Of all the FCS teams playing FBS teams, this matchup was not expected to be the one of two in the opening weekend to see the lower Division I team defeat their higher Division I brethrens.
Well, tell that to the North Dakota State Bison.
In what was supposed to be a long, slightly rebuilding season, NDSU relied on its defense and special teams and just enough offense to pull out a 6-3 victory over the Big 12’s Kansas on the same day that saw an offensive explosion by Jacksonville State in their double overtime victory over the SEC’s Mississippi.
How did the Bison get this win?
NDSU won this game by having better defense and a special team’s play. This was despite being outgained 293 to 193 yards.
The Bison, however won the turnover battle — three for Kansas and only one for NDSU.
The turnovers came at opportune times. Linebacker Matt Anderson intercepted when KU was inside the 10-yard line in the third quarter and Daniel Eaves forced a fumble to seal the game late in the fourth quarter.
NDSU also was helped by the Jayhawks missing two field goal attempts; where as Bison kicker Ryan Jastram converted two field goals for all the scoring NDSU would need to garner the upset.
NDSU held Kansas in converting just 4-of-15 opportunities on third down. The lone big play that it gave up resulted in the only points it would allow.
Jayhawk wideout Daymond Patterson set up the lone field goal by Jacob Branstetter that at the time gave Kansas a 3-0 lead with under two minutes left in the first quarter.
Taking the ball on a reverse, Patterson broke free on a 51-yard run that put the ball on the Bison 14. The Bison held from there, but Branstetter hit his sixth field goal in his last seven attempts dating to last season.
The three points allowed by NDSU were the fewest to an FBS school since Western Illinois shut out Northern Illinois in 1996.
“As a former defensive head coach, it was a thing of beauty, 6-3 being the final score,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. “I thought our guys really made a lot of plays. It certainly wasn't error free, but our effort was much better. I think we significantly have more speed and athleticism on defense, which is certainly helpful, and we did enough on offense to move the chains enough to come up with a win.”
The Bison had a chance to take the lead after Mike Sigers' blocked punt put North Dakota State at the Kansas 10 in the second quarter. However, KU’s Isiah Barfield intercepted a pass from Bison quarterback Jose Mohler in the end zone on third down. Barfield tried to run the ball out, but he was tackled at the Kansas 1.
The poor field position ultimately cost Kansas, as the Jayhawks subsequently punted from the end zone. An 18-yard punt return by freshman Ryan Smith and a late hit penalty put Jastram in position for a 44-yard field goal to tie the game with just over three minutes left in the half.
North Dakota State then got the second Jastram field goal for the only scoring of the second half at just over the eight-minute mark of the third quarter.
"For my whole life, the left hash mark has been my favorite place. I just got myself lined up right and it went right down the middle,” Jastram said.
The Bison defense was not only good on third downs, it also provided pressure on KU's quarterbacks all game. In fact, the Bison defense totaled four sacks and seven tackles for a loss. Linebackers Chad Willson and Preston Evans led the team with 12 and 10 tackles, respectively.
NDSU won despite mental errors, too. NDSU kept a couple of Kansas drives going — having a running into the kicker penalty in the fourth quarter as well as a twof late hit penalties.
Hasn’t NDSU won these types of games in the past?
Yes, in fact, the Bison are now 4-3 against FBS teams since moving up from the Division II ranks in 2004. NDSU previously defeated the Big 10’s Minnesota (2007) and Mid-America Conference’s Ball State (2006) and Central Michigan (2007). The Bison have lost to Iowa State last year, Wyoming (2008) and Minnesota (2006).
"You know what, last year was so difficult because it seemed like we lost close ones,” Bohl said. “We felt like we just needed to keep plugging along. It is a sweet win, but our guys expected to win the game. I had expected to win the game and we played hard and we were fortunate we won it."
