2 backs, 2 styles: Sioux hope to have healthy backfield Saturday against Montana WesternGRAND FORKS — When the University of North Dakota football team recruited Jake Miller out of Bismarck High, Sioux coaches expected the running back would eventually make a significant contribution. His contribution, however, wasn’t expected this early in his career.
By: Wayne Nelson, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — When the University of North Dakota football team recruited Jake Miller out of Bismarck High, Sioux coaches expected the running back would eventually make a significant contribution. His contribution, however, wasn’t expected this early in his career.
“He’s been a nice surprise,” Sioux coach Chris Mussman said, referring to the true sophomore. “To have this much success, in his second year, is a little surprising.”
Miller stepped into the starting role after Mitch Sutton went down with a pulled hamstring three weeks ago at Fresno State.
The Sioux running game didn’t skip a beat.
Miller rushed for 145 yards at Fresno, 181 yards against Black Hills State and 161 yards last Saturday at Southern Utah, where No. 20 UND picked up its biggest win in the school’s Division I era.
But the Sioux expect Sutton to return for Saturday’s game against Montana Western.
So, will the Sioux continue to feature Miller?
No Sioux running back has turned in three straight 100-yard rushing performances since Ryan Chappell did so early in the 2007 season.
“There is no real running back controversy,” Mussman said Tuesday. “But all three backs (Sutton, Miller and true freshman Jer Garman) are going to play. Whoever gets hot and keeps going, that’s who usually gets the bulk of the reps.”
Sutton’s absence was noticed at Southern Utah. He’s a more punishing runner than the 5-foot-8, 168-pound Miller.
Early in the game, UND faced a fourth-and-1 deep in SUU territory. Miller, however, couldn’t pick up the yard.
“Mitch brings something back to us we’re going to need,” Mussman said. “That’s where Mitch’s bigger body will help you. He’s a better pass blocker.
“And, quite frankly, Mitch was having a pretty good day at Fresno before he pulled his hamstring.”
But Miller has advantages as well.
“Jake is small enough that he can hide behind those big bodies (on the offensive line),” Mussman said. “And he can fit into spaces that some other backs can’t fit into. And, as he’s shown, he’s fast enough to take it the distance. He did that at Fresno (70-yard touchdown run) and at Southern Utah (34-yard touchdown run).
“He’s pretty good right now. He’s a little banged up. And I’d like to disperse some of the reps. I don’t think we can continue to do that to him, ask him to carry the ball that many times and take that kind of pounding. None of the guys can handle that. We need to get healthy and distribute the reps.”
Miller carried the ball 32 times at Southern Utah, the most he’s handled the football in any game he’s played.
“When Mitch comes back, it’s going to be great,” said Miller, who has rushed for 382 yards (7.1 yards-per-carry). “It’s going to help us down the road.”
But he’s enjoyed his unexpected time in the spotlight.
“It’s been a great ride,” he said.
Nelson is the Sports Editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.