Domination. That's really the only way to describe North Dakota State's effort against Western Illinois on Saturday afternoon. It was the first sentence out of Head Coach Chris Klieman's mouth after the victory.
"What can you say? It was a dominating performance."
The Bison made the final box score look almost ridiculous, especially considering how important this game looked on the schedule just a few weeks ago. First downs: 29-9 NDSU. Total yards: 528-205 NDSU. Rushing yards: 331-33 NDSU. Final score: 59-7 Bison. NDSU took two minutes to score their first touchdown of the game. That set the pace for a first half that would end with a shocking 38-0 Bison lead.
North Dakota State moved into a tie for first place in the Missouri Valley with Illinois State's loss to South Dakota State in Brookings. Because the Bison do not play Illinois State during this rotation of the Valley schedule, NDSU has a chance to split the conference title with the Redbirds for the second consecutive season. Quite a turnaround for a program that lost to South Dakota (who might be good) at home and lost their quarterback all in the same weekend.
Not only were the Bison "dominant" on the scoreboard, but they were dominant in their style of play. The Bison offensive line laid waste to the Western Illinois front seven. The Bison ran the ball a staggering 61 times for an equally staggering 331 yards. Nine different Bison carried the football including a 14 carry, 99-yard performance from freshman running back Bruce Anderson.
As well as things went on the ground, the Bison moved the ball through the air just fine. The pass protection was exemplary all day long, the "Rams" did not allow a sack. Freshman quarterback Easton Stick averaged almost 10 yards per passing attempt and threw four first half touchdown passes, including a SportsCenter worthy grab by senior receiver Zach Vraa to put the Bison up 7-0. RJ Urzendowksi, Darrius Shepherd and Andrew Bonnet also got in on the first half scoring action through the air.
When asked for his thoughts on his first Fargodome game, Stick was emphatic: "It was awesome".
On a day when the offense scored 52 points, it's difficult to say they weren't the stars of the game, but they might not have been. The Code Green defense was everywhere on Saturday. The Bison limited the Leathernecks to 205 total yards, and as has become a trend, just 33 yards on the ground. The Bison D also provided some points of their own in the form of linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker's "pick six" in the first quarter.
Nick DeLuca led the team in tackles again on Sunday and registered a sack on a perfectly timed blitz. CJ Smith continued his All America campaign at corner with a textbook forced fumble in the first quarter. "We've been emphasizing turnovers for a long time" explained Klieman. Leatherneck leading rusher Nikko Watson was held to just one rushing yard on four attempts. Watson came into today's contest as the Valley's second leading rusher.
The Bison have looked like the four time defending national champions all season long. What I mean by that is they've looked like a good, not great squad that has a bunch of young players trying to replace champions. Saturday was the first time this season North Dakota State has looked like 2015 title favorites.
Western Illinois Head Coach Bob Nielson may have summed it up perfectly: "I've seen a lot of teams in 23 years of coaching. I'm not sure anyone in the country can beat them when they play like that."