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USU will look to keep up the intensity after upset over Washington State
WEEK 2: North Dakota Fighting Hawks (1-0) vs. Utah State Aggies (1-0)
WHEN: Friday, September 10 – 7:00 PM MT/6:00 PM PT
WHERE: Maverik Stadium; Logan, UT (25,100)
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: FuboTV – Get a 7-day free trial
RADIO: Utah State radio broadcast on 1280 the zone (1280 AM), 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com
SERIES RECORD: This is the first meeting between North Dakota and Utah State.
LAST WEEK: Utah State defeated Washington State on the road, 26-23, while North Dakota beat Idaho State on the road, 35-14.
ODDS (via ESPN): No spread
SP+ PROJECTION: North Dakota by 0.7
Utah State scored its first road Power 55 victory since 1971 against Wazzou. Now, the Aggies return to Maverik Stadium to face a top-15 FCS squad. Can they avoid a letdown and take care of business or will the Fighting Hawks give them more than they can handle?
— North Dakota Football (@UNDfootball) September 8, 2021
Players to watch out for on the Fighting Hawks
RB Otis Weah
This speedy bruiser back had a great game against Idaho State on the road in Pocatello. He compiled 114 yards and three touchdowns on just 22 carries, good for 5.2 yards per carry. He is physically very similar to Aggies running back Calvin Tyler, so he can push the pile if need be and punish his tacklers with his size. USU will need its run defense to play soundly in their gaps to minimize the damage he can do between the tackles.
QB Tommy Schuster
The young gun quarterback is only a sophomore, but he is punching well above his weight. Though he only played sparingly in 2019 for the Fighting Hawks, he has taken over the starting role with ease. Against the Bengals in their road opener, he passed for 183 yards and a touchdown. He plays well under pressure and spreads the ball around to multiple receivers, helping to make his team’s offense dynamic. USU’s secondary should get a solid test on Friday night.
WR Adam Zavalney
What he lacked against the Bengals in quantity, he made up for in quality. He grabbed two catches for 57 yards and a score. He has excellent height and size for a WR, similar traits to USU receiver Justin McGriff. I expect he will aggressively try and match up against the smaller Aggie cornerbacks and play jump ball with his quarterback. If they aren’t careful, the Aggies could easily get burned by this guy.
ILB Noah Larson
Leading the team with 10 tackles, Larson made his physical presence known against the Bengals. He’s a disciplined player that can run effectively sideline to sideline as well. The Aggie running backs need to be in top form to hope to push him aside and gain tough yardage. He’s a key piece to a strong defense, so avoiding him will factor in having a successful offensive game plan.
The FCS ranks have had an uncommonly good start against FBS teams this season. In the opening weekend, these teams nabbed six victories over their FBS brethren, good for the subdivision’s best mark since 2013. There is little doubt the spring season in which many of them participated is a factor in this. They’ve played more recently than the FBS teams and there is less rust as a result. Coupled with the typical complacency we see in many of these games from the FBS foes, it’s not all that shocking.
Utah State has been very successful against FCS teams in recent years, going a perfect 11-0 since 2009. However, they can’t sleep on this North Dakota team and expect an easy victory. Not only are the Fighting Hawks highly ranked in the FCS coaches poll, they have an FBS win as recently as 2015, when they knocked off Wyoming in Laramie. This was under their current head coach, so the team culture is steeped with familiarity against superior competition.
The visitors in Logan will rely on their run game first and foremost. If Weah can get anything on the ground against what appears to be a stout USU run defense, then the suspect Aggie secondary will need to tighten up against a quarterback who is unafraid to sling it. With little to lose, I fully expect the Fighting Hawks to play loose and fast and possibly even jump out to an early lead.
Utah State boasts superior depth and athletes all around, however. The running backs will likely shine against a smaller FCS defense and both Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley will find ways to exploit their defense as the game wears on. I would also not be surprised to see Cooper Legas get some game experience late in the third quarter as the Aggies put away the Fighting Hawks headed into the fourth quarter.
If the Aggies clean up mistakes they made against the Cougars, it will turn into a double-digit rout. If they don’t, the Fighting Hawks will stick around longer than the faithful in Logan are comfortable with.
Utah State 37, North Dakota 20