In the thick of a red-hot 6-0 start for the Men’s Basketball team, the Bison Nation Blog will be hosting a live Q&A with the voice of the Oakland Golden Grizzlies on WXOU 88.3-Auburn Hills, Matt Pocket. Matt is an ardent fan of the conference and always comes to the table with good stuff, so bring your questions at 7 sharp and we can get cracking!
Happy Thanksgiving Bison fans! With the JMU-EKU game just a scant day away (and with it the knowledge of whom NDSU will host in the second round of the playoffs), here’s a quick breakdown of some factors in NDSU’s favor heading into the second season.
#1. The Bison take care of the football. There is exactly one team in the playoff field that is negative in the giveaway-takeaway category (UNH), highlighting the age-old trend of not winning football games if you cough the ball up. QB Jensen has been ultra-efficient this season and has thrown just two interceptions all year, though a potential third was called back on a roughing the passer penalty. Though Jensen’s accuracy (and thus production) took a bit of a dip in the last three games of the season due to a nagging turf toe injury, his statistically-worst game comes with a 50% completion mark, which still isn’t bad. He was able to bump his accuracy back up vs. WIU and with a week of rest, one has to think he’ll be able to better acclimate himself to his injury and get back to midseason form.
#2. The Bison can keep teams out of the endzone. Here’s one from the stat books: 48 TDs scored vs. 20 TDs allowed on the season in a conference that includes five teams in the top 51 scoring offenses in the nation. That, combined with a scoring defense allowing 14.91 points per game, is what has allowed the Bison to win eight of their ten games by double digits, and the one loss was by three points. With the Tampa-2 “bend but don’t break” scheme Defensive Coordinator Scott Hazelton runs, the Bison are allowing just three trips to the red zone per game, and opponents score just 75% of the time there – thus, the Bison know how to stiffen defensively.
#3. The Bison players and coaches have been here before. Coach Bohl is used to the view from the top from the 06-07 years and led this team to an improbable playoff run last year with a disciplined rushing attack and strong line play. This team is dominated by underclassmen who cut their teeth in the playoffs last season and who put their noses to the grindstone this year to replicate the success they had last season. One thing this coaching staff excels at is adjustments – take a look at the scoring by quarter across all eleven games this year:
SCORE BY QUARTERS 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Total -------------------- --- --- --- --- --- North Dakota State.. 55 132 111 70 - 368 Opponents........... 23 51 34 56 - 164
That indicates an ability to make offensive changes after the first quarter (when frequently we’ve found ourselves knocking on the door as the first quarter ticks out) and more so at halftime. The lone spot of concern is that the fourth quarter has been the proverbial “fertile ground” scoring-wise for opposing teams.
#4. Home advantage through to Frisco. Self explanatory. Even UNI coach Mark Farley attributed our win over the Panthers to the crowd, and with his distaste for NDSU, that seems high praise. Tickets are going and the Fargodome should be packed – since 2006, the Bison are 26-8 at home and the marketing team is gearing this fanbase up to get wild during the playoffs.
What else can we come up with, Bison fans? Who’s still stuffed from Thanksgiving?
The spectral presence of Jim Mora can finally be sated as we can indeed discuss playoffs now that the regular season is over and the Bison have emerged with the Missouri Valley Football Conference automatic bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs. Let’s chat WIU game and playoff scenarios.
First thing’s first – regardless of how the team finished the game, we got a solid two and a half quarters that saw 34 straight points on the road. Western Illinois has been pretty rough this season but they’ve had some notable stretches (see 4 passing TDs vs. SIU) and the intangible of a team’s last game of the season is always present (see Missouri State last season). The team basically figured they had the game cooked at halftime and got soft – come playoffs, when the team knows that every game could be its last, that can’t (and won’t, I think) happen.
Moving on, here’s what we know about the playoffs: NDSU will not play in the first round. The first-rounders are reserved for those teams that get autobids from the NEC, Big South, etc. versus the third and fourth teams from power conferences. As NDSU is neither, they are safe. We can also factor in a very probable home game as a 10-1 team from what may be the toughest conference in the FCS is extremely likely to get a seed, so let’s chalk that one up too.
