North Dakota is a team without a nickname, but if redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Bartels continues to play like he has, the football team from Grand Forks soon will have an identity.
On Saturday, two schools with 3-7 records — UC Davis and North Dakota — will meet at Aggie Stadium to see who has improved the most during up-and-down seasons for both squads.
Kickoff is 4 p.m.
The team that used to be called the Fighting Sioux (more about that later), has been competitive of late, coming off a 24-21 victory over Northern Colorado.
UND (3-7, 2-5 in Big Sky Conference) has played tough in losses to Portland State (14-10) and Eastern Washington (35-14). It also nipped Idaho State, 28-25.
“I don’t get caught up in the record,” said UCD coach Ron Gould, whose squad is coming off a bye week. “I get caught up in what a team is doing week in and week out. I’m really impressed with their quarterback … and with that speed on the perimeter, they can score from anywhere on the field.”
Bartels was named Sports Network national Freshman of the Week after he threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns — all to wideout Kelly Golladay — in a 48-27 loss Nov. 2 to Northern Arizona.
Bartels has back-to-back 300-yard passing games after replacing former QB Joel Mollberg in the NAU contest.
Last week, Bartels threw for 344 yards and two more scores. Seeing action in seven games (three as a starter), Bartels is 99-for-155 with eight TDs and six picks. He’s thrown for 1,163 yards. Mix in Mollberg’s totals and North Dakota has 2,757 through the air.
Golladay, who’s caught 64 passes for 775 yards and seven scores, is but one of four scary-fast targets from which Bartels and Mollberg have had to choose.
Greg Hardin (56-974-5) might be coach Chris Mussman’s most talented wideout, but when you study the numbers of Jameer Jackson (50-473-1) and Blair Townsend (28-309-1), you can see that Aggie safeties Aarynn Jones and Charles Boyett might need to play it honestly Saturday afternoon.
A couple of steps in by defenders and this receiving corps is gone.
“We know that we’re going to have our hands full,” Gould told The Enterprise. “We’re going to have to play one of our best games.”
North Dakota ends its season with this road game, something that concerns its coach — especially coming off an emotionally charged Senior Day home win last week.
“A concern for us … where’s our motivation going to be?” Mussman said Wednesday. “We’re pretty nicked up, too.”
If UND is playing out the string, that should be in sharp contrast to how the Aggies see their final two games.
Beating North Dakota, then Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic would put Davis at 5-7 (5-3 in Big Sky games). A) It would mean UCD beat the win totals of each of the past two seasons. B) The 5-3 mark would pooh-pooh the so-called experts who picked the Aggies to finish 11th in conference.
“It will be an interesting matchup,” Mussman added. “Offensively, they’re a creative team. Their shifts get you misaligned. (RB Gabe Manzanares) is very capable.”
Speaking of Manzanares, with 1,031 yards, the City College of San Francisco transfer is climbing up the Aggie all-time single-season rushing charts.
He stands at No. 8 on that list. Preston Jackson (1991-93) has the top two marks: 1,826 and 1,552 (regular season).
Notes: About mascotless North Dakota, once known as the Flickertails: In 2012, state voters approved a measure to allow school officials to “retire” the Fighting Sioux name and accompanying mascot (which the state Higher Board of Education did). By NCAA rule, UND cannot adopt another name or face until 2015. Ironically, the U.S. Court of Appeals decided against a lawsuit that fought to save Fighting Sioux. The group asking to keep the name? The Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe. … The Aggies are 8-8 off a bye week since 2000. … UCD is 1-4 at home in 2013.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com