NDSU prepares for a different level of speed at Eastern Washington

FARGO — It could be the equivalent of driving a 1970s Pinto station wagon with the wood paneling on the side, hopping in a time machine and finding yourself with the keys to a 2017 Aston Martin.

The difference in speed North Dakota State will see from opening day last Saturday to a date with a Division I FCS power this week will probably be striking.

And make no mistake, the Bison are preparing for it.

NDSU defensive coordinator Matt Entz said it will be “180 degrees different.” Defensive line coach Nick Goeser said the difference will be “night and day.” When the starting gun sounds to the Bison and Eastern Washington University at EWU’s Roos Field, NDSU better have its quick thinking caps on.

“They’re explosive,” said Bison linebacker Nick DeLuca. “They like to spread the ball out, have a fast-paced offense and one of the big things we have to do is slow them down as much as we can.”

NDSU had trouble in that area last year in its 50-44 win over Eastern at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Quarterback Gage Gubrud completed 26 of 40 passes for 450 yards, ran for 49 more and Eastern accumulated 556 yards of total offense. Gubrud is back for his senior year.

Mississippi Valley State didn’t have a receiver open all day in NDSU’s 72-7 win last week. That could change in Game 2 with the Eagles, who historically have gotten open on everybody over the last several years.

That doesn’t take into account the pace of the Eastern offense, either. It’s a no-huddle, spread-it-out, let’s-go-now attack.

“What’s different about this team is the unbelievable skill players that they have,” Goeser said. “Their running backs, receivers and quarterback. Their skill players are going to be at a whole different level.”
Preparing for that different level is a challenge this week from a personnel standpoint alone. NDSU tends to recruit more tight ends and fullbacks than most teams, so it’s not like the Bison have five redshirt freshmen scout team receivers hanging around. A couple of freshmen tight ends are playing the part of Eagles receivers this week.

“We’re using all hands on deck when we’re trying to emulate some of their personnel, spread sets and just them going fast,” Entz said. “We have to get our scout team ramped up for it.”

And once the bell sounds on Saturday, the Bison coaches will also have to think fast — especially when it comes to substituting players. It will require split-second thinking, Entz said.

The Eagles’ use no-huddle offense means the Bison will have to pick their spots rotating players. For instance, if the Eastern offense changes personnel, NCAA rules allow the Bison to do the same thing.

“So if it means all four defensive linemen are coming in, we should take that opportunity whenever we can,” Entz said.

But if the Eagles don’t sub players, NDSU will have to take advantage of incomplete passes, any stoppage of the clock or if the ball is on the hash mark close to the Bison sideline.

“Maybe there you can slide a guy in and out quick,” Entz said. “We have to be on top of our game.”