UND's season is at a crossroads
GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota football team finally has reached the second half of its schedule, where the slate of remaining opponents isn't nearly as formidable as the first half.
That's the good news for a program in need of some positivity.
But does that mean North Dakota is ready to rattle off a few wins -- or does the program stay in a rut after a 2-4 start to the season?
The answer to that question will begin to play out today at the Alerus Center where UND faces Sacramento State at 1:30 p.m. in a Big Sky Conference game.
With one of the toughest FCS schedules in the country, UND opened the year against South Dakota State, Montana, Montana State and Eastern Washington. All four programs were ranked in the top 11 of FCS polls when they visited Grand Forks.
Now, UND closes out its schedule against teams not ranked in the top 10. Among its remaining five games, UND will play only one ranked opponent -- No. 19 Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks also are the only remaining team on UND's schedule that has a winning overall record.
UND fans will be anxious to see which North Dakota team they see against the Hornets.
On one hand, UND suffered a pair of blowout losses against Montana and Montana State that left a bad taste with everyone around the program. On the other hand, UND is coming off a win against Idaho State two weeks ago and a 35-14 loss to No. 4 EWU last week -- a game in which UND showed promising signs for the second half of the season.
"We definitely have to win these games," UND running back Jer Garman said. "We played a really tough beginning of the year schedule, but we have some winnable games coming up."
UND looks to improve turnover battle
UND's biggest Achilles' heel so far in league play has been its ability to create turnovers. In the 13-team Big Sky, North Dakota ranks last in turnover margin at minus-7.
UND has recovered three fumbles and picked off three passes. Meanwhile, UND has coughed up five fumbles and tossed eight picks.
"We need to hold on to the ball and limit those interceptions," Garman said. "Hopefully, the defense can create turnovers and one of these games we can go positive in the turnover battle."
Kick coverage leads Big Sky
UND coach Chris Mussman said he's concerned with Sacramento State's return game.
"They certainly have our attention," Mussman said.
But UND's been able to quash opponents' return game most of the season thanks to the kicking of senior Zeb Miller.
Miller is tied for the league lead with 21 touchbacks. UND's kick coverage unit leads the conference in net average.
"If Zeb can continue to do that, it can nullify the return game," Mussman said.
- Terry Wanless is Sacramento State's athletic director. Wanless was UND's athletic director from 1990-99. The Hornets have another UND connection in former strength coach Jared Nessland.
- The Hornets are making their first trip to the Alerus Center. Sacramento State last played in Grand Forks at Memorial Stadium 34 years ago. UND won 31-0 in 1979.
- Sacramento State linebacker Todd Davis leads the Big Sky in tackles with 74.
- UND rushed for 294 yards last year against the Hornets, which is UND's most since moving to the Big Sky. Graduated running back Mitch Sutton rushed for a season-high 162 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.