The Missouri Valley Football Conference now has posted 28 victories against FBS members overall. The triumph against a Big 12 school marked the second for the MVFC against that conference (the last was a UNI win against Iowa State in 2007). It was North Dakota State’s first ever victory against a member of the Big 12.
What does this mean for the Bison moving forward in the 2010 season?
This should give the Bison confidence for this season. Of the eight losses last year in their 3-8 campaign, four were by a touchdown or less and only the Iowa State loss was by more than two scores.
Of the last MVFC teams to defeat FBS teams, the last six made the FCS playoffs and eight of the last nine made the postseason. The lone exception was Indiana State that missed the postseason in 2001 after defeating Eastern Michigan. The Sycamores finished that season at 3-8 and 2-5 within the Valley.
So having a victory against a FBS team seems to increase a team's chances, but it is not a given. And fans of the MVFC know that with such evenly matched teams within the league that could mean NDSU finishes in the postseason or near the .500 mark.
But one thing is clear: NDSU will be a better team than the 3-8 team we saw last year. The defense has moved back to its Tampa 2 structure of a 4-3 alignment after experimenting and dropping off its usually stringent defensive number to ones that were near the bottom in FCS. The turnover margin likely will increase with the pressure I saw in the Kansas contest, and the Bison secondary seems to also be improved.
The offense looks like it needs more improvement, but it mustered up enough to beat a BCS school that three seasons ago was playing and winning the Orange Bowl. I think the scrambling ability of sophomore quarterback Mohler will make NDSU better offensively and showed signs of it against a Big 12 team.
The Bison special teams looked better than last year. Several key missed field goals likely cost NDSU some of the close contests it lost in 2009.
But who knows what will happen yet. This is just one victory. NDSU travels to Northern Iowa this week and a loss to the Panthers will leave the Bison still wondering whether they are a top-echelon team in the MVFC. But a win and NDSU will have just three of its last nine games on the road with six contests in the tough to win in Fargodome.
For a few days, NDSU fans can celebrate another FBS triumph. We shall see how this team will do this week and the weeks to come before we can call it a playoff contender but after one game, it sure appears it will be a “whale” of a team this year.
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CSN West Game of the Week
North Dakota State (1-0, 0-0) @ Northern Iowa (0-0, 0-0)
So far, Northern Iowa has had the Bison’s number in the two prior MVFC meetings. And I am sure the Kansas win by NDSU this week will have the Panthers and their coaching staff’s attention — in particular, the defense.
This is the season opener for the Panthers after finishing the 2009 season at 7-4 and narrowly missing the playoffs. UNI finished the 2009 season poorly — losing three of its last four contests. UNI also will be breaking in a new quarterback after the graduation of Pat Grace. Two juniors, part-time starter Zach Davis or junior college transfer Tirrell Rennie, are competing for the spot.
The quarterback is not the only position that will see a new starter. In fact, just nine starters overall are returning for the Panthers with six on defense.
The Bison also have several new starters this season. NDSU has eight true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen on the two-deep.
But NDSU has a game behind it now. Especially for a young team, most of the improvements are made from game one to game two.
I see this game coming down to turnovers and field position in a defensive battle. I think the game will produce more than the nine total points in NDSU’s victory last Saturday, but not by too much.
This game is in Cedar Falls and it seems that UNI has NDSU’s number (two wins in their short DI history of the rivalry). Plus, NDSU is coming off its big FBS win. I will take UNI by a field goal. UNI 16, NDSU 13.
South Dakota State (0-0, 0-0) @ Delaware (1-0, 0-0)
This is probably the national game of the week. Like UNI, SDSU has yet to play a game. Its opening opponent is perennial FCS power Delaware, which topped DII West Chester 31-0 last week.
The tough road schedule starts with this season opener for the Jackrabbits. SDSU later plays at FBS Nebraska and later to MVFC mates Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and rival North Dakota State.
