I didn’t originate the saying, but I believe in its basic truthfulness: “defense wins championships”. Code Green has been the anchor to NDSU’s unprecedented run thru the playoffs the last 13 years. Yes we play complimentary football, but other teams don’t score much on the Herd, hence we have a playoff record that is unmatched by any other program at any level in football history. Even this year’s team entering Friday night’s game is 4th in the Nation in total defense, 4th in scoring defense and 3rd in passing defense. Folks, these are stellar numbers!
Let me cut to the chase on this week’s game with Samford. The Bulldogs have the worst defense we have ever faced in our playoff history to date. Yes they are that bad. Let me unpack their resume.
Samford ranks 107th in total defense at 441.5 YPG, 113th in pass D (267.2), 82nd in run D (174.3) and 43rd in scoring D (25.6 PPG). They are plus 9 in TO’s, but that’s not large enough to explain the anomaly of averaging 101 in the other three metrics of defense, but only 43rd in giving up points. The breaks have had to go your way.
Last Saturday Southeast LA should have scored two more TD’s in regulation. A red zone penalty nullified a TD and SELA tried to fake a FG (chip shot) so got zero points. Later they drive to red zone and QB with time throws INT into double coverage in the end zone (again no points). To cap this off in their first possession in OT they carve Samford up on two run plays. RB for 9 yards then QB for 14 to the two yard line, but as he was going out of bounds he fumbles and it hits the pylon and bounces into the end zone for a touchback.
Arkansas Pine Bluff and Lamar finished just ahead of Samford at 105th & 106th in yards allowed (441.1 & 441.4), but they gave up 35.4 and 37.7 PPG (103rd and 113th in scoring D). Usually your scoring rank is close to the total yards you give up.
What puts them in the worst ever category is how they played against Furman, Chattanooga, Mercer and SELA. All four ranked under 150 with Sagarin. The last two weeks I have pontificated on how suspect UND’s defense was giving up 415 YPG and 35 PPG to the six good teams on their schedule. We proceeded to lay 42 points on them and rush for 363 yards. The next week Weber knocked them for 38 points and 330 rushing yards. We had 522 total yards and Weber had 440
Last week I revealed that the Griz were very suspect on defense being 1-4 against the five good teams on their schedule while yielding 429.6 YPG and 32.8 PPG. The Herd fulfilled my prophecy by banging out 49 points and 453 yards rushing and 511 total yards.
What’s the defensive scale look like for the Bulldogs against these four opponents? Pathetic is the word. They have yielded 545 YPG and 34.3 PPG (twice giving up 42 points). No team that I know has ever gone 4-0 with these types of defensive stats. The streak stops with the Bison!
Here is my scouting report from the SELA game last week (I watch film so you don’t have to). Samford plays the same three man front on defense that IL St, UND and the Griz play. They have a big NT (#99, 302 lbs), the DT (#44, 281 lbs and the 3rd down lineman (#35 who is only 257 lbs). The DL didn’t get much penetration vs SELA. They weren’t blown back, but they were frequently creased for big runs. SELA’s OL was effective with Pin and Pulls and the QB run game worked. When the Bulldogs stacked things up, RB’s could break out to the perimeter.
When you give up 348 yds rushing (7.1 YPC), most things are working. Two of their LB’s looked decent, but no one jumped off the film. The same was true with their DB’s.
In summary, the Rams should have a field day on Friday night. The game plans for UND and the Griz can be kept in whole. This defense is way inferior to the Hawks and the Griz.
What about their offense?
Samford runs a hurry up, pass first offense. Their starting QB, Michael Hiers, is very efficient in completing 76.8% of his passes with only 3 INT’s. He has some mobility, but isn’t dual threat. It is a question mark as to whether he will start after he went down with what is thought to be a hand injury after a few plays versus SELA last week. His replacement, Red Shirt Freshman Quincy Crittendon, is a dual threat. He gained 94 rushing yards and has a lot of wiggle.
How many times has Code Green faced a hot shot offense in the playoffs, too many to count? How about the four Sam Houston State teams of 2011 (407.5 Total offense, 255.9 YPG rushing and 36.9 PPG), 2012 (458.5 total yards, 268.3 yards rushing and 40 points), 2014 (447.1 total yards, 241.6 rushing yards and 33.9 points) and 2017 (552.4 total yards with 368.4 coming thru the air and generating 45.6 PPG)? In the parenthesis are their key offensive stats against all other teams not the Bison.
Code Green reduced the 2011 team to 210 total yards, 95 rushing and only 6 points. Code Green dismantled the 2012 team down to 116 rushing yards and 13 points. CG spanked them down to 338 yards, 106 rushing and 7 points in 2014. Finally the 2017 BearKats, this group had hot shot, two time Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe at QB. This Sam Houston Team went heavy in the pass game and lightened up its predominant run game of the earlier teams. Wow, 45.6 PPG coming into facing Code Green. How could these slow farm boys withstand this retooled BearKat juggernaut? 552 total yards fell to 352 and 45.6 points fell to 13.
I picked Sam Houston to illustrate my point because they came from a lesser conference and padded their stats playing lower ranked opponents. Folks, that’s Samford’s MO.
Samford will probably move the ball between the 20’s, but should have trouble putting it in the end zone (FG’s aren’t going to win this one). If crowd noise creates 2-3 false starts, Code Green generates 4 or more sacks (done 3 times by Bulldog opponents) and we gain a +2 TO margin, this game could get ugly! I don’t know how anyone could have seriously considered Samford ahead of the Herd in seeding.
What’s going to happen Friday night? I am looking for an offensive explosion by the Herd. If we don’t go over 500 total yards, 350 rushing and 40 points, then we will have failed to take advantage of who the Bulldogs are on defense (remember lesser opponents have averaged 545 Yards). I feel Code Green will figure out their wingy-dingy offense just like we have done countless times before and against stronger teams. On to the Semi’s, Go Bison!