UND football playoff primer: How to watch, injuries to know and how No. 12 Missouri State matches up with No. 7 UND

·5 min read

Apr. 23—The UND football team hasn't played a game in more than a month.

Is that a benefit to refresh the roster? Is that problematic in developing rust?

Rest versus rust is the most important question to be answered Saturday at 3 p.m. when No. 7 UND hosts No. 12 Missouri State in the first round of the FCS playoffs at the Alerus Center.

"We're in good shape physically," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We've tried to change up our practices here when we were unable to compete against other people. Even yesterday, we did some two minute and third down. Our guys practice at a high level, but no question, games are different. I have a lot of faith in our guys to come out and be ready to go on Saturday."

Someone is going break a long playoff drought when UND plays Missouri State. The Bears, playing in their first FCS playoff game since 1990, haven't won an FCS playoff game since 1989.

The Fighting Hawks have never won an FCS playoff game, losing in the first round in 2019 at Nicholls State and, after receiving a first-round bye in 2016, UND lost at home to Richmond.

UND's last playoff win was in 2007, when the then-Fighting Sioux beat Winona State 44-2 in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at the Alerus Center. Current UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund threw for 221 yards in that game and had a 5-yard touchdown run, while current defensive coordinator Brett Holinka had 2.5 tackles.

Perhaps giving UND hope for handling the long layoff is the Fighting Hawks' start to the season after a long pause between the 2019 season and the 2021 spring schedule. UND opened the year with a 44-21 win over Southern Illinois.

"We're pretty excited," UND offensive lineman Ryan Tobin said. "We've been practicing and training. We're ready to get out there and play a game that actually means something. We're an older team, and we've been preparing with (UND offensive line coach Joe Pawlak). I know our group is ready and a lot of other groups are ready to finally play."

UND finished the regular season 4-1, sharing the Missouri Valley Football Conference title with South Dakota State and Missouri State. With the Fighting Hawks holding a win over the Jackrabbits, a win over the Bears, too, would give UND something of an unofficial claim to this year's league crown.

"We've got a lot of talent," UND senior cornerback Evan Holm said. "I think we haven't really achieved what we're capable of yet, so this next game will be really big for us to show what we're able to do."

No. 12 Missouri State at No. 7 UND

Kickoff: 3 p.m.

Where: Alerus Center.

TV: The game is only available via online stream.

Radio: 96.1 FM (Jack Michaels on play-by-play, Tom Dosch analyst)

Streaming: The game will available on ESPN3.

Betting line: North Dakota -7, over-under 44.5, per Bovada.

Injuries: Since UND hasn't played since March 20, the Fighting Hawks are mostly healthy. In UND's last game against North Dakota State, though, safety Jordan Canady was injured and isn't expected to play against Missouri State. That leaves a less-experienced Kadon Kauppinen to start in the secondary. Kauppinen has played plenty of reps this season but now the depth at safety is a concern. Elsewhere, however, UND will be getting bodies back in the lineup including tight end Derek Paulson, who was hurt against Western Illinois and didn't play against NDSU, and nose guard Jalen Morrison, who was out for extended periods against the Bison but is expected to return. As for Missouri State, the biggest injury watch is at quarterback where possible starter Matt Struck suffered a concussion against Youngstown State in the Bears' final regular-season game. Struck didn't practice during Missouri State's bye week to end the year. Bears coach Bobby Petrino said leading running back Jeremiah Wilson will be out against UND.

The Fighting Hawks will win if: they don't show any rust from the long lay off and come out looking refreshed and ready to shake off the bad feelings of the last time out against North Dakota State. UND continues to protect quarterback Tommy Schuster, who has been sacked once this season, against a Missouri State defense that thrives on pressure and turnovers. Defensively, UND controls the line of scrimmage more like it did against South Dakota State and Southern Illinois than it did against the Bison. Walter Payton Award finalist Otis Weah continues his dominant season and runs like a back averaging 7.5 yards per carry. UND rookie offensive lineman Easton Kilty fits in just fine as he fills in for Kyle Hergel, who entered the transfer portal earlier this week.

The Bears will win if: they found a recipe for success in the same way North Dakota State did against UND in controlling the line of scrimmage and winning the time of possession. Matt Struck returns from an injury and utilizes the same magic he had when he quarterbacked Idaho State to a dominant 2019 win over UND in Pocatello. UND's offensive line is rattled by Kyle Hergel's surprise departure and can't find the right fill-in performer. Missouri State shakes off a reputation for undisciplined play to put together a clean effort, staying in the game long enough to give the Bears energy and a reason to believe this season is special for a team playing in the playoffs for the first time since 1990.