Although UND is set to play first Missouri Valley football contest, coordinators say schemes mostly stay the same

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Feb. 16—The UND football program will enter the Missouri Valley Football Conference era officially Saturday when it hosts league member Southern Illinois at noon at the Alerus Center.

After playing a Big Sky Conference schedule for eight years, the last two technically as an independent affiliate, the Fighting Hawks join the 11-member league with more regional opponents including all three other Division I Dakota schools.

UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund and defensive coordinator Brett Holinka were asked this week whether the new league called for any schematic changes.

The answer was mostly no.

"It's a new conference but football is football," said Holinka, a former UND linebacker and first-year coordinator. "This defense has lasted a long time, from the early 1990's to now. It has been done in this conference. I think it's stood the test of time, but we're always trying to get better.

"I think we just try to keep the focus on us and what we can execute better and line up better. We're not Bill Belichick and this ain't the New England Patriots. We're trying to get better every day. We want to keep improving at what we're doing and let our kids play fast."

The UND football program installed the 3-4 defense in 1991 for a few reasons. One, was to stop the veer offense of successful running teams such as North Dakota State.

It was also believed to be easier to recruit linebackers than defensive linemen.

UND head coach Bubba Schweigert was a defensive assistant under then-Sioux defensive coordinator Dale Lennon when the 3-4 alignment was implemented. Schweigert was later defensive coordinator at UND from 1997-2003.

Schweigert used the 3-4 at Southern Illinois when he was defensive coordinator there from 2008-13.

Holinka is taking over for Eric Schmidt, who was UND's defensive coordinator from 2014 to 2019 before leaving for Fresno State.

On offense, UND's scheme is only entering its second year. When Schweigert took over as head coach in 2014, UND's offensive coordinator was Paul Rudolph, who implemented a more run-focused attack.

Freund's offense has been more pass-friendly, although he stresses it's a scheme that morphs to the strengths of the roster.

"Every year, your team and roster changes and personnel factors go into the design of your offense," Freund said.

However, Freund noted the MVFC's reputation of physical football. The Big Sky, meanwhile, has long carried a reputation for being more of a pass-heavy league.

"The physicality of this league is different, and you're going to have to grind out games and control clock, but it's ultimately about looking at your personnel and what you can do best to win a football game," Freund said. "We feel like we played good teams in 2019. Weber and Montana State were in the Top 4 in the FCS."

UND has played four Missouri Valley teams since 2016. The Hawks lost to NDSU 38-7 in 2019 in Fargo and beat Missouri State 34-0 in Grand Forks in 2017. UND and South Dakota split meetings in 2016 and 2017, with a 47-44 win in Grand Forks in 2016 and a 45-7 loss in Vermillion in 2017.