Its better late than never, the adage goes, so here goes my analysis of the Bison’s first four games of the season and what I feel will happen tomorrow versus Illinois State. Why so late? On Wednesday I finished my article for the Bison Report (Down to the Dirty Work: Missouri Valley time) at a local Starbuck’s. After I hit send, I decided to relieve myself. While in the restroom, some Cretin accidently knocked my lap top off the table and broke my hard drive. I just got it replaced late this afternoon, so here goes. Enjoy.
Back in July and August I went on record saying that even though NDSU lost a ton of seniors to graduation, I still felt the Herd was the best FCS team in the Nation. As I examined the first four games, I felt that they would allow us to develop as a talented, but young squad. The results are in.
Butler: What a great program building scenario. Trey Lance made his stunning debut. Everybody the Bison dressed got to play. Almost 35,000 rabid fans got to see the young Herd do what it was supposed to do against a lesser talented team, blow them out of the water. In the heart of the Minnesota recruiting hotbed, we showed the dynamic of our program.
UND: The Fighting Hawks were a step up on the competition scale. They had this game circled and were emotionally primed to show they belonged. What transpired was a demonstration on how big the gap between the two programs has become. UND is a bubble top 25 FCS squad. They were never in the game.
Delaware: The young squad had to take the show on the road to a proud CAA team that a decade ago competed for National Championships. They too are a top 25 FCS fringe team. Thru three quarters we totally demolished them. In the fourth quarter we saw their future QB and running back. We learned we need to stay focused for four quarters.
Against U C Davis we faced our first adversity. A team that played its heart out and had a stud QB. He played a “Timex” game. He took a licking, but kept on ticking. It’s the championship teams that win the close ones. Davis shot their wad and the next week against Montana, laid an egg. We passed the test of winning a close one against a good team.
Tomorrow we start the Missouri Conference grind. Eight straight games against the toughest foes in FCS football. What have we learned about our roster?
The Rams: Our offensive line ranks in the top ten in the country, including the FBS. They are big (averaging over 310 lbs.), athletic (all five can pull and lead plays downfield) and smart (we don’t see a lot of penalties).
QB: Trey Lance has shown he is the real deal. He is smart, big, fast and has a great arm. He has shown he can make all the throws and leads the nation in passing efficiency. Mark my words, over his career, he will win some games for us just as Brock, Carson and Easton did.
Running Backs: We have a bevy of RB’s that can get the job done with different styles and size. This allows the Herd not to have to play a dinged up back in the 15-16 game season the Bison have been playing. What happens if somebody like James Robinson goes down for IL. State? They don’t have multiple backs they can rotate without losing quality.
Tight Ends/Fullbacks: It has been described that opposing defenses face too many twos when coming up against the Bison (tight ends are monikered two’s as a position group). There are too many of them. They are too big, too fast and too athletic. I think they will keep progressing as the season goes along.
Wide Receivers: They are young and talented. Since we lead the nation in pass efficiency, we aren’t bad here, but we have lacked some consistency with too many drops and the need to get greater separation from DB’s.
How has the defense performed? When you look at the metrics, we are within the historic averages we have made during this run of excellence. We are 6th in total defense (I don’t count Ivy League) at 277 YPG, 14th in rushing at 97.8 YPG and 5th in scoring defense at 13.8 PPG. What are the sub-groups?
D-Line: We have been stout at the point of attack. Against Butler and UND, there wasn’t a lot of chance for sacks in that they threw short, quick routes (only 2 sacks). We teed off on Delaware and U C Davis. It yielded sacks versus the Blue Hens (5) and hits versus the Aggies (7). The three Interceptions versus Davis were a result of the pounding we gave their QB.
LB’s: Cox is Cox. Jackson Hankey is a very good player both on run and pass. There currently is a rotation between Mercadel and Kaczor. Aaron plays the running downs and distances and Kaczor plays on the passing downs. Both are very adequate. The front seven haven’t been tested by a good/great running game yet this year. IL. State will start that test.
DB’s: There have been some missed tackles by CB’s , but overall the secondary has played well. They also are probably the deepest they have ever been since this streak started back in 2011.
How would I grade them to date? I would give them an A-. When you’re 5th in the nation in both scoring offense and defense, you have to be doing something right. Davis was a wake up call that there will be other teams who bring their best. They need to be ready.
What can we expect from Illinois State? Coming into the season, they were my biggest concern. Brady Davis (an FBS transfer) was coming back as a 5th year QB. James Robinson is probably the highest rated back in the FCS by the NFL. They have a big, experienced offensive line (two FBS transfers). Coach Spack also fields a salty defense. Coming in as a young team on the road, this had to be rated as the greatest chance of an upset.
After four games they haven’t earned that respect. They haven’t been overly impressive. They lost to a weak FBS squad at No. Illinois. Their stud running back got 19 yards on 16 carries. With the big offensive line, the Redbirds have, how could that happen? Throw out the game against the team that ranks lower than Butler. They struggled against an 0-5 Eastern Illinois squad, 21-3 (The Bison would have hosed these guys). Two weeks later they beat N. Arizona 40 –27. Everybody scores 40 against No AZ. They have underperformed the last two seasons. Is this trajectory for this season? They have the talent to give the Bison a game, but will they?
I think the Bison will win on the road in the range that Sagarin is calling it, around 17 points. I think Code Green will make the Redbirds one dimensional. When that happens, it is hard beat the Bison.