Bison offense looking to rebound from Illinois State performance
FARGO — Sixty minutes of Division I FCS playoff football. And no touchdowns. That’s what the North Dakota State offense took away from last weekend’s 9-3 victory over Illinois State and it’s something that didn’t go unnoticed this week as the Bison prepared for Saturday’s semifinal clash with Montana State in the Fargodome.
Most of the credit was given to the Redbirds for a blitzing scheme that appeared to confuse the Bison.
“I think we have to focus more on preparing schematically during the week,” said Bison left tackle Dillon Radunz.
That was probably in reference to an anticipation that the Bobcats will do the same thing against the Bison at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Radunz called the ISU blitz package “double smoke off the edges.”
“We had schematically prepared for it but it was almost the luck of the draw,” Radunz said. “They prepared well and did really well so give their defense credit. Every single play we ran, they knew how to counter it and we have to perform better.”
Radunz said Missouri State threw a similar scheme at the Bison, a game in which the NDSU offense was OK at best in a 22-0 win in mid-October.
“We have to run the ball better and pick up these blitzes better,” Radunz said. “Hopefully this week we’ll learn how to do that and have a better game plan on Saturday.”
The Bison twice got inside the ISU 10-yard line only to settle for field goals.
“We know we have to be better but at the same time we have to forget about the last game,” said Bison running back Ty Brooks. “It’s frustrating when you can’t score, especially with the playmakers we have on the field. But hats off to Illinois State, they did a good job of playing us, scheming us up and attacking us with the right stuff at the right time.”
Part of the remedy for the Bobcats is to learn from what Illinois State did, Brooks said. But also don’t lament on the game and move forward.
“You don’t want to think about it too much,” Brooks said. “Sunday was the last day I thought about it. I don’t know what (MSU) is going to do, but we’ll be ready.”
MSU coach: Dome experience a plus
It will be the second straight year Montana State will travel to the Fargodome and Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate thinks that could help his team. There was plenty to learn from after the Bison stuck a 52-10 loss on MSU in last year’s FCS second round.
“I think it really matters because it’s a unique environment,” Choate said. “It’s loud, very packed. It’s different and having been there does help. We’ve been there when it’s loud and rowdy and I think that helps. I don’t think it’s one of those things where we’ll be intimidated; we’ve been there and seen it. We didn’t compete well but it helps to have a chance to have seen it.”
Unlike last year, MSU will not do a walk-through practice Friday at the dome. Instead, the Bobcats will take their customary day off on Thursday, practice on Friday in Bozeman and fly to Fargo.
“We’re not going to go to the venue because we’ve been there,” Choate said earlier this week. “We’ll do everything here and go compete.”
Choate said he’s not a fan of “revenge” being a motivator, mainly because the game last year was, well, last year.
“You’re not the team you were yesterday let alone a year ago,” Choate said. “It doesn’t matter for them and it doesn’t matter for us. We have to avoid the PTSD from our traumatic experience at the Fargodome but our guys have played a ton of football since then and played to a higher degree. We’re more competitive and we’re more well rounded. What happened last year, you can throw it out the window.”
message for fans
It appeared NDSU put some extra marketing effort into the semifinal game this week. That included getting former Bison quarterback Carson Wentz into the mix, although it’s not certain if Wentz or his sponsor Scheels initiated the effort. Whatever the case, Wentz posted a video on his personal Twitter account this week.
“Hey everyone, I’m calling Bison Nation, we’re on the road to another national championship and it starts right here,” he said. “Right now, with you. So stand up and be loud and be proud and let’s go get another one.”
Wentz did it on a week when his Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for perhaps their biggest game of the season Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a grudge match that will determine the winner of the NFC East title and a playoff berth.
Luepke hoping to return
Redshirt freshman Hunter Luepke is not be the starting fullback, but the Bison offense may have missed his presence last weekend against Illinois State. Luepke did not play after suffering a sprained ankle in the second round win over Nicholls State (La.).
The 6-foot-1, 249-pound Luepke practiced this week and he said was hopeful to play against Montana State.
“I’m good now,” Luepke said earlier this week.
Senior Garrett Malstrom, who has been battling an injured knee, is the starting fullback. But the Bison coaches have steadily used Luepke in more situations as the season has progressed.
“I was just looking to find my role on the team this year and whatever that is I’ll do it,” Luepke said. “The coaches put more and more on my table each week and I’m loving it right now. Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’m confident in what my skills are and how they’ve trained me.”
honors for Bison
It was another good week for NDSU in the awards department. Radunz and defensive end Derrek Tuszka were named to the Associated Press All-American first team headlining five Bison selections for three teams.
Quarterback Trey Lance and offensive guard Zack Johnson were named to the second team. Linebacker Jabril Cox was a third-team pick.
Radunz and Lance were named to the FCS Athletic Directors Association All-American team. It’s a different award in that it recognizes the top individual at 11 different positions. Radunz, for instance, was named the top offensive lineman in the FCS, the seventh straight year NDSU has had the top offensive lineman.
Lance was the top quarterback and Pete Guerriero of Monmouth was the top running back.