You don't have to listen to UND offensive lineman Kyle Hergel for long to understand the type of attitude that his position group brings for the Fighting Hawks this season.
"We do things with a purpose," said Hergel, a 6-foot-2, 295-pound sophomore from Toronto. "There's nothing done without purpose in our group. We're going to get our knuckles dirty, we're going to come for 60 minutes and not stop until the whistle is blown ... maybe even a little after, but that's just how we play. We're going to be mean, nasty and in your face."
UND's quick rise to the No. 3 national ranking in the last STATS FCS poll can be traced back to the Fighting Hawks' improved rushing attack.
The Hawks (3-0) will look to keep that run game going in their first road test of the year against Western Illinois (0-2) at noon Saturday in Macomb.
In home wins over Southern Illinois, South Dakota State and South Dakota, UND is running for 218.3 yards per game, which ranks 14th in the FCS. Western Illinois' defense, meanwhile, ranks 70th of 76 FCS teams this spring in run defense. The Leathernecks have surrendered 251 rushing yards per game.
For comparison sake, UND rushed for 121.8 yards per game in the fall of 2019, so the Hawks were rushing for almost 100 fewer yards per game than in the spring of 2021.
UND's offensive line has also not allowed a quarterback sack. They're the only unit in the country able to make that claim in the FCS this year.
UND sophomore running back Otis Weah is ninth in the FCS in rushing yards with 342. His per-game average of 114.0 yards per game ranks eighth in the FCS but first among backs who have played in at least three games this year.
Weah is averaging 7.43 yards per carry. He currently leads the Missouri Valley Football Conference in rushing yards, yards per carry, yards per game, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns.
"We want (our running backs) to look good and get all the touchdowns and media," Hergel said. "We're there to get in a brawl. We're going to protect them and our quarterback. We're going to get our knuckles black and blue for them because we want them to have success and shine."
Hergel credits UND second-year offensive line coach Joe Pawlak and practice intensity for the Hawks' success at the line of scrimmage this year.
"I think it's just fundamentals and technique," Hergel said. "We're going to get into close games, and we just work harder and tougher than teams. Our practices are mean and nasty. Our individual periods are not nice. We're coming every period to get better."
Hergel said UND's offensive line expects to rush for at least 200 yards every game.
"Our standard is 200 minimum," Hergel said. "Anything less is unacceptable."
No. 3 UND vs. Western Illinois
Where: Hanson Field, in Macomb.
Radio: 96.1 FM (Jack Michaels on play-by-play, Tom Dosch analyst)
Streaming: The game will available on ESPN-Plus.
Betting line: North Dakota -20.5, over-under 45.5, per Bovada.
Injuries: UND has been remarkably healthy through the first three weeks of the year, although wide receiver-quarterback Brock Boltmann is expected to miss his fourth-consecutive game. UND's starting 22 has been nearly exact through three weeks, with the only alterations coming based on situational matchups and not due to injuries.
The Fighting Hawks will win if: the domination at the line of scrimmage is a characteristic that travels. Through three weeks, UND is winning the rushing battle thanks to the duo of Otis Weah and Luke Skokna. Much has been made of UND's road woes where the Fighting Hawks are 1-7 in their last eight. But this version of UND has a different makeup, and it's ability to run the football and stop the run should be staples that travel well, as opposed to past teams that needed to throw the ball to move down field. UND quarterback Tommy Schuster continues to play low-mistake football and jumps on the opportunity to face a non-Top 25 team for the first time in his four-game career.
The Leathernecks will win if: three straight games at home for UND to start the year hid some glaring deficiencies and UND freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster plays like it's his first road game at the college level. After facing three-straight Top 25 teams and back-to-back regional Dakota rivals, UND is caught looking ahead to a March 20 meeting with North Dakota State. The Fighting Hawks are lulled to sleep in a COVID-impacted crowd of about 500, against a team desperate to make up for last week's embarrassing performance in Brookings.