on some deeper routes. Hermey and Tully will really be tested in this game. I assume they’re going to be providing a lot of help to the corners over top. Our corners are going to need to not only stick with the WRs but keep on them once the ball is thrown. Sounds silly but last year and against SDSU I saw the UND QBs throw passes that were not on target, it was pretty much for anyone to go and get, consistently the UND WR’s would adjust, move, cut back and go get the ball, usually being wide open. It also seemed to me that last week UND had great success chopping up zone pass defense. I would suspect we’ll see more nickel defense where Harris, Dennard, and Goodwin will all be on the field at once.

3. Make UND 1-dimensional. Don’t let their ground game get going. We’ll probably need Tripp and JP in pass coverage a ton and as long as the rushing option is limited for UND we won’t have to worry about stacking the box. Also watch that wildcat formation.

4. Control the clock. Heavy doses of Van, Canada, and Counts will be huge. Last year the Griz suddenly scrapped their rushing game and tried to get in a passing shootout with UND, and we all know how that ended up. Even with new QBs and three new guys on the O-line UND is a tremendous passing team and going up against their strength seems to me as a big mistake.

5. Don’t get comfy. SDSU almost fell victim to this last week. If it’s the mid/late 3rd quarter or into the 4th and we’re up by 2-4 scores, don’t get conservative.

6. The punt/kick game concerns me. Here’s why. Shaw is smashing the threads off the ball right now and I’m worried he’s going to out-kick his coverage in this game. Angle the ball to the sideline, kick it out of the end zone on kickoffs, and have your coverage team stay in their lanes

7. Limit the big plays. Double-teaming Hardin will do that to some extent but I expect UND to throw a lot of new stuff at the Griz. Possibly some more screens, using the Wildcat a little more, shorter passes with more up-field blocking.

8. Play-action could be huge. UND’s secondary impressed me when watching the SDSU game. They are quick, athletic, and cocky (looked like lots of talking going on in that game). If the Griz stick to a ground and pound game plan some well-timed play-action passes might beat the defense if they start to creep up and defend the run a bit more.

9. Win in the trenches. I’ve got other points posted on this but if you look at it the Griz will start 5 starters from last year’s O-line (assuming Poole stays at guard) and 3 of the 4 starting D-linemen. UND starts just 2 starters from last year’s O-line and I don’t think any returning starters from last year’s D-line.

10. Win the turnover battle. Force some INTs and don’t fumble the ball away in the red zone this time around.


Naturally I’m nervous about this game. I still can’t shake last year’s game against UND and I’m just not convinced now that the App game was a good test of how our defensive secondary is. This will be a trial by fire for our DBs and I hope they’re up to the challenge. I don’t see UND controlling the line of scrimmage and we are better at QB/RB than they are. We’ve got to take maximum advantage of that. I think this will be a tight and stressful game, long and drawn out Griz TDs could be met with quick strike UND TDs. As long as the Griz play clean, stick to their plan, and don’t get complacent I see a win here – but all of the factors of going on the road and the UND pass attack has me worried.