UND, Griz are ‘mirror images’ of each otherGRAND FORKS — So far, it’s a season of being a play or two short of a win. It’s been either a turnover at the wrong time; or not being able to make a defensive stop at the right time. So close, but yet so far away.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS — So far, it’s a season of being a play or two short of a win.
It’s been either a turnover at the wrong time; or not being able to make a defensive stop at the right time. So close, but yet so far away.
That description not only fits the University of North Dakota, but it also belongs to Montana — which comes to the Alerus Center on Saturday in a game many believed would be the Green and White’s marquee home contest during the program’s first season in the Big Sky Conference.
The Grizzlies, who have not played in Grand Forks since 1973, have been the most recognized football program in the Big Sky for years. They made the FCS playoffs last season, falling to Sam Houston State in the semifinals.
But offseason turmoil in Missoula led to a coaching change, and the Grizzlies now find themselves at 1-3 in the league and 3-4 overall.
“We’re kind of mirror images of each other to a certain degree,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “They’ve made some critical mistakes at times that have cost them some football games, much like us.
“They were taking it to Northern Arizona; then they throw five interceptions. They were drilling Eastern Washington and were going in to put the nail in the coffin before they put it on the ground. They’ve run into some bad luck.
“We expect to see a very talented football team. They run the ball, even though they’re in spread sets. They’re 6-foot-8, 6-8, 6-4, 6-4, 6-5 across the front on the offensive line. They’re huge and they have two really nice running backs that can fly.”
Defensively, Montana has 25 sacks this season — tops among all FCS teams.
UND is promoting Saturday’s game as a “Black Out.” Fans are encouraged to wear black in support of the program’s new all-black uniforms.
A border battle
Despite Montana’s unexpected struggles, a buzz still remains for the game.
“Obviously, we look forward to all our games,” Mussman said. “But this one resonates with our fans more. Motels have been tough to come by in Grand Forks this weekend for a long time. Hopefully, that’s a good sign that we’ll have another good crowd. We’ll need it.”
At the start of the season, Montana also looked to be the team UND needed to beat if it has aspirations of making a run at the Big Sky title.
As it turns out, Montana is the only unranked team UND will face in a brutal five-week stretch of its schedule.
It started with Cal Poly, which rose to the No. 1 ranking in this week’s Gridiron Power Index. UND then faced Eastern Washington, the No. 1 team in both FCS polls, and No. 15 Northern Arizona on back-to-back weekends. Next week, UND is at No. 5 Montana State.
“There are no easy games on our schedule this year,” said UND defensive lineman Ben Henson. “That’s different; I’ve never had that since I’ve been here. But it keeps the fans excited. They’re going to see good games.”