What we can likely assume: NDSU will get a seed, and probably a top-3 one at that. Figure 10 D-I wins (second only to Sam Houston State’s 11), with one of those a double-digit victory over a BCS team plus a top finish in the GPI (unlikely to change with NDSU retaining #1 even after an unranked loss at home), and a #1 seed isn’t preposterous, if it is perhaps unlikely. Either way, in my unprofessional opinion a 3-seed can be safely assumed.
What we don’t know: who we’ll play after the bye. A lot of projections had Montana visiting following a play-in game, but with the Griz winning at Montana State they’re pretty likely to earn a seed, or at the very least a bye. Considering how the committee likes to factor in regionalization, hosting Illinois State or perhaps Montana State (assuming each wins a potential first round matchup, though a bye could be very possible for MSU) is certainly a possibility.
Ultimately? The team gets two weeks to rest and heal up following some very nerve-wracking injuries this week, particularly along the offensive line. Zach Vraa could return, and the team essentially has a week and a half to break down film on whomever we may play when the time comes.
Bask in the win, and we’ll break down the field after it comes out tomorrow at 9 a.m.
UPDATE: Here’s a great regionalization map provided by Appatk from anygivensaturday.com, giving one a rough idea of how the committee my pair up teams in the bracket. LINK
With the requisite apologies necessary after a period of inactivity, we’re here to mash on the hot 3-0 start of the NDSU Men’s Basketball team following a clean sweep of the San Francisco Hilltop Challenge that saw the men score double-digit wins over teams from the Big Sky, Sun Belt, and West Coast Conference (admittedly only an eight-point victory). Some very good wins in there, so let’s break it down.
First and foremost is the play of Lawrence Alexander, the dime-dropping point guard that came in from prep school and is in the books as a freshman this year. While “LA” may not fill the stat sheet night in and night out like he did versus San Fran (two assists and a rebound away from a triple-double in his first game as a Bison), he does so many little things that can make a good team great. This was the piece last year’s team missed and while the 2010-11 team never wanted for athleticism, injecting LA and Dylan Hale into the mix has already drastically re-made this team into a dangerously-capable bunch.
Hale adds a penetrating ability to his ability to shoot from deep, and while he went cold a few times over the course of the tournament, a pair of bigtime threes in clutch time kept the Bison in the game versus San Francisco when the latter threatened to overtake the young team as they entered a bit of a drought in the second half.
The game tonight is a big one – the Horizon League’s Wisconsin-Green Bay, which features a former Bison recruit in 7’1 Minnesota product Alec Brown. The Phoenix are 1-1 on the season following a 40-point win over the University of Mary and an 18-point road loss at Duquesne, and so far Brown leads the team in both scoring (16.0) and rebounds (10.5). With the difficulty Bjorklund and Aaberg had defending USF’s Perris Blackwell, who finished the night with 23 points and 8 boards, it’s tough to gauge what the gameplan will be for slowing down Brown tonight.
With the team 3-0 and the game broadcast on Fox Sports, it’s certainly a big night for Bison hoops! The Bison Nation Blog will also have a game breakdown of the football team’s regular-season finale at Western Illinois later this week.
It’s Week Ten and the MVFC is a total dogfight for places 2-5, and #1 isn’t as solid a lock as it could be, either, as the Bison head on the road this week to take on a feisty Indiana State team that features one of the nation’s elite rushers and an offense around him that can score in a hurry.
The big threat on Saturday, RB Shakir Bell (whose 1,310 yards are near the top of the FCS), gets a lot more dangerous as the Bison defensive front is pretty banged up. Fr. DE Kyle Emanuel won’t be traveling with the team after having some work done on his knee but should be good for Youngstown State the week after, while So. DT Leevon Perry is traveling and likely starting but has had a similar knee issue. From the sound of it, the offensive line was doing work all week on the scout team (which wasn’t the case pre-UNI), so whether that’s an indication of what’s missing from some of the starters or that Austin Richard and company are zoned in is tough to say. Either way, it’s gut-check time for this team’s depth on the defensive front and critics of Coach Bohl will be paying attention to how some of the second-stringers do when thrust into a starting or significant-contribution-type role.
