UND FOOTBALL: Focus on running game
Last season, UND virtually pulled the plug on the running game.
The team’s running backs carried the ball on just 18 percent of offensive plays during last season’s final three games. For the season, UND got outrushed on average 188 to 81 per game.
But that philosophy is about to change.
“The running game is going to be a cornerstone of offense,” said running backs coach Kevin Maurice, part of the new regime under first-year coach Bubba Schweigert. “It’s going to help the defense by running the clock, keeping them off the field and slowing the pace of the game a little bit. It’s going to complement our passing game and open things up passing-wise. We’re going to have to work as a unit, and I’m going to use all of the guys this year.”
The four-man running back group — seniors Adam Shaugabay and Jer Garman, sophomore junior college transfer Cedric Simmons and redshirt freshman Patrick Sharp — figures to be much more involved in the offense this season.
The coaching staff anticipates using all of them.
“Music to my ears,” Shaugabay said. “But whatever the offensive coordinator calls, I’m going to do. As a group, we’re ready to compete. We’re ready to go. If we have a better running game, it will help our passing game. It will help our team get better and keep our defense off the field and put the other team’s defense on the field.”
Last season, that didn’t happen.
UND’s leading rusher, Jake Miller, rushed for just 424 yards on the season, an average of 47.1 per game. Garman finished with 158 yards rushing, 14.4 per game. The passing game took over as UND threw 45-plus times in six of its 11 games.
After the season, UND fired head coach Chris Mussman and hired Schweigert, who was an assistant coach at UND in the early 2000s, when it used a strong defense and a steady running game to win a Division II national championship.
In the offseason, UND lost its top three receivers, too. Greg Hardin graduated and signed with the Denver Broncos. Kenny Golladay (Northern Illinois) and Jameer Jackson (MSU-Mankato) both transferred out.
“We lost a lot of talent, a lot of brothers who left us,” Shaugabay said. “It’s sad to see them go, but I care a lot about this university, and if they didn’t care as much as me, and they don’t want to be here, then I guess they shouldn’t be here.”
The running backs have joined the rest of the team holding voluntary team stretches at 6:30 a.m. to get prepared for the day of practice ahead.
“Right now, there’s more of a sense of urgency from the coaches,” Shaugabay said. “The tempo is up. Everything is about the details. We have to keep our composure and keep disciplined. They are really stressing discipline. Last year, we got ourselves caught with some bad penalties.”
Maurice talks RBs
Maurice talked about each of the running backs Monday.
- On Shaugabay: “He’s probably my fastest running back, believe it or not. He’s a great downhill runner. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, too. At times, he can be hard on himself. He’s what we’re looking for — a North Dakota running back who you can rely on in the fourth quarter. We want all of our guys to be conditioned to do that. Shaugabay has been pretty good buying into what we want to do here.”
- On Garman: “He’s polished his game. He’s a perfectionist, per say. Sometimes, he can be hard on himself, but I like that. He’s a little coach sometimes, too. We debate about certain things in the offense. He thinks like a coach. I think he’s going to make some spectacular strides this year. I look forward to him finishing his senior year with a bang.”
- On Sharp: “When I first came in and evaluated Patrick, there were some skills he needed to fine tune. He didn’t take it personally. To see Sharp work from Point A to Point B and Point C, it just amazes me the development he’s made in such a short time period. I look forward to seeing him develop, get some reps out there in camp and eventually contribute to our running game. I think he’s very explosive. I believe he’s a guy that can score from anywhere on the field.”
- On Simmons: “He’s obviously a great power runner. He’s very elusive for a big guy. He can plant his foot on the ground and get upfield quick. He’s good at making the first man miss. I can’t wait to see him develop. I can’t wait to mold him into the type of back we want here at UND. He’s a gym rat, a coach’s dream.”