We interrupt spring football and the hiring of men’s and women’s basketball coaches to bring this programming note: Before the Kolpack & Izzo Saturday morning radio show from 9-11 a.m. is the WDAY Golf Show from 8-9 a.m., which just resumed last Saturday for another summer run.
New this year: a golf fantasy league where the weekly winner gets one hour of free simulator time at the Golf Addiction in south Fargo. The fantasy league is free to join, to do so, follow the link on the lower left of the WDAY radio web page that can be accessed here.
So you Google one of the standouts from NDSU’s intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday afternoon at Dacotah Field — Melvin DeSouza — and what you get is a highlight film of No. 92 playing defensive end for Eden Prairie High School in the Twin Cities. He was a running back for the Bison who scored two touchdowns including a 75-yarder when he ran away from some people.
He’s an interesting story with more on him in the Sunday Forum. But the short version: he walked on to the team in the middle of last season after head coach Craig Bohl called him. He transferred from the North Dakota State College of Science without much fanfare and looked into joining the team right away. He had never played running back in his life until Bohl put him there. He may not play much, if at all, next season. But you never know. He’s 5-foot-9 and 225 pounds and is at least making offensive coordinator Tim Polasek take notice: Polasek mentioned him on an appearance on our Kolpack & Izzo radio show this morning. Our response: Melvin who?
Other thoughts from today:
Quarterback Carson Wentz was sharp, particularly on a 19-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to Dee Gray. Wentz is clear and away the starting quarterback. The question will be his backup: Derek McGinnis or Cole Davis.
Starting running back John Crockett was held out — so were several other starters — but sophomore Chase Morlock was every bit the 1-2 role that Crockett played last year with Sam Ojuri. Morlock had 44 yards on three successive carries at one point.
The defense was very good in the first half of the scrimmage. The offense dominated the second half, which in the good news-bad news department may not bode well for the depth on defense at this point.
Freshman safety Chris Board looks like a player. He had a quarterback sack, defended a pass play well and tackled a receiver for a short gain in a span of three out of four plays.
In the Melvin DeSouza department, the media folks were also scrambling to find the name of another player not on the roster who scored a touchdown. Running back Colter Pritchard, a walkon from Langdon, N.D., scored on a 40-yard pass reception from backup quarterback Cole Davis.
Billy Turner will be the subject of an online show called “Driven” that will be aired on YouTube.com and viewers can already access a preview of it by going on the website and inputting the search words “Driven” and “Billy Turner.” The series documents smaller school players trying to make a name for themself and proving doubters wrong.
It’s the product of a company called All Def Digital that uses YouTube.com as the source for its channel. Three men – Russell Simmons, Steve Rifkind and Brian Robbins – are the brainchild behind the operation with Simmons documenting Turner’s story. He first filmed him during the Senior Bowl and did subsequent shoots at the NFL Combine, North Dakota State’s Pro Day at the Fargodome and some scenes at Turner’s home in the Twin Cities.
“Basically it’s a chance for him to tell my story,” Turner said on the Kolpack & Izzo radio show on WDAY-AM this morning.
The story will consist of eight episodes, Turner said, that will entail various aspects of his life. Each one will be different in its content.Turner said his story started to become viable through his Premier Sports and Entertainment agent, who talked with All Def Digital during the Senior Bowl in January. Turner said All Def started to take interest when they saw film of the Kansas State game, a Bison upset victory, and liken his story to that of former Central Michigan offensive lineman Eric Fisher, who was the first overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft. Turner is expected to be a middle round pick in this year’s draft that takes place next month.
Meanwhile, Turner has six visits scheduled in the next five weeks with various NFL teams starting this weekend with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He compares it to being recruited out of high school and setting up campus visits. “It’s a going from one team to another type of deal,” he said. “It’s a long process but you have to sit back and realize it’s part of trying to realize my dream.”