Reports are in that Brock Jensen and Esley Thorton have been splitting snaps at starting QB this week, and while Jensen is slated to make the start it sounds like the coaches are approaching his aggravated turf toe seriously. From the sound of it, Jensen will get a shot of cortisone (pain-dulling agent, in the image of his model Brett Favre) on gameday which should leave him good to go for the game, but one has to nervous about the prospects for the future with how debilitating turf toe can be. Per an in-the-know athletic trainer that has connections with the team, turf toe is essentially an inflammation of the tendons of a toe that feels similar to a sprained joint of the hand, but the fact that weight is put on it obviously makes it a more significantly-felt injury. Jensen has been no stranger to injury and is a tough guy, but the hope has to be that the team can establish a lead early enough that backup Thorton could take the helm at some point with enough of a cushion to run the ball out. Total speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Thorton trot out to start the second half if the team has a two-possession lead and the running game is getting traction.
Defensively, the Sycamores don’t do much beyond the production of defensive end/bearcat Ben Obaseki, who has 6.5 sacks thus far on the season. The Sycamores are giving up 223 yards through the air per game, so one can imagine that while Jensen is in he should continue his stellar performance and move the team along fairly well. Indiana State likes to do a lot of what we’ve seen the Bison do this year on the defensive front, feigning engaging a block then letting off to draw the offensive line out for a blitzing linebacker or defensive back, so the task is really on the offensive line to 1.) control Obaseki and 2.) keep their wits about them and establish a good wall for the running game to go through to take pressure off of Jensen.
Haven’t talked about my MVFC man-crush Ronnie Fouch yet. Fouch had probably the single best passing performance against the team last season (not counting Bo Levi Mitchell’s game-tying drive in the Eastern Washington game) as he racked up 330 yards against a pretty gnarly Bison defense last season, and in my humble opinion, our pass rush still isn’t what it used to be sans Gratzek. A lot of what caused Fouch to falter in the second half of last season’s game sprung from an opportunistic pick-six by Bison safety Daniel Eaves, and from there the defensive line seemed to pin their ears back and get after Fouch enough to rattle him. Fouch’s production has been down this year, but he has found a few good targets in stud tight end Alex Jones, who caught an 80-yard bomb pass and took it to the house versus Illinois State a few weeks ago. The Bison have had difficulty with tight ends lately, so this is one area where the linebackers will need to be better in pass protection – a move that should suit freshman linebacker Travis Beck pretty well since being named starter.
Game time is at 1:00 p.m. CST and is on ESPN 3! Woot! Who’s got predictions?
The Bison emerge into Week 10 with one of just two spotless records in the Football Championship Subdivision, the other belonging to Sam Houston State, and the team is rolling after a statement victory over the formerly second-ranked UNI Panthers. Let’s break it down.
The play of the offense in Saturday’s game and throughout the season continues to leave me impressed, sans the SIU and Ill. St. games where the offense put up a combined 29 points in that two -week span. Brock Jensen has been the key to it all as his completion rate continues to skyrocket, now at a stellar 75% following a 22/25 mark against a very capable UNI defense. While Jensen has made some unbelievable reads this season (thinking back to the TD pass to Veldman vs. SIU where the ball split 4 defenders perfectly to fall into the waiting hands of a 6’7″ TE), a lot of credit has to go to the receivers for polishing up last season’s epidemic of stone hands that led to a lot of dropped passes. One has to wonder what kind of impact second-year receivers’ coach Kenni Burns (formerly TE coach at SIU) has had on this and what kind of adjustments to the gameplan Head Coach Craig Bohl and Offensive Coordinator Brent Vigen made to compensate for what’s been something of a recurring problem the last few years. Ryan Smith has been huge and continues to show probably the best hands on the field right now.
