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Sam Houston coach says he spent offseason tweaking program for opponents like UND

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North Dakota Fighting Hawks linebacker Everett Williams (52) tackles Washington Huskies running back Sean McGrew (25) in the backfield during last Saturday's game. Photo/Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler considers Dec. 16, 2017, at 1:30 a.m. in the Fargo airport a critical juncture for his program.

The Bearkats just lost 55-13 in the FCS semifinals to North Dakota State, where the Bison racked up 642 yards of total offense.

“We huddled in the airport with our strength coach and talked about what we need to do to be stronger to play the North Dakota States, the James Madisons, the North Dakotas, the South Dakotas …” Keeler said. “We’re going to be playing (teams) like that -- we are this weekend. We’ve made a concerted effort to be more physical on the offensive and defensive lines so when we play teams like North Dakota, we match up better.”

UND (1-1 overall) travels to Huntsville, Texas, for a 6:30 p.m. Saturday matchup with Sam Houston (1-0 overall), a program ranked No. 5 in the country but also one that knows questions remain about the ability to play a physical brand of football.

Keeler, in his fifth year at Sam Houston after 11 as head coach at Delaware, said some might think he’s crazy for changing an offense that led the nation in scoring the past three years.

The Bearkats, with a new offensive coordinator in Ryan Carty, are trying to be more balanced this season after developing a pass-heavy reputation.

Sam Houston had an exact 50-50 mix of run and pass last Saturday against Prairie View A&M (41-32 SHSU victory). The Bearkats threw it 42 times and ran it 42 times.

In assessing Week 1, Keeler thought the Bearkats could have been better at quarterback. In his first game attempting to replace two-time Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe, Rutgers transfer Mike Dare was 20-for-40 with two interceptions, two touchdowns and 169 yards.

Keeler said his offense will still play fast at times, but he said they “won’t sacrifice scheme for speed.”

“Bubba makes a living on the defensive side of the ball,” Keeler said. “That’s what he’s known for. Bubba has been around the block, so (playing) fast isn’t going to phase him or his players.”

Under Keeler, Sam Houston is 46-12 overall and 31-4 in the Southland Conference. In all four of those seasons, the Bearkats advanced to at least the FCS quarterfinals.

Although expectations are always high for Sam Houston, Keeler pointed out his program is going through plenty of transition -- especially without Briscoe.

“I know if we don’t make progress, we’ll put ourselves in harm’s way,” Keeler said. “It’ll come down to whether they can hold the ball. If they can, it could be a long day for us. I think we have a lot to work with, but we’ve got a long ways to go. We did some things Week 1 that we can’t do to be successful. If we don’t clean that up, we’ll lose Week 2. This is a really good football team coming here. We have to play clean. If we’re clean, we can win the ball game. If we don’t, we’ll be in trouble.”

UND at Sam Houston State

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Huntsville, Texas

TV/Radio: WDAY’Z XTRA, ESPN3, 96.1 FM

Records: UND 1-1; Sam Houston 1-0

Of note: In John Santiago’s four games against FBS opponents during his career, the Fighting Hawks’ senior running back has rushed for 426 yards with three 100-yard games.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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