The UNC Bears football team is gearing up for its first road trip of the season. This “business” trip for the Bears will take them to Vermillion, South Dakota.
The Bears opponent this week are the University of South Dakota Coyotes, or commonly referred to around the Big Sky Conference as the “Yotes”.
UNC hosted No. 17/18 McNeese State in Week 1 and fell just short of a heroic comeback, falling 14-17. USD traveled to Manhattan, Kansas where they also lost a heartbreaker 24-27 to the Big 12’s Kansas State Wildcats.
This is somewhat of a rivalry game since the Bears used to be division rivals with South Dakota in their Division II days in the North Central Conference.
Overall, the two teams have met 32 times and the Bears hold a 19-13 lead in the series. This game is also receiving some newer rivalry implications since this game counts as a part of the eight game challenge series between the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Coyotes are not afraid to pass the ball, attempting 56 passes last week.
With such a high emphasis on passing yards, a talented lead receiver could spell trouble for the Bears defense.
Big gains through the air were very damaging to the Bears’ defense last week, but the front seven showed signs of promise against McNeese State’s talented running back community. Kai Henry was the lead rusher for the ‘Yotes last game and has some tough sledding cut out for him against Defensive end Kiefer Morris and company.
Offensively the goals are simple: less turnovers, more completions and keeping quarterback Jacob Knipp safe, above all else.
What to expect from the UNC’s first road game?
The Bears showed jitters on all sides of the ball to start the game versus McNeese last Saturday.
Expect some of the same this week since road games are much tougher atmospheres.
At home the Bears know the weather, the fans, the sounds and have the support. Walking into an opponent’s house nullifies all that.
The Bears offense showed explosiveness in the fourth quarter last week, the defense was stout for an entire half and the special teams roster has yet to prove itself.
The Bears will have to have a good effort all four quarters to come out of Vermillion with a win.
Mission (Mostly) Impossible? Challenge Accepted.
What should be different this week?
First game jitters should be cured by now, but the first road game always takes getting used to.
The running back duo of Riek and Hall should be hungry to eat up some yards this week in order to give Knipp some time to breathe.
Blocking defensive players and creating running lanes is not an easy job, but the big boys on the Bears’ offensive line should be eager to prove they belong in starting roles after they incurred numerous penalties, rush yards were minimal and Knipp was sacked during key moments last week.
The defense should be more than motivated after being on Sports Center Top 10 Plays —the Bears found the No. 5 spot after a Sherand Boyd Jr., interception, lateral and touchdown really made things interesting — but failed to pressure the opposing quarterback consistently, minus linebacker Henry Stelzner’s one sack.
How can I get the game if I am in Greeley?
There are several ways to check in on the Bears during away games. This year, Dugout Sports Bar & Grill on 11th Avenue is the Official watch spot of the UNC Bears Football team. You can also always catch them at Stuft Burger Bar on 8th Ave Downtown.
If on the go, listen to the Bears game on the radio at 1310 KFKA.
Another option is to subscribe to the ESPN+ streaming app that covers most FCS football games.
During conference play (starting Sept. 22 against Weber State) you can download the Pluto TV app for free and watch the Bears via the UNC/Big Sky channel, underneath the Sports tab.
The Mirror’s Keys to the Game
1) Turnovers are UNC’s friend: Keep the tight pressure on receivers, tackle through defenders, and make sure everyone’s’ head is on a swivel. Turnovers will be a key factor in whether or not UNC keeps pace with USD.
2) Follow assignments: The Bears need to trust one another that they will be in good positions to take on opposing players if they stay in their zones and pressure “their guy”. If everyone does their job then South Dakota 3-and-outs should be frequent.
3) Wrap up: A simple goal, but a worthy one. If one player makes a poor tackle or attempt to tackle then it will take at least one more player to do so, which may not be nearby. Seeing the ball carrier, not over-pursuing and follow through with a hard, clean form tackle will be key.
1) Block: The offense needs to get back to basics. Blocking and driving defenders backwards, creating running lanes, set the edges and protect Knipp.
2) Revive the run game: 36 yards was the high for rushing yards on the UNC side last week. That is simply unacceptable if the Bears want to compete this week. If there is no threat from the running backs, the passing game suffers since receivers will be more heavily covered.
3) Be patient: Although not usually available, Knipp needs to take his time to set his feet and see the route he wants. Some routes last week were run incorrectly and pressure from the defense did not allow Knipp adequate time to throw on target.