Big shoutout goes to the offensive line. They’ve gotten some flak after a down week at Southern Illinois and gave up four sacks to SDSU two weeks ago, but what a performance by Austin Richard and the rest of the Rams against one of the better D-lines in the nation. Panther DT Ben Boothby registered a whopping 5 total tackles, a big victory for the offense against a guy who was projected as a front-runner for the Buck Buchanan Award as one of the nation’s top defenders. Due credit to UNI linebacker LJ Fort, who registered 15 total tackles and a PBU in the game. Guy is a beast.
Stat of the Game: 53
A UNI team averaging 194 rush yards per game behind the speedy QB Tirrell Rennie earned just 53 yards on the ground Saturday due to a dominant performance by the Bison offensive line. Going in, coaches had to be game-planning on how to stop Rennie and despite scoring just two sacks on the day, the team hit the quarterback a total of seven times, a constant pressure on the senior that doubtless coaxed him into throwing rather erratically as the game went on.
It was over when: NDSU senior safety John Pike, filling in for an injured Colton Heagle, notched his second interception of the day with under two minutes to go on a rainbow pass that sealed the game. Pike had earlier made an acrobatic pick of Rennie, the first time this season that the elusive passer had been intercepted, and registered as his second and third picks of the season. T
The defense played spectacularly all game, slowing down the running game to the point where the Panthers needed to pass. Granted, they scored a few big plays including a wide-open man over the middle that somehow lost his footing around the 40-yard line and would otherwise have been long gone for a score, but forcing Rennie to throw 30 times is how the Panthers are beaten with a good secondary. Tip of the cap goes to Travis Beck, making just his second start as linebacker and stripping the ball loose at the 3 to be picked up by a hustling Kyle Emanuel whereupon it was run in for the score. Big momentum play and locked the confidence on the side of the Bison for the remainder of the game, and you love to see a pair of underclassmen making a play like that.
So what does the win do? Fore mostly, it guarantees the playoffs with NDSU’s 8th win and almost locks in a seed, if not a top-three one. With a victory over a top-5 team and BCS opponent in Minnesota (which looks good on a resume to the committee no matter how awful the Gophers are), Bison fans can just about chalk at least a home game in the second round (the one after the play-in round, not sure what that’s called in different circles) and potential second one, too, with a fourth-round game being hosted on ESPN. Coach Bohl was quick to give kudos to the fans on their atmosphere for the game, as well.
The Bison are in the driver’s seat, and barring a collapse of epic proportions appear to be on the way to their first MVFC championship. What’s the story, Bison fans?
The Bison are 7-0 and with the team’s first victory in Brookings since 1999 the momentum is all ours heading into what I’ve been saying since Week 3 is the biggest game of the season. Northern Iowa comes to town and you’ll hear about it all week from me, but first let’s re-cap the win from this past Saturday.
We’re getting to the point of almost being desensitized to the fantastic play by QB Brock Jensen. Despite not throwing a touchdown pass, Jensen 20/25 on the day and had a pair of rushing scores. The sophomore who threw for 45% last season is flat out winning us games and is the first time we’ve had what could be called a weapon at quarterback since Walker, and that’s the single biggest difference that has this team undefeated despite being nearly identical to last year’s 7-4 team in terms of personnel. Particularly with the rushing game still trying to find its groove, Jensen’s play has been the highlight of the offense and that he’s making great connections with Holloway and Smith says a lot about what this team can do in the next four games.
Speaking of the offense, here’s a wacky stat – the Bison rank 72nd in the FCS in offensive yards per game, but rank 7th in scoring offense nationally. That spells efficiency and a lack of mistakes in the red zone.