NDSU’s hope of getting a good look at running back King Frazier is in jeopardy. The transfer from Nebraska tweaked his knee in practice and will be held out for the rest of the weekend and most likely will be checked on Monday. The injury was during a non-contact drill and Frazier was simply planting his leg to move another direction. “We’re definitely concerned about it,” said head coach Chris Klieman. “Granted, we’ve been out there only three days but he did some great things in those three days. If it’s a bad scenario and we need to shelve him the rest of spring .. I don’t know, we didn’t get a chance to see everything we needed to see but the glimpses that we did, he would be a productive player. Now it’s the mental reps that he’s going to miss.”
With Frazier out, that puts John Crockett and Chase Morlock as the 1-2 backs on the depth chart. Frazier, a 6-foot-1, 222-pound sophomore transfer from Nebraska, is expected to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Crockett. Other than Frazier, NDSU appears to be healthy after almost one week of practice.
Klieman on the first day of being in full pads: “It was OK. Not as crisp as maybe we would have wanted. There was some miscommunication with some guys, especially on both sides up front. Today, I think we’ll be a lot better. So it was just ‘OK’ for the first day of pads.”
Klieman on moving Joe Haeg to left tackle and Landon Lechler at right tackle: “For sure we wanted to put Joe on the left and then what we do on the right side is how much Landon can handle some of those things. We’ll wait and see. We’ll still play that out through the spring.”
Today, Wednesday, was another step in the Bison spring football process — the first day in full pads. Here are a few thoughts from head coach Chris Klieman heading into the two-hour workout:
As expected, the interior defensive line will probably grab the attention of the coaches. Klieman said he’s curious to see how Austin Farnlof has rebounded from knee surgery. On the other side, he’s curious to see how the young offensive linemen like Jack Plankers, Landon Lechler and Jeremy Kelly hold up to the pressure; whether they can hold the fort at the point of attack.
Running back King Frazier, the transfer from Nebraska, had a good opening weekend. Klieman said he looks faster than he figured.
Klieman said sophomore middle linebacker Nick DeLuca has made “quantum leaps” since the end of last season, looks to be more knowledgeable with the defense. There was some speculation that the 6-3, 237-pound DeLuca would get big enough to be a defensive end, but Klieman likes him at linebacker.
Defensive tackles coach Nick Goeser knows he has his work cut out for him after seeing four guys graduate last season. “You know what, it’s exciting too,” he said. “We’re going to find out what kind of a coach I am real quick.”
We have a story going in Thursday’s Forum on Tanguay. He’s 6-4 and 288 pounds, and hopes to be a solid 295 next season. It’s a forgone conclusion that there’s no way anybody should expect him to be at the level Perry, Drevlow and Luecke were last season, but you have to start somewhere. Although don’t tell that to Tanguay: “I full expect myself not to miss a beat from where those guys left off last year,” he said.
Tanguay was one of several who lifted twice a day during winter workouts, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get to the BSA for a 6 a.m. start and then returning later in the day. “It’s crazy but I loved it,” he said.
It was windy as could be when the Bison took to Dacotah Field for the first of 15 spring football practices. It was closed to the media, but here are a few things to ponder in talks and interviews following the workout:
Carson Wentz was sharp, at one point throwing a vertical pass across the field between cornerback Zach Colvin and safety Christian Dudzik. As the secondary coach last year, new head coach Chris Klieman said it was the kind of throw the Bison didn’t see very many of and he was anxious to get into the film room and evaluate it. “Was it not that good of a disguise or did the kid (Wentz) make that good of a play?” Klieman said.
The Bison for the most part did double reps, meaning when running offense vs. defense plays were able to do it on both ends of the field. It’s a system that needs depth and Klieman said he wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to do, but it was successful on Saturday. It gives the lower depth guys more practices reps instead of them standing on the sideline and watching. The double repping is something former head coach Craig Bohl said was a key to the team’s past success.
The best two leaders on the field today: Dudzik on defense and receiver Trevor Gebhart on offense.
