I guess the best way to describe my observations and feelings on the Herd so far this year is star crossed. What started as such a promising season has sputtered and farted along to this point. But Ron, they are 5-1, with only a three point loss to an FBS team? I didn’t say they are bad, just that the two players they could least afford to lose, aren’t playing. Neither went down in battle with a superior opponent man handling them. Cole Wisniewski goes down in the offseason with an Achilles injury (non contact). This is after Jasir Cox (who ranked just ahead of Cole in tackles) jumped ship to West Virginia. Jasir was coming off a sterling season last year. His sophomore year he was very average. I guess “once a Bison always a Bison” wasn’t Jasir’s mantra.
Cole at 6’4” and according to Entz, nearing 230 lbs, was starting to really peak my attention. He started two playoff games in the spring as a true freshman and looked really good last fall. He was to be back for conference play. That has yet to happen. He seemed to be consistently in position and was a sure tackler last year. His size and speed are early NFL profile numbers. His replacements didn’t have the size or experience.
I know all about “next man up”, but losing an All-American, who I feel was the Bison’s best defensive player and emotional leader, has no near equivalent replacement. That is how good Eli Mostaert is. Mostaert was hustling on a play (finishing) when a NC A&T player clipped him from behind and rolled up on Eli and broke his lower leg.
With losing Cole and Eli, Code Green has been playing from behind all year. All the other rooms had the depth and quality to absorb some injuries. We have traded out OL and RB’s and haven’t skipped a beat. If both Cole and Eli played at AZ, I think we get one or two more defensive stops and win the game.
With these two out we haven’t been lousy on defense (Code Green ranks 8th in total defense yielding only 281 YPG, 14th in scoring D at 17.5 PPG). The defense has been hurt by giving up big plays and playing on short fields because of offensive fumbles (all 17 of USD’s points came off of miscues by running into the punter and TWO fumbles in last few minutes of the first half). We also have been plagued by poor tackling and missed run game assignments. After Indiana State it seems that this is who we are this year.
Offensively, the Herd has been hindered from taking the next step up by dropped passes, especially on deep balls. Zack Mathis’s showing up big with the Sycamores, gives Cam a go to guy. Luepke and Stoffel are quality receivers as well. The run game is excellent because of the OL (3rd in the nation in rushing yards at 265.8 YPG, 7th in 3rd down conversions at 52.2% and 18th in scoring with 35.5 PPG). Only the Salukis and UND are in the top 50 in scoring in the FCS at 30.1 and 28.8 PPG. The next best MVFC rushing teams are YSU and the Jacks with the Penguins at 180 YPG (27th) and the Bunnies with 165.2 YPG (38th). With TaMerik Williams back in the RB rotation, I expect the Bison offense to get more explosive.
We have been solid on special teams. Price is a weapon in Punt returns, Crosa is 5 for 5 in FG’s and Steindorf is steady in the punting game with only two returns for 12 yards. Will Cardinal consistently puts kickoffs into the end zone and to date have had no big returns.
Where does this leave us six games into the 11 game regular season? I am with fellow Bison Report writer, Ross Uglem. With both Eli Mostaert and Jake Kava out, we need to become more aggressive in both run and pass blitzes. We have the DB’s to stay in coverage on an island to accomplish this. Hopefully we get back Cole soon to get him up to speed for any potential playoff run. Code Green has to grow up quick in these last five games.
Offensively we have to stop putting the ball on the ground! If we do, I think we are the most balanced powerful offense in the FCS.
Now to the Elephant in the room, the Jacks in Fargo this Saturday. Sagarin and Vegas have the Herd a 3 point favorite. The Eigan Vector has the Herd favored by less than a point and a 52% chance at victory. I am going with my gut and for the first time I am going away from giving the benefit of the doubt to the Bison’s unprecedented record of developing the team over the course of the year. The combination of losing Eli and Cole with this Bison teams penchant for failing when the lights are the brightest (How many dropped INT’s and passes? Way too many!). This has left me with a sick no confidence feeling in my gut.
Yes the Jack’s have flaws, but they are trending up. I can’t say that with the Herd’s last three games. My mantra is defense wins championships and the Bunnies have their All-American DT, Caleb Sanders and top LB, Adam Bock. We don’t. They are playing the best defense in the Valley and country. They are 2nd in total D at 228 YPG, 3rd in rushing D at 57.5 YPG (Code Green is at 59th and 148.7 YPG) and 6th in scoring D at 12.2 PPG.
The team that is playing better defense usually wins.
My gut is also looking at match ups. Coaching wise SDSU’s staff has come up with more “gimmicks. Last year, even though it was a pick play, it sprung Strong for a 75 yard run TD. They also did the between the legs snap for a TD. My gut is telling me we are going to play vanilla offense so on short downs it will be Luepke up the middle or TaMerik off tackle or Payton on a design QB run. I feel their D will get a few more stops because of this.
My gut is saying this game is going to be like the 2021 spring game. Gronowski will be featured in an expanded QB run game, Davis will get 100+ yards and their passing game will be efficient to a better receiver corps than ours. I think the Jacks will win by more than 10 points. I pray that my gut is wrong, but the Herd hasn’t shown me anything to hang my hat on this fall. Still love my team. Go Bison, prove me wrong!