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UND defense hopes to buck a trend

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The University of North Dakota football team has looked different lately at home and on the road.
The Fighting Hawks’ defense has been the most troubling.
In the last five road games, dating back to the final two of the 2018 season, UND has given up at least 30 points in every game.
That’s a trend the Hawks will probably have to kick if UND is going to pick up a favorable result at 7:05 p.m. Saturday against Cal Poly at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
UND gave up 609 yards of total offense last week in Pocatello against Idaho State.
“This has to change right now,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We have to see consistency. You have to tackle better. You just have to be really good on first and second down, so you get in situations where you have to throw the ball. We’ve given up too many choice downs.”
The troubling trend can be seen in UND’s pass rush statistics. In the first three weeks of the 2019 season, UND had four sacks against Drake, three against North Dakota State and five against Sam Houston State.
In the three games since that 12-sack showing, UND has one sack, picked up by linebacker Jade Lawrence at Eastern Washington. The Hawks didn’t have a sack against UC Davis or Idaho State.
Sitting with a 3-3 record, UND’s season sits at a bit of a crossroad. With a win against Poly, the Hawks would move to 4-3 and set up a showdown at home against Montana State the following week in a game that could be a major plus to a playoff resume.
A loss against Poly, however, gives the Hawks the scary possibility of a 3-6 record thanks to challenging games coming up against No. 12 Montana State and at No. 4 Weber State.
Earlier this week, Schweigert called the game against Poly very important for the program.
“We’re still in this together, and we can still do special things this year,” UND starting safety Hayden Galvin said.
As UND’s defense tries to right the ship, the Hawks will go up against one of the few run-oriented offenses on the schedule this season.
After facing spread, pass-heavy offenses like Sam Houston State, UC Davis, Eastern Washington and Idaho State, UND will now go up against the triple-option of the Mustangs.
Poly no longer has storied fullback Joe Protheroe, who was a senior in 2018, but the Mustangs still have ran the ball for 250.3 yards per game.
Poly likes to lull opponents to sleep, hitting on well-timed pass plays. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hamler has thrown for 860 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Mustangs’ receiving corps is top heavy. J.J. Koski has 563 receiving yards, while Quentin Harrison has 301 yards. Nobody else has more than 25 yards.
In a 48-24 loss to UC Davis last week in which the Mustangs fell behind 34-0 midway through the second quarter, Hamler threw for 243 yards and Koski had eight catches for 163 yards. Harrison caught two passes for 74, including a 69-yard touchdown catch.
“They’re really explosive,” Schweigert said. “They’ve hit big pass plays the last few weeks to get back into games. This team has no quit. It’s run, run and keep your eyes in the right spot and you’ll be okay, but you have to run with the receivers.”
Like UND, Poly has been a different team at home and on the road. The Mustangs have only played twice at home this year. The first was a decisive victory over the top team in the Pioneer League, San Diego, 52-34. The other was an overtime loss to No. 12 Montana State.