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.
The same "play calling" that fans are complaining about after the past few fourth quarter performances is the same play calling that Bison fans have been puffing their chests out about for the last decade. The issue is in the execution, not the plays being called. If you have an issue with NDSU's late game strategy now, you must basically disavow all the games in which NDSU demoralized their opponents in the fourth quarter by jamming it down their throats.
This isn't the first time that the Bison have run the ball against 8 and 9 man boxes. There isn't some magic development in the way NDSU runs their offense that has all of a sudden allowed defenses to run extra defenders into the box. They've been there the whole time.
If NDSU can get healthy in the offensive backfield, and the offensive line can play a little better, you'll start to see better results. Bison fans don't complain about 12 play 80 yard drives with 11 runs when they work, only when they don't. Plankers is probably playing out of position (he's too tall and too slow to play guard), but that's been a problem since the beginning of the season. Once Bruce Anderson, Brock Robbins and King Frazier return, they'll go back to doing what they have done for years. Robbins is particularly important. He played so well against Iowa.
I didn't really agree with either of the holding calls on Zack Johnson. He's an All American and he's been playing the same way for four years. There was nothing there.
I mentioned Brad Ambrosious being a little quiet the past few games in last week's review. Now I'm quite sure he didn't read it and even more sure that he doesn't care what I think, but boy was that an answer. Ambrosious was a monster.
The hit that took Dunne's helmet off was a great job by Ambrosious. Often times when defenders get through that free and know they are going to be able to hit the quarterback as hard as they can, they get penalized. Ambrosious throttled down, just a little bit and delivered a perfectly legal hit. He was dominant against the run again as well.
The Bison had a number of outstnanding defensive performances.
Jalen Allison won't get many press clippings this week, but his work against Daurice Fountain was extraordinary. I'd love to get a chance to look at the coaches' film because Allison so often exited the camera frame but he didn't allow a catch to UNI's best pass receiving threat.
UNI tested Allison in some contested catch situations and he won those pretty convincingly, creating incompletions without drawing penalty flags.
Confidence is such a part of football and I've really noticed a significant jump in play from Allison since he was asked to shadow the opposing team's #1 wide receiver. It's almost as if he thinks he's a shutdown corner... so he is a shutdown corner.
The safeties played really well. Grimsley had another missed tackle on Saturday from a Tyvis Smith stiff arm, but I actually think he's playing a little out of position. I really think Grimsley and Dempsey are both free safeties. They've played their asses off in coverage (again, can't really see it on the TV copy), and you can tell that even in the box score.
UNI and WIU didn't complete a single pass longer than 30 yards over the course of the last two games. UNIs long pass was on a short pass to a running back. Not the safeties fault. The Bison haven't been beaten over the top lately.
Dempsey was on another level, and has been since the SDSU game. He's completely taking away his side of the field, made two huge turnover plays and has improved his run defense each of the last two seasons since moving from cornerback.
Jeff Illies continues to improve.
It's hard/weird to write about, but UNI always seems to play the Bison a little dirty. The late hit on the Illies TD was egregious. No reason to try and tackle RJ Urzendowski by the face in the first half and there was certainly no reason for Karter Schult to pop Lance Dunn on a play blown dead for delay of game.
That reminds me: FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, WHEN YOU GET A 15 YARD PENALTY ON THE KICKOFF AND THE TOUCHBACK GOES TO THE 25, ONSIDE KICK. EVERY TIME. EVERY TIME. NO EXCEPTIONS. EVERY TIME. Kicking off from the 50 means that the other team will more than likely recover (if they recover) at about the 37 yard line. Onside kicks work at about a 20% success rate, but the success rate is around 60% on a surprisde onside kick. Even if you figure the opposing team is expecting it, you have to assume the chance of recovering is more valuable than those 12 yards of field position. End rant.
Easton Stick, and this may sound strange, needs to play with even more confidence. His throw to Urzendowski down the middle for 25 yards was a special, special throw. So was his throw across the field to Illies. He threw an out to Shepherd on the far sideline from the opposite hash that was NFL caliber as well.
His turnovers, and his recent struggles have come from indecision. You can see it in his footwork if you pay close enough attention. The first INT was basically a punt, and he was just giving his receiver a chance to make a play. I have very little issue with that. The second INT was not a good play. He waited too long and forced the ball late into a closed window.
I just want him to make his reads and fire the ball. If that means the offensive staff needs to get him working on more designed rollouts that cut the field in half, fine. I'd still like to see more designed deep shots.
I'm not sure what to do about it, but this particular NDSU defense appears pretty susceptible to the screen game. If the Bison are going to continue to rush four, the linebackers have to be a little more cognizant of the screen.
For me, two groups have to play better in the fourth quarter if NDSU is going to do a better job closing games. First, the defensive line has to get more pressure when they rush with four guys. Elite defenses have been rushing four and dropping seven fora long time. It's how the undermanned Giants beat the 18-0 Patriots in the 07 Super Bowl. It's a really good strategy if you have the horses. I really do believe that NDSU does have the horses, they just need to start getting home a few more times a game.
The other group is definitely the run-blocking group and the backs. Stick has to make better read-option decisions, the backs have to be more productive and the offensive line needs to dominate late. If NDSU can play better late without blitzing and the offense can create first downs without the risk of stopping the clock by throwing incompletions, they'll be right back where they need to be.
Good for Dallas Freeman.