UND shifts focus to Big Sky play

GRAND FORKS -- UND football coach Bubba Schweigert wasn't fully able to keep tabs on last Saturday's game between Montana State and Eastern Washington as his team's game against Stony Brook overlapped with the much-anticipated Big Sky matchup in ...

GRAND FORKS - UND football coach Bubba Schweigert wasn’t fully able to keep tabs on last Saturday’s game between Montana State and Eastern Washington as his team’s game against Stony Brook overlapped with the much-anticipated Big Sky matchup in Bozeman, Mont.
“I didn’t really see it,” Schweigert said. “I saw Montana State was out to a fast start. I found out late Saturday night how it went. We figured there would be lots of points in that game. It’s their style. I’m sure it was fun, exciting and entertaining.”
Eastern Washington stormed back to beat Montana State with a late two-point conversion and a 52-51 victory.
The high-scoring affair is a reminder of the kind of offensive firepower that awaits as UND enters Big Sky Conference play this Saturday against No. 13 Montana State in Bozeman.
It’ll be a stark contrast for a UND team (2-2) coming off a 13-3 win - a defensive struggle against Stony Brook.
“It presents different challenges,” said Schweigert, who spent the past six seasons in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, a league known more for traditional offenses. “You have to limit big plays and keep the score down. It’s going to be a long night if you allow plays for 50-plus for scores.”
That’s been the difficult scenario for UND in the past. Montana State has outscored UND 118-30 the past two seasons.
Big plays, especially early in the game, are specifically dangerous for this year’s version of UND. The North Dakota offense has failed to amass 100 yards either rushing or receiving in both of the past two games. UND had 145 yards of total offense against Stony Brook.
“We’re probably not equipped to get into a shootout,” Schweigert said.
UND wide receiver R.J. McGill, a fifth-year senior, is one of the few players who has experienced the Big Sky slate.
“We have to put a few more points, but do we have to change our game based on who we’re playing? I don’t believe so,” McGill said. “We play a lot different than last year, so we’re still transitioning. We’re trying to change our offense completely. We have to control the ball and make some plays.
“With new players and new coaches ... scheme-wise, it’ll be fun for everybody to play a Big Sky game with this whole new era here.”
UND cornerback Alex Tillman, a fifth-year senior in his first year at UND after four seasons at Houston, is new to the Big Sky. But Tillman, who was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, has a good idea what’s in store.
“I know they’ll throw a lot,” Tillman said. “I think it’ll be similar to Missouri State in that they have an athletic quarterback. It’s going to be fun. I’m sure they’ll try to attack us deep. I feel like we’ll be ready for it.”
As UND enters Big Sky play, Schweigert said he isn’t going to change the identity he’s trying to build in the program.
“We have a way we think we need to play,” he said. “… How we can build our program and how we can recruit. We want to be a big offense that can run the ball and a defense that can run to the ball and tackle in space. Are we there yet? No, but it’s our vision. It’s going to take some time to develop that. Time isn’t on our side this week, so we need to develop a plan that we think can allow us to be successful.”

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, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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