UMD football's running game is surging ahead

Minnesota Duluth football fans have become accustomed to prolific rushing performances in recent years, with the likes of Isaac Odim and Brad Foss often breaking away for long touchdown runs.

Minnesota Duluth football fans have become accustomed to prolific rushing performances in recent years, with the likes of Isaac Odim and Brad Foss often breaking away for long touchdown runs.

That kind of knockout punch had been noticeably lacking in the Bulldogs' running game this season, until freshman running back Austin Sikorski rushed 19 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns, including a

75-yarder just 47 seconds into the contest, as the Bulldogs bulldozed Mary 41-28 last week.

Fellow freshman Brian Lucas added 16 carries for 114 yards as UMD had a

season-high 410 rushing yards.


"The long touchdown runs are something UMD has had a lot of in the past few years, but it's something we've been struggling with," Sikorski said. "I think last week we got the breakout running game that we needed. I think a lot of our backs have the speed to do it, but it's really the blocking up front that opens it up. That's where it all starts."

Sikorski later added a 39-yard TD scamper to help put the game away. His 185 yards were the most by a UMD back since Odim rushed for 228 yards in a 42-0 victory at Northern State on Oct. 10, 2009. Sikorski's total wasn't far off Erik Conner's freshman record of 213 rushing yards set in 1997. Conner later set the Bulldogs' all-time single-game mark with 236 rushing yards against Bemidji State in 2000.

"Austin sees things very well as far as blocking schemes go, and that's very important in our offense," UMD coach Bob Nielson said. "I think all our young backs struggled with that right away but are doing a better job with that, and Austin was a good example on Saturday."

UMD returned its entire offensive line from last season and expectations for the running game were high. After last week, the Bulldogs aren't far off their 2010 averages for rushing yards per game (245 to 276) and yards per rush (5.2 to 5.7).

Sikorski, of Plover, Wis., has battled injuries the last two years and said it felt good to finally get hit this fall.

Besides Sikorski and Lucas, UMD also has Zach Hulce, a junior who played sparingly last fall after transferring from West Virginia. Hulce has shown breakaway speed, averaging 10.5 yards per carry and having a 68-yard TD run to his credit, but much of his yardage has come in mop-up duty.

"UMD has definitely been fortunate with the running backs we've had, where all three of us this fall are basically in our first year," Sikorski said. "It's a lot to learn. There has been a lot thrown at us, and it's a big responsibility. I think we all kind of ran nervous the first few games, but the more reps we get, the easier and easier it becomes and the more confident we get. All in all, it's been a great start to my career so far."



UMD senior kicker David Nadeau always talks to Bob Nielson before games to let him know how he is feeling and what his range is given the wind conditions.

Apparently, Nadeau was feeling pretty good last week as he kicked a 55-yard field goal in the victory over Mary to break one of the oldest records in UMD's books, a 54-yarder set by Mark Tuska on Sept. 9, 1977.

That kind of leg, to go along with his accuracy (Nadeau is 9-for-12 this season), might attract some professional interest for Nadeau, but the senior from White Bear Lake, Minn., isn't thinking too far ahead.

"The past two years I have really taken a big step forward in terms of distance," said Nadeau, "but we've got another national championship to win first, so everything is on the back-burner until then."

Nadeau had a slight tailwind on his record-setter, but it was by no means windy out. Fans can find the kick on YouTube.

Nadeau figures his range is upward of 57 yards with no wind, but said he has hit from 73 yards with a gust at his back. At Thursday's practice at Malosky Stadium, Nadeau hit from 63 yards under conditions similar to last weekend against Mary.

"If you can kick with any confidence at Malosky Stadium, with the strange winds we get there, you can kick anywhere," Nielson said.



UMD returns home for only the third time this season as part of homecoming on Saturday against Northern State, something Nielson called a "true homecoming" after playing four of the past five weeks on the road.

UMD had a pep rally on Thursday night at Malosky Stadium as part of the festivities, which was to include a hot-dog eating contest.

Nielson was told some of his players, especially the heftier linemen, could compete, and he laughed and said, "I'm sure some of them would like to compete, too."

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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