Herald UND Football Mailbag: Season Surprises, Defensive Patches and Alerus Stands – Grand Forks Herald

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

Q: Is there a quick fix for minor problems?

Q: Will we see a novice soon in Cornerback? What are the possibilities? Huge weakness at this point.

a. I do not think so. I think it’s going to be more about players getting live actors of the game and figuring out who’s sticking. As fall came, I knew there was a battle in the noon corner versus CJ Siegel, but I thought one of the three main contenders for this spot would click before what happened.

Clayton Bishop, Devin Hembrey, and Richard Agyekum all get their first tastes of Major League Soccer, and they’ve been swimming occasionally. In front of Northern Arizona, Edmund O’Canesi seemed to see his opportunity as well.

For me, the issues were less about coverage and more about containment and processing.

You have to love sports and the potential of real freshmen Jamal Dixon and Antonio Bloit. They are both 6ft 2, 190lbs and very athletic – a great starting point for a small corner.

The problem with throwing Dixon and Beloit on fire is that you will start out with the same problem as Bishop, Hemprey and Agcom, as they will probably mentally swim in those early opportunities.

The good news for UND is that all of those angles so far are getting valuable reps during the 2-1 season start, which is as hopeful as anyone who gave UND to start the 2022 season.

The question of safety is a more difficult long-term solution. Losing Sami Fort in the first week is painful, no doubt. If UND is going to take a step up to the upper echelon of FCS, the Hawks need the kind of physical safety and gameplay that has eluded the program since Cole Reyes.

s. Surprising the players who took a step bigger than anyone expected?

a. Since I’ve been pumping White Pedigo tires since he committed, I can’t say his appearance was a surprise.

We also thought quarterback Josh Navratil and defensive end Ben McNabough had years to break through.

I’ll say offensively that Tyler Houseman has a lot more on his game than I would have expected after his fall camp. I thought it would be a nice supplement, but it grabbed the starting point by the horns. Cutting his jump and seeing, with the ability to always move the pile forward, made him a legitimate #1.

Defensively, this is probably an unusual reaction from some of the plays in northern Arizona, but I’d like to see a little more safe Cole Davis. He’s small in size, but he’s made some interventions against NAU as we haven’t seen from the safety point in a while.

Q: What do you think of the defensive line that plays during the first three matches?

a. UND had really good starts, especially Ben McNaboe. UND quarterbacks miss Jaxson Turner, but McNaboe’s ability to apply pressure was a huge help there.

If there is concern on the defensive line, it is depth on the defensive end. Craig Orlando and Elijah Beach are good options for the big body inside.

In the end, Luke Lennon gives UND some decent depth as he’s been annoying at times against NAU with a pair of knockouts.

But as you look to 2023, UND needs one of the younger players to start showing up. Is that Jack Tekken from Morehead or Casey Schultz from Caledonia?

Q: Any injured players we expect to return this week?

a. Fort Sami’s injury seems long lasting, so I think the best answer here is to watch for Luke Skokna’s return.

Skokna missed most of fall camp and began training on a limited basis last week.

He may need more time, but he’s probably the closest to joining the active team.

Q: What MVFC teams have you admired so far, and which MVFC teams have you disappointed?

a. Could Southern Illinois be the answer to both? The Salukis looked bad within two weeks, and then set out to defeat Northwestern.

Missouri impresses me. I knew they were going to be dangerous with the skill the players had, but I didn’t expect the Bears to advance 17-0 in Arkansas.

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

Northern Iowa being battered at home by Sacramento State was a bit disappointing.

Q: How much improvement can we hope for on the defensive side of the ball? Are the majority of cases attributable more to a lack of experience?

a. UND has defensive flaws, but yes, some of the issues are experience, especially in Cornerback.

I think UND has enough promising but raw options in Cornerback that someone will finally turn the lights on.

I can remember some shaky moments in the beginning for the corner kicks who became really good players (Caleb Nelson is the first that comes to mind). CJ Siegel took time to become a dominant defender as well.

The outside quarterback and safe play can be improved as well. There may be some outdated options but an inexperience in those situations that can gain some confidence in playtime as the season ends.

s. With twice as much depth in secondary, who do you see progressing and getting more playing time than the first three games?

Q: What happened to the all-round defensive back he moved to? I thought it was on some draft watchlists.

a. I’ve already alluded twice to this answer, but I think quarterback Edmund O’Cance and safety Cole Davis earned more playing time the way they did in Northern Arizona.

However, there is a bit of a standby quarterback phenomenon here as you get fascinated by players who haven’t failed because they haven’t played yet.

I’m also willing to give more time to my Gardner Webb Malachi Buckner transmission safety. Is there a chance to play faster when he becomes more comfortable and knowledgeable? I think this opportunity exists. It has already proven that it can be above average at the FCS level.

Buckner has playmaking style but needs to be in the right place to do those plays.

Q: What do we need to do to open the catwalks in the end zone again? Help us loyal fans here, Tom!

Q: I think the topic that needs more discussion and open dialogue is the opening of the platform at Alerus! The team deserves to come back!

a. I saw UNF deputy Eric Martinson say on Twitter that he will be addressing the platforms on the radio with Tim Hennessy and Paul Ralston this week.

I haven’t heard what happened from that, but I think it would be great to open the platform again, especially as a guy with a young family with kids who never bother to sit still.

If UND was making a lot of cash by selling these sites to donors it would be one thing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

And if it’s to keep people in the seats to look better in the video and photos, I’m not sure it’s a worthwhile trade-off for the sacrifice of atmosphere and public protest.

If it comes to a bad, tight squeeze box, I have open benches next to me every week. My guess is that it has to do with a decent place for opposing sports officials who should be standing on the sidelines anyway. It’s indoor soccer.

Q: After three weeks, have the Hawks exceeded or met your expectations?

a. A bit of both, I think. I wasn’t expecting big plays to be a defensive issue, but Tommy Schuster and Tyler Haussmann exceeded my expectations offensively.

And the big picture, there should have been a worry about starting 0-3 heading into southern Illinois. Going there 2-1 is basically ideal.

s. Is offensive coordinator Danny Freund the best game designer in FCS?

a. This is a really good question. UND success rate on hardware must be very high under Freund’s judgment. False view of the line of contact against North Dakota. Throwback Matt Waltzko against Idaho. Throwback Quincy Vaughn. Everything Brooke Boltman touched. Then on Saturday we saw the hook and the ladder and the reverse flea flash hit. When people question gadgets, I always answer that they count the same as traditional touch-ups.

s. Inclusive UND football weekend for the homecoming game on October 1st. Check in Canada on Friday. The price includes food and drinks. Free tickets to the water park. Free food and drink in the game and the back door. Weekend ends with brunch at Canad, check in at 11:30. What is the cost of this adult? Do you go? Why is there no such?

a. Oh boy. This is out of my world 1) $1000? 2) Can’t afford it 3) Why is Tavern always a theatrical show? Probably the same answer.

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

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