I guess I am dating myself here, but when you grow up in North Dakota in the 1960’s and play with the Bison from 69-72; a name change to your chief rival is a downer. You don’t even know how to swear at them, lol. Enough of the ramblings about Bison/Sioux week, the schools and the fan bases are the same and its still football. So what can we expect from these two teams.
First, credit must be given to UND and the caliber of play they have shown so far in this spring season. They have performed at the most consistent level of any MVFC team and hence are undefeated. To this point the coaching staff deserves the coach of the year and staff of the year accolades. How do I come to this conclusion? Name a pro-prospect on UND’s spring roster? None come to mind. I can with the Jack’s (Pierre Strong for sure), UNI (Isaiah Weston), ISU (Drew Himmelman & John Ridgeway) and the Herd’s Volson, Jensen, Gindorff, Babicz, Watson and I think Spencer Waege has put himself in contention here as well. So this staff has taken good athletes and molded them well as a team and built their strategies around that.
Now that we are four games into a spring MVFC only season, stats are starting to have meaning. Teams are showing who they really are. Let’s look at the Hawks first.
They are 5th in the nation in least penalty yards allowed per game at 23.5 YPG. They’ve allowed no blocked kicks or punts. They have lost 3 fumbles and thrown 2 INT’s (66th & 40th), this is just average. They have been solid on kickoff and punt return coverage. In short the Hawks haven’t beaten themselves with penalties, turnovers and poor special team coverage.
On the other side of special teams their punter is terrible. They rank 72nd with a net of 30.85 net yards per punt. Skokna has good straight line speed on kickoff returns, so you can’t give him a seam. They have done nothing special on punt returns.
They are strong in time of possession (5th in nation at 35.58), 3rd down conversions (10th at 55.4%), Total Offense (14th at 441 YPG), Rushing offense (213.8 YPG and 13th in nation) and scoring offense (32.8 PPG & 14th). On defense they are good in the stopping the run game (16th at 85.2 YPG), scoring defense (21st at 17.2 PPG), sacks (12th at 14), and have gotten 10 TO’s. Wow, with all these good stats, should the Bison even show up? These are Bison type stats.
Where they aren’t Code Green is total defense (48th at 354.5 YPG) and passing defense (78th at 269.2 YPG). After years of studying football stats I have come to understand many of the interrelationships that occur. Looking at the Hawks, their total defensive stats should have them giving up about a touchdown more per game. Obviously the 10 TO’s they have generated reduces scoring, but historically they are still low on points given up for the yards they have allowed.
On the other hand, Code Green is performing well in relationship to the standards of dominant defense in my three leading indicators, Total defense at only 277.8 YPG (standard is under 325), rushing defense at 97.6 YPG (standard is under 125 YPG) and scoring defense at17.2 PPG (standard is under 20 PPG).
Where does all this data lead us? The Hawks clearly have outperformed the Herd year to date offensively, but I am going to hang my hat on that it is defense that wins championships. I don’t think Bubba’s offense is better than either of the Sam Houston state teams we faced in 2011 or 12. In no way are they as good as Illinois State’s 2014 team or Jacksonville State’s 2015 team. Nor do they compare to JMU’s 2017 or 2019 offenses. I believe the 2021 spring Code Green defense is in line with the talent of these earlier teams and is for sure in line with the stats of excellence they produced in those championship years. By the way, the above mentioned teams scored 90 total points in those 6 championship games or 15 PPG.
Let’s look at this game from some other perspectives. Over the years of Bison/UND games the schools have traded dominant stretches. Both teams have 12 game streaks. Ours was from 1981 to 1992, a period when we brought home many National Championships. UND’s was from 1953 to 1964 when they brought home many North Central Conference Championships. During these streaks the dominant team had a better roster of players. It is my firm belief this is still in play when looking at these two teams rosters.
