2021 FCS Fall Football, What to Expect
A fresh start is just what is needed to get that Bison football feeling back. Yes, I am going to “shit can” most of the look back on what a fall 2020 season could have been with a maturing Trey Lance at QB and a loaded team with tons of weapons at his disposal. I do think Oregon would have been the Herd’s next FBS victim (had my tickets and was packed to head out to the West Coast for this one). Suffice it to say, Covid hurt the Herd more than any other FCS team.
As you who have followed my analysis these last several years know, I just don’t make statements without backing it up with the details. The team that took the field in the spring was vastly depleted to what would have been in the fall. The Bison are a developmental program and we lost the senior seasons to many great players, not just Trey (3rd pick in NFL draft) and Dillon Radunz (53rd player taken). Never in the history of college football, including the FBS schools, has a program lost a talent like Trey after his red-shirt freshmen year.
This loss proved catastrophic to the Herd’s offense. Zeb Noland is a great young man, but proved a bust at QB. Cam Miller showed promise, but was too inexperienced to get the job done. Seth Wilson going down in the first spring game and no Hunter Luepke until the UND game kept the running game off balance. Code Green became a sieve in the red zone and the rest is history as they say.
So how does the fall look?
The Bison program was disrupted, but not destroyed by this Covid hiccup. We have a full roster of very talented football players because of the year after year stellar recruiting by the coaches and support staff.
What will old Dober be looking for this fall in the 2021 Bison Team?
The coaching staff has two glaring needs that have to be handled. The first is foundational to who the Bison are traditionally, Red Zone DEFENSE! Every time an opponent got inside our 20, they scored. That’s right! 24 times in the red zone in 10 games and they scored 100% of the time. What was even worse is that 18 of the 24 tries ended in touchdowns. In our historic run of 8 National Championships in nine years (2011-19), Code Green only allowed opponents to score 73.7% of the time (213 scores out of 289 opportunities). We averaged giving up a touchdown only 45.7% of the time (132 times out of 289 tries). Over these years opponents averaged getting to the red zone 2.13 times/game. The spring/fall season was only up slightly from that to 2.4/game. When they got there we did nothing to stop them.
Was this something that Braun needs to look at? Whatever he schemed, it was 100% wrong. If the players weren’t assignment sound, their jobs should be up for grabs. I have heard talk about a tackling problem (do ya think?). Just fix it!
Next big problem for the Herd was receivers never seemed to get separation. Watching other team’s receivers not only against the Bison but against other teams, very often their receivers were getting two or more steps separation from the defenders. I know we missed not having Phoenix Sproles on the field, but Watson, Babicz and Gindorff are NFL potential receivers. Braylon Henderson had speed. We pounded the rock for 218 YPG and 5.1 YPC, so play action should have worked. We only completed about 50% of our passes (96 of 189). The Rams weren’t bad in pass protection (only 8 sacks in 10 games). Coach Roehl needs to step up his play calling game. When all is said and done we had too many weapons, with too little production in the passing game.
How does this team roster look going into the fall?
We are loaded across the board, but have to really step up at QB and corner backing.
Let’s start in the trenches with the defensive line. Code Green has never been so deep, both at DT and DE. Eli Mostaert leads the returning DT’s with 34 tackles, 6.5 TFL’s and 4.5 sacks in his red shirt freshman campaign. This was done in only 10 games.
For some perspective, Lane Tucker led the DT’s with 32 tackles in 14 games in 2019 (no sacks), Blake Williams led with 37 in 2018 with 2 sacks in 14 games, Williams led again in 2017 34 tkls in 15 games with a half a sack, in 2016 Nate Tanguay was off to a great start until the knee injury shut him down. He tallied 31 tkls in 9 games (only ½ a sack).
If Eli progresses this year, you are looking at All-American class productivity. He is a disrupter and opposing offenses will start to have to double team him.
The room also returns Lane Tucker (7 TFL’s & 3.5 sacks), Costner Ching, Javier Derritt and Michael Buetow. All of these DT’s had extensive playing time in the spring. Also, none are under 280 lbs, so they shouldn’t be blown off the line by the +300 lb offensive lineman.
At DE Spencer Waege, Logan McCormick, Brayden Thomas and Tony Pierce played the majority of the spring snaps. I look for one or two of these DE’s to have a breakout season in sacks because of the increased pressure from our more athletic DT’s (Mostaert and Tucker had 8 sacks between them).
There are question marks after the spring in the linebacker room. Not in personnel, but in performance. Tackling was subpar and coach Entz and the head of the line backer corp, Jackson Hankey, have specifically addressed it in the fall practices. If red zone defense is to get back to “Bison normal”, sure tackling has to return to the stable. Hankey will be in the middle, flanked by pre-season All-Conference James Kaczor and Jasir Cox. Cole Wisniewski had a break out spring filling in for the injured Kaczor during the playoffs and Luke Weerts is maturing as Hankey’s backup. The coaches are also high on Nick Kubitz. Don’t be surprised if you see Wisniewski and Kubitz in on early running downs and goal line because of their size (Cole is 6’4” 221 and Nick 6’2” 222).
