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Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published April 19 2013

All eyes will be on UND's quarterback battle

GRAND FORKS - The first true look at the 2013 University of North Dakota football team comes today at the Alerus Center, the site of the annual Green and White spring game.

And the fans that turn out more than likely will watch the quarterback competition closer than the rest of the starting positions that are up for grabs as UND prepares for its second season in the Big Sky Conference.

Redshirt freshmen Joe Mollberg and Ryan Bartels both have had their moments during spring ball as one will take over the offense when UND opens its season Aug. 29 against Valparaiso.

Will there be a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback after today’s game?

Probably not, said UND coach Chris Mussman.

“We could name the one who is ahead,” Mussman said. “But, really, it’ll be a battle that goes right down to the beginning of the year.”

Either Mollberg or Bartels will inherit and offense that could be one of UND’s most explosive in years. With a talented — and deep — returning receiving corps returning, UND’s offense has positioned itself to produce a record number of points and yards in 2013.

But a lot of that depends on the quarterback play — the most inexperienced part of UND’s game.

Both quarterbacks, however, have looked good at times during UND’s scheduled 15-practice spring season.

Mussman won’t be on the sideline today. He’ll be up in the press box, serving as a radio color analyst. Offensive coordinator Luke Schleusner and defensive coordinator Josh Kotelnicki will serve as coaches.

But he’ll be keeping a close eye on Mollberg, Bartels and Jake Hanson, another redshirt freshman quarterback.

The quarterbacks will be judged in three areas.

“I’m looking for accuracy; who is assignment-sharp and putting the ball where it needs to be; and who gets the football out of his hand the fastest. Those will be the things we’ll be looking at,” Mussman said

But there is another concern that needs addressing in today’s controlled scrimmage.

Defensively, improved tackling has been a point of emphasis in the spring. Last season, UND ranked toward the bottom of the 13-team Big Sky Conference in a number of key defensive categories.

Poor tackling played a role in that.

“We want to see some passion, players flying around on the defensive side of the ball,” Mussman said.

UND’s spring season won’t wrap up after today. North Dakota will practice three more times before breaking for the semester.

Nelson writes for the Grand Forks Herald