In order to turn the page from last week’s gut-wrenching start to the 2022 season, the Huskers return to the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium after a week of encouraging practices.
Nebraska’s offensive rotation won’t look the same against North Dakota and the defense has been called upon to elevate its game by the scheduled 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
Those changes will need to be made before the Fighting Hawks arrive for their season opener.
First, North Dakota is not North Dakota State. Coming to Lincoln on Saturday are not the the Bison, winners of nine National Championships since 2011, but their rivals for the Nickel Trophy, the Fighting Hawks.
North Dakota is led by coach Bubba Schweigert. He’s coached the team to two Missouri Valley Conference Championships and two playoff berths. That includes the 2020 season when North Dakota made the quarterfinals.
Nebraska beat North Dakota 33-0 in Lincoln in 1961 for the other only meeting between the two programs.
The Fighting Hawks return quarterback Tommy Schuster for this season. He threw for 2,493 yards and 13 touchdowns last year with a 65.5 completion percentage. His leading receiver from last year, Bo Belquist, also returns after a 53-catch, five-touchdown season. Isaiah Smith is the top returning running back for North Dakota after 52 carries, 356 yards and two touchdowns.
North Dakota finished 5-6 last year with five of those losses coming by one possession. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost touched on that earlier this week.
“I am impressed with them,” Frost said. “They lost a lot of close games. I do not know how anybody does that for sure.”
North Dakota graduated its best offensive lineman to the NFL Draft in the spring. What’s left will still challenge the Nebraska defense to control the line of scrimmage.
Defensive back Quinton Newsome said the Huskers shouldn’t take anyone lightly this season, including North Dakota. He stressed preparation as the Huskers go into their home opener.
“We’re trying to get momentum back so we know this team is going to come in and give it all they got, and this is going to be a good game,” he said. “We know that nobody’s going to let down for us so we need to take every week the same as we would at the beginning of the season, with the first game.”
North Dakota brings pressure. Frost said that will provide a formidable challenge for the offense, which will be playing its first home game in its current system.
Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson said he watched film on Sunday. Senior defensive back C.J. Siegel stood out to him on film. The Fighting Hawks also switch between three-four and four-three fronts. They hide blitz packages and bring a variety of looks.
“This is their first game. They are usually undefeated on their season openers,” Thompson said earlier this week. “They are a good football team.”
North Dakota also returns Devon Krzanowski, the team’s leading tackler from a year ago. The linebacker transfer from St. Cloud State finished with 68 tackles, 5.0 for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Four Nebraska natives return to their home state this weekend. That includes senior Marcus Vaughn-Jones (Creighton Prep), sophomore linebacker Kason Kelley (Millard North), freshman linebacker Hayden Stec (Elkhorn) and freshman tight end Trace Thaden (Millard West).
North Dakota’s special teams is led by punter Cade Peterson and kicker Brady Stevens. Peterson averaged 40.4 yards on 43 punts last year. Nineteen went inside the 20 and six went 50 yards or more. Stevens was 5 of 7 last year with a long of 41 yards.