Bison adjust, then shut the door
Montana's visit to North Dakota State is the FCS non-conference game of the year.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
If an opponent doesn't score enough points on North Dakota State in the first half, there's little hope for success.
The Bison know how to shut the door on the opposition.
The historic run of excellence that the top-ranked Bison hope to continue on Saturday against fourth-ranked Montana in the premier FCS non-conference matchup of the season has grown out of their defense making terrific in-game adjustments and finishing off victories.
NDSU (3-0) has won the last three FCS national titles and extended its winning streak to 27 games - an FCS record - as it gets set to host a Montana program that has even more history in the division with two national titles and five other championship game appearances.
Montana (2-1) brings with it one of the better set of skill position players in the FCS with quarterback Jordan Johnson, running backs Jordan Canada and Travon Van, and wide receivers Ellis Henderson and Jamaal Jones.
But few teams have solved the NDSU defense, not even this season while the team has undergone a number of changes, including Chris Klieman moving from defensive coordinator to head coach and Matt Entz entering the program as the defensive coordinator.
"We don't try to reinvent the wheel on defense," Klieman said. "For starters, we don't try to come up with a bunch of different blitz schemes, a bunch of different coverages on a week-to-week basis. We adjust a few things so some of the adjustments we make in-game from a coaches standpoint aren't drastic changes.
"And I guess the other thing is, you just have to credit our players, especially those kids that have played a lot of football games. They just continue to see the stuff whether it's on the film throughout the week (or) what they're seeing from the first quarter through the second quarter and early third quarter, they do a great job of communicating amongst themselves whether it's on the field or on the sideline of what they're seeing. Everybody is trying to get on the same page, and I think that's the whole key to being successful."
How the Bison (pronounced Bizon) decrease an opponent's offensive continuity and success throughout a game is alarming. They have gone the last 17 games without allowing more points in the second half than in the first half. Ten of those 17 opponents haven't scored on NDSU in the second half, including the last four, and only three of the last 23 opponents have scored in the fourth quarter.
The Bison have consistently written this script while posting a 46-2 record since the start of their first national championship season in 2011. Even in the two losses - a 17-14 defeat to Indiana State on Oct. 13, 2012, and previously to Youngstown State, 27-24, on Nov. 12, 2011 - they allowed fewer points in the second half than in the first half.
In their three national championship game victories, the Bison have allowed only 26 points, and just a mere three in the second half - a field goal to Sam Houston State in the 2012 final.
Said Montana coach Mick Delaney: "They're very disciplined, they're very fast, they're not overly big, but man, they run to the ball, they've got great strength and they're very, very disciplined. They fit their gaps like they're supposed to, they don't take chances and run all over the place. They're just a very disciplined, physical, defensive football team."
"We break off (at halftime) as coaches offense and defense," Klieman said, "and we break off more as segment groups, not as unit groups, so the DBs are together, the linebackers are together, the D-line is together, and, obviously, the coaches come back together and say 'here's the adjustments we're making' to a defensive side.
"We don't bring them together as a unit at all, we try to stay segmented and let the coaches coach and let the players kind of talk among themselves as well to see what they're seeing. We take a lot of input from our guys, especially the guys who have played a multitude of football games. I listen to what (strong safety) Colten Heagle says, I listen to what (linebacker) Carlton Littlejohn and (defensive end) Kyle Emanuel say - maybe it's about a stunt that may work, maybe it's a coverage, maybe it's a pressure. We've got a lot of faith in those kids. And they're vested because they know that their input is critical to us."
It works on both sides of the ball. Klieman believes the best adjustment of the season came from the offense, and coordinator Tim Polasek and his staff, when they changed some blocking schemes at halftime of the Iowa State opener, and then rolled in the second half to a 34-14 victory.
With seven of last season's top nine tacklers back this season, NDSU has an experienced defense, with the exception of the rotation at defensive tackle. But some of last year's understudies learned from the best, so it's not surprising the Bison have allowed only 21 points in three games, and none in the second half.
They continue to get better throughout a game.
OFF AND RUNNING (AND PASSING)
The Ivy League will usher in its 59th season this weekend and play 10 straight weeks through Nov. 22.
Harvard will have an earlier start to the season by welcoming in Holy Cross Friday night. The other seven Ivy teams will be in action Saturday, with slight preseason favorite Princeton going across the country to San Diego to try to end a seven-game season-opening losing streak.
FCS TOP 25 AND AWARDS
The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found here.
