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Opponent Offense Preview: North Dakota Fighting Hawks

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The FCS independent brings a conservative offense into Husky Stadium for UW’s home opener.

John Santiago (#22) is a pre-season FCS All-American

North Dakota is entering head coach Bubba Schweigert’s fifth season and he has a 47-43 overall record. After winning the Big Sky in 2016 they regressed massively and only won three games in 2017. They’re 1-0 so far this season after blowing out Mississippi Valley State 35-7. Fun fact: this is UND’s first season as an FCS Independent after leaving the Big Sky Conference.

Home opener. Afternoon game. Let’s do this.

The Basics

Bubba Schweigert comes from a defensive background and returns to North Dakota after serving as DC from 1997-2003. He was later the DC at Southern Illinois and found defensive success there too. Interestingly, in his only prior head coaching job, at Minnesota-Duluth, he preferred an open, high flying attack, but has found a more run-based style that works for the Fighting Hawks. Like many defensive-minded head coaches, he prefers a more conservative, ball-control style of offense. He wants to establish the run and minimize possessions for the opposing offense. He pairs this with his extremely aggressive defense, and the mix of the two gives them an identity as a team.

Through the air

North Dakota will enter Husky Stadium with a transfer quarterback in his first year starting for his new team. Junior Nate Ketteringham won the job after transferring from fellow FCS program Sacramento State. The 6-3, 200-pound QB started 15 games for Sac State and compiled the following stats:

  • 3,391 yards
  • 24 passing touchdowns
  • 54.7% completion
  • 237 rushing yards
  • 4 rushing touchdowns

Decent numbers which become good if you ignore the 54%. He’s replacing a four-year starter and actually faced North Dakota once in his Sacramento days. He did not do well that game, as the Fighting Hawk defense sacked him three times and picked him off once. Can’t say why he elected to transfer, but if you can’t beat them, join them?

When it comes to weapons, Ketteringham will primarily look for his two 6-4 wideouts on the outside, Noah Wanzek and Travis Toivonen. They caught four passes apiece last week. There’s also 6-4 freshman Garrett Maag who caught a touchdown against Mississippi Valley. Ketteringham had success finding them downfield and he finished the game 19/30 for 225 yards and 3 TDs.

Luke Fiedler headlines a deep TE room, where they often like to move pieces around and interchange fullbacks, H-backs, and tight ends. Aside from Fiedler, most of the bigger bodies are used for blocking.

John Santiago deserves a mention here too. While he is technically listed at running back, he is a three-time FCS All-American and a pre-season All-American at all-purpose back. He’ll return kicks and punts while also getting plenty of carries on the ground. The coaching staff tries to get the ball in his hands any way possible, and Ketteringham will look for him in the passing game.

On the ground

The main man on the ground for North Dakota, in addition to the aforementioned Santiago, is Brady Oliveira. The 5-10, 220-pound back earned honorable mention All Big Sky in 2017 and started 2018 strong with 14 carries for 108 yards last week. He’s not a burner, but pairs his 220-pound frame with good power and balance.

James Johannesson is another big body at 6-1 and 230 pounds. He only got six carries last week but could be a possible matchup Schweigert looks to exploit. The weapon to look out for is Santiago. He’s a dynamic player in the offense who averaged over 160 all-purpose yards per game last season. He averaged over five yards a carry last week on his 17 attempts.

As a team, they averaged just under six yards a carry last week, including Ketteringham’s 25 yards on six carries. They try to establish the run early with their three talented running backs and use it to keep the ball as long as possible.

Final Thoughts

As with all games played against FCS competition, this one shouldn’t be very competitive after a quarter and will likely end in a blowout. Due to the overmatched nature of the opponent, it is hard to read too much into the matchups. However, for the second week in a row, Washington will face a team filled with big-bodied receivers. The athleticism is obviously not at the same level as Auburn, but having a trio of 6-4 pass catchers will give a chance for Washington to practice covering size, after having trouble at times last week.

When it comes to defending the run, Washington should do what they do best: prevent the big plays. John Santiago is a very dangerous player at the FCS level and is capable of making plays against Pac-12 opposition, but will understandably struggle against this defense.

North Dakota appears to be a team that plays fairly “straight up” on offense and without many gimmicks. Going up against a team that is supremely more talented at each position makes it incredibly difficult to be successful this way. Based on Ketteringham’s three passing TDs in Week One, it appears they are opening things up a little bit more. However, last week they ran the ball 50 times to only 30 passes and you can likely anticipate more ground-and-pound on Saturday.