UND ready to play in rowdy environment in Missoula
MISSOULA, Mont. –This won’t be the first time this season the University of North Dakota football program has traveled west into the mountains to face a fast-paced offense in an unfriendly environment.
UND opened the season at Utah against a Top 25 FBS program in front of more than 45,000 at scenic Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The parallels can be drawn to today’s 2 p.m. matchup with FCS No. 24 Montana for homecoming at 25,000-seat Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Fighting Hawks can rely on the Week 1 experience, but UND’s fading hopes of postseason play in 2017 ride heavily on pulling the upset in challenging Big Sky territory.
“It’s definitely one of the best venues in the FCS,” UND senior defensive end Brandon Dranka said. “The crowd is loud. They give you their opinion. It’s an awesome place to play. I like playing in those environments, and I think the whole team does, too.”
Winning in Montana is always a challenge. UND’s last trip to Montana in 2015 came without the services of then-sophomore quarterback Keaton Studsrud. The Grizzlies came away with a 42-16 victory.
In fact, UND hasn’t won in Missoula since 1963, although the two teams took a long hiatus between meetings when UND was in Division II.
“We know it’s their homecoming and it’ll be noisy,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We have to prepare for it and deal with it.”
UND and Montana will be a collision of styles. The Griz want to run as many plays as possible, while the Fighting Hawks want to grind out the clock and possess the ball.
“We always want to try to run the football,” Schweigert said. “We know that, and they know that.”
UND is running out of slack in its hopes of making the FCS postseason tournament. Typically, teams need seven Division I wins to be considered for the playoffs. UND has two wins with five games remaining.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Studsrud said. “We need to win out and play good football. I’ve never been out there before so I’m looking forward to it. It looks beautiful. They have a good fan base. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Montana coach Bob Stitt said he’s focused on starting strong against UND.
“This team (UND) is not built to come from behind so it’s very important for us to go out and start fast and shut them down early and get a lead, and manage it from there,” Stitt said. “I feel good about the matchup, but again, it’s a faceless opponent, and we don’t care. It’s a scheme that we are going to go after, and it’s a scheme that we are going to have to stop.”
The Griz anticipate a heavy dose of UND running backs John Santiago and Brady Oliveira. As a freshman, Santiago ran for 180 yards and a touchdown, while Oliveira rushed for 65 more against the Griz.
“Their two running backs are elite, so that’s going to be a tall task for our defense because they have a million run schemes,” Stitt said. “It’s going to be a lot of work for us in the box to be able to defend that and stay gap sound.”