The FCS Awards package can be found here.
WEEK 4 PREDICTIONS
Last Week's Record: 54-11 (.831)
This Season's Record: 197-31 (.864)
Oh, yes, the "other" big games.
Montana-NDSU might be the biggest game of the week, but there are two other notable matchups within the Top 25 - No. 2 Eastern Washington at No. 14 Montana State, although it doesn't count in the Big Sky standings, and No. 7 New Hampshire at No. 17 Richmond, which is the CAA Football opener for both teams.
Saturday, Sept. 20
No. 16 Southern Illinois (3-0) at X-Purdue (1-2), noon. The Missouri Valley is a mere 2-49 all-time versus Big Ten teams (including an SIU win over Indiana in 2006), but Purdue has been unimpressive this season. The Salukis want to turn this into a wide-open affair considering the non-conference exploits of quarterback Mark Iannotti (10 TD passes) and running back Malcolm Agnew (eight TDs). They are averaging 44.3 points per game; Purdue is surrendering 34 per game.
James Madison (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at X-No. 8 Villanova (1-1, 0-0), 12:30 p.m. Lost in quarterback John Robertson's brilliance for 'Nova is that junior linebacker Don Cherry is playing equally as well on the other side of the ball. A lot of his focus will be on keeping JMU quarterback Vad Lee in the backfield to take away his dual threat. The Dukes sacked Robertson seven times in last year's home win, but have only one in their first three games this season.
X-No. 18 Fordham (2-1) at Columbia (0-0), 12:30 p.m. With struggling Ivy League member Columbia playing for the first time after going 0-10 last season, Fordham should score over 50 points for the third time this season. The nationally ranked Rams have won eight times in the 12 annual meetings since the two schools began playing for the Liberty Cup following 9/11.
No. 23 Eastern Kentucky (3-0, 0-0 OVC) at X-UT Martin (1-2, 0-0), 1 p.m. Tiny Graham Stadium (7,500) will be rocking with the arrival of a surprise Top 25 team in EKU. The visitors lead the all-time series by a 22-2 margin, but both of UT Martin's wins have come in the last four years, and the Skyhawks have won seven of their last nine conference openers. EKU, though, has the prescription for success, ranking fourth in the FCS in both rushing offense (280.7 yards per game) and rushing defense (49.3 ypg).
Tennessee Tech (1-1, 0-0 OVC) at X-No. 20 Tennessee State (2-1, 0-0), 3 p.m. Tennessee State has been ridiculously good in defending third downs as its opponents' 14.3 conversion percentage (only seven first downs in 49 attempts) is the best in Division I. Yes, the Tigers must solve Tech's QW scheme - quarterback at wing with Darion Stone. Tigers starting quarterback Michael German is expected to play against Tech after getting knocked out of last Saturday's win.
No. 22 Northern Arizona (2-1) at X-South Dakota (1-2), 3 p.m. In recent seasons, NAU has learned how to manage a game with offensive efficiency and opportunistic defense. Quarterback Kyren Poe has come on strong this season. Incredibly, this is the sixth consecutive nationally ranked opponent for USD. The Coyotes have learned from the five losses.
X-No. 2 Eastern Washington (2-1) at No. 14 Montana State (2-1), 3:10 p.m. EWU has won nine of the last 11 meetings even while Montana State has finished with a winning record in each season. The Bobcats need to play physical defense against Vernon Adams and the fast-paced EWU offense, which leads the FCS in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense. The Eagles had a bye last weekend in prepping for the trip to Bozeman. Behind rising sophomore quarterback Dakota Prukop, the Bobcats have put up 1,165 yards of offense in the last two games.
FCS Game of the Week: No. 4 Montana (2-1) at X-No. 1 North Dakota State (3-0), 3:30 p.m. The series is even at 3-3, but the Griz have never played in Fargo before and the two tradition-rich programs haven't played since the Bison rallied to win in Missoula in 2003 as a Division II team. Since the start of the second half of their season-opening win at Iowa State, the Bison have played three more quarters (10) than allowed points (seven).
West Alabama (2-0) at X-No. 9 Jacksonville State (1-1), 4 p.m. These former Division II rivals have not played since 1992, with Jax State holding a 32-12-1 series lead. John Grass is making his home coaching debut following a bye weekend. No, this will not be a repeat of Colorado State-Pueblo against Sam Houston State.
