8 things to know from UND football's season-wrap press conference

UND lines up against Nicholls State on Saturday in a 24-6 loss in Thibodaux, La. Photo by Bert Miller/The Courier and Daily Comet.

With last Saturday's FCS playoff loss at Nicholls State, the UND football team's weekly press conference Monday became a wrap-up of the 2019 season, as well as a look toward 2020.

Here are the eight most important items from the press conference, which featured head coach Bubba Schweigert, offensive coordinator Danny Freund and defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt.

1. Bubba's big focus for 2020 is the line of scrimmage: With UND getting out-rushed 316-44 against Nicholls State in the first round of the playoffs in Thibodaux, La., UND's coaches were focused on improving the Fighting Hawks' run offense and run defense.

"Offensively, we want to find a way to be a bit more balanced," Schweigert said. "We had fun doing what we did this year and played to our strengths, but we want to be able to run when we have to or need to in order to get the tough yards. Defensively, we have to defend the run better. We want to be a physical football team. We did that at times, but we need to be more consistent."

Freund said he's focusing on improving the run game as the Hawks turn to his second season calling plays.


"In the next two, three months, we have to take a look at it," Freund said. "With four of our five offensive linemen back, and I think we'll be more athletic at quarterback ... I think those are things we have to look at in the offseason."

2. Johannesson was banged up against Nicholls: One part of UND's rushing woes against Nicholls State was the status of leading rusher James Johannesson, a bruising senior from Fargo.

Johannesson played in the game, but he didn't register a carry. UND quarterback Nate Ketteringham led the Hawks in rushing with seven carries for 20 yards.

On Monday, Schweigert said Johannesson was injured leading up to the Nicholls game and wasn't 100 percent.

"It was unfortunate (Johannesson) was not very healthy Saturday," Schweigert said. "He worked hard throughout the week, but we felt he couldn't get to the point where he was close to 100 percent. He played sparingly and was willing to do what was asked, but we had to do what was best for the team."

3. UND will entertain more QB looks for Boltmann: UND's Brock Boltmann was once a quarterback recruit out of Edina, but he finished the 2019 season as UND's third-leading rusher and fourth leading receiver.

As the Hawks turn to 2020, Boltmann, who missed the second half against Nicholls with an injury, is expected to be a key piece of the offense. Where he lines up, however, will continue to be a mystery.

"There's some merit to (Boltmann) playing some quarterback," Freund said. "We'll see where that goes this spring. It's the most important position on the team, and I think Brock is going to be a key part of our offense and we need to get him the ball. How much can we put on his plate? I still think there's some quarterback in him. That's something we'll work at this spring. We'll have a package for him and see how much we can expand. If we put him back there, (throwing) has to be a threat. Ultimately, he can run and make people miss but he's a good thrower, too."


Boltmann only attempted six passes in 2019, completing all six for 39 yards and a touchdown.

4. UND's run-pass mix was skewed against Nicholls for a few reasons: Freund was asked why UND's mix of 48 pass attempts to 14 runs against Nicholls State was the way it finished.

Freund said he should've called more runs, but he also said Nicholls' defensive scheme called for it.

"We probably got away from the run game, and I didn't have the confidence in it I should've had," Freund said. "They were going to play man coverage. We thought we could get the matchups (on the outside with Noah Wanzek, Travis Toivonen and Garett Maag). I could've done a better job staying with it and calling run plays. I don't think you want to be throwing 45-50 times. When you do that, you're asking for sacks and interceptions. That just comes with that."

5. Missouri Valley Football Conference means it's time to scout: As UND closes the book in its 2019 season, the Hawks will now enter the Missouri Valley Football Conference era.

UND's 2020 MVFC schedule includes Youngstown State, South Dakota State, Missouri State, Western Illinois, South Dakota, Illinois State, North Dakota State and Southern Illinois.

Each coach discussed how the new league will impact the program moving forward. Schweigert said, for starters, his staff has some research to do.

"We really have to learn about our opponents," Schweigert said. "Just because we're going to a league where we were part of a league with several (MVFC) opponents, it's a long time since we've been in a Midwest league. We have a lot of work to do as far as studying our opponents. The style of play will be a little different."


6. The next leadership group is being sorted out: With UND's leadership group of Noah Wanzek, Travis Toivonen, Donnell Rodgers and Mason Bennett being seniors, the program will now start to sort through potential future leaders.

Schweigert tossed out one name for the defense -- outside linebacker Jaxson Turner, who played through injuries late this season.

"I think (finding new leaders) will take place naturally, and we'll let it sort out," Schwegiert said'. "We've already talked to the guys. Jaxson Turner is really tough and showed some courage the other night that we need to see from our program. To play in the physical state he was, to make that third-down stop and pop the ball loose ... I think guys respond and respect that a great deal.

"We'll be older on the offensive line now, and you could see someone emerge (as a leader) from that group. We'll see where that goes in the next two months."

7. The staff is currently wrapping up player meetings: With UND's season coming to a close and an early NCAA signing period a couple of weeks away, Schmidt said the staff is spending the next couple of days meeting with the current roster.

"I think it's important to meet with each guy, talk about the season, do a good job communicating their role and expectations moving forward," Schmidt said. "Those younger guys don't have a lot of time because spring ball is not far away. It's good to have some closure here and start moving on to the 2020 team. With our older guys, we're just making sure the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted in terms of graduation and making sure they're ready to do whatever's next, whether that's trying to keep playing or looking at internships or jobs."

8. Schmidt hopeful young defensive line can become a strength: As Schmidt looks to improve UND's run defense, the veteran defensive play-caller is hopeful his young defensive line can blossom in 2020.

"We played a ton of young guys up front, so hopefully that can turn to a strength next year," Schmidt said. "The (true freshmen) defensive linemen exhausted their four games and played meaningful snaps. This is a huge offseason for those guys. When we signed those guys, we thought they could be good players in a couple of years. It happened a year earlier than expected because of injuries and stuff like that.


"I think that's something that we -- now that we're in the Valley and it's different than the Big Sky, which is known for more high-scoring and spread teams -- know will be a point of emphasis for us ... making sure we play physical and look the part and can hang in there against physical Midwest football teams."

Nose guard Elijah Beach (four games), defensive end Chandon Pierre (three games) and defensive end Isaac Moore (four games) all played four or fewer games to maintain redshirt status.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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