North Dakota State's Code Green defense is not a new concept. The Bison have been productive on defense since the day Craig Bohl arrived on campus. That tradition has certainly not gone by the wayside with the transition to Chris Klieman and his staff. The most famous call from Fargodome public address announcer Dan Michaels for as long as I can remember has been "How 'bout that Bison defense?!"
It's not just an excellent scheme. Yes, the Bison have run the same 4-3 principles for the duration of the Bohl/Klieman era. Speedy linebackers, assignment-sure defensive backs and front fours that can dominate without help have made NDSU's cover 2 defense championship caliber for the better part of the last decade. The Thundering Herd hasn't been just about the X's and O's, they've had some pretty great "Jimmies" and "Joes".
Bison fans remember plenty of greats on defense. Joe Mays, Craig Dahl, Nick Schommer, Ramon Humber, Marcus Williams, Colten Heagle and Carlton Littlejohn are just a few of the names of North Dakota State defensive standouts. As impressive as all of those players were, none of them matched the individual productivity of Kyle Emanuel.
Emanuel was the Buck Buchanan award winner in 2014. The award is given to the FCS defensive player of the year. Emanuel tallied 28.5 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. It's possible that no Bison defense was ever as dependent on one player as the 2014 defense relied on Emanuel. The current San Diego Charger left huge holes to fill.
Enter Greg Menard. Due to a lack of depth at defensive end a season ago, Menard had his redshirt burned and was thrust into the rotation. A highly touted recruit out of the Twin Cities, Menard came to North Dakota State with high expectations. Menard and Brad Ambrosious, another player who didn't get to redshirt, were thrust into the 2015 starting lineup. While both players have been key rotational pieces, but the two of them only had 6 total sacks between them.
Menard has been a revolution. Thrust into Emanuel's old right defensive end position, Menard attacks from the quarterback's blind side. With 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks through 4 games, the Lakeville, MN product is haunting QBs and left tackles alike. Bison fans were concerned about the defense after the first game. A lot of that concern had to be about a lack of pass rush.
The front four for the Thundering Herd were charged with a difficult task against South Dakota State. The Bison defensive line was going to be given no help from the secondary. They were charged with rushing the passer with four and defending the run with seven. The secondary was to look after Jake Weineke.
The Dakota Marker game became the Greg Menard coming out party. His 2.5 sacks and complete domination of Jackrabbit left tackle Charlie Harmon rattled quarterback Zach Lujan and limited South Dakota State to -4 yards rushing. The homecoming game against Northern Iowa was no different. Menard notched two more sacks and another tackle for loss. Number 96 has gone from "useful" to "effective" to dominant.
It's unlikely that a player like Kyle Emanuel is replaced the very next season. It's even more unlikely that a 19-year-old sophomore replaces him. As unlikely as all that seems to be Menard is dominating. The progression of the Bison defense has correlated directly with with the pass rusher's breakout. It's possible that Greg Menard is the next name in the long line of Bison stars on defense.