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UND football looks at fixing special teams woes

North Dakota senior running back Brady Oliveira breaks away from Idaho's defense to score a touchdown in the first half of last Saturday's game in Moscow. Photo/ Kai Eiselein, Moscow-Pullman Daily News

With a 10-point lead and nine minutes left last Saturday night, the UND football team was in the driver's seat of an important road win over Idaho.

Then, the Fighting Hawks had their third punt of the season blocked. The Vandals scooped the block and scored.

The flip in momentum led to Idaho's 31-27 victory—all but sealing UND's playoff hopes.

As the Hawks turn the page to their final regular-season home game against Portland State on Saturday at 2 p.m., UND is hoping to patch up the special teams play.

"In the short term, we have to be better technique-wise, and we have to be better depth-wise," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said.

The Hawks have now had a punt blocked against Sam Houston State, Montana and Idaho.

UND, which actually scored two special teams touchdowns two weeks ago against Weber State, is among only a handful of teams to have three punts blocked this year in the FCS. Only Savannah State has had four.

Special teams have had costly memories the past few years for Hawks fans. UND lost at Stony Brook in 2016 after a late punt block, while the Hawks had an untimely roughing the punter penalty that led to a playoff loss to Richmond in 2016.

Special teams were a concern from the start this season as the Hawks planned to start a freshman at punter, kicker and long snapper.

At kicker, Brady Leach is just 4-for-8 on field goals with a long of 37 yards. He's missed an extra point in each of the last four weeks.

In contrast, UND's kicker from 2014-2017, Reid Taubenheim, was 126-for-129 in his career on extra points.

The kicking issues can be seen in UND's coverage ability on kickoffs, as well. UND ranks 104th in the FCS in kick return defense.

UND punter Cade Peterson is averaging 37 yards per punt, which ranks UND No. 99 in FCS net punting.

The 37-yard punt average sits below the career punting average for most of UND's Division I punters—Mitch Meindel (43.14), Brandon Hellevang (41.95), Austin Dussold (41.14), Brett Cameron (40.60) and Connor Bolduc (39.05).

"In the long term, we'll take a look at some things," Schweigert said. "Right now, we're going to focus on the short term. This isn't the only thing we'll focus on this week but we have to shore that up to be solid on special teams."

Portland State at UND

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Where: Alerus Center

TV/Radio: MidcoSN, 96.1 FM

Records: Portland State 4-5; North Dakota 5-4

Of note: Portland State put up 597 yards of offense last week in its 48-45 loss against Idaho State

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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