UND remains undefeated in Big Sky faces WSU this weekend
This weekend, UND will host Weber State in the biggest football matchup Grand Forks has seen in years.
“These are the games you play for,” UND Quarterback Keaton Studsrud said. “These are big games we have to win. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a big game.”
While there is no doubt it’s a big game, head coach Bubba Schweigert will not let the pressure get to his players.
“We try to preach a consistent message,” Schweigert said. “We take it one day at a time. We really want to focus on what we can control. We can’t control our opponent, or anything on the outside, but we really want to focus on our preparation and take it one day at a time.”
With the win on the road against Idaho State last weekend, the Fighting Hawks moved to 5-0 in the Big Sky conference and 5-2 on the season. This is the first time UND has gone 5-0 to start conference play since entering the Big Sky conference and first time since 2005 they have gone 5-0 in their conference in team history.
The Weber State Wildcats are no slouches either. The Wildcats also enter Saturday undefeated in Big Sky play at 4-0, which is their best start since 2008. Overall, they are 4-2.
Like UND, Weber State is on a roll. After a close 37-36 comeback win over Southern Utah University, they have now won five games in a row after dropping their first two games of the season in a blowout against Utah State and double overtime loss to South Dakota.
This weekend will be huge for determining who wins the conference. Both teams sit atop the standings. With Eastern Washington also remaining undefeated in the conference, it may take an undefeated conference schedule to win the Big Sky this year.
In their only two matchups with Weber State, the Hawks have not been able to come away with a victory.
In 2014, the Wildcats defeated the Hawks at the Alerus Center 24-12.
Last season, UND traveled to Ogden, Utah. The Hawks held a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter only to watch it slip away as Weber State came back to win 25-24.
UND was missing its starting quarterback, Keaton Studsrud, for the game in Utah last season.
Like always, the run game will be paramount for the Hawks. They have now rushed for over 200 yards in their last 13 games against Big Sky foes. In those games, they are 10-3.
Offensively, UND will have to keep doing what they have been doing during their winning streak. They’ve had balanced attack and have been able to take advantage of teams loading the box with defenders trying to stop the Hawks’ potent run game by passing the ball.
The passing game has become more and more prevalent for the Hawks as the season has gone on. Studsrud is putting together a terrific junior season, totaling 1,538 yards through the air with 11 touchdown passes with only two interceptions on the season.
“When you run the football, maybe you gotta wear on people a little bit because everyone knows we want to run it, and run it a lot,” Schweigert said. “As you start gaining yards on the ground, and getting some of those plays, that does open up your passing game a bit.”
While the Wildcats offense has averaged a respectable 29 points-per-game, their defense has struggled. They have averaged giving up 30 per game.
Defensively, the Hawks must be ready for the Wildcats to throw the ball.
In the Wildcats’ last game, quarterback Jadrian Clark threw for 416 yards to go along with four touchdowns. This was Clark’s second consecutive game with four touchdown passes.
Clark can also hurt a team with his legs. He is second on the team in rushing with 371 rushing yards so far this year.
To go along with the Wildcats’ talented quarterback, receivers Cam Livingston, Andrew Vollert and Darryl Denby all have at least three touchdowns, 25 receptions and average at least 10 yards per reception.
On the flip side, Clark will face one of the best secondaries in the FCS. The Hawks have snagged 13 interceptions so far this season and Clark has not gone a game without an interception since the first week of the season.
With a big matchup at home this week, UND hopes the fans can give them a true home field advantage.
“It’s huge, when you have a home game, you have to take advantage of the home crowd,” Studsrud said. “It creates a harsh environment for the opposing team coming in and having to deal with the noise.”
The Hawks will try to defend first place in the conference at the Alerus Center Oct. 29. Kickoff is at 1:00 p.m.
Adam Gunderman is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]