Herald UND football mailbag: Season surprises, defensive corrections and Alerus catwalks - Grand Forks Herald

Herald UND football mailbag: Season surprises, defensive corrections and Alerus catwalks – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — With three weeks gone in the 2022 college football season, it’s time to do another Herald UND football mailbag with readers asking questions for beat writer Tom Miller.

Q. Is there any quick fix for the secondary woes?

Q. Are we going to see a rookie soon at cornerback? What are the possibilities? Big weakness at this point.

HAS. I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be more about guys getting live game reps and seeing who sticks. Going into the fall, I knew there was a battle at cornerback opposite CJ Siegel, but I thought one of the main three vying for that spot would click earlier than what has played out.

Clayton Bishop, Devin Hembry and Richard Agyekum are all getting their first tastes of Division I college football, and they’ve been swimming at times. Against Northern Arizona, it looked like Edmund Ocansey saw his luck, too.

The issues, to me, have been less about coverage and more about contain and tackling.

You have to like the athleticism and potential of true freshmen corners Jamal Dixon and Antonio Bluiett. They’re both 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and very athletic – a great starting point for a young corner.

The problem with throwing Dixon and Bluiett to the fire is you’d be starting out with the same problem as Bishop, Hembry and Agyekum in that they’re going to probably be mentally swimming in those early opportunities.

The good news for UND is all those corners so far are getting valuable reps while starting the season 2-1, which is about as optimistic as anyone gave UND to start the 2022 season.

The question at safety is a tougher fix in the long term. Losing Sammy Fort in Week 1 hurts, there’s no question. If UND is going to take a step to the upper echelon of the FCS, the Hawks need the kind of physical, play-making safety that has eluded the program since Cole Reyes.

Q. Surprise players that took a bigger step than anyone saw coming?

HAS. Since I’ve been pumping the tires of Wyatt Pedigo since he committed, I can’t say his emergence is a surprise.

We also thought outside linebacker Josh Navratil and defensive end Ben McNaboe had breakout years ahead of them.

I’ll say offensively Tyler Hoosman has more to his game than I expected coming out of fall camp. I thought he was going to be a nice complement, but he’s grabbed the starting spot by the horns. His jump cuts and vision, with an ability to always be moving the pile forward, has made him a legit No. 1.

Defensively, maybe this is too much of a knee-jerk reaction from a few plays at Northern Arizona, but I’d like to see more of safety Cole Davis. He’s undersized, but he knifed in to some tackles against NAU like we haven’t seen from the safety spot in a while.

Q. What is your opinion on the defensive line play through the first three games?

HAS. UND’s starters have been really good, especially Ben McNaboe. UND’s outside linebackers miss Jaxson Turner, but the ability of McNaboe to get pressure has been a huge help there.

If there’s a concern on the defensive line, it’s depth at defensive end. Craig Orlando and Elijah Beach are good, big-body options inside.

At end, Luke Lennon is giving UND some decent depth as he was disruptive at times against NAU with a pair of knockdowns.

But as you look to 2023, UND needs one of the younger players to start to emerge. Is that a Jack Teiken out of Moorhead or Casey Schultz from Caledonia?

Q. Are there any injured players we can expect to get back this week?

HAS. The Sammy Fort injury looks long term, so I think the best answer here is to watch for running back Luke Skokna.

Skokna missed most of fall camp and only started to practice on a limited basis last week.

He might need more time, but he’s probably the closest to rejoin the active squad.

Q. Which MVFC teams have impressed so far, and which MVFC teams have disappointed?

HAS. Can Southern Illinois be the answer to both? The Salukis looked bad through two weeks, then popped off to beat Northwestern.

Missouri State is impressive to me. I knew they’d be dangerous with the skill players they have, but I didn’t foresee the Bears going up 17-0 on Arkansas.

Missouri State is both dangerous and flawed with a below average offensive line and a penchant for undisciplined plays and penalties.

Northern Iowa getting thumped at home by Sacramento State was a bit of a disappointment, as well.

Q. How much improvement can we hope for on the defensive side of the ball? Have the majority of the issues been more attributed to lack of experience?

HAS. UND has flaws defensively, but yes, some of the issues are experience, especially at cornerback.

I think UND has enough promising-but-raw options at cornerback that someone will have the lights turn on eventually.

I can remember some early shaky moments for corners who became really good players (Caleb Nelson is the first to mind). CJ Siegel took time to become a dominant defender, too.

The outside linebackers and safety play can improve, as well. There might be some older options there but there’s inexperience at those positions that can develop some confidence with playing time as the season plays out.

Q. With depth at secondary getting thin, who do you see stepping up and getting more playing time than the first three games?

Q. What happened to the all-conference defensive back who transferred in? I thought he was listed on some draft watch lists.

HAS. I’ve hinted a couple of times already at this answer, but I think cornerback Edmund Ocansey and safety Cole Davis earned more playing time with how they played at Northern Arizona.

However, it’s a little of the backup quarterback phenomenon here where you get infatuated with the players who haven’t failed because they just haven’t played yet.

I’m also willing to give more time to Gardner Webb transfer safety Malachi Buckner. Is there a chance he plays faster when he gets more comfortable and knowledgeable? I think that luck exists. He’s already proven he can be above average at the FCS level.

Buckner has a play-making style but he needs to be in the right spot to make those plays.

Q. What do we have to do to get the endzone catwalks open again? Help us loyal fans out here, Tom!

Q. I think a topic that needs more discussion and open dialogue is opening the catwalk at the Alerus! The team deserves the atmosphere back!

HAS. I did see UND deputy AD Erik Martinson said on Twitter he would address the catwalks on the radio with Tim Hennessy and Paul Ralston this week.

I haven’t heard what came of that, but I think it’d be great to open the catwalks again, especially as a guy with a young family with kids who have zero interest in sitting still.

If UND was making tons of cash by selling those spots to donors, that would be one thing, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

And if the reasoning was to keep people in the seats to look better in video and photos, I’m not sure it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the atmosphere sacrifice and public outcry.

If it’s about a bad, tight press box, I have open seats next to me every week. My guess is it’s about a decent spot for opposing athletic administrators who should just stand on the sideline anyway. It’s indoor football.

Q. Three weeks in, have the Hawks exceeded or met your expectations?

HAS. A little of both, I think. I didn’t expect big plays to be such an issue defensively, but Tommy Schuster and Tyler Hoosman have exceeded my expectations offensively.

And big picture, there had to have been a worry about starting 0-3 heading to Southern Illinois. Going there 2-1 is basically the ideal situation.

Q. Is offensive coordinator Danny Freund the best gadget-play designer in FCS?

HAS. That’s a really good question. UND’s success rate on gadgets has to be super high under Freund. The fake look to the sideline against North Dakota State. The Matt Waletzko throwback against Idaho State. The Quincy Vaughn throwback. Everything Brock Boltmann touched. Then Saturday we saw the hook-and-ladder and the reverse flea-flicker hit. When people question the gadgets, I always respond they count the same as the traditional touchdowns.

Q. All inclusive UND football weekend for Oct. 1 homecoming game. Check in to Canada on Friday. Food and drinks included. Free water park tickets. Free food and drink at game and tailgate. Weekend ends with brunch at Canad, check out 11:30 a.m. What does this cost per adult? Do you go? Why doesn’t this exist?

HAS. Oh boy. This is so out of my world. 1) $1,000? 2) Can’t afford it 3) Why is the Tavern always a gongshow? Probably same answer.

Q. Is UND football the most exciting college football team in North Dakota?

HAS. I don’t know, Mayville State is on a heater.

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