clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Opponent Defense Preview: North Dakota

New, 8 comments

Often overshadowed by their FCS powerhouse in-state siblings, NDSU, the Fighting Hawks start their first season as independents before moving into the Missouri Valley Conference.

North Dakota v Utah

Sorry for the late-ish post on the Dawgs’ week two opponents out of Winnipeg South, Manitoba Grand Forks, North Dakota.

With that in mind, we have no time to lose! Without further ado, here’s what the Huskies will be up against in game two of 2018, as the North Dakota Fighting Hawks make their way out to Montlake:

Personnel and What to Expect

While North Dakota is often overshadowed by the FBS and, within the FCS, their in-state brethren in powerhouse North Dakota State, the first thing that stands out about their first game of 2018 is the rushing yardage: their opponent, Mississippi Valley State, was held to -27 ground yards.

Cool, cool, cool. That’s cool.

Granted, much of that number is based on the seven sacks they had — so what do you want to be impressed by? The yardage (or lack thereof) the Fighting Hawks allowed, or the pass rush?

Now, for the little information we have about the 2018 North Dakota Fighting Hawks, it should be prefaced with this caveat: Mississippi Valley State, the one opponent they’ve had so far, is — and has been for a while — pretty darn terrible.

Still though, -27 rushing yards? Furthermore, in their week one matchup, MVSU didn’t make a first down the entire third quarter.

Otherwise, the personnel include captains Austin Cieslak and Tanner Palmborg, a lineman and linebacker, respectively.

Up front, the defensive line looks to be pretty clearly improving; their run defense last year wasn’t a strength but, based on the small sample size of 2018, is so far on the mend. Defensive end Mason Bennett, the junior out of Winnipeg, had two sacks and three tackles for loss against MVSU and, in 2017, led the team in TFLs (8.5) despite only playing in 10 games. Since his redshirt freshman season in 2016, he’s generally been a productive player on the edge and had at least one TFL in 80% of his appearances last year. Meanwhile, the aforementioned captain Austin Cieslak had 1.5 sacks against MVSU and has been a significant player up front since his redshirt freshman year in 2015. One of the last guys to remember on the line is senior NT Tank Harris, who was a Second Team All-Big Sky lineman last year and has started every game for the last two seasons. All things considered, they’re a reliable pass rush and an improving run defense.

Behind them, the linebackers are another unit that looked, based on the Mississippi Valley State game and some rising younger talent, like they’re improving after a mediocre 2017. Junior Donnell Rodgers is legitimately NFL-sized, although maybe a bit short, at 6’1” and 245 lbs, and had a sack in game one. The unit as a whole is on the younger side — mostly made up of a handful of sophomores, redshirt freshmen, and juniors within the two-deeps — but it seems like a situation where they’re adding younger talent as opposed to playing young guys out of desperate necessity. The exception here is the captain, Tanner Palmborg, who is the leader at OLB, a three-time Big Sky All-Academic, All-Big Sky Third Team member, and former safety.

Lastly, the secondary.

Unfortunately for the Fighting Hawks, they lose All-American safety Cole Reyes to graduation. On the other hand, cornerbacks Deion Harris and Evan Holm return in 2018 after missing all and most of last seasons, respectively. The two native Minnesotans, a senior and junior, are part of a balanced groups of defensive backs that includes just one freshman in the two-deep, Harris’ backup, Jacob Odom.

While getting Harris and Holm and their subsequent experience back is helpful, the loss of Reyes is something that looks like it’ll be hard for UND to get over.

Bottom Line

There’s not a whole bunch to say other than this looks like it’ll be a pretty standard FCS-FBS matchup.

North Dakota’s run defense, although iffy last year, was a huge strength in their first week. Helping matters out stats-wise, since for some reason college statisticians include sacks under the “rushing yards” category, is a pass rush that can terrorize lesser opponents and put up a good fight against everyone else. Meanwhile, the pass defense is all right but, as mentioned earlier, is still trying to figure out who steps up after losing an All-American player and leader.

After last week’s Auburn run defense 100% lived up to their reputation, I fully expect Washington to exploit their talent advantage and get Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed some good snaps to get in the swing of things before more difficult tests come up *cough hello Utah cough*. While UND’s run defense was bananas last week, that was against an MVSU squad that hasn’t won more than three games in a while; plus, the Hawks’ run defense was not completely reliable last year.

Similarly, it’ll be pretty surprising if the Huskies’ passing game can’t fully take advantage of a defensive backfield still figuring things out. Fuller and Jones have an opportunity to make some intermediate-to-long range plays, while Quinten Pounds should prove he’s good for more than just one spectacular catch per day and can actually be a consistent contributor in multiple series.

With the new four-game redshirt rule, hopefully Dawg fans will get to see Austin Osborne and Marquis Spiker in the game sooner or later. Barring a major screwup on Washington’s part, we should get our first look at Jake Haener in the fourth quarter. Even if Osborne and Spiker (or the other true freshmen pass-catchers, TE Devin Culp and Chico-back Trey Lowe) don’t get any snaps, the redshirts Alex Cook and Terrell Bynum, both of whom seemed to have sneakily good fall camps, should show some of what they can contribute.

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.