Entz-led Bison are unblemished heading into conference play
By Eric Peterson
Forum News Service
FARGO — It was an August and September to remember for North Dakota State head football coach Matt Entz as he learned his new job position the fly.
After Saturday’s victory against No. 4-ranked California Davis, the Bison are one third of the way through their Division I FCS regular season in Entz’s first year as head coach.
The former NDSU defensive coordinator and his team have passed every test to this point, heading into a bye week. The No. 1-ranked Bison (4-0) have won 25 consecutive games, dating back to the 2017 season, as they ready for their Missouri Valley Football Conference opener in a couple weeks.
“I’m still waiting for that owner’s manual for the head coaching chair somewhere,” Entz said Monday during his weekly press conference. “No one gave me any directions on how to do it.”
The Bison next play at noon Saturday, Oct. 5, at No. 14-ranked Illinois State in Normal, Ill. NDSU has eight games to play in the regular season, all against conference opponents.
“I’m really pleased with how the staff has come together already,” said Entz, who took over as head coach from Chris Klieman this past offseason.
Entz was the team’s defensive coordinator for five seasons before he was elevated to head coach. David Braun, who came from Northern Iowa, took over the defensive coordinator role for the Bison this season. Tyler Roehl, who has been on staff since 2014, was elevated to offensive coordinator. Those were a couple of the key coaching changes in the offseason for the two-time defending FCS national champions.
“I’m learning too,” Entz said of being a head coach. “They (his coaching staff) hold me accountable as well. I’m trying to do the best job I can.”
The Bison are averaging 42.2 points and 469.2 yards per game through four games with redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lance running the offense. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Lance has completed 72% (52-for-72) of his passes 698 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions.
Lance has also rushed for 282 yards and six touchdowns on 40 attempts, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
“We have a quarterback who has an undeniable desire to be the best,” Entz said. “He’s going to do everything he can to put himself into that category.”
In NDSU’s 27-16 victory against Cal Davis, Lance wasn’t as accurate as he was in the first three games. He completed 13 of 23 passes for 156 yards with no touchdowns. Lance rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts, including the game-clinching score late in the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t as accurate as we’ve been over the first three games so that’s something I think we can continue to improve on,” Entz said. “We had some drops that were untimely and uncharacteristic of our football team up to this point.”
The Bison lost 24 seniors, including quarterback Easton Stick, off of last year’s team that went undefeated on the way to an FCS national championship. Entz is pleased with the way the team has played through four games with new faces at a variety of key positions.
After opening the season against Butler University, the Bison played at home against the University of North Dakota, then at Delaware before last Saturday’s game against Cal Davis. UND is entering the MVFC next season, while Delaware plays in the perennially strong Colonial Athletic Association. Cal Davis is expected to contend for a Big Sky Conference championship this season.
“To have the quality of nonconference schedule that we had, I think helped our team move along maybe quicker if you didn’t play that high a caliber of opponents,” Entz said.
Illinois State (3-1) is also off the a strong start. The Redbirds’ lone setback this season was a 24-10 loss on the road at Northern Illinois, which is an FBS team. Illinois State also has a bye this week. Entz said the Brock Spack-led Redbirds should provide another tough test for the Bison to open the conference season.
“Brock Spack teams always play hard,” Entz said. “They’re going to be well-coached defensively. We’re going to have to work our tails off to be able to run the football.”