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Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published September 13 2013

Schedule stays tough for UND football team

GRAND FORKS – A week ago, the University of North Dakota had trouble running the football – finishing with 21 yards on 17 carries against No. 6 South Dakota State.

Also last week, UND had trouble stopping the run – giving up 295 yards to SDSU standout Zach Zenner.

To further complicate matters, UND has yet to permanently settle on a starting quarterback – going this week with redshirt freshman Joe Mollberg.

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It’s possible that a better team will take on UND tonight at the Alerus Center.

Montana – one of the perennial powers in Division I FCS – meets UND in a nonconference game, even though both programs now are Big Sky Conference members.

And No. 11 Montana, which uncharacteristically stumbled to a 5-6 record last season, likely will carry a big chip on its shoulder when it takes the field.

Last season, UND shredded the Griz defense. UND’s offense gained more than 700 yards. The 660 passing yards by Braden Hanson and 333 receiving yards by Greg Hardin were UND and Big Sky single-game records in a 30-24 North Dakota win.

“They’re a much better football team this year,” said UND coach Chris Mussman. “And they were a very good team when they came here last year.

“No disrespect to South Dakota State, but I think Montana is a better team. We certainly have our work cut out for us.”

In fact, there is speculation around Memorial Stadium that this Montana team may be the best that will have played in the Alerus Center since it opened in 2001.

Montana is 1-0 and had a bye last week. The Griz ripped Appalachian State 30-6 in their opener. Appalachian is another FCS power, one that will move up to the FBS ranks next season.

Montana returns with 10 starters on defense and two running backs – Travon Van and Jordan Canada – that could be on par with Zenner. There are 11 all-Big Sky Conference picks from Montana that return for the 2013 season.

“This is a better football team than the one we took to Grand Forks last year,” said Montana coach Mick Delaney.

The Griz focus, obviously, will be on UND’s passing game, led by Hardin.

“They have tremendous striking power,” said Delaney. “They’re a big-play threat every time they snap the ball.”

UND’s strength is its passing game.

But UND needs to be a better running team, said Mussman.

UND didn’t have much production on the ground last week against SDSU, partly because North Dakota fell behind in the first half.

“The X factor is, ‘Can we generate enough on the ground?’ ” said Mussman. “Can we get 100 yards rushing?”

Against the Griz last season, UND managed only 44 rushing yards on 24 attempts.

It wasn’t a major surprise when Mussman announced that Mollberg would start at quarterback tonight. He and Ryan Bartels, another redshirt freshman, have been competing for the starting job since the beginning of fall camp.

Mussman did say that it’s likely both quarterbacks will see the field against the Griz.

Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald