Herald UND football mailbag: QB future, Canada recruiting and rushing solutions

UND players celebrate their 27-23 victory over Sam Houston State Saturday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

With UND on one of its two bye weeks this week, the Herald took questions from UND football fans and beat reporter Tom Miller provided some answers.

Q. Do you know who we are targeting as a QB recruit or transfer option for next season?

A. I have some ideas but nothing solid enough to report here. I expect the staff to utilize the unique, double-bye season and get out to look at some preps during the open periods. I was out at the UND elite camp this summer and not surprised it didn't produce any commitments. My guess is the 2020 recruiting class includes a North Dakota walk-on QB, a scholarship from outside the area and a transfer.

Q. To what do you most attribute the lack of a run game? Pass protection has been pretty solid over three games but run blocking hasn't. These are mostly the same linemen as last year, albeit a new blocking scheme.

A. That's an area that's challenging to really figure out. The offensive line could be better in run blocking, but like you said, they're almost all fairly proven commodities there. So I think there's three big things at play: 1) UND doesn't have John Santiago or Brady Oliveira and they're still trying to figure out what they have in terms of backfield talent. 2) They've played defenses outnumbering them in the box. They need to continue to prove they can throw it to soften up the middle and 3) It's a new offense that needs to work at how the run game fits into the overall scheme. ... I anticipate the run game improving as the season goes along. I'm curious as to who rises to the top in terms of carries. Does Austin Gordon shake the injury bug? Does James Johannesson find some footing? Is it Dalton Gee? When do we see Luke Skokna? Lots of questions still.


Q. Overall thoughts on the team through three games vs. your expectations going into the year. Where have they surprised, disappointed and met expectations?

A. I think they're pretty close to what we expected. They were much better than Drake, not close to North Dakota State and won the tight one over Sam Houston State. I think preseason that's about where most would peg UND.

I've been surprised at UND's struggles to run the ball. I thought returning most of the blocking core would overshadow the loss of John Santiago and Brady Oliveira, but that's still an issue, although a year ago when I was looking ahead I envisioned Otis Weah as the starting running back.

I've been surprised at the rapid ascent of Tommy Schuster. He didn't jump at me at fall camp, but he's netting rave reviews for smarts and savvy.

I think in terms of disappointing, the sophomore specialists are still dealing with some of the freshman issues. UND is in the bottom tier in the FCS in punting and kicker Brady Leach missed an extra point against Sam Houston that could've been absolutely brutal.

As for meeting expectations, I've always been very high on Jaxson Turner and he's putting together a heck of a season.

Q. How much upside does this offense have if they can get healthy at QB? How detrimental has it been having to switch QBs as often as they’ve had to do?

A. That's probably something I haven't written enough about and that's trying to find a comfort level in a new offense with so much turnover at quarterback. I think it's a credit to first-year offensive coordinator Danny Freund that he's been able to keep moving the chains.


I think there's offensive upside but I'm not totally sold on it being because of a major quarterback upgrade. I'm more curious how Freund finds more ways to involve Brock Boltmann, Cam McKinney, Chrysten Cochran and eventually Luke Skokna. Those guys are dangerous in space. They're the type of players this offense was designed to utilize but it has taken some time due in part to inexperience.

Q. What does UND need to do to get better production on the ground? (I understand the new offense will pass more and I did notice that Sam had the box loaded on most downs)

A. That's the million dollar question, and I got into it a little bit in a previous question. I'm curious whether starting center Patric Rooney would make a difference as he's missed the first three games with a lingering issue. He practiced today, so I think he might be close to a return.

I'd also like to see more from Dalton Gee. He doesn't wow you watching at practice, but he keeps producing in games. And people are going to be sick of me mentioning him for a guy who's never played, but I want to see Luke Skokna. He was a big get in the recruiting game, and he's got some flashy quicks we've seen in practice.

Q. How is Ketteringham coming along? Also, is Zimmerman out for the year?

A. I watched practice at Memorial Stadium the past couple of days and Ketteringham looks pretty good, but at the same time, he isn't avoiding a pass rush or anything.

Zimmerman was on crutches. I haven't been given a timeframe for his return. The only thing I was told is there was significant swelling by Monday.

Q. What happened to Zeke Ott?


A. He didn't return this fall, and I believe it was injury related as he sat out spring ball, too. He suffered a bad leg injury against Sam Houston State in 2018, if I recall correctly.

It's too bad, too. He had a lot of upside. I like UND's young defensive linemen but most of them need at least 20 pounds packed on their frame.

Q. Why is there such a double standard when it comes to UND football getting ranked? How does Sam Houston get ranked higher than UND this week?

A. To be clear, I didn't think UND deserved a Top 25 ranking but like you said, they shouldn't be ranked below Sam Houston State in votes. That's just lazy voting.

I learned my lesson the other day on Twitter not to comment on the polls there. My mentions were hot garbage all day.

Q. How hard is UND recruiting in the Winnipeg area? Being the nearest school to such a large metro you’d think they’d snatch more. Football obviously isn’t top chop in Canada, but it still seems like there’s a lot of untapped talent UND could finally have an advantage on over “local” rivals.

A. Canada has been so hit and miss for UND. Of course, Winnipeg produced Brady Oliveira and Mason Bennett. UND also picked up nice gets from Canada in starting guard Kyle Hergel and backup defensive end Quintin Seguin.

But they were burned in recruiting a few times up there, too. I can think of two offensive linemen and a defensive end who flipped commitments late in the process on UND.


However, I think there's still a chance UND takes another swing at Canada. It was once recruited by former offensive line coach Luke Knauf and last I heard defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt is taking over that territory. That could change things.

Q. Given the recent dust up between Alabama A&M and North Alabama, could there be an opening for A&M to come to Grand Forks in 2021?

A. It would seem like a pretty big longshot, but I wouldn't say definitely no. There's value in snagging a game with that conference early in the year because it's usually safe to assume a Division I win against them, a la Mississippi Valley State last year.

Q. In recruiting, looking ahead to the 2021 class, what are some big needs for the program?

A. I think it depends on how the 2020 recruiting class finishes up, how the 2019 recruiting class develops and where UND experienced injuries or other unexpected attrition.

With Ketteringham and Zimmerman seniors and Boltmann moving positions, UND needs quarterbacks and so we'll see how they do here in the 2020 recruiting class. In a perfect world, they bring in three this year. If they don't, you're going to need to hammer QB again in 2021.

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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