UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund's reputation is one of high energy and high emotion.

Fighting Hawks freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster is described as even keel and calm.

Schuster and Freund might both have been 6-foot UND starting quarterbacks, but that's where the comparisons mostly stop.

These polar styles, however, have meshed to create the No. 1 scoring offense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which is considered the top league in the FCS. Nationally, UND's scoring average ranks 18th in the FCS but 10th among schools that played six or more games this spring.

UND's 31.3 points-per-game average is the program's best since 2012, when UND averaged 33.5 points per game -- thanks, in part, to a season-opening 66-0 win over South Dakota Mines, which was amid a transition from NAIA to Division II.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

The Fighting Hawks, 5-1 overall and the No. 7 team in the nation, play at No. 1 James Madison on Sunday at 5 p.m. in the FCS quarterfinals on ESPN2.

"If you know anything about Danny Freund, he and Tommy are different," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "When Danny is coaching, there's a lot of emotion. Our quarterback is different. But the greatest thing about that is they're allowed to be themselves, and they really have a good relationship."

Freund says one of Schuster's biggest strengths is his smarts. He's a good student and an avid film consumer.

"We'll watch film on Sundays, and he's already watching film on his own outside the office," Freund said. "He'll come in and say he's watched the game so when we watch together, he tells me what he sees and I say what I see. That's how it starts.

"I ask him what he likes this week. It's hard because he likes everything. I try to get him to tell me things he doesn't like. If he doesn't like it, I'm not calling it. As a playcaller, you have to figure out what the quarterback likes because they're the ones making plays. As the trust builds, that relationship grows, so that's fun."

Schuster said Freund is good at communicating the likes and dislikes of the offense.

"I think we have the same idea of the offense, how we should run it and what our goals are," Schuster said.

On gameday, Freund, a former standout UND quarterback in his second season as UND's offensive coordinator, calls plays from the booth up above, rather than being on the sideline.

"During games, I try not to talk to him too much," Freund said. "When I'm on the headset, it's more making sure the sideline is good and the huddle is good. We're talking reminders for the next series like if we're in the red zone, be ready for this play because I'm seeing this or maybe it's, hey, give (UND wide receiver Garett Maag) a shot here. He's so even-keel and so poised, it's probably better I'm in the booth and not down there. I'd probably throw him off."

That's where Freund says UND really values wide receivers coach Sam King and running backs coach Robbie Rouse. They're the communicators on the sideline.

"Rouse is our signaler, so he'll stand with the quarterbacks, and he's developed a great relationship with Tommy," Freund said. "Tommy can go to Robbie, and he'll shoot him straight. I like when Tommy is mad, kind of, and shows emotion. Coach Rouse and I laugh about that because we like to see that competitive side."

UND's offense has its share of vocal personalities, including standout running back Otis Weah. Teammates have pointed out the nice dynamic between vocal players and Schuster's quiet confidence in the huddle.

"I think it's a really good dynamic," Freund said. "I've learned a lot as a coach watching him perform and watching the huddle, even at practice. There's no up and down. It's even keel. That's why he's successful in big moments. He's not going to let a big play or a bad play get to him. He plays the next play. I think that calms everyone down. That demeanor and cool shows he isn't rattled, and we're not rattled. Even when a play is going on, there are bullets flying all around him, and he'll keep his eyes down field, take a shot and get up. There's a certain toughness and poise that playing the position requires. Some of the physical limitations, whether it's height, speed, arm strength ... you can make up for some of that. That's why you've seen some of the success."

Schuster was named to the all-Missouri Valley Football Conference second team offense. He's thrown for more than 1,200 yards with 10 touchdowns to three interceptions.

Although Freund and Schuster have different personalities, UND allows Schuster to be himself. And that's what teammates are drawn to from their quarterback.

"The guys really rally around him because he's so genuine," Freund said. "That's who he is, and he's not faking it."

Freund said Schuster, a Jerry Rice Award finalist for the country's top freshman, makes it easier to call plays.

For example, Schuster had a sprint-out called against Southern Illinois in Week 1 of the spring season in which UND was anticipating man coverage but the Salukis went with a Cover 2 look.

Schuster was able to throw a back-shoulder pass to freshman Bo Belquist, who made the grab.

"It really shouldn't be caught versus that coverage," Freund said. "Sometimes, players can play beyond some of that stuff. They can make plays work, rather than a coach just drawing something up. It's a lot easier when you have really good players because you can trust them to get out of a bad call. He's even done that with simple throwaways. They're playing deep, so we won't force it and play smart football. Some of that you don't coach. You do it by instinct. He was really well coached in high school and watches a lot of football."

Schuster can be creative, too. Freund has a knack for calling trick plays for him at just the right time. Against Missouri State last Saturday, in UND's first FCS playoff win in program history, Freund dialed up a flea-flicker for a touchdown.

Even for Schweigert, a defensive coach with a conservative reputation, he's fine with the creativity.

"When we offered (Freund) the position, I was convinced he was the guy because he brings energy to the team and he has fun coaching football," Schweigert said. "The guys rally around the fun we're having. The majority of our work is base football, then we throw in some other things, and we've have fun doing it."

Schuster sees it the same way.

"(Freund) really likes to have fun calling trick plays," Schuster said. "It's a fun part of the game, to get away from the traditional plays. It's something we all like."

As a highly successful high school quarterback, Schuster, who won a state championship his senior prep season thanks to a perfect 13-for-13 showing in the Michigan title matchup, hasn't dealt with many losses. As a redshirt freshman, Schuster's only loss was to North Dakota State earlier this year in the Fargodome.

He said earlier this week it was one of the most influential games in his career.

"You really learn from failure," Schuster said. "That's a game, as a whole team, we were able to take a step back and see what areas we need to improve, especially going into the playoffs, it gave us an idea of areas we need to improve."

That sentiment from Schuster didn't surprise Freund.

"I remember talking to him after that game, getting off the bus and saying, hey, that's not something you're used to is it?" Freund said. "He smiled, but he was ticked off and was ready to get back to work. He probably could've been put in better situations by us as coaches, too. He doesn't say much, but he's also very cerebral. He'll see something once on film and won't make the same mistakes again. The fact that (the NDSU loss) eats at him and wants to win, that's what drives him."