I think SDSU will need to contain the Blue Hen passing game, and it will need to keep the ball on the ground to come away with a victory. Coming off a playoff season and one that should have seen it defeat Montana in the opening round (having outplayed the Grizzles for the first three quarters of the game), I think SDSU will come out fully charged.
I will take SDSU by a field goal in a mid-level scoring contest. SDSU 31, Delaware 28.
Montana (1-0, 0-0) @ Cal Poly (1-0, 0-0)
In my third and final game of the week, these two current out-of-conference rivals square off for the 13th time. Cal Poly’s lone victory in this series came in the first round of the 2005 playoffs in Missoula. Montana is 4-0 in San Luis Obispo, including a 30-28 victory to open the 2008 season. Mustang Coach Tim Walsh is just 2-12 all-time vs. Montana, with victories in 1999 and 2004 while at Portland State.
The Grizzlies opened with a 73-2 win over Division II Western (Col.) State in Coach Robin Pflugrad’s first game as the head man. Montana passed for five touchdowns in last week’s triumph and also returned four interceptions for scores (tying an NCAA record).
Cal Poly opened with a 23-17 come-from-behind victory over Division II Humboldt (Calif.) State. The Mustangs rushed for 298 yards in the win, including 105 by Mark Rogers.
Having previously covered those two DII teams, I would say that the two are middle-of-the pack type schools in typical years so I would say that Montana has a distinct advantage.
Also, a year ago, Montana made it to the FCS title game, where as Cal Poly finished just 4-7.
I think Montana has too much firepower and will win rather easily. I will take the Grizzles by 10. Montana 36, Cal Poly 26.
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CSN West News & Notes
- In 2009, Eastern Washington’s runningback Taiwan Jones took his first play from scrimmage 80 yards for a touchdown. In 2010, Jones’ first touch on a play from scrimmage resulted an 82-yard touchdown catch. Jones, the electrifying runningback, amassed a career-high 322 all-purpose yards in Eastern Washington’s 49-24 loss at FBS Nevada.
- Sacramento State had 76 punt return yards the entire 2009 season. Junior Kyle Monson returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in the Hornets’ 52-7 loss to Stanford last week.
- Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins needs four passing yards to reach 10,000 for his career and 266 to move into 10th on the Big Sky’s all-time passing list. He passed for 234 yards last week in the Wildcats’ 38-20 loss to FBS Boston College.
- Including last week’s North Dakota State win at Kansas (by a 6-3 score) the Missouri Valley Football Conference has 28 victories against FBS schools since 1985, including at least one every year from 1996 through 2003.
- The Missouri State season opener against Eastern Kentucky was postponed last Thursday night after a three-hour lightning delay that included three stadium evacuations and a tornado warning. The resulting Friday afternoon make-up game was the program’s first Friday game since 1970. The Bears defeated EKU 31-9 in this game.
- Indiana State, for the first time since 2004, had two rushers reach 100 yards. Darrius Gates rushed for 160 yards and Shakir Bell tallied 133 yards. The Sycamores defeated NAIA St. Joseph’s (Ind.) 57-7.
- Illinois State and DII Central Missouri combined for a 109 points, the most in Illinois State history, and piled up a combined 1,114 yards of total offense. Illinois State rushed for 187 yards, its highest total since 2008, and Redbird quarterbacks Matt Brown and Drew Kiel combined for 322 yards passing. The Redbirds won the contest 55-54.
- Southern Utah linebacker Akeem Anifowoshe tied for the team lead with 10 tackles, including five solo stops, in Southern Utah's 28-20 loss at FBS Wyoming. Anifowoshe also tied for the team lead with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and had one sack.
- The Pioneer League’s Butler will face its only scholarship opponent this season when it travels to the MVFC’s Youngstown State. The Bulldogs won their season-opener 29-13 over Albion and have won 12 of their last 13 outings dating to last season. Junior quarterback Andrew Huck passed for 222 yards and three touchdowns in week one.