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Sliding Idaho State hoping to match 2015 success against Fighting Hawks

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota and Idaho State football teams seemingly are headed in opposite directions. The No. 19 Fighting Hawks have won five straight games and sit atop the Big Sky Conference standings. Idaho State is 2-4 and...

GRAND FORKS - The University of North Dakota and Idaho State football teams seemingly are headed in opposite directions.

The No. 19 Fighting Hawks have won five straight games and sit atop the Big Sky Conference standings. Idaho State is 2-4 and coming off two humbling losses to Northern Arizona (52-7) and Portland State (45-20).

But there's still a sliver of confidence for the Bengals, who host UND in Pocatello at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Idaho State upset UND 37-31 in Grand Forks last year, knocking UND out of the Top 25 and eventually causing the Fighting Hawks to miss the FCS playoffs. The win was ISU's lone Division I win in 2015.

"We need some confidence; we've been ripped the last two games," Idaho State coach Mike Kramer said. "Last year was a microcosm on how to play against North Dakota. They don't give you anything in the run game, so we have to able to throw over the top. That's the only game where we really completed passes downfield last year."

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In 2015, Idaho State quarterback Michael Sanders was 32-for-49 passing for 427 yards and four touchdowns. ISU wide receiver KW Williams caught 12 of those passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bengals took advantage of a depleted UND secondary. Starting safeties Cole Reyes and Zach Arnell missed the Idaho State game with injuries.

Idaho State, now led by quarterback Tanner Gueller, has stumbled the past two weeks. The Bengals rank 12th in the Big Sky in scoring (21.7 points per game) and 12th in total offense (356.5 yards per game).

Gueller, however, is still targeting Williams, who UND struggled to contain in 2015. Williams ranks eighth in the Big Sky in receptions with 34 and has 400 receiving yards.

Idaho State has had problems stopping the run this year, evident in Portland State's win in which the Vikings didn't complete a pass. Portland State ran for 531 yards, eight yards shy of the Big Sky's all-time team rushing record.

Against NAU, the Bengals turned the ball over five times.

"Too many unforced errors in every part of the game," Kramer said. "You do that against good football teams like NAU, you get whacked and we got whacked."

Kramer said UND looks similar on film to last season, because coach Bubba Schweigert is consistent with his approach, he said.

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"He does not change and will not change," Kramer said. "He doesn't have to. They're proficient and play great, physical football. They're a young team, too. They're going to be around for a long time. For years to come, this will be a typical matchup."

Another injury factor in UND's 2015 matchup with Idaho State was at quarterback. UND's Keaton Studsrud was injured early in the second half and didn't return.

Kramer was impressed with Studsrud against Southern Utah. Studsrud passed for a career-high 282 yards and four touchdowns last Saturday against SUU, earning Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"He has been outstanding," Kramer said. "He's really accurate. It's not Brett Favre, but it sure felt like it against Southern Utah."

Despite the Bengals' recent slide, Kramer said his team is handling the adversity well.

"The cool part about coaching young guys is they're more resilient than everyone else in society," Kramer said. "They see it as an opportunity and not a problem."

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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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