When the news started to break that Carson Wentz had broken his wrist it was easy to build a narrative for the rest of the season. The mighty Bison had just lost at home to South Dakota to fall to 4-2. Wentz was going to be out for 4-6 weeks. Highly touted freshman QB Easton Stick would have to go at least 3-2 over the course of the next five games to get the Bison to the playoffs and give Wentz a chance to return.
It's six weeks later now, and the story is completely different. First and foremost, Carson Wentz is not expected to return to the Bison. Despite the initial 4-6 week prognosis, head coach Chris Klieman does not expect to have the senior back for the playoff run. Wentz had an MRI scheduled for the week of the Montana game, with no timetable for a possible return.
If North Dakota State had been looking for a five game "bridge" to the playoffs, Stick and the Bison did a fantastic job. After the loss to the 'Yotes and the loss of Wentz, NDSU won five consecutive conference games to close the season. Three of those contests were on the road. The young QB was able to get the Bison to 9-2, with a share of the Missouri Valley conference championship.
That's not the case. There is no bridge. The future is now. If the Bison are going to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive it's going to be with the talented Stick at quarterback. North Dakota State is going to have to play defense and run the ball.
Does that sound familiar? The insertion of Stick into the Bison offense moved the Thundering Herd back to "Bison Football". The NFL-level arm talent of Wentz almost required offensive coordinator Tim Polasek to call passing plays. It worked out just fine. The NDSU offense scored almost 32 points per game in games started by Wentz. The Stick offense just worked better for the way NDSU wants to play.
The Bison operate on a strict 2:1 run to pass ratio with Easton Stick at quarterback. Stick himself is averaging 6.8 yards per carry on 62 carries. Running the ball with the success and the frequency that the Bison are running it has allowed them to dominate the time-of-posession battle as well. That's keeping the Bison defense fresh and they have responded by being dominant. Code Green finished second in scoring defense and first in run defense in the MVFC.
The most striking thing about Easton Stick has to be his composure. For a 19 year old freshman thrown into a save-the-season situation for five games, it doesn't seem like a whole heck-of-a-lot bothers him. When asked about the upcoming playoff game against Montana, this was Sticks response: "It's kinda business as usual. We come out to practice and the meetings with the same mentality. We're trying to get better every day, make sure we're improving in all aspects. There's not a whole lot different."
That's more than likely because there's not a "whole lot different" in Stick's preparation for Saturdays. Both head coach Chris Klieman and offensive tackle Joe Haeg have gone on the record praising Stick's commitment to good practice habits and film study. "He's been developing so much. We've had complete confidence in him since the beginning of the season. Every game, even when Carson Wentz was the starter, he was watching just as much film as Carson, he was learning all the plays, he was learning all the checks. That's why we have so much confidence in him" said Haeg.
The best word to describe Stick's play this season is "efficient". Rushing for nearly seven yards per carry and throwing for over 8.5 yards per attempt, Stick rarely puts the Bison in bad situations. Bolstered by a 11-2 TD-INT ratio and a 60% completion percentage Stick's 167.0 QB efficiency rating is actually higher than Wentz's. He's not making the mistakes young players are supposed to make.
The presumed starter for the next three seasons, Stick has gotten a head start on his college career. Bison fans have to be thankful that he has a five game head start before his first playoff run. "I think they're (the 5 starts) going to be beneficial. I've gained confidence. I trust myself a little bit more than when I was first playing, and I really trust the guys around me. Week by week we've been better and better" explained Stick.
BisoNation was in a rough spot after the loss to the University of South Dakota. They were without their star quarterback and without a clear path to the playoffs. The coaching staff, the players and the fans turned to Easton Stick to prolong the season into the playoffs so Carson Wentz could return. With Wentz no longer expected to return, everyone is looking at Stick to prolong a dynasty.