X-No. 7 New Hampshire (1-1, 0-0 CAA) at No. 17 Richmond (2-1, 0-0), 4 p.m. UNH played in a number of tough road venues last season, so its veteran team should be ready for this pivotal CAA opener. Wildcats quarterback Sean Goldrich is coming off 486 total yards and four touchdown passes against Lehigh, which named him national offensive player of the week. Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss is always a candidate to win that honor.
X-No. 5 Coastal Carolina (3-0) at Florida A&M (0-2), 5 p.m. Coastal's De'Angelo Henderson toiled in Lorenzo Taliaferro's shadow last season, but the speedy sophomore running back (130.3 ypg) has emerged this season, although his 6.9 yards per carry is actually below his average last season. It's a tricky game for the Chanticleers considering A&M is coming off a bye week and will be emotionally high at a loud, energetic home opener.
Northern Colorado (1-1) at X-No. 11 Northern Iowa (0-2), 5 p.m. The visiting Bears, who played well for the first three quarters in a loss to Northern Iowa last year, will want to come out strong because the Panthers are still adjusting after a trip to Hawaii. The Bears have been strong against the pass, so it might not be the week for UNI to rely on quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, even though he's playing well. It might be time to get 100-plus rushing yards from NFL-bound David Johnson.
X-No. 21 Furman (2-1) at South Carolina State (1-2), 6 p.m. Both Palmetto State teams are coming off poor outings - Furman a shocking loss to Presbyterian and South Carolina State a blowout defeat against Coastal Carolina. The two met at Dawson Stadium in an FCS first-round playoff game last November, with Furman prevailing, 30-20. Paladins QB Dillon Woodruff is under 50 percent (27-for-57) since starter Reese Hannon was lost to a fractured ankle in the season opener.
No. 12 Bethune-Cookman (2-0) at X-UCF (0-2), 6 p.m. Bethune returns to the buffet table for another serving of FBS alphabet soup, but UCF is a major step up in class from the Wildcats' season-opening win at FIU. Success is possible if they keep allowing only 1.4 yards per opponent carry.
Wisconsin-Oshkosh (0-2) at X-No. 10 South Dakota State (2-1), 7 p.m. There won't be much need to play SDSU tailback Zach Zenner in the second half. Maybe he can go for 200 in the first half while surpassing 5,000 yards in his career (he's 35 shy). By notching his 114th career win with the Jackrabbits, coach John Stiegelmeier will establish a new all-time high in program history.
X-No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana (2-1) at Southeast Missouri State (1-2), 7 p.m. The visiting Lions hope to shake the cobwebs from a loss at Tulane, when quarterback Bryan Bennett had a rare off game and they failed to make a much-coveted statement against an FBS opponent. Despite the loss, senior linebacker Isiah Corbett was named the Southland Conference defensive player of the week for the second time this season. In a first-ever meeting last year, the Lions beat Southeast Missouri, 45-7, in Hammond, Louisiana.
Bryant (3-0) at X-No. 24 Liberty (2-1), 7 p.m. Just before this first-ever matchup, Liberty moved into the Top 25 this week while Bryant fell one spot shy of it at No. 26 following an upset of defending CAA Football champion Maine. Although the competition was only Division II Brevard, Liberty needed only 39 plays to amass 625 yards - an average of over 16 yards per play - last Saturday. Quarterback Josh Woodrum is ranked inside the top 25 nationally in eight different categories.
Lafayette (1-1) at X-No. 13 William & Mary (2-1), 7 p.m. In the prior two meetings between these programs, neither side has won on its home field. Defending Patriot League champion Lafayette had yet to unveil then-freshman quarterback Drew Reed when the Tribe won in Easton, Pennsylvania, last season. It's great that Tribe place-kicker John Carpenter is 7-for-8 on field goal attempts, but the CAA team needs to find the end zone more often.
Saint Francis (1-2) at X-No. 19 Youngstown State (2-1), 7 p.m. It's puzzling that Penguins coach Eric Wolford doesn't schedule tougher non-conference FCS opponents, especially at home. At least his team gets an unexpected test from SFA junior Khairi Dickson, whose 202.7 rushing yards per game rank No. 1 in the FCS. The Penguins have allowed only 343 yards and one touchdown against the run in three games.
Conference play will heat up quite a bit next weekend, except in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which has a full schedule of five games this week as part of the only nine-game conference season within the FCS. Among the SWAC games is Grambling State's visit to Jackson State, only 11 months after GSU forfeited what would have been JSU's homecoming game because of its six-day player walkout.
