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UND, Sam Houston will be stylistic tug of war

Washington Huskies defensive back Austin Joyner (4) and defensive back Byron Murphy (1) combine to tackle North Dakota Fighting Hawks running back John Santiago (22) during the second half at Husky Stadium in Seattle on Sept. 8, 2018. Jennifer Buchanan / USA TODAY Sports

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Sam Houston State likes to play fast, air it out and hit the big play.

UND likes to play slow, grind it out and wear down a team.

When the Fighting Hawks and Bearkats meet at 6 tonight at Elliott Bowers Stadium, there'll be a collision of philosophies in a unique FCS non-conference matchup.

"We need to control the football," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "When you go up against a high-powered offense, you need to limit their amount of plays."

Sam Houston State, ranked No. 5 in the STATS FCS Poll and No. 4 in the FCS Coaches Poll, has led the country in total offense the past three seasons.

"That's our job — to keep our defense off the field," UND senior running back John Santiago said. "It's going to be huge because they're a high-tempo offense."

Although Sam Houston has annually high expectations, it's a new era in Huntsville, which is 70 miles north of Houston. The Bearkats are trying to replace some key pieces from the 2017 team — senior class that won 46 games.

The biggest change is under center where the Bearkats graduated two-time Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe.

Briscoe, however, wasn't the only big loss this offseason. The Bearkats are also trying to replace defensive lineman P.J. Hall, the No. 57 pick in the NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders.

The losses haven't caught up to Sam Houston yet, as the Bearkats extended their home winning streak to 21 with last Saturday's win over Prairie View A&M.

It's the longest current streak in the FCS with the last loss coming to Lamar on Sept. 19, 2015.

Since 2011, the Kats, who have made seven straight appearances in the FCS playoffs, are 48-2 on their artificial turf at 12,975-seat Bowers Stadium.

If UND is to snap that streak, it'll likely be on the backs of running backs Brady Oliveira and John Santiago.

Oliveira, who rushed for 108 yards in Week 1, didn't play in the first half at Washington in Week 2 due to an injury.

The senior from Winnipeg was back practicing this week and is expected to play against the Bearkats.

Santiago is coming off a 139-yard performance against one of the top FBS defenses in Washington.

Santiago is just the fourth player in UND history with 3,000 career rushing yards.

"We think John is a special player," Schweigert said. "He made really good plays in the open field. On Saturday night, he got a lot of tough yards with yards after contact.

"Our whole team helped in that. I thought we were physical and played to the whistle to earn tough yards."

UND's offensive line, a question mark entering the season, has played above the expectation of many so far this year. The Hawks rushed for 4.9 yards per carry at Washington.

"There were a lot of good signs that we can play physical," Schweigert said. "One thing we want to build is to be more consistent. I think it's all in your preparation. When you're assignment sharp, knowing where to go, then you can play fast."

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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