UND edges Southern UtahGRAND FORKS — The topic of conversation at halftime of the UND football game Saturday afternoon was the defense’s vulnerability and the rushing game’s ineffectiveness.
By: Tom Miller, Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — The topic of conversation at halftime of the UND football game Saturday afternoon was the defense’s vulnerability and the rushing game’s ineffectiveness.
Those two areas, former staples of North Dakota tradition, have been missing much of the 2012 season and after 30 minutes against Southern Utah the trend was sticking.
But with the hopes of a winning season on the line and the added motivation of Senior Day, the much-criticized defense and running game reappeared just in time to best the Thunderbirds 33-29 at the Alerus Center.
After rushing for 30 yards on 11 carries in the opening half, UND finished the game with 113 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning 36-yard scamper by Jake Miller in the fourth quarter.
After allowing 343 yards of total offense in the game’s opening two quarters, the North Dakota defense gave up just 177 in the second half. The effort was punctuated by UND linebacker Dominique Bennett’s sack and strip of Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen.
The Thunderbirds appeared headed in for the go-ahead score as they sat on the UND 23-yard line with 51 seconds left.
The defensive effort was aided by a ball-control offense.
North Dakota’s offense has been proficient through the air this season behind the play of transfer quarterback Braden Hanson. The fifth-year senior threw for 195 yards and a touchdown against Southern Utah, clearly a total that meant the offense was going to need some assistance on the ground.
UND entered the game against Southern Utah with the idea that the Green and White would have a rushing advantage on the perimeter.
As it turned out, the Thunderbird defenders were quicker pursuers to the edge than UND had projected.
That meant in the second half, North Dakota turned to Mitch Sutton, a bruising senior running back who appeared to be running with a vengeance in the second half.
Sutton carried 17 times for 65 yards and two scores. Without huge holes to run through, Sutton’s output wasn’t eye-popping — but the style and timing of his runs were crucial.
“Mitch took over a little bit,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “He imposed his will on offense. He literally plowed into the end zone.”
With two rushing touchdowns, Sutton now has a Big Sky Conference-best 11 on the season.
“He won’t run away from anybody at this point in his career, but he’s a physical back,” Mussman said. “You could see it in his eyes. He wanted the ball between the tackles.”
The Plover, Wis., native has now rushed for more than 1,700 yards in his North Dakota career.
“It’s getting down to the last few games for us seniors,” Sutton said. “You have to give everything in the tank. I definitely had a little fire today.”
Sutton also handed out credit to his defensive teammates.
“They did a hell of a job today,” Sutton said.
Against an NFL prospect and defending Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week, the North Dakota defense held strong in the second half. Sorensen was coming off a sparkling performance in a win over the then-No. 1 team in the country, Eastern Washington.
UND held him to 120 passing yards in the game’s final 30 minutes — and 44 of those yards came in the final, desperate 30 seconds with North Dakota in a deep prevent.
“That was a great way for our defense to finish,” Mussman said.