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Bears’ skill will present challenges for UND

GRAND FORKS -- As coaches in the Missouri Valley Football Conference the past six years at Southern Illinois, first-year University of North Dakota head coach Bubba Schweigert and new defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt have some familiarity with ...

GRAND FORKS - As coaches in the Missouri Valley Football Conference the past six years at Southern Illinois, first-year University of North Dakota head coach Bubba Schweigert and new defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt have some familiarity with Saturday’s opponent, Missouri State.
Whether or not that’s any sort of advantage remains to be seen, but Schweigert and Schmidt know they’ll have their hands full when the teams meet in Springfield, Ill., at 5 p.m.
“They’re a real tough matchup,” Schweigert said. “They have a lot of skill offensively that’ll present a challenge. The biggest change over the six years is that they’re so much better on defense now. It just took awhile to get their system implemented.”
Missouri State is looking for its first 2-1 start in five years. It’s the Bears’ home opener and the first opportunity to play in newly remodeled Robert W. Plaster Stadium.
The Bears, who beat Northwestern State and lost to Oklahoma State to open the season, received 17 votes in the latest FCS coaches’ poll. That would essentially rank Missouri State 30th nationally.
“We’re excited about opening, basically, our new stadium,” Missouri State coach Terry Allen said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 10. They really did a nice job.”
Last October, Missouri State students passed a $50 per semester fee, which generates $1.6 million annually.
The update includes a 5,000-seat expansion, pushing the stadium total capacity to 17,500. It also provided updates to home and away locker rooms, restrooms, concessions, team meeting rooms and new turf.
The stadium no longer has to share space with track and field, field hockey and soccer.
“It’s a football stadium now,” Allen said. “It’s a commitment from the students, and we hope to uphold our end and get them some more victories.”
The stadium was built in 1941 and renovated in 1991.
UND’s biggest focus will be on Missouri State senior quarterback Kierra Harris, who leads the Missouri Valley with five touchdown passes. Harris, who is 6-foot, is a threat to pass or run.
His main target is Julian Burton, who leads the MVFC in receiving yards (226) and touchdowns (3).
Defensively, Missouri State has been led by sophomore linebacker Dylan Cole, who had a school-record six tackles for loss last week against Oklahoma State. With a second-half rally, Missouri State made it interesting in the second half before falling to the Cowboys 40-23.
Missouri State also features a large offensive line that landed three players on the preseason all-MVFC team.
“We’re playing well offensively,” Allen said. “In each of our two games, we’ve got 20 first downs. That’s tough to do against a team like Oklahoma State. We feel good about our offensive line.
“(UND) will be disruptive defensively. That’s what that style of defense does. For us, we have to maintain offensively because we’re young on defense.”

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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