New UND offense will debut against Drake

GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota offensive coordinator Danny Freund has spent the offseason trying to describe to fans and the media the offense he’s overhauled for the 2019 season.

Sometimes the Fighting Hawks will huddle and other times they won’t. Sometimes they’ll go fast and other times they’ll go slow. They want to get the ball out in space and also run between the tackles.

Freund certainly hasn’t made it easy to put labels on it, but whatever you want to call the new-look offense, it debuts at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, against Drake at the Alerus Center.

“It’s ready to be tested, no question,” UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “Our guys really worked hard to learn it. They believe in it. Now, you have to go out and execute it on gameday when it really counts. We’re really looking forward to Saturday.”

En route to a disappointing 6-5 season in 2018, UND’s offense sputtered down the stretch. The Hawks peaked midseason, putting up 536 yards of total offense in a rout of Montana and 604 yards in a rout of Sacramento State.

After that, UND lost three of its next four games and mustered total offense sums of 321 against Weber State, 335 against Idaho, 222 against Portland State and 192 against Northern Arizona.

After the season, Schweigert parted ways with offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph and promoted Freund from wide receivers coach.

Freund, a former UND standout quarterback, will now be calling plays from the press box rather than his old spot on the sideline.

He’s stressed his offense will play into the strengths of his personnel and feature more skill players than the bulkier bodies the Hawks featured in the previous offense.

Freund wants quarterback Nate Ketteringham to make quicker decisions. Ketteringham, who started for two seasons at Sacramento State, is entering his second season as the starter in Grand Forks.

After throwing for a season-high 254 yards and four touchdowns against Montana last year, Ketteringham’s numbers regressed. He threw for less than 160 yards in each of his final three games of the season.

Ketteringham will have experienced receivers to work with to try to revive the offense in 2019. Noah Wanzek, Garett Maag and Travis Toivonen return and all caught more than 20 passes a year ago.

Ketteringham thinks the offense is ready to be unveiled and credits the UND defense for providing good scout looks in practice.

“Going against our guys all fall camp, our defense gives us weird looks and I think that sets us up for the whole season,” Ketteringham said.

UND senior defensive end Mason Bennett thinks the new offense is good for the defense, too.

“We play a lot of teams that are spread, so it’s good to practice against that every day,” Bennett said.

Although the quarterback and receivers bring back plenty of experience, UND will have new blood in the offensive backfield.

John Santiago and Brady Oliveira did most of the heavy lifting for the running backs the past few years but both are with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL now.

That opens the door for 6-foot-1 senior James Johannesson, a former Fargo South star and Minnesota transfer.

Johannesson, who slimmed down 10 pounds to 240 this fall, had limited opportunities a year ago but showcased his ability in a three-game stretch midseason.