Kolpack: Bring on the Missouri Valley Football Conference, thankfully

FARGO — At least Robert Morris University’s third trip to Fargo didn’t come without setting some sort of record. The Colonials had six kickoff returns. In the first quarter.
You won’t be able to find that in any record book, of course, but it reached the point that by the sixth time, NDSU kicker Cam Pedersen worked on his squib-kicking game by sending a low liner down the left side. That’s how this day went and after the 56-0 win over the Colonials, at least we can say this: The most unappealing home non-conference schedule since 2013 is over.
It was the most points Robert Morris has given up in its football history. At least the Trollwood Performing Arts School won’t be lining up next week at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. At least in 2013, when the Bison hosted Ferris State (Mich.) and Delaware State, there was ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the Delaware State event. Those two games ended 56-10 and 51-0 respectively.
It’s time for some Missouri Valley Football Conference play, with Missouri State coming to town next weekend. The problem, we all know, is hardly any non-conference opponent wants to come to Fargo.
About all you get can get these days is the occasional team that wants to benchmark its program. North Alabama, for instance, is starting a Division I transition and is making the trip to the dome next year to find out how far away, or how close it is, with the top tier of the FCS. The other home game is against the University of Delaware, which is a home-and-home agreement.
Say this about the Bison after three games: They look sharp. They look like a top two team in the FCS and they look ready for the Valley. And they did it with their top player, linebacker Nick DeLuca, missing two of the games.
“Conference games are a lot more intensified,” said running back Lance Dunn.
It’s hard to believe this was the same RMU program that led the Bison 7-6 at halftime in the first round of the Division I FCS  playoffs in 2010. NDSU came back in the second half and won that game 43-17.
The Colonials came in this year 2-1 with a respectable defense taking Youngstown into the fourth quarter down 16-0. But what can you do when your offense is so bad? One stretch in the first quarter was almost embarrassing for any offensive coordinator.
Leading 14-0, Bison safety Tre Dempsey — taking advantage of linebacker Dan Marlette’s blitzing pressure — easily returned Matthew Barr’s pass 23 yards for a touchdown. Marlette was hot. He stripped RMU running back TJ Neal on the first play after the ensuing kickoff and linebacker Jabril Cox recovered it at the 22-yard line.
“This week was a huge emphasis on building depth,” Marlette said. “The way we performed was a good thing. We can build from here.”
Three plays later, Bruce Anderson scored from the 1 and it was 28-0 with 5:55 still to play in the first quarter. The Mississippi Valley final was 72-7 and this was on pace for that, if not worse.
At that point, this game was all about avoiding injuries. It wasn’t perfect. Backup quarterback Cole Davis hurt his throwing shoulder diving into the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown run. Head coach Chris Klieman didn’t know the severity of the injury immediately after the game.
If all goes well, and starter Easton Stick doesn’t get hurt the next few weeks, it will be no big deal. But if Stick gets nicked up and Davis isn’t ready, production and experience at quarterback could take a hit.
Redshirt freshman Henry Van Dellen doesn’t look ready and the Bison had safety James Hendricks take the last few snaps against Robert Morris. Hendricks made the move to defense from quarterback last spring. Backup running back Ty Brooks missed the game with a lower leg injury that isn’t expected to be a huge deal.
Yet, if those are the most pressing scenarios facing this team, consider the 3-0 start a very good beginning.
“I like what I’m seeing, we’ve been able to play some guys all three games,” Klieman said.