Sioux look to stay sharp vs. WesternGRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota has never played Montana Western. After today’s game against the Bulldogs, it’s likely the Sioux will never think of Montana Western — an NAIA program in the Frontier Conference — again.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum Communications Co.
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota has never played Montana Western. After today’s game against the Bulldogs, it’s likely the Sioux will never think of Montana Western — an NAIA program in the Frontier Conference — again.
The Sioux struggled to schedule Football Championship Subdivision games this season, their last as a transitioning program to Division I athletics. Montana Western, Black Hills State and the University of Sioux Falls three non-FCS programs — are on UND’s schedule this season.
UND rolled past Black Hills; is heavily favored against Montana Western and will be favored to beat Sioux Falls next month.
The non-FCS games may make it difficult for fan appeal but they are important in one sense: UND doesn’t want to take a step back in its play, especially after recording perhaps the biggest win in the school’s Division I era.
UND’s 26-20 win at Southern Utah last week put the Sioux in a good position to win the Great West Conference title. The win also is viewed as a momentum-builder for No. 20 UND as it prepares for the Big Sky Conference next season.
“We have an opportunity to get our fourth win in our first six games,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “We didn’t win four in 11 last year. That’s the significance (of today’s game).
“We have to set the tone right away and make sure we’re setting the tempo of the game and not letting the game come to us. That’s my biggest concern.
“We’re coming off a big win; we’re coming into a home game with the perception that it’s a game you should win. We have to battle through that.”
UND is 3-2; Montana Western, located in Dillon, is 1-4, its win coming last week against Montana Tech. Quarterback Zach McRae has thrown for more than 300 yards in the Bulldogs’ last two games.
Montana Western was 1-10 last season. The Bulldogs went through a coaching change in the offseason as Ryan Nourse took over at his alma mater.
Nourse spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Truman State in Missouri. The previous five seasons, he was the offensive coordinator at Morningside.
UND returns to Great West play next week against Cal Poly, a triple-option team. The Sioux strength through five games is their run defense. The Sioux rank third in rushing defense, allowing 66.2 yard per game.
But that game is in the distance as far as Mussman is concerned. And UND’s win at Cedar City is history.
“I hope that’s not the signature win,” he said of the SUU game. “I hope it’s a building block, a step forward. We’ve been in those games before, but not as a nationally ranked team. Something seemed to always happen and we lost those games.
“But (last week) we found a way to win. That’s probably more important than the win itself. Our guys never got rattled. Maybe the experiences of last year are paying off.”
Maintaining focus has been UND’s challenge this week.
“I don’t look down on any team,” redshirt freshman cornerback Daryl Brown said. “We were 3-8 last year.”
Nelson is the Sports Editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.