UND keeps focus forward after late loss to Vikings
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota’s loss last week at Portland State was of the gut-wrenching variety, with a 10-point lead ripped away in the fourth quarter due to a pair of botched punt attempts.
As the team prepares for Northern Arizona on Saturday, UND players say there’s no point in dwelling on the past.
“Guys are pretty mentally tough,” UND linebacker Dom Bennett said. “Some guys are down, but no one is going to take it easy on us in this conference. If you’re going into a game feeling sorry for yourself in this league, opponents can put up 50-60 points on you.”
That’s the concern for UND this week against a Lumberjacks team that still has plenty to play for. Northern Arizona is ranked No. 14 in the FCS and remains near the top of the Big Sky Conference standings at 4-1 in the league.
“Everyone’s focused,” UND running back Jake Miller said. “The only thing you can do now is keep going forward. We have to put (the Portland State game) to bed and move forward because that was a tough one last weekend.”
Although UND is leery of Northern Arizona’s explosive offense, it’s North Dakota’s offense that has been the program’s biggest downfall the last few weeks.
Defensively, UND has improved. In losses to Montana, Montana State and South Dakota State, UND’s defense surrendered 555.6 yards per game of total offense and 51 points per game. In the last four games, those totals have dipped to 387.3 yards of total offense and 26.3 points.
Against Portland State, UND held the Vikings’ offense — ranked No. 3 in the FCS at 537.0 yards per game — to 392 yards. The 14 points also came after PSU recovered those botched punts 15 yards from the end zone.
“We played some top teams in the conference at the beginning of the season, and we took our lumps and made mistakes,” Bennett said. “You should learn from those and get better from that.”
Offensively, however, UND appears to be regressing. No time was that more apparent than in the second half against Portland State when the unit continually failed to pickup first downs to drain the clock and preserve the lead.
“We were moving the ball efficiently right away, but Portland made some great adjustments to stop us in our better packages,” Miller said. “We have to go out today and fix those things so we can sustain drives this Saturday. Hopefully, we can step up this weekend.”
UND’s ability to stay on the field offensively will be important against NAU in order to limit the effectiveness of Jacks’ running back Zach Bauman, who ran over UND last year in the Lumberjacks’ win at the Alerus Center.
Bauman is second in the Big Sky in all-purpose yards, behind only UND All-American wide receiver Greg Hardin.
“We can’t have any mental busts,” Bennett said. “We’re ready to get back to work. Guys are trying to get better every week.”