Let’s not get giddy here. We’ve been warned by Missouri Valley Football Conference media -- and even lectured at times -- that UND’s venture into its new home will be challenging, especially from the physical side of the sport.
So, should we temper UND’s 44-21 win over No. 24 Southern Illinois on Saturday at the Alerus Center? Is it too early to say UND’s football program will make yet another successful transition?
Yeah, it’s probably best to tap the brakes a bit, considering Southern Illinois’ weather-related problems in preparing for the game. And the Salukis have some injury problems, too.
But it’s also OK to start thinking UND will be able to compete in the big-boy MVFC sooner than later.
The one constant for UND football has been this: Since the program went Division I in 2008, the school’s football program has always faced a lot of questions
In 2008: Should UND really go Division I?
In 2009: Is the Great West Conference really a league suited for UND? Won’t the team get left behind without membership in a quality conference?
In 2012: Is the Big Sky Conference really the right fit for UND? Can UND adapt to the league’s perceived wide-open style of play? Won’t the travel be too much?
Finally, in 2020: Is UND really ready for the MVFC -- the king of the FCS?
UND has answered yes to all of those questions. The program won a Great West title, a Big Sky title and has reached the FCS playoffs twice. Not a gaudy resume, but one that reveals the program has been competitive wherever it’s played.
And, on Saturday, UND fared well in its MVFC debut against Southern Illinois -- dominating the line of scrimmage and averaging an impressive 5.9 rushing yards per carry.,
Southern Illinois coach Nick Hill gave UND credit.
“It sucks when you get your butts beat like that,” he said. “We’ve got a locker room that was punched in the gut. Extremely disappointed in the outcome. We got our butts whooped. We didn’t expect that.”
UND’s run game was impressive in the second half as the Hawks scored on their first three possessions. Defensively, UND forced five turnovers, including the play of the game -- cornerback C.J. Siegel’s blind-side sack of SIU quarterback Kare Lyles late in the second quarter. His hit forced a fumble and resulted in Devon Krzanowski’ 36-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown and 16-9 lead. The hit also knocked Lyles out of the game.
UND coach Bubba Schweigert is a student of old-school football -- a dominating run game and a defense that stops the run.
He had both in UND’s opener.
The Salukis averaged 2.9 yards per rush. And they struggled with decent starting field position throughout.
“You have to be able to run the ball and defend against the run,” said Schweigert. “In this league, that will be a challenge.”
Southern Illinois scored on its first possession, driving 84 yards on 11 plays. That gave those who may have believed UND couldn’t hang with the Salukis feeling they were right.
“In the second half, we got on guys and had a pretty good push,” said Schweigert. “Defensively, once we settled down, we played pretty good against the run.”
The other big takeaway from the opener was the running of UND sophomore running back Otis Weah, who was out of football for roughly a year after coming to the program. He finished with 91 yards on 13 carries.
“He’s hard to tackle; he runs low to the ground and has good acceleration,” said Schweigert. “He gave us a spark. And the best thing about him is that he loves football.”
And Weah has developed Bubba’s philosophy to a degree with this comment when asked about his game: “I bring loyalty and juice every day. …. A guy who shows up with his lunch pail every day and goes to work.”
And that’s what UND will have to do next week as it prepares for a big-boy game against South Dakota State next Saturday.