Before each North Dakota State football game, the BisonReport will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Missouri State beat writer Wyatt Wheeler of The Standard (Springfield, Missouri) to preview the Bison's Week 6 away game against the Missouri State Bears of the Missouri Valley conference.
1) Missouri State has already surpasses their win total from last season and is coming up an upset at Indiana State this past weekend of a top 25 team. What are the expectations for the Bears this season after starting the season 3-1?
WW: You can already call this season a success after winning three games, four games in after a 1-10 season. The team, of course, is setting their expectations high, but the Valley is still tough. With six of the next seven games being against ranked opponents, I would expect the Bears to sneak a win against a ranked opponent and a win over Southern Illinois.
The improvement is very evident, but they’re still not there yet to compete for a playoff spot in a crowded Valley. The season is a success and the Bears should be a team to watch out for in the future.
2) Missouri State quarterback Brodie Lambert threw for 279 yards and three scores last week against the Sycamores, how has the senior from Arlington (Texas) looked this season?
WW: Last week was Lambert’s second start of the season after the suspension of Breck Ruddick. Against Kansas State, Lambert was forced to get rid of the ball quickly to receivers that were covered by superior Big 12 talent. Kansas State wasn’t the best way to get a good read on how good Lambert was going to play. In addition, Lambert was told on Friday night that he would be starting against Kansas State on Saturday.
With a week of preparation, Lambert came out and tied his touchdown total in one game after throwing three touchdowns in nine starts last season. He looked much improved from last year and that’s in large part thanks to the play from wide receiver Malik Earl. Indiana State didn’t have an answer for Earl. Earl would burn the Sycamore secondary deep while also running really good comeback routes. Earl ended the game with 161 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions.
3) The Bears already have eight rushing touchdowns and are averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the season. Is that more about the offensive line play, or the running back talent?
WW: There are some really good players in the interior of the Bears offensive line. They were making holes in the team’s loss against Kansas State.
Center Riley Shantz and right guard Sam Ellifrits are the team’s standouts on the line. Head coach Dave Steckel has been pretty aggressive so far this season on 4th and short, and that’s in large part due to his confidence in the two studs between the tackles. They create some big holes for the backs to run through and they’re pretty scary when they pull. The backs are pretty good, but I’ll give the credit to the offensive line.
4) Everyone knows about All-American linebacker Dylan Cole, but how's his senior season gone thus far, and who are some other names on this Bears defense to watch out for Saturday?
WW: Cole is coming off a week which earned him the MVFC’s Defensive Player of the Week.
Cole put the game away late with an interception and a forced fumble to go along with his 13 tackles. Cole has some of the prettiest form tackling that I’ve seen and he’s working his way to another First-Team All-MVFC selection. He should also be on a NFL training camp roster come next summer.
5) What are the keys for Missouri State if they're going to beat the Bison, and what's your score prediction for the North Dakota State vs. Missouri State game, and why?
WW: A lot has to go right if the Bears want to top the Bison on Saturday. There’s absolutely no room for mistakes. Turnovers and penalties can’t happen. Earl is going to have to get open for Lambert if there’s any hope of anything happening through the air. The offensive line is capable of playing well against the North Dakota State offensive line, so there is a chance of the Bears moving the ball on the ground. The only question is if the Bears will stick to the ground game when they get behind.
I have North Dakota State beating the Missouri State 34-10.
The Bison are too good of a team to get beat by a team that’s on the rise. The Bears defense is good enough and well-coached enough to get a few stops on the Bison and the Bears should be able to scratch out a few points due to a big play from Earl or a good series of running the ball.