In the defensive backfield room we are strong at safety. All-American candidate Michael Tutsie is as strong and good as any of his predecessors at the strong safety position and Julian Wlodarczyk is a more than adequate backup and an integral part of special team coverage’s. At free safety Dawson Weber has ably filled the position and his backup, Dom Jones, led the team with 3 interceptions.
Josh Hayes missing the playoffs really hurt (he was the shut down corner). Because of the Covid stuff he was away from his wife and young child for more than a year, so no bad feelings for him wanting to go home to be with family. Jayden Price blossomed to a very serviceable CB and a great punt return threat, but the jury is still out if he can be that shut down corner we need. The same holds true for Destin Talbert. The most talented guy in the room might be Courtney Eubanks who showed flashes of greatness. Jerodd Vines transferred in from FBS Eastern Michigan and played in 18 games there.
The CB room only turned ONE Interception in 10 games. Folks, that’s simply not getting the job done. With 26 sacks in those 10 games, pressure was being put on the QB’s in a similar fashion to other of the Bison teams during this march of greatness. The CB room has to get better.
Let’s take a look at the offensive personnel starting with the Rams. Cordell Volson returns for a sixth year at right tackle. He is an All-American and a pro prospect. Nash Jensen got lost in the shuffle last year, but is an NFL candidate at left guard. These two at 6’7” 313 lbs and 6’4” and 328 lbs are massive and athletic. Jake Kubas, Gray Zabel and transfer Luke Lacilento will all see playing time at the guard position. Left tackle will be handled by Cody Mauch. We have good backups at the tackle position with Mason Miller and Jake Rock. The named starting five average 308 lbs and they ain’t “jelly bellies” like some of the schools put out there. These are “Kramer crafted” studs. That’s why we have many OL starting in the NFL and the Golden Goofers haven’t put an OL in the league in 14 years. We are strong again in the trenches.
The Crew Chiefs are stocked to the rafters. Both Babicz and Gindorff are NFL prospects. Travis Yohnke and Joe Stoffel are highly regarded recruits who are in that developmental stage all our TE’s go thru. Hunter Luepke is our Swiss Army Knife and I also believe will get an NFL look. Hunter Brozio and Logan Hofstedt are more than serviceable Fullbacks.
The running back room is full and experienced again. Dominic Gonnella had a breakthrough spring as a true freshman. He is the real deal with size (200 lbs), speed and moxie. Kobe Johnson’s spring was cut short by injury, but he has the speed to break it with any carry. Jalen Bussey is our little scat back. Give him a seam and he is gone. Again he was curtailed by injury in the spring (used to often out of necessity). He averaged 8.8 YPC. Don’t forget Luepke can slip in at halfback just fine. Ask UND how he looked back there. We have Tamerik Williams, an SMU transfer, at 6’1” 225lbs, who runs a 4.4 40. TK Marshall and Mitchel Kartes will vie as well for playing time. Even in an offensive down year we ran for 218 YPG and 5.1 YPC. We should do better this fall, if the passing game develops like I think it will.
The Wide Receiver room is led by Christian Watson, who is another Bison NFL prospect. At 6’5 and 208 lbs with blazing speed (clocked as high as 23 mph), he is a beast. Did I mention he also returns Kickoffs? It will also be great to get back Phoenix Sproles. As he matures, he reminds me of Darrius Sheppard. He is fast enough to get open, knows how to run routes, catches the ball when thrown to him, blocks well and when the opponents not looking, he’s great on reverses. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by Zach Mathis, Braylon Henderson, Jake Lippe, Raja Nelson and DJ Hart. We have good targets, we just need a QB who can consistently hit them.
The QB room has three studs, Quincy Patterson (who has just been named QB1), Cam Miller and Cole Payton. In a non-Covid world, Trey could have jumped to the NFL after a full fall season in 2020 (which would have been another Natty), and we would still be looking at this competition and I think the same outcome would have occurred. If you haven’t watched the high lights of Quincy single handedly winning the North Carolina game in 6 OT’s, it’s well worth the time, because that’s who we have at QB now. At 6’3” 246 lbs, he could become the best rushing QB in Bison history. Under Randy Hedberg’s tutelage, if his accuracy improves, he has a rocket arm that can fling the ball to any corner of the field. I can’t wait to watch him operate the Bison offense!
Our special teams should be special this fall. We need to find a new punter and long snapper, but we have never faltered here in the last decade plus. We know how to recruit to these positions and develop them once we get them on campus. Both our kickers are back, who were 8 of 10 on field goals. Our coverage units on kickoffs and punts were very good. We excelled at both kickoff and punt returns. Next year we might be watching Watson doing his thing on Sundays for some NFL team. Both punt returners (Price and Henderson) are back and provided the highest ever punt return average at 23.8 yards per attempt.
Do we have enough talent to win another National Championship? Hell yes! We had enough in 2010, but didn’t play dominate defense that year. In 2016 we were good enough for a run but were too close to the pack offensively and were the least dominating defensive unit in that decade. We weren’t a bad team last spring. We were in the mix, but we didn’t dominate.
I am looking forward to the season because this team and coaching staff will have to develop on the run. As always they have my support and devotion. Let’s go Bison, the march is on!!