I had a chance to re-watch the TV copy of Saturday's game a few times and am going to provide a few thoughts and observations from what I saw. Film study off of TV copy is much more difficult than one might find from any of my NFL work. The NFL provides a wide shot of east-west play in which all 22 players can be seen, and a north/south view focusing on the offensive and defensive fronts. No such luck here.
Also, BisonReport would like to extend our condolences to Chase and the Morlock family. Chase was kind enough to give us some of his time a week ago and was friendly and engaging despite what was obviously going on away from football. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of Paul Morlock.
I understand why Klieman has so much respect for Coach Steckel. Missouri State was a team a season ago that didn't belong on the same field as the Bison. The Bears got beat 55-0 at the Fargodome. Over and over and over again, the Bears lost last season but didn't change their program or their offensive and defensive philosophies. Instead they got a year older, and a year better. Most of Missouri State's players will return in 2017 as well. It's an impressive group that went toe-to-toe with the Bison for a little over three quarters. I was very impressed with Missouri State.
I was specifcally impressed with three players. Dylan Cole was certainly as advertised. He plays very fast and always seems to be around the ball. Cole saved what would have been a 90+ yard Bruce Anderson touchdown, and it wasn't a clean angle. Cole was caught up in traffic and was still able to save a touchdown from one of the faster players in the Missouri Valley. Colby Isbell is a very good athlete, too. He was a problem for the Bison in the first half, and will be a force to be reckoned with for the next season and a half. Malik Earl was a very impressive receiver. His understanding of how to get open against NDSU's zone was yeoman's work.
Anyone who doesn't think football has a mental or psychological component needs to watch this game again. It was so obvious when Missouri State figured out they weren't going to win this game. Their level of play dropped significantly after the Steidl fumble recovery. It was night and day.
Easton Stick has the same "miss" as Carson Wentz, which is something he can work on. Stick (and Wentz) both tend to miss high when they do. Stick missed both Darrius Shepherd and Jeff Illies high in the red zone. High misses are OK in the red zone because they usually go out of bounds and/or out of the back of the end zone. High misses between the 20s end up getting intercepted by safeties. Complaining about Stick at this point is admittedly nitpicking. He's got a 9 to 2 TD to INT ratio with a 9 yards per attempt average.
King Frazier is underrated. I get in the habit on the podcast of referring to NDSU football games as a boxing match. The first half runs that, on Saturday, didn't end up in points served as "body blows" to a Missouri State run defense that is very good, but by the end didn't have anything left in the tank. Yes, NDSU's massive (and talented) offensive line wears down opposing front sevens, but Frazier has a ton to do with that also. He's not as exciting as Dunn or Anderson, or as versatile as Morlock, but the way he finishes runs is very hard on defenders. As a tackler, when you're being basically attacked by the ball carrier for three quarters, quarter four is hard to get through.
RJ Urzendowski. Damn.
I wrote last week about all the things Chase Morlock does for the Bison. Caleb Butler is starting to be that type of player as well. His assistance at fullback to go along with his work and defensive end and defensive tackle was impressive. Butler wasn't great as a lead blocker, but he didn't embarrass himself either. Butler works on special teams as well. Butler is another walk-on success story for NDSU.
Greg Menard is starting to get the superstar treatment from his defensive coordinator, not just the opposition. If Menard is going to play at the next level (and I think he is), it's going to be at the linebacker position. He was given a 3-4 OLB type role on Saturday. Normally NDSU is content to set up their defensive line with Brad Ambrosious anchoring the left end position and Greg Menard operating from the blind side of the quarterback at right end. Menard's sack on Saturday came from his traditional right end position, but he was all over the field.
Menard dropped into coverage, played some left end, and rushed from the inside out of a two-point stance. I believe that the coaching staff is doing all of these things with Menard to win football games on Saturdays, but showcasing his versatility and treating him like a star is certainly going to help his pro stock. Menard has been particularly impressive this season. Pass rushers often find that sacks and QB pressures come in bunches. With a sack and a tackle for loss in each of NDSU's first five games the junior has been remarkably consistent.
It really is too bad that Nick DeLuca got hurt. Matt Plank did an excellent job on Saturday, and is an above average starter in FCS football at the middle linebacker position. I'm sad about DeLuca because MJ Stumpf and Pierre Gee-Tucker are playing such outstanding football. PGT has been the star early in the season but Stumpf played like a man on fire on Saturday. I think this linebacking corps would have been the best NDSU has ever seen if the three seniors would have been able to play a full season together.
This was EASILY the best coverage game for NDSU's young secondary. You don't need to watch the film back to see this one, the box score tells it all. The Bison held Missouri State to 4.2 yards per attempt and intercepted two passes. Lambert had just thrown for 279 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions the week before, so this was an offense that was rolling right along. Yes, the front seven had a lot to do with the defense's success but the young defensive backfield might have turned a corner on Saturday. It's an important development with Jake Weineke and the Jackrabbits coming to town on Saturday.
The Bison might not have a punt returned against them for the rest of the year.