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UND quarterback situation up in the air

GRAND FORKS — Near the midway part of the season, the University of North Dakota settled on Joe Mollberg as its starting quarterback. Ryan Bartels, who was locked in a tight race with Mollberg for the starting job early in the year, didn’t sulk about the decision. Instead, he went to work.

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His work paid off Saturday night when he came off the bench and put a spark into UND’s offense, which had struggled for the past month.

Bartels completed 39 of 59 passes for 367 yards and four touchdowns during UND’s 48-27 loss at Northern Arizona. His four TD passes — all to Kenny Golladay — comprised one-third of UND’s scoring passes this season.

It’s expected Bartels will be under center Saturday when UND plays Northern Colorado in the team’s final home game of the season.

In an effort to jump-start the offense, UND coach Chris Mussman told Bartels he would take over on North Dakota’s third series of the game. Bartels came in and led UND to two first downs. On his second series, he drove UND 75 yards in nine plays for a TD.

“I got the opportunity to play and I was excited about it,” said Bartels. “I wanted to keep playing. I want to play these last two games and go out on a positive note.”

In fall camp and for the first three weeks of the season, Bartels and Mollberg split time at quarterback. Bartels won the starting job out of fall camp, but Mollberg eventually took over, starting the Idaho State game in Week 5.

“It was tough sitting on the sideline, not playing,” Bartels said.

One reason Mollberg took over was his ability to maneuver in the pocket.

“That’s why I wasn’t playing; Joe’s ability to be mobile,” Bartels said. “I took that to heart. In practice, that’s what I was focusing on the most, just moving around.”

Mussman said Bartels provided the spark UND’s offense had sought for a month.

“Early on, I thought Ryan took a little too long to make his decisions,” Mussman said. “On Saturday, the ball was out of there. He knew where he was going. He read coverages extremely well.

“When Ryan got in there, you could tell there was a little energy. He really wasn’t happy with the situation he was in. But he got an opportunity and made the most of it.”

UND (1-5 Big Sky, 2-7 overall) now hopes that offensive energy will carry over into its final two games of the season.

“As the season goes on, you just try to get better every day,” said Bartels.

Notes: After UND coaches watched film of Saturday’s game at Northern Arizona, Golladay was credited with 16 catches — not 17. However, that still is a single-game UND record … Bartels’ 379 passing yards and four TDs also are records for a UND freshman quarterback … UND running back Jake Miller suffered an apparent shoulder injury at Northern Arizona and likely will miss Saturday’s game … UND hopes to get receiver Jameer Jackson back this week. He did not make the trip to Flagstaff, Ariz.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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