The Bison did not play their best game on Saturday, and that might be the most promising thing that came out of the win over Southern Illinois. North Dakota State found a way to win on the road against a competent Valley opponent despite losing the turnover battle, missing two field goals, failing to score in the red zone twice and extending Saluki drives with penalties.
Offensive Coordinator Tim Polasek didn't appear to have a game plan any different than the one he used at Indiana State. The Rams of the NDSU offensive line mauled Saluki defenders all day long and the Bison skill position players reaped the rewards. North Dakota State had a staggering 397 yards of rushing offense on 48 carries.
Easton Stick was at it again. The freshman quarterback rolled over the 100 yard mark rushing before half time. Stick ended up with 130 yards rushing on 16 carries including a 60 yard romp to open up the second drive for the Bison offense. The Omaha native also hit his high school teammate RJ Urzendowski for two touchdowns on the way to a 12/17 day with 138 yards passing.
Junior RB King Frazier had his finest game as a Bison. The powerful transfer from Nebraska gained 178 rushing yards on just 16 carries, including explosive gains of 50 and 51 yards. Frazier exemplified the power running game that Bison fans have become accustomed to.
Southern Illinois QB Mark Ianotti lived up to his billing as an elite player in the MVFC. The senior quarterback was responsible for over 90% of Southern Illinois offensive yardage. He passed for a respectable 277 yards and rammed into Bison middle linebacker Nick DeLuca (well maybe not every time, but it seemed like it) to the tune of 83 yards rushing on 24 carries.
DeLuca was a monster in the middle all day long. The junior linebacker accounted for 20 total tackles and was responsible for taking on Ianotti on a lot of designed QB runs that were not read option.
CJ Smith had a big game on Saturday afternoon as well. The shutdown corner not only had an interception and three pass breakups (!) but was also in on a monster sack in the second half. Star defensive end Greg Menard did play (groin), but did not look himself all day long and failed to record a tackle for loss or a sack.
It was certainly not a flawless performance from the Bison on Saturday afternoon. Lance Dunn lost a fumble in the second half and Easton Stick created an empty red zone trip by breaking one of the cardinal rules of quarterback play.
Stick underthrew Urzendowski on a corner route and put the ball in a place only the defender could get it, resulting in an easy INT for SIU defensive back Chris Adkins. Freshman LB Levi Jordheim extended a Saluki drive with a reprehensible roughing the passer penalty on 3rd and 18 from deep inside their own territory.
Winning on the road in the Missouri Valley Football Conferene is not easy. It's impressive to pick up conference road wins. It might be even more impressive to win games on the road when you don't play your best, and that's exactly what the Bison did.
There is potential for this North Dakota State team to play much better, even with the young Stick learning the quarterbacking ropes. The rest of the Valley is hoping the Bison don't fire on all cylinders any time soon.