Ok, I’m going to be honest, I don’t know a bunch about the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota, but thanks to their SID, we have some information we can share on Utah’s FCS opponent for week one.
This is not your typical weak FCS cupcake game. North Dakota comes into this game as a top 10 ranked team in the FCS Coaches Poll, and is the favorite in the Big Sky Conference, the same conference as SUU and Weber State. They won 9 straight games last season before losing in the FCS playoffs. Why the lofty expectations for UND? They return a ton on offense, namely their QB and their All-American running back John Santiago. Santiago accounted for 1600 total yards last season, with just shy of 1000 on the ground. Behind him is Brady Oliveira, who had 900 rushing yards of their own. This is an old fashion, rushing attack, and one that Utah won’t see much this season, but this also the type of offense Utah is tailor made to stop because of their monstrous defensive front seven. Utah has so much depth in the front seven this year that they will be able to rotate a ton of guys through to keep them fresh against the power rushing attack of the Fighting Hawks.
UND’s returning QB, Keaton Studsrud had 2027 yards passing with 14 TDs. Studsrud has virtually all of his pass catchers back, so there will be a familiarity on that side of the ball. The two key guys that Utah should look out for on the outside is De’mun Mercer, who pulled in 553 yards and 4 TDs, while Travis Toivonen had 433 and 3 TDs a year ago. By looking at their press release, North Dakota appears to be rebuilding their offensive line a bit, as they don’t have any linemen returning with starting experience. That would play a huge advantage for the Utes front, as they could dominate the line of scrimmage. While they may not having much game experience on the offensive line, they, unlike most FCS teams, have a big offensive line with four starters tipping the scales at 300 pounds or more. North Dakota is a team that could hit you with some play action for a deep ball, so Utah’s young secondary needs to be disciplined.
For the Utes it’s simple, shut down the run, and let your speed take over.