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Miller proves himself, Sutton questionable for Potato Bowl
Mitch Sutton’s availability for UND’s Potato Bowl game against Black Hills State on Saturday is questionable. The starting Sioux tailback didn’t practice today after suffering a pulled hamstring last week against Fresno State.
But Sutton’s backup — Jake Miller — answered a lot of questions with his performance at Fresno. Specifically, the durability of the 5-foot-11, 168-pound sophomore running back from Bismarck High no longer is in question.
Miller rushed for 145 yards on 21 carries against Fresno in UND’s 27-22 loss. It was the breakout performance of his career.
“They always tell you that you never know when you’ll get your chance,” Miller said. “Everyone has to be ready; you never know when you’re number will be called.”
Miller was ready, rushing for three touchdowns as the Sioux of the Football Championship Subdivision nearly pulled off the upset against Fresno State, a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
And he may be the starter this week, depending on Sutton’s availability.
“Jake was a little sore on Sunday,” UND coach Chris Mussman said during his weekly media session. “He had 21 carries and he’s not used to taking some of the shots he took. He had maybe one or two hits where you were worried about him.
“For the most part, he does a good job of knowing when to protect himself. He has that knack.”
If healthy, will play
But UND’s immediate concern is Sutton, who rushed eight times for 70 yards before leaving in the second quarter.
“If Mitch is available, he’ll play,” Mussman said. “That goes for all of our guys.”
It doesn’t matter that UND is playing Black Hills, a 1-3 team making the transition from NAIA to Division II.
“Our job is to win a football game this week and we need all of our guys available to do that,” Mussman said.
Miller and true freshman Jer Garman, whose 17-yard run set up one of Miller’s three touchdowns at Fresno, will get the bulk of the carries if Sutton is out.
With Sutton’s availability questionable, the search for another running back to help shoulder the load will take place this week in practice.
“Spencer Bickel and Adam Shaugabay will be in that battle this week to see who will be the third guy,” Mussman said.
However, if UND loses another running back, there is the possibility the redshirt could be lifted on freshman running back P.J. Sparks.
“We’d like to hold the redshirt on P.J. but it’s one of those things where if you get one more (running back) hurt, you may have to pull the redshirt to protect this football team,” Mussman said. “The same thing happened to Jake last year.”
Who: Black Hills State at UND.
When: 6 p.m., Saturday.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 1-2; Black Hills 1-3.
Of note: UND is 34-11 all time in the Potato Bowl.
By Wayne Nelson, Grand Forks Herald