The annual Potato Bowl is the big fall event in Grand Forks. It’s a celebration of the ag industry and the community. It’s capped by the annual football game, one UND usually wins by a big margin and one that usually leaves coaches, players and fans happy.
That script was somewhat followed Saturday; UND won big over Drake -- 38-0 at the Alerus Center before 10,143 fans..
So, why was there angst among UND fans after the decisive win? Well, five turnovers against a non-scholarship FCS program is a start.
UND was anything but sharp offensively against an overmatched opponent. And that angst perhaps had something to do with what team is next on UND’s schedule -- the North Dakota State Bison, a program that has dominated the FCS for the past decade and one that largely has thumbed its nose at its rival 75 miles to the north.
It became fairly obvious in the first half that the Bison will be able to thumb its nose at UND in two weeks if the Fighting Hawks play the way they did in the first 30 minutes. UND labored offensively and fumbled three times in Drake territory -- twice inside the Bulldogs' 5-yard line.
It didn’t improve much in the second half. The Hawks’ fourth turnover was an interception deep inside Drake territory in the fourth quarter. And the fifth turnover -- another fumble again deep in Drake territory -- negated Jayson Coley’s highlight-reel 48-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
Five turnovers against NDSU? Game over and the rivalry will still tilt toward the southern end of the Red River Valley.
The 38-point win -- a shutout -- looks good on paper and to perhaps pollsters. But everyone in the UND locker room knew a better performance is needed in two weeks.
“We just have to play cleaner on offense,” said UND coach Bubba Schweigert. “When you don’t take care of the ball, it makes it really hard and it leaves a tough taste in your mouth, mind or whatever the heck it is. We have to clean it all up as we get ready for the conference season.
“We’ll take the win. Our guys played hard but we just have to have greater discipline and take care of the ball.”
UND players also know what’s at stake in two weeks. And they also know what has to improve.
“At the end of the day, our coaches preach ball security,” said Luke Skokna, who finished with 123 rushing yards on eight attempts. “We just didn’t get it done. We laid way too many balls on the ground. We want to be great. Yeah,we got the win. But there is a lot that has to be fixed.”
It’s hard to nitpick a 38-point win. UND was a 30-point favorite. And the Hawks likely won’t fall in next week’s FCS Top 25 poll, for what that’s worth.
Also, had UND’s upcoming opponent been anyone else but NDSU, the scrutiny of a five-turnover game wouldn’t have been this high.
But it’s the Bison coming to the Alerus, which hasn’t happened since 2003 -- a year after running back Isaiah Smith was born. Smith, who filled in for All-America running back Otis Weah, who mysteriously was held out of the game for undisclosed reasons, led UND with 125 rushing yards.
A similar UND performance in past Potato Bowls may have been better accepted.
But Bubba has taken UND to a spot on the national FCS stage. More is now expected from the Hawks, which is the way it’s supposed to be.
Five-turnover games -- even in a win -- can’t be tolerated if UND is to stay in the national spotlight, especially against a national power 75 miles to the south that hopefully hasn’t lost its directions to the Alerus Center.