Will a FCS team come into Rice Eccles stadium and pull an upset over a Power 5 Utah Utes? That’s exactly what North Dakota’s fans are predicting as the Fighting Hawks come to Salt Lake City on Thursday.
Although the captain of the ship goes by Bubba, and Utah is the favorite to win the game, North Dakota shouldn’t be overlooked. If the Utes lock in the following three things, they should be able to walk out of Rice Eccles with the win.
Tyler Huntley needs to show up and show out
I think it’s safe to say everyone was surprised to hear that the sophomore Tyler Huntley beat out returning starter and team captain Troy Williams. So in addition to the Utes running their new offense for the first time, they will have a new quarterback at the controls under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor.
The concern is experience. Huntley has only played in six games and attempted seven passes for a total of 60 yards in 2016. But if you ask Huntley, he says he’s confident and ready to go. Coach Kyle Whittingham also talked about Huntley’s accuracy and mobility – something we will have to wait and see in game one.
Stop North Dakota’s Run Game
Do not sleep on North Dakota’s offense. They might be in the FCS world but the team is fully equipped at the running back position (John Santiago 983 yards, seven touchdowns and Brady Oliveira 897 yards, 10 touchdowns), a veteran quarterback (Keaton Studrud 2,027 yards passing, 19 total touchdowns), and a fullback paving the way for tailbacks.
Utah’s defense will be ready but will the secondary be able to handle the task?
Stop the secondary
Returning 15 starters on offense and defense, the Fighting Hawks are one of the top FCS teams bringing back several key players. Defensively, they remain skilled in the secondary. One of the main players to watch out for is safety Cole Reyes. The reigning Big Sky Conference Defensive player of the Year returns with 70 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions in 2016.
But the Utes catch a break because North Dakota will be without Deion Harris. Harris is out with a season-ending leg injury. With fellow cornerback Torrey Hunt, the two combined for eight interceptions and 19 pass breakups a year ago.
North Dakota at Utah
Thursday, Aug. 31st
5:30 p.m. MT
Salt Lake City, Utah