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TOM MILLER: UND's spring football game provides new look offense

UND’s spring football game Saturday at the Alerus Center provided a glimpse into the product fans will see on the field in the fall.

Most fans’ first reaction was that it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing by any means.

Some of that is the absolute lack of proven firepower at the skill positions, gone through graduation and transfers. Some of that, however, is by design — a change in philosophy and mentality fueled by first-year head coach Bubba Schweigert.

Bubba’s made it clear. UND is going to hang its hat as a smash-mouth program. He wants to see bigger bodies on the field in 2014.

The spring game showcased that new look, a 180-degree turnaround from a year ago: From winging it around to grinding it out.

Brace yourself. The change can’t be quick or smooth. UND still needs to beef out its roster to become a run-first offense.

More than 30 new faces will arrive in the fall and some will be asked to contribute immediately. Calling on first-year players to make an impact is a characteristic that usually doesn’t produce immediate results.

UND’s scripted spring game featured the baby steps required for this makeover. It didn’t have much for big plays but offered glimpses of a ball-control offense that could, ideally, chew up clock and yardage.

It’s a necessary change after UND finished 3-8 in 2013 and took some poundings from the Big Sky elite. UND fans would happily trade in the excitement of a pass-happy offense that loses for a run-oriented team that wins.

Over the past few years, UND grew into a finesse team that sometimes asked a pair of redshirt freshmen quarterbacks (Joe Mollberg and Ryan Bartels) in 2013 to air it out upwards of 40 times a game.

In 2012, highly-talented quarterback Braden Hanson — a senior transfer from North Carolina — pulled the wool over our eyes a bit and had fans believing this kind of scheme could provide sustainable success.

It didn’t.

So don’t expect much beauty at the Alerus Center as Schweigert begins the reclamation project. If UND’s going to win games next season, it is going to do it by hammering out yards on the ground and playing stingy defense.

On Saturday, we saw the five wide receiver spreads have been replaced by multiple tight ends and fullbacks, a couple of position groups that were a long afterthought in 2013.

UND’s fullbacks — Dustin Iverson and Dwayne Pecosky — combined for seven catches a year ago. Not a single tight end caught a ball in 2013.

That wasn’t the case Saturday, with tight end Zach Adler (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) and Iverson (6-3, 250) turning in a couple of impressive plays.

“All of those guys have bought into how we want to be physical,” UND offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph said. “We enjoy using them.”

The players say they’re embracing the change, too.

“Our philosophy is we have to be tough and nasty and mean up front,” UND offensive lineman Sean Meehan said. “We want to show we’re not someone to play around with in the Big Sky Conference.”

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 13 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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