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Wayne Nelson / Forum Communications Co., Published April 14 2012

Offense closing gap, but defense still has edge in UND football scrimmage

GRAND FORKS – A few plays into Saturday’s scrimmage, University of North Dakota safety Erik Mersereau came up with an interception and sprinted approximately 30 yards before the whistle blew. Instead of stopping, he did a celebratory no-hands forward flip – an indication of his athleticism.

“I’d get a lot of grief if I did that in a game,” Mersereau said. “So I had to get it out in practice.”

But UND’s offense managed to flip the circumstances somewhat as the second scrimmage of the spring season progressed at Memorial Stadium.

It wasn’t a great day by the offense, but there were signs of improvement. Still, UND’s defense remains the team’s strength as spring ball heads into its final week.

The UND offense managed only one touchdown during the 70-play controlled scrimmage, which came on Braden Hanson’s 7-yard pass to Ethan Magstadt. The score came on one of the last plays of the day. However, it was a short scoring drive, as the offense started on the

20-yard line.

“For the most part, I was pretty pleased with the scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “It was a good give and take.”

While the defense came up with most of the big plays, the offense did have highlights, including:

The improved play of Hanson, the North Carolina transfer battling for the No. 1 quarterback position. The 6-foot-5 lefthander, who completed 8 of 11 passes for 104 yards, took most of the reps with the No. 1 unit. “I thought Braden was sharper today,” Mussman said.

The receiving and physical play of redshirt freshman receiver Jameer Jackson, who caught three passes, including one in which he broke two tackles for a 20-yard gain. He finished with 50 receiving yards. “He’s a big kid and he’s tough to bring down,” Mussman said. “He has some physical tools we haven’t seen in our receiving corps for a while.”

Jake Miller’s running early in the scrimmage. The junior from Bismarck picked up two nice gains on the offense’s first possession. He rushed for 30 yards.

Hanson and Joey Bradley are competing for the No. 1 spot on the quarterback depth chart. With a week to go in spring ball, Hanson is coming on strong.

But the former Tar Heels quarterback wasn’t totally pleased with the day.

“It was up and down,” Hanson said. “We have to be more consistent. That’s what offense is all about. We’re not going to get the ball on the 20 all of the time. We have to sustain some drives.

“Personally, I got a lot of reps. But I felt like I made some errors as far as calls and checks go. I need to clean that up and do a better job of studying the playbook at home.”

One area of concern continues to be the offensive line. However, two starters – Emmett Lynch and Joe Kleason – are being held out of spring ball due to injuries.

The line also committed four false starts during the scrimmage.

“That’s killing us right now,” Mussman said. “We’re going to have to grow up on the line in a hurry.”

But the defense, which received impressive performances from Kyle Woodsmall (four tackles, sack) and Spencer Cummings (four tackles, sack) had a few moments of unsteady play as well.

“We missed a bunch of tackles, particularly early on,” Mussman said. “We can’t get fat and happy. We have to play every play. Sometimes, we get a little bit ahead of ourselves.

“We’re a good defense, not a great defense. And only time will tell on that one.”

UND returns to practice Monday and wraps up the spring season with the annual Green and White Game next Saturday at the Alerus Center.


Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald