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Ground game is suddenly UND's enemy

Montana State's Edward Vander carries for a first down as UND defenders try to contain him the second half Saturday at the Alerus by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

UND football coach Bubba Schweigert opened an orange Powerade at the podium of his postgame press conference, took a couple of big gulps, gave a slight sigh, then started to diagnose all that went wrong in UND's 49-21 loss to Montana State at the Alerus Center.

There were a lot of issues to get through—that will happen when you lose by four touchdowns at home—but after a few minutes he got to the heart of it.

Schweigert said things are uncomfortable for this team.

That's not just because the Fighting Hawks sit at 1-3 and may have to win out to reach the NCAA FCS playoffs for a second-straight season.

It's because this team suddenly cannot run the ball or stop the run.

Those are the two items that Schweigert and his coaching staff have stressed since they took over the program four years ago.

It has been the recipe for this staff to rebuild the program after a few lean years during the Division I transition.

It's how UND won 11 consecutive Big Sky games before Saturday's debacle.

It's how UND won eight consecutive home regular-season games before the Bobcats rolled into town.

It's why UND was ranked as high as No. 5 nationally in a preseason poll.

But the Fighting Hawks have been routed two weeks in a row because they strangely cannot stop the run or run the football.

UND gave up an average of 91.3 yards per game on the ground last season, while churning out 208.4 yards on the ground itself. That's an advantage of more than 115 yards per game.

In the last two weeks, UND has been outgained on the ground 626-204. Minus 422 yards.

UND running back John Santiago, one of the country's electrifying players, hasn't been able to break loose yet this season.

Santiago, who once rushed for 100 yards in eight consecutive games, hasn't hit the 100 mark yet in four games this season.

On Saturday, rushing yards were 182-2 Montana State at halftime as the Bobcats built an 18-point lead.

Sure, injuries on the offensive line, at inside linebacker and at safety have played a role in this. So has the fact that UND has played two incredibly athletic quarterbacks in South Dakota's Chris Streveler and Montana State's Chris Murray in the past two weeks.

But there's no promise that UND will all of the sudden be healthy next week.

If UND is going to salvage this season, it needs to solve this riddle—no matter who is in the lineup or who is not.

"We have a team that has defended the run very well," Schweigert said. "We've been able to control it. That's something that has not been there the last two weeks. We have to find a way."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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