Ryan Smith’s first collegiate touchdown was a dandy as he returned a punt 41 yards late in the game to help seal a 17-7 lead that looked shaky at times. Some fans postulate that Smith stepped out of bounds at the 4, but regardless of the touchdown his play on special teams has been electric and he’s helped set the team up with great field position all year. Voigtlander burying the Jacks at the 3 was a gem and he’s stepped up the consistency since having to punt nine times versus Southern Illinois. Still waiting to see him potentially fake on and house it as he splits the return team.
What’s pretty intriguing is to take a gander at the scoring by quarter so far this season:
SCORE BY QUARTERS 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Total -------------------- --- --- --- --- --- North Dakota State.. 24 87 85 57 - 253 Opponents........... 14 20 17 30 - 81
Note the 2nd and 3rd quarter scores – a total of 172-37 with those coming presumably from adjustments made after the first quarter and halftime, respectively. That’s symbolic of some pretty good coaching, though a few times the team has scored after driving the field near the end of the first then punched it in at the start of the 2nd quarter. Either way, some pretty impressive numbers. A little perturbed that the Bison gave up four sacks this weekend, and UNI is going to watch that game tape with hungry eyes as they’ll doubtless try to harass Jensen into making mistakes a la Mohler last season in Cedar Falls.
The Bison defense looked solid as a unit once again, though as Dom Izzo noted on the Bison Media Blog, teams are starting to wise up and pick on Dudzik as Williams takes away half the field. Former SDSU basketball player Dale Moss looked like a treat at WR and had a nice catch off a tip that went for big yards, and finished the day with 7 receptions for 111 yards. While teams are going to study the game film and pick on the weaker of two sides of the field, it’s a pretty good situation that our #1 guy can take someone almost completely out of the game (Williams has held his matchup to 3 catches or less in all four conference games, those being Sanders, Pruitt, Saffold, and Rollins). With Eaves phasing back in and making plays one can presume that the pass defense should get a bit better heading into a UNI team that’s passing surprisingly well on the season (QB Rennie has 10 TDs and 0 INTs on the year).
All in all it was a great day for football and the Bison are ranked 4 or higher in every poll that’s been released today. What’s the scoop, Bison fans?
The Bison Sports Blog will host a live chat on the 6-0 Bison Football team on Wednesday (October 19th) at 7:00 p.m. CST. Return here then to take part!
After consecutive weeks of the offense struggling after showing some refined execution in three out-of-conference games, the football team needed a statement game to get back in the swing of things. One in-the-know Bison fan answered this with “The swagger is back” before the game and the offense proved it true with a 51-point outburst earlier tonight. Some thoughts on the game…
Is there anything Marcus Williams can’t do? He’s had game-changing plays every week since Minnesota and while he didn’t register an interception for the first time since Week 3, he had a momentum-locking kickoff return for a TD that basically sealed the game in NDSU’s favor. Coming out of the gates with a big play like that is the mark of a real player, and the fact that Marcus continues to grab the spotlight has to make fans lucky to think we’ve got this guy for two more years.
Brock Jensen is a game-winning quarterback. For the past few years Bison fans have looked at the quarterback position as a liability, fearful of going to the air and content to rely on historically-strong rushing attacks, but so far this season Jensen has shown that he is a guy fans can put their faith into and who can drive this football team to victory. His line of 19/23 (and breaking NDSU’s consecutive completions record in the meantime) is very impressive. Often he was willing to overlook the deep man to dump it of underneath to speedy receivers who picked up 5 or 6 yards, and that’s how you move a team down the field. Crazy to think of what he can do with Zach Vraa rumored to be returning in time for UNI on the 29th. Isn’t it great to have a QB we can be proud of?
Defense has me a little torn. On one hand I love the three takeaways (leaving NDSU at an impressive +11 on the season) and the fact that Marcus Williams just shuts down one end of the field (Saffold was held to 3 catches for 37 yards while averaging about 90 a game leading into tonight), but while MSU’s QB has looked pretty sharp all year with a 63% completion percentage, the fact that a converted WR was able to gash the defense so often (for a total of 222 yards on 18/25 completion) makes one wonder how much the rest of the secondary can handle the added pressure of getting a QB’s first looks. Big test for them next week as SDSU QB Austin Sumner is looking like the real deal with three consecutive 300-yard games after tonight at Northern Iowa, though the Panthers were able to snag 4 INTs off the freshman.