Every position group has a veteran presence of some sort and Klieman said that’s important for leadership reasons, also. The one exception is the defensive tackle/noseguard group and Klieman said he’s stressed to two-year regular Brian Schaetz that he needs to be that guy.
If anybody on the offense wasn’t aware of how offensive coordinator Tim Polasek operates, they do now. “It’s about a fiery guy who has passion,” Klieman said.
Polasek on the execution of his offense today: “Sloppy. Good. Bad. Great. All of it. It’s just like you would expect, especially the way we practice with the double reaps and the 2s and 3s getting as many reps as the 1s.”
A few of last year’s seniors are helping out this spring: receiver Ryan Smith, cornerback Brendin Pierre and safety Bryan Shepherd. Linebacker Grant Olson is a student assistant coach. “That tells me the program means a lot to those guys,” Klieman said. “There are a lot of guys with a vested interest in this program who want to help. I told those guys that they are guys who have lived it, they have a lot to bring to the table and these kids will listen to them.”
Taylor Braun scored at least 30 points in four games this season and went over 20 points 11 times. The problem when a team keeps winning is eventually you’re going to run into some real serious stuff — like the defense of San Diego State. He was 2 of 14.
He wasn’t alone. The most striking statistic following the 63-44 loss to the Aztecs was the basics of basketball: shooting and scoring. NDSU came in leading the country in field goal percentage making 51 percent of its shots, but was just 15 of 47 for 32 percent. “San Diego State has done that to a lot of people,” said head coach Saul Phillips.
I can see why. Most of the roster lives in the 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-9 area code. The one that doesn’t, guard Xavier Thames, made life tough on NDSU guard Lawrence Alexander all night. L.A. couldn’t get to the hole against Thames like he did against Oklahoma on Thursday.
The Bison did well as a No. 12 seed to get to the third round. It was a first in the round of 64 for the Summit League since Valparaiso did it in 1998. There were many milestones and victorious moments for this team that counting them up will wait for another day.
For now, San Diego State is in the Sweet 16 because it threw a suffocating defense at NDSU, one the Bison couldn’t solve. Makes you wonder if they played 10 times, if the result would be similar at least eight or nine times. If you’re a mid-major program and you keep winning in postseason, something like the SDSU defense will eventually end your season.
Marshall Bjorklund, left, and Taylor Braun at the Friday NCAA press conference
It was the off day in the NCAA West Regional, a day when players and coaches talk about Thursday’s second round and look ahead to Saturday’s third round. A few notes and observations:
After San Diego State’s win over New Mexico State late Thursday, Fisher went into a sermon chiding the NCAA for immediately sending teams home on a charter plane. He came to the defense of NMSU on the fact the Aggies had to go back to the team’s hotel, pack its bags, and head to the airport, probably eventually getting home in the middle of the night if not around 5 a.m. “For the billions of dollars that we have here, for them not to find a way to accommodate these kids, I shouldn’t have to call the NCAA, and I did today, to say why? I am not a guy that looks for things to complain about, but this is not right.” Fisher was asked to explain further at his Friday press conference, but said he only wanted to talk about the NDSU game.
NDSU is making its tournament splash with viewer ratings up. Thursday’s NCAA coverage received a 6.0 viewer rating — the highest rating for a Thursday round of games in 23 years, according to a CBS release. It probably didn’t hurt there were four overtime games including NDSU’s win over Oklahoma.
It’s going to be a physical game with San Diego State, no doubt about it, said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. The Aztecs are second nationally in scoring defense giving up just 56.6 points per game and eighth in field goal percentage defense. The Bison, meanwhile, lead the country in field goal percentage and will think nothing of milking the shot clock to under 10 seconds before taking a shot.
Guard Xavier Thames makes San Diego State tick. The Mountain West Conference Player of the Year averaged 16.8 points and 3.2 assists while leading the conference in steals. “He tells us what to do,” said San Diego State forward J.J. O’Brien.
