Feeling better, but work remains for UND football team
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota entered Saturday's game against Northern Colorado as a bruised, beaten and battered football team.
The Fighting Hawks left the Alerus Center turf as a bruised, beaten, battered—but better—football team.
How much better?
That remains to be seen, but UND's roller-coaster 48-38 win Saturday, Oct. 7, over the Bears did right the Hawks' ship for at least a week.
The way things have gone the past three weeks, that's all UND could ask for since the Hawks suffered blowout loss after blowout loss, injury after injury and the arrest of two of their players on drug charges.
Late Saturday, though, it was a time for the 2-4 Hawks to feel good for a change.
They won a football game on homecoming and—at times—looked like the program that many expected they would see at the start of the season when UND was a top 10 FCS team.
UND's win still had issues, especially on defense. Northern Colorado capitalized on some sloppy UND play in the second quarter, a spurt that allowed the Bears to dig out of a 28-7 hole and forge a 31-28 lead early in the third quarter.
Late in the third quarter, however, UND's offense took over. After the Bears tied the game at 38-38, UND decided to give the ball to Brady Oliveira—a North-South no nonsense runner. His first carry was a bruising 17-yard carry. His body language simply said, 'We've had enough. Give me the ball and block.'
And that's what happened. Oliveira carried the ball on five straight plays, rushing for a combined 58 yards to the UNC 15.
The Hawks didn't get seven but Reid Taubenheim's field goal gave UND a 41-38 lead—and the momentum.
"I don't want to be selfish but there comes a time when a running back feels hot," said the 220-pound junior. "You have to give him the ball and let him rock with it. I felt really good there. This is the North Dakota team we want to be and what we were last year. Things were clicking and we want to keep that up every week."
That spark carried over to the defense, which forced a three-and-out from the Bears' offense on their next possession.
The tide had turned and UND was finally in control.
UND rushed for 314 yards on 52 carries; with Oliveira gaining 109 yards—all in the second half when the Hawks needed them the most.
"We ran the ball well at times today," said UND coach Bubba Schweigert. "We had 562 (total) yards; that's good enough to win games. And our tailbacks are a 1-2-3 punch; James Johannesson was really good when he came in. He moved the chains."
Oliveira, John Santiago and Johannesson indeed give UND the advantage in the run game against nearly every opponent. And when UND gets 97 rushing yards from quarterback Keaton Studsrud, the Hawks' ground game becomes a major advantage.
UND's win left everyone feeling good for a day. But can that feeling last? Can UND run the ball well against next week's opponent Montana, one of the Big Sky heavyweights? And can UND's defense—where injuries have left it decimated in some positions—improve enough with young, untested players in the lineup?
That's hard to say but UND—for the first time in a month—showed signs of last year's Big Sky title team. But it's too early to say everything is back to normal.
"The scoreboard really tells you how you feel," said Bubba. "We're going to enjoy the night and get back to work tomorrow."
And there is a lot of work left to be done.