I’m not going to need the Father of Football to dissect the key to this game: rushing the football. That’s it.
Specifically for NDSU, stopping the Grizzlies’ running game is probably priority A and there’s no need to look further than the Montana stats this season. Wyoming shut the Griz down to just 42 yards rushing forcing quarterback Jordan Johnson to the air. He completed 24 of 45 for 185 yards and the Cowboys took a 17-12 win.
Last week, the Griz ground game got going against South Dakota to the tune of over 200 yards. It meant Johnson only had to attempt 27 passes with 16 completions. Statistically anyway, it’s apparent that Johnson’s comfort zone in the passing department does not match that of Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams, who would think nothing of putting up 50 attempts per game. Johnson’s game is all about controlling the offense and putting his guys in the right spots. It’s called balance.
If it sounds familiar to NDSU fans, it should. It’s what Brock Jensen did so well, especially his last couple of years. Jensen’s passing stats weren’t eye popping, but the almighty statistic of games won was. So if Johnson needs 25 passing attempts or less, it could be a good day for the Grizzlies. If he’s winging it 40 to 50 times, it could be a good day for the Bison.
Complaints have been somewhat common since the 2013 FCS playoff field was announced last November that the Missouri Valley didn’t get more than two teams in the 24-team field. In response, commissioner Patty Viverito put the following challenge to her league teams: play the competition and beat the competition.
She’s 100 percent right. Although perhaps not the marquee matchups, the Valley is 8-0 this year against other FCS teams including 2-0 against the Big Sky Conference and Ohio Valley and 1-0 against the Southland. On Saturday, there are three more games with the Big Sky: UND at Missouri State, South Dakota at Montana and South Dakota State at Southern Utah. NDSU hosts Incarnate Word of the Southland but the reclassifying Cardinals don’t hold lot of weight yet in the FCS. There are two Valley vs. Ohio Valley matchups: Illinois State hosting Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois hosting Southeast Missouri State.
Last year, the Missouri Valley was 5-6 in non-conference play against teams ranked in the top 25. So far, it is 1-0 with SIU beating Eastern last week.
It’s an easy statement to make: if the Missouri Valley expects more than two teams in the playoffs when the field is announced this November, it needs to maintain the early-season pace.
“I don’t care what they say, there’s some subjectivity involved in that whole thing,” SDSU head coach John Stigegelmeier said of the selection process. “We as a league can clear it up by continuing to win against the Big Sky or the Ohio Valley or whoever.”
A lot has been made, and deservedly so, of NDSU’s 25-game winning streak, which broke an FCS record last week previously held by Penn from 1992-95 and Montana from 2001-02. It’s the longest active Division I streak in the country topping Florida State’s 17 in a row.
As impressive as that is, I think NDSU’s consecutive win streak on the road is better. The last loss away from the Fargodome was the 2010 quarterfinals when Eastern Washington took a 38-31 overtime win. Since then, the Bison have won 19 away from Fargo including 15 true road games (not counting the three Frisco games and the neutral-site game vs. South Dakota in Sioux Falls).
Maybe this has been done, but if I’m another school, I want to know every minute of what NDSU does on its road routine. For starters, the Bison never go to an opponent’s stadium on Friday for a walkthrough practice, instead doing that in Fargo on Friday afternoon and hopping on a plane. In essence, the Bison simplify it as best they can: just get to the hotel, eat, have meetings, get up and play a game.
Craig Bohl started the no-opposing-Friday-stadium thing by accident in 2003 when the Bison charter to the University of Montana got diverted because of smoke from forest fires. NDSU arrived un Missoula late, got up and pulled off a shocker. So Bohl stayed with it. Last week, Chris Klieman in his first game as head coach kept to the same routine. Of the 19 straight away from home, four have come against FBS teams so it’s not as if every game has been a William Penn. They’ve done it against higher-level teams and in every stadium in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Now that’s impressive.
Of all the Bison position groups, the offensive line will be the most untested when NDSU travels to Iowa State in two weeks. There is only one returning starter, Joe Haeg, and he’s moving from right tackle to left tackle.
Tackle Billy Turner and guard Tyler Gimmestad graduated. Center Josh Colville had a career-ending knee ailment. Guard Zack Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury. We have a story going on Jeremy Kelly for Sunday’s newspaper and the transfer may play a key role this season.
“We’re going to put the best two on the right side out there, the best two on the left side out there and the best center out there,” Kelly said. “We have only one returning starter and he’s not returning at the same position so there is a lot of competition out there. We’re rotating a lot of guys at a lot of different positions to see where everything fits.”
Kelly is not your ordinary Division II transfer from Minnesota-Crookston. He accepted a scholarship at Air Force after a first team all-state season in Somerset, Wis. NDSU offered 95 percent of a full ride. Kelly did not get through basic training and when he left Air Force before the season began, the other scholarship offers that were once there were no longer. Crookston offered 40 percent of a full ride and he took it. After two miserable seasons in Crookston, he transferred to NDSU, walking on, and redshirted last year.