NDSU’s struggles have been on offense, not defense. Our offensive concerns are around two position groups and from problems outside the program. It’s because of our success at recruiting and developing QB’s we are losing Trey. This is a problem NO OTHER college football team has ever faced at any level. He was so damn good we lost him after just one year on the field. That has disrupted any sense of normal in developing the next great Bison QB. I think the next one just stood up and his name is Cam Miller. If it wasn’t for Covid we would have gotten the blessing of watching Trey decimate defenses for one more year before he flew off to the NFL.
The next position group to really take a hit is the running back room. We lost Ty Brooks and Dimitri Williams thru graduation. Covid had Adam Cofield jump ship to the FBS after fall ball (He was our big back for short yardage situations). Saybein Clark (the highest ranked running back to ever come to SU decides to pursue a music career). If we still had Cofield and Clark, the normal development process is in order, especially with getting Seth Wilson back from injury. All this blows up. Wilson goes down in 1st game back and DJ Stewart jumps to the transfer portal. Worse still is no Hunter Luepke (remember he was the guy who scored the final two TD’s against Central Arkansas). So now we have two second year “small backs” in Johnson and Bussey and a “big back” in true freshman Gonnella. These backs have great talent and are learning on the fly. Young backs need to hang onto the ball and “DO” pass protection.
How does this translate into this Saturday? Let’s start in the offensive trenches. Would you trade our Rams for the Hawks OL even up? I wouldn’t. We have two NFL prospects in Volson and Jensen. Kubas is in his 5th year as a Ram, Mauch his 4th year and Sundell his 3rd year. They are more athletic than UND’s line. I think there is a greater chance of the Rams moving UND’s unnamed defense than theirs moving ours.
A bison offense during our current reign of terror on other FCS teams has been built around a dual threat QB. Cam Miller just stepped into those shoes and looked very comfortable in doing it. He doesn’t have to carry the team, just think Easton Stick during his 8-0 run to handing off the job back to first round pick Carson Wentz. I think Cam is entering this game excited about running this Bison offense.
Next, would you trade Gindorff, Babicz or Watson for any receiver on UND’s roster? Neither would I.
I have consistently written that championship football is predicated on outstanding defense. Code Green is playing that and UND isn’t. I like our chances of running and moving the ball thru the air better than the Hawks. We have faced numerous better backs than Otis Weah (Coppich, Robinson, Renner and Strong just to mention a few) and prevailed (none of these backs ever beat the Code Green and the Bison).
This leads to my final point. I am baffled at the lack of trust in the Forum’s pundit community in understanding why and how the Bison have done what no other college team has done. We are 132-9 in the last nine plus years. I am not saying you are to be “a homer” (I am not; I tell it like it is), but the Herd deserves the benefit of the doubt when facing transitions. We have dominated UND on the recruiting trails (as well as the rest of the MVFC), we have reloaded our base of championship players five times now and changed coaching staffs three times, yet we keep winning. How? We play consistently better defense than anyone else in the FCS football. Added to this the Rams dominate the line of scrimmage so we can average plus 225 YPG. Now I think we can start expanding our offense with a dual threat QB. Those two things great defense and great OL are in place for this Saturday. Have you read one article on: “Can the Hawks run on Code Green”? No, neither have I.
I just saw a tweet that McFeely thinks the Bison need to lose to UND for the good of FCS football. Nothing surprising here, McFeely is more enamored by the non dynasty dynasty of JMU (winning 1 NC in 10 years, never defending the title isn’t a dynasty) than he is by the real dynasty in his own back yard.
I am betting on the Herd Saturday because I think they will play better defense. I feel we can nick them in special teams. Every time we force a punt we gain 12 yards of field position (UND’s net punting 30.85 YPP, ours is 43.5 YPP). We have to play clean football. If we turn it over 5 times like last week against ISU, we will lose (I count the offside penalty by Costner with 4th and 3 a turnover, totally inexcusable). I am looking for the next steps of the young QB and running backs development into champions. Only a dumb ass like McFeely can be hoping for a Bison loss as being good for FCS football. What is good for FCS football is the best team winning it. Go Bison!