NDSU head Coach Chris Klieman, fresh off the signing of a six year extension and a fifth consecutive national championship (the second with Klieman as the head coach) finishes up spring football this afternoon with the Green and Gold game. It's an inter-squad scrimmage with a very odd scoring system, but it's at least a chance to get in full gear and perform in front of BisoNation.
The game begins at 1:00, following NDSU's Spring Showcase last night and numerous events held by the athletic department this morning. Admission is free, and if you get a chance to get to the Fargodome at 1:00, here are five things to watch for.
1. Let Easton throw it! NDSU went into a very run-heavy offensive philsophy when after they lost Carson Wentz for an eight game stretch. Freshman (now Sophomore) quarterback Easton Stick was able to lead the bison to an 8-0 record during his stint, but he wasn't exactly allowed to air it out. Stick was very efficient, sporting a 13 to 4 TD to INT ratio, but only threw the ball about 18 times per game. This has led to the (incorrect) assumption that Stick is not a talented passer. Anyone who has seen any film of Stick at Creighton Prep or paid attention to his mechanics and arm talent knows better. It will be fun to pay attention to how "open" the offense is because
2. Weapons, weapons, and more weapons. It's not like Stick doesn't have anyone to throw to. Before his injury, Chase Morlock might have been the best pass-catching running back in the country. Yes, the Bison lost Lucas Albers, but Jeff Illies, Connor Wentz and Nate Jenson are joined by talented freshman Ben Ellefson in the tight end corps. Despite losing Zach Vraa, who owns nearly every receiving record in NDSU history, the Bison should be very good there, too. RJ Urzendowski and Darrius Shepherd have already endeared themselves to Bison fans, as has slot man/returner Eric Perkins. Bison fans need to pay attention to Dmitri Williams, Marquise Bridges (if he's healthy enough to go), Dallas Freeman and Khayvon Hawkins as the Bison await the arrival of 6'5' freshman Sean Engel.
3. Watch the cornerbacks. North Dakota State has been dealing with injuries at the cornerback position all spring long, which is not ideal considering they've lost potential NFL talent CJ Smith and nickelback Jordan Champion. The team has moved safety Jaylaan Wimbush to corner, and if he can handle it he brings great size to the position. The Bison are definitely going to need to get something out of young players Dakota Reid and Dominic Davis if they're not going to get meaningful snaps out of senior JuCo transfer Quentin McCoy.
4. Linebackers could be an all-time unit. There have been fantastic linebacking corps in recent Bison history. The Littlejohn-Olson-Beck group was particularly fantastic, as was the wrecking crew of Mike Maresh, Joe Mays and Ramon Humber. Humber and Mays are still in the NFL. This group of NDSU linebackers is led by DeLuca, who himself will be a mid-round pick in the NFL draft. Maybe he has the NFL career of Mays and Humber, maybe he doesn't, but he's a more impressive athlete than both. That's the thing about this group of linebackers, they are big, impressive athletes. Beck, Olson, Mays and even Humber would be considered "undersized" linebackers. There is nothing undersized about the 6'2" 220 Stumpf, the 6'3" 245 DeLuca or the 6'1" 220 Gee-Tucker.
The other reason to pay attention to the linebackers is because of the very real potential for depth. The coaching staff is already high on Dan Marlette and Levi Jordheim (who won't play in the spring game), but safety convert Chris Board and young players Gray Gochenour, Jake Brinkman and Aaron Mercadel are very exciting. Each of these young players have had another year of experience, and another winter in Coach Kramer's strength program.
5. The redshirts come off (sorta). It seems like every season for the past few years a few freshman have avoided redshirting in the NDSU program. There were a handful last season (Williams, Anderson, etc.) and I believe there will be a few more in 2016. That doesn't mean that there aren't exciting players from the 2015 recruiting class that could contribute in 2016. The spring game is the first chance to really get a look at them. People will remember the shows that Easton Stick and Lance Dunn put on at last year's game, and will certainly remember their contributions to the 2015 championship.
Brock Robbins will probably be the starting fullback in 2016 after his redshirt season. Demaris Purifoy might be the most phyiscally impressive back that NDSU has. Jaxon Brown is a very exciting safety prospect. The Bison are still trying to figure out how to use former Fargo South super-athlete Ty Brooks. Defensive tackles Connor Hubbs, Jack Darnell and Bryan Carlton were all very highly thought of coming out of the Twin Cities area, and have a chance to play with the departure of Brian Schaetz.