Of note, it’s interesting how weights get distorted with different publications. The Crookston roster listed him at 280 pounds; he said he was 262 when he transferred to NDSU. Out of high school, he was listed anywhere from 6-7, 230 to 6-6 and 245. On Friday, he said he’s 6-6 and 290 and looks the part of a Division I offensive lineman.
Minor injuries to veteran Bison wide receivers are giving two true freshmen an even better chance of playing right away this season. Head coach Chris Klieman said R.J. Urzendowski and Khayvon Hawkins have positioned themselves to have their redshirt pulled. That decision is probably at least a week away – certainly it will wait until after an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday. At the least, they’ve gotten more practice repetitions with the returning regulars because of injuries to Zach Vraa, Trevor Gebhart and Nate Moody.
All three are expected back within a week. Vraa is being held out as a precautionary measure because of possible concussion symptoms and Gebhart and Moody have minor leg ailments. “We made a conscious decision as a staff and said, OK, let’s force feed them,” Klieman said. “Let’s force feed R.J., let’s force feed Khayvon and they’ve really responded.”
Urzendowski is from Omaha and Hawkins is from Crystal, Minn. Another true freshman on defense is also responding in cornerback Jalen Allison, who has been seeing time with the No. 1 defense in passing situations. “He’ll be able to potentially help us on some things,” Klieman said. “The rest of the week will be really important for those guys including the scrimmage on Saturday to see if they can do it under fire.”
The scrimmage at the Fargodome will be closed to the public and media. Klieman also noted true freshman quarterback Easton Stick has shown he’ll be in the competitive mix as a backup. Junior Carson Wentz is the starter with sophomore Derek McGinnis and redshirt freshman Cole Davis competing for the backup job. Redshirt freshman offensive guard Austin Kuhnert has positioned himself for a spot in the rotation as has junior offensive tackle Jeremy Kelly, who’s currently sidelined with a back ailment but is expected back soon.
The latest list of applicants for the NDSU athletic director position. The University only released names, so latest position is a result of a quick web search and cannot be confirmed with 100 percent certainty. More on the timeline and search committee duties in Tuesday’s Forum.
Rick Hartzell, former athletic director, Northern Iowa
Craig Angelos, senior associate athletic director, South Florida
Christopher Rogers, associate athletic director, South Carolina
Jeff Tingey, athletic director, Idaho State
Eric Buskirk, senior associate athletic director, UC Riverside
Daron Montgomery, athletic director, Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Kevin Buisman, athletic director, Minnesota State Mankato
Tim Mooney, associate athletic director, Idaho
David Crum, senior associate athletic director, Colorado State
Alex Kringen, senior director of development, Kansas State
Steve Becvar, associate athletic director, University of San Diego
Sean Johnson, athletic director Angelo State (Texas)
Stephen Watson, athletic director, St. Bonaventure
Jack Maughan, senior associate athletic director, NDSU
WINNIPEG — Ryan Smith played in mostly OK football stadiums in his NDSU football career. The tour of FCS facilities were similar in stature and cost, although there were a couple of the really cool kind in the FBS stadiums at Kansas State and Minnesota.
The one he played in last night as a member of the Sasketchewan Roughriders, Investors Group Field on the University of Manitoba campus, is exceptional. So if NDSU were to think about going FBS in the future and to do that it would need a new stadium, the 33,000-seat Winnipeg facility would be a good model to follow. Here’s the sticking point: it was $210 million and it’s not a domed stadium.
So, in today’s dollars with a stadium with a roof (and you need a roof in Fargo, N.D. or your October and November games will not draw well), you’re talking lots and lots of millions of dollars. It took NDSU a decade to raise over $30 million for the BSA renovation project. Unless some Engelstad-type character comes forward, you’re in need of going to the voters of Fargo to fund — what? 250 million to 300 million? — and with a super majority needed, there is just no way approval is in the cards there. Raising the roof and adding a second level, according to a dome official I talked with, would be about the same as a new a stadium plus you have to shut down the facility for at least two years.
The Winnipeg stadium has a great sound system, excellent concessions, very nice suites and quality building materials. The fans clearly enjoy their new digs. They are new digs that I just don’t see happening in Fargo, and therefore, I just don’t see FBS happening here for a long, long time. I’d like to hear from you how it could. I’m all ears on this one. I suppose at 19,000 seats you could triple the price, but not sure fans would go for that, especially if the team goes 6-5 in the Mountain West. Oh, there’s another, small, minor issue: finding a conference.
I was for Division I from the outset and I’m all for looking ahead and moving up and taking risks, but I’m just not sure how this FBS thing could happen.