Ryan Smith continues to be a difference-maker for this offense. He’s applied the cutting ability he’s shown on kickoffs and runs to his route-running and is open consistently, able to take the easy underneath passes for bigger yardage that’s kept this offense moving. The non-catch at the goal line in the third was a heartbreaker as it looked caught, and he’s the team’s second leading receiver with 18 catches but not a touchdown to his name yet. It’s going to be cool when he’s able to cash one in.
The Bison offense was 5-9 tonight after going 3-15 last week at Southern Illinois. The Bison did a little switchery on the offensive line and while part of their success tonight had to do with a very sub-par MSU defensive front, they looked much improved from their last two games, and Coach Bohl was quick to give them the requisite praise in the locker room after the game. Very awesome to see them have a good bounce-back game and the rushing game benefited because of it (over 4 YPC!).
Your team is 6-0, Bison fans! What’s the story?
With a hard-fought victory over Southern Illinois on Saturday, the Bison find themselves in un-pioneered territory heading into Week 7 (holy smokes, it’s already Week 7!) with a 2-0 record in the Valley. After this weekend, three teams have started to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, those being Northern Iowa, Indiana State, and NDSU. Indiana State was dealt a huge blow losing to UNI in fairly convincing fashion on Saturday, and with NDSU facing the likely 8th and 9th-place teams in the next two weeks, we could be looking at an undefeated record heading into the Oct. 29th match up against the Panthers. Some machinations on where the team could be as follows.
It probably goes without saying, but we could have the single best defense in the FCS. The run defense is still coming along and I’m still not sold that our pass rush is where we’d like it to be, but the night-and-day difference of our secondary play between now and two years ago, particularly with the injection of Marcus Williams and Colton Heagle, is astounding. Williams could very well be the next draft pick if he continues to perform at the level he’s playing at, with 4 INTs over the past 3 games, all of which were huge momentum-changers. The rest of the defense is making plays when needed, particularly Chad Willson, who was named D-POTW for the MVFC for 10 total tackles (including the big 1st-quarter fourth down stop at the goal line) and the game-icing interception.
The offense has regressed, which is a little disturbing. Jensen didn’t look all that sharp for the first two and a half quarters Saturday despite finishing 13/23 on the day, continuing his superb improvement over last season’s passing stats. The TD strike to Matt Veldman in the back of the endzone might be his best collegiate pass yet, as it split four Saluki defenders and put it just where his guy could catch it. It says two things about the offense, the first being Jensen’s now-obvious improvement as a passer, but secondly it goes to show the kind of weapon a 6-7 TE who’s got ups can be. It really is a wonder our passing game hasn’t done even better with a guy like him stretching the field, though the fact that he’s had some sick catches this season already might be proof contrary.
Voigtlander had his best game of the season as a punter, taking some pressure off the defense by burying a few deep late and averaging 43 yards per punt on the day. Particularly when the team was backed up inside their own 10 for what felt like the entire first half, that he came out and delivered a performance like that was huge and a lot of the credit for the win should go to him for that saving grace.
Elsewhere in the MVFC, check out the line from now-starting QB Austin Sumner of South Dakota State, who took over for Tom O’Brien (or TOB, as he’s known in the business) when the latter quit the team just a few weeks ago: the former high school phenomenon threw for 345 yards on 22/35 passing for 4 TDs and 1 INT. That’s a redshirt freshman, people. Granted, YSU’s defense hasn’t been exactly sterling this season, and I’m still not sold on how well those 50 new players are working out for the ‘Guins, but what that tells me is that the game at SDSU right before UNI comes to Fargo just got a whole lot tougher. Add to that another 3-4 defense in Missouri State next week and the Bison truly don’t have the luxury of looking past anyone right now.
At any rate, the team is 5-0 and in the driver’s seat. What’s the story, Bison fans?