A good 1st step, but just a 1st step!
After the ugly debacle with the SIU Salukis, the Bison needed to show something last week against the Bears. It clearly was a step in the right direction on many levels, but only the first of many improvements before this rendition of the Herd gets accolades as a championship caliber team. The competition takes a step up this week versus the Red Birds of Illinois State. What can we expect?
The Red Birds are a perennial playoff contender and when they get there they usually win some games. The last four games have gone the Bison way 20-7, 28-14, 37-3 and 9-3. Only one blow out and average of 23.5 PPG by our good offenses. We have run for 245 yards, 178, 293 & 128. So the Rams are going to have to play big come Saturday if we are going to put this one in the win column.
Why are the Red Birds 0-2? Turn over’s have done them in! They had seven versus the Coyotes. With 5:30 until half they had a comfortable lead of 17-0. With the ball at their own 30 yard line, QB Jefferson fumbles (bad ball security, it’s not a loaf of bread). They hold USD to a field goal and run 3 minutes off the clock. Now down to 2+ minutes left to half, the RB fumbles on first play and in 1:09 the Coyotes score a TD. Now with 34 seconds left, Jefferson throws a pick and you guessed it, USD score a TD with like 2 seconds left to tie it at 17. I think that was the worst 5:30 of football I have ever seen. Oh, by the way ISU had four more TO’s in the second half and only lose by 27-20 while out gaining USD 447 yards to 300.
They rebounded against UNI on the road. They only had 1 TO, but it counted for a TD when they only trailed 13-10 in the 4th quarter, so it sealed the game for the Panthers. In all honesty, both of these teams leave something to be desired on offense. Panthers got 28 Yards & 1.1 YPC versus Jacks, followed by a decent showing against the Penguins, but good stats against bad teams DON’T COUNT! Red Birds held them to 91 rushing yards and 2.8 YPC.
For the Red Birds on Offense it’s the Bryce Jefferson show so far. With 4 INT’s and two fumbles in two games, I am not sure those are reliable hands yet. He is very similar to last week’s QB from Mo. State in size 6’2” 220 lbs and very mobile and a good arm, but good decisions aren’t common place. I think Code Green is better than UNI’s defense; for sure they are definitely in the same league with the Panther’s unit. UNI held ISU to 116 yards of rushing. If Code Green gives up 150 yards or more we lose the game. I discount ISU’s rushing versus USD. The Herd had 419 rushing yards in 19 vs USD, 384 in 18 & 340 in 17. So 167 isn’t world beater status.
The Red Bird’s strength is their D Line. John Ridgeway is an NFL potential DT. A high school wrestling champ he has great mobility and leverage in his 6’6” 330 lb frame. They lost Jason Lewan to injury versus the Panthers (a big blow at 6’6” 305 lbs). Jacob Powell is another 300 pounder at DT, so Rams Jensen, Sundell and Kubas will have their work cut out for them.
The new LB’s seem to flow well to the ball, but they are untested by a good offense yet. The D backs are skilled, but I don’t see any Luther Kirks back there.
How do I see Saturday? First team to 20 points wins. It will come down to who runs the ball effectively (moving the chains) and keep the opponent from stacking the box. Ball security will be at a premium, along with special teams. The Herd’s passing game has to take a step up. This might be helped out by the return of Hunter Luepke to the lineup. On defense, If Code Green doesn’t stop the run, have multiple sacks and +2 in TO’s, it will not be a good game by them. This is a key game in this year’s development cycle.
Vegas has the Herd a 12.5 point favorite and I concur it should be a hard fought double digit win for the home team.