Thursday, Sept. 18
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-1, 0-0 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (2-1, 1-0), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 20
X-Morehead State (1-2, 0-0 Pioneer) at Davidson (1-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.
X-Albany (2-0, 0-0 CAA) at Rhode Island (0-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Marist (0-3, 0-0 Pioneer) at X-Drake (1-2, 0-0), 2 p.m.
Austin Peay (0-2, 0-0 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (0-3, 0-0), 2:30 p.m.
VMI (1-2, 0-0 SoCon) at X-Samford (1-1, 0-0), 3 p.m.
X-Howard (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) vs. Morgan State (1-2, 0-0) in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 4 p.m.
Incarnate Word (0-3, 0-0 Southland) at X-Abilene Christian (1-2, 0-0), 4:05 p.m.
X-Alcorn State (2-1, 0-0 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (1-2, 0-1), 5 p.m.
Grambling State (0-3, 0-0 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (2-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
X-Southern (1-2, 0-0 SWAC) at Prairie View A&M (0-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Alabama A&M (1-2, 0-0 SWAC) at X-Texas Southern (3-0, 1-0), 8 p.m.
Interim coach Chuck Hepola will lead Nicholls into action at North Texas following Charlie Stubbs' resignation on Sunday. FCS teams are a mere 5-77 (.061) against the FBS this season.
Saturday, Sept. 20
Western Illinois (2-1) at X-Northwestern (0-2), noon
Delaware State (0-3) at X-Temple (1-1), 1 p.m.
Maine (1-1) at X-Boston College (2-1), 1 p.m.
Norfolk State (0-3) at X-Buffalo (1-2), 3:30 p.m.
Nicholls (0-3) at X-North Texas (1-2), 3:30 p.m.
Presbyterian (2-1) at X-North Carolina State (3-0), 6 p.m.
Northwestern State (1-2) at X-Louisiana Tech (2-1), 7 p.m.
Murray State (1-1) at X-Western Michigan (1-1), 7 p.m.
Southern Utah (0-3) at X-Fresno State (0-3), 10 p.m.
They may be outside the Top 25, but there's a bevy of notable non-conference clashes on Saturday, especially Bucknell at Sacred Heart (two unbeaten teams), Wofford at Gardner-Webb (the Runnin' Bulldogs stunned Wofford in a rainstorm last year) and Missouri State at Central Arkansas (no break in UCA's tough schedule).
Friday, Sept. 19
Holy Cross (2-1) at X-Harvard (0-0), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 20
Monmouth (2-0) at X-Duquesne (1-2), noon
Brown (0-0) at X-Georgetown (1-2), noon
X-Lehigh (0-2) at Yale (0-0), noon
Robert Morris (0-3) at X-Dayton (1-1), 1 p.m.
X-Houston Baptist (0-2) at Texas College (0-3), 1 p.m.
Cornell (0-0) at X-Colgate (0-2), 1 p.m.
X-Penn (0-0) at Jacksonville (1-1), 1 p.m.
Bucknell (2-0) at X-Sacred Heart (3-0), 1 p.m.
Valparaiso (0-2) at X-William Jewell (1-0), 2 p.m.
Stetson (1-2) at X-Birmingham Southern (0-1), 2 p.m.
X-Princeton (0-0) at San Diego (1-1), 4 p.m.
North Carolina Central (1-2) at X-Towson (1-2), 6 p.m.
X-Wofford (1-1) at Gardner-Webb (1-2), 6 p.m.
Ave Maria (0-2) at X-Mercer (2-1), 6 p.m.
Chowan (1-1) at X-North Carolina A&T (2-1), 6 p.m.
Miles (1-1) at X-Hampton (0-3), 6 p.m.
X-The Citadel (0-2) at Charleston Southern (3-0), 6 p.m.
Taylor (2-1) at X-Butler (1-1), 6:30 p.m.
X-Missouri State (2-1) at Central Arkansas (1-2), 7 p.m.
Weber State (0-3) at X-Stephen F. Austin (2-1), 7 p.m.
X-Central Connecticut State (1-2) at Dartmouth (0-0), 7 p.m.
X-Stony Brook (1-2) at North Dakota (1-2), 7 p.m.
X-Charlotte (3-0) at Elon (0-2), 7 p.m.
Mississippi College (0-2) at X-Lamar (2-1), 8 p.m.
Menlo (1-2) at X-Sacramento State (2-1), 9 p.m.
Portland State (1-2) at X-Cal Poly (0-2), 9:05 p.m.