Q. Some fans were disappointed with the offense in the second half. Was it a case of sputtering or the game already in hand?
A. I didn’t have many concerns about the offense in the second half, but I know UND coach Bubba Schweigert said during his weekly press conference that the team wasn’t clean enough in the third quarter. With a 24-3 lead at halftime, it was a bit of an awkward second half because both sides knew that game was over for a really long time. Mix with that, Missouri State could load the box with defenders knowing UND was going to run the ball to milk the clock. UND quarterback Tommy Schuster also played like a quarterback with a lead, intentionally throwing the ball away when a play didn’t materialize right away.
Q. I know UND is a different team on the road but I believe UND will walk out of JMU with a win. What does UND have to do to accomplish that feat?
A. The only real blip in this UND football season was at North Dakota State when the Bison manhandled the UND defensive front and power-rushed their way to a win. So I think the key will be UND’s defensive front and its ability to stop the run. James Madison has a pair of talented running backs. Those two will cause havoc if provided space to do so. The Fighting Hawks’ performance on early downs will be the key to a road victory.
Q. Who replaces Bo Belquist?
Q. Who will see more playing time after losing Bo Belquist? Is Brock Boltmann alive?
Q. With Belquist out now, any word on Boltmann and a return for him this season at all? Seems like he was close to returning earlier in the season.
A. These are all legit questions, and I’m not sure there’s a great answer. I messaged a friend Monday about Belquist and said the only player with that similar skill set is Brock Boltmann. Unfortunately for UND, it appears Boltmann won’t be playing again this spring. He was on the field in Macomb, Ill., and at the Fargodome testing out that leg before warmups. I haven’t had anything definitive to report on Boltmann, but my guess is that the injury didn’t respond the way they hoped when they tested it pregame those two weeks and then decided to shut it down until the fall. As for who takes those reps, I’d guess we see more Chrysten Cochran and Marcus Preston. Cochran has shown some nice ability on those underneath screens already this year and Preston -- a true freshman from Kansas -- has a great future. I’m not sure if Preston is a slot receiver type, but he’s talented.
Q. With UND’s loss to North Dakota State, is this road game also too much to handle?
A. UND won in convincing fashion at Western Illinois, but this is still a narrative they haven’t completely shaken yet. UND clearly plays at a different level at home, and the next step in the program progression is to prove you can do it on the road. To UND’s defense, the Fighting Hawks didn’t really get the opportunity to shake this label on the road this year. We would’ve likely learned a lot more with road games at Youngstown State and Illinois State, as was originally scheduled.
Q. Any more details on lineman Kyle Hergel leaving the team before the playoff game?
A. That’s probably something I won’t truly find out until the season is over. I’ve asked Bubba Schweigert and players about during a press conference, and they were all clearly prepped to not talk about Hergel because they all immediately pivoted their answers to messages about Hergel’s backup Easton Kilty. Until I learn more information that would change my mind, my current take on the situation, which I’ve said multiple times in radio interviews, is that any perceived advantage Hergel would have gained by entering the transfer portal early is negated by the red flag created by bailing on a team before the playoffs. Also, any FBS school with eyes to the FCS knows not to fill up scholarships before the best eight teams in the country are done playing. It’s a real head-scratcher, honestly.
Q. Will UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund try to get Quincy Vaughn in the mix more on offense? Tommy Schuster is playing great, so I am not saying bench him. But Quincy is such an athletic player that I am wondering if his skill set could transfer to other positions on offense … kind of a Boltmann 2.0?
A. To answer the first part of this question, yes, I think there’s a good chance Freund increases Vaughn’s role due to losing the threat of Bo Belquist. As for Vaughn’s athleticism, I think fans have been under-selling Boltmann’s elite escapability. And yes, that translated very well to Boltmann’s move to wide receiver. But make no mistake, Boltmann and Vaughn are vastly different players with different skill sets and body types. Vaughn is really more of a power rusher, similar to a Nate Ketteringham of the past few years. He’s broken off a few bigger gains than Ketteringham but it’s worth noting that Vaughn is really not considered a dual-threat quarterback in the Boltmann sense. If you watch Vaughn’s high school highlight films, he’s not running. He wants to throw the ball. I think that’s important to remember. All that said, I do believe there’s value in Freund utilizing Vaughn’s strengths and showing a different look to a defense.
Q. Any update on which seniors are planning on coming back this fall?
A. I don’t have much insight on that, mostly because I don’t know if players have even told coaches what their plans are for next year. That will be a monster offseason storyline, however. It’s going to be like a college hockey offseason, where I’m going to need to hear from everyone about whether they’re coming back. But instead of 25 guys, I’m looking at 100.
Q. What’s been the biggest pleasant surprise of the spring season (individual or position group)?
A. It has to be Tommy Schuster’s rise from a last-minute recruit to an all-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection and a Jerry Rice Award finalist. Schuster doesn’t have a cannon arm, and he’s probably not 6 feet. Even his throwing motion appears a little unique. So he just didn’t pass the eye test for me that often as I watched spring ball and fall camp.
There were moments where I could tell Schuster was fitting the ball into a tough window or making the right read, but I’ll admit that I entered the 2021 spring assuming the quarterback position was a major problem.
He has proven me wrong in a ton of ways this year.
Q. I know they were up by a lot, but I didn’t see the OL push in the second half that they had in prior games. Thoughts on that?
A. I kind of addressed this earlier in the mailbag when talking about the awkward second half. I shouldn’t pretend to be a great grader of offensive line play, but if UND wasn’t able to run the ball as well as hoped in the third quarter, I’m chalking that up to a 24-3 lead. And that’s for two reasons. One, it’s probably a challenge to have the same ferocious mentality when the game is basically over. Two, everyone in the Alerus, including my 1-year-old son in the stands, knew UND had to run the ball to get that game over with. It’s a lot easier to stop the run when you can sell out for it as a defense.
Q. Can JMU stop a Missouri Valley offense as strong as UND? Can the UND defense get to the JMU quarterback?
A. Yes and maybe. This year’s version of James Madison hasn’t been tested by the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but we can probably learn a few things at least from the Dukes’ 2019 playoff run. In that playoff run, JMU shutout Northern Iowa, which was ranked No. 6 in the country at the time. Then, in the national championship game, North Dakota State was able to run for 300-plus yards against JMU, but that’s also a dominant Bison team. So UND will certainly have its hands full with the JMU defense. As for getting after the quarterback, it’s going to come down to stopping the run. Can UND’s defense put JMU in unfavorable down and distance? JMU has given up nine sacks this year, which isn’t very many, and the Dukes’ offensive line is much more mobile than Missouri State’s hogs.
Q. Does UND get an allotment for tickets?
A. There is an allotment for UND, but I’m not sure the exact amount. It’s not the same as normal years because of the pandemic. It’s essentially just for family members.