The San Diego State players were asked on more than one occasion about the under-the-radar status of NDSU. The Aztecs lost in this game last year to a similar program in Florida Gulf Coast and the players said they learned their lesson. “In my eyes, it’s like last year all over again,” said forward Winston Shepard. “So nobody in our locker room is taking them lightly.” Said O’Brien: “I think that’s been the theme of the tournament this year, is to not take people lightly because there have been so many upsets already. We have known they are a good team and we’re going to prepare for them like they’re the best team we have ever played.”
Phillips and Gene Taylor will be among the guests Saturday morning on Kolpack & Izzo 9-11 a.m. CST on WDAY-AM 970. Saul is scheduled for 10:35 a.m.
It’s becoming obvious Spokane in general is hopping on the Bison bandwagon. The owner of a restaurant we ate this noon — a former hockey player who once played against UND long ago — said his patrons have expressed as much. As the Oklahoma game wore on, Spokane Arena became more of a home game for NDSU. Fisher joked he hopes Michigan State fans will root for his team because his wife is a Spartan graduate and he and Tom Izzo are good buddies.
The ins and outs of what you need to know about the NDSU and Oklahoma matchup:
The Sooners like the perimeter shot and won’t hesitate to put up a 3-pointer at any second (they were 273 of 722 this year for 38 percent compared to NDSU’s 458 attempts). They’re similar in that regard to the University of Denver, which hit 15 against the Bison late in the regular season but only one in the Summit League tournament. This is a game that includes an Oklahoma team that was seventh in the country in scoring and an NDSU team that led the country in field goal percentage. So where will defense figure in? “The first team to figure out a way to get stops, that’s going to be very important,” said head coach Saul Phillips. “I know you look at their defensive stats, I think they’re skewed because I think they have played a lot better defense as the year has gone on.”
NDSU is considered the bigger physical team, although it didn’t look like it from the naked eye in the Wednesday practice sessions. Perhaps it’s because the Sooners have more guys in the 6-4 to 6-7 range than NDSU. The Bison have the better player at the center position and they will need a 65 to 70 percent shooting night from Marshall Bjorklund. They also need to keep the big guy out of foul trouble, something he’s been much better at in the last month of the season.
The most consistent player in NDSU’s Summit tourney two-game run was forward TrayVonn Wright. He was fabulous and the Bison will need him to drain at least two or three 3-pointers and contribute a couple game-changing dunks. On that note, the Bison also need a better performance from point guard Lawrence Alexander than what he provided in the Summit title game. Alexander on Wednesday compared Oklahoma’s offense to Notre Dame. “They spread you out, penetrate, try to get flat-footed 3s,” he said. “But I believe if we stick to our principles, play defense, we’ll be able to come out with a ‘W.’”
Taylor Braun grew up about 400 miles from Spokane in Newberg, Ore. He’ll have about 30 family and friends at the game. “It’s nice being back in the Northwest but I’m still far from home,” he said.
Phillips admitted in the NCAA press conference that his team was tight for the Summit League title game against IPFW. “I know this is going to sound silly to people in this room but when you’re a mid-major and you’re in a one-bid league, in a lot of ways the conference tournament presents more pressure than the next step,” he said. “Everybody wants to make the big dance. This is the big show. When you’re dealing with that and when you’re dealing with the singular goal of these guys for four or five years has been to make it here, yeah, I was feeling tight.”
Phillips was asked about ESPN’s Andy Katz tweeting that Phillips should be a candidate for the vacancy at Washington State, located just down the road from Spokane. Phillips said nobody has contacted him. “And you know what? I really like my boss and I really like my school and if I was thinking about anything other than this group of guys right now that would be about as selfish as you could get,” he said. “You got to understand we’re up in Fargo, man. I get on the inforum. But to see some national people talking about us, that’s fun. They’re just not talking about me, our team did this.”