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.
Klieman's right. Stumpf is playing like an All American. The depth and talent across all positions and system that NDSU runs doesn't lead to a lot of individual awards, but MJ is definitely one of the best three linebackers in the country. I don't know if he'll have the stats to be selected. Many All American linebackers are good players on weak defenses with astronomical tackle totals.
A season ago, Stumpf and PGT were very good at doing their job well and being in the right place, while DeLuca made all the splash plays. This season both players have taken it upon themselves to make plays. Yes, Jalen Allison made the play on Stumpf's Pick-6, but it still took a lot of hand eye coordination to intercept a ball that wasn't in the air very long. Add a season high 8 tackles and one for loss, Stumpf was all over the field, holding down the second level without DeLuca and Gee-Tucker.
Board can really be a player, especially at the Sam linebacker spot, but he needs to stay a little more sound in his assignments. He's so fast and so strong that it leads him to be very aggressive. There were a few times when Board got up the field too north and south and tried to make a play in the backfield instead of "keeping the cup". Watch 6:40 1Q. his first three steps are straight forward, and it allows him to be hooked by the tight end.
Hodges was a very good athlete and pressed the outside on a number of occasions, Board's aggressiveness worked against him.
I was impressed with the QB and obviously Hodges. They were good enough players certainly to play in the Valley or any other scholarship league. With Lawrence at the helm for the next two seasons, I'd anticipate seeing a few more Pioneer League titles out of the Toreros.
Polasek called a great game. I think a lot of the middle-of-the-season issues the Bison had on offense (especially late in games) had to do with NDSU's insistence on running the football, no matter how the defense lined up. Early in the game San Diego refused to play their safeties any deeper than their corners, providing run support and playing a lot of "Cover 4".
Instead of continuing to grind out the run game and winning a close contest (they certainly could have) the Bison opened up the playbook vertically. The Morlock wheel route specifically is a play designed to stress the second level. There really wasn't a third level the way that San Diego was playing, so when Morlock stressed his defender on a run/pass conflict, when he released vertically there was no help. You don't often see the Bison run the wheel twice in the same game.
With that said, the first series of the second half was gross. There's nothing that makes my skin crawl quite like run, run, run, punt.
He was able to call that game because Stick is turning into a monster. This is as well as I've seen him play. Yes, 12/20 is not a super impressive line, but there were three clear drops, and one of those would have been a touchdown. Stick was dealing. He really only missed one throw. There was a throw up the seam to a tight end that was probably a touchdown that Stick over threw off of play action.
It was specifically nice for Stick to "rekindle" a little chemistry with Urzendowski that wasn't just the deep ball. RJ did a great job getting open in this game. He's been winning a lot of contested catches this season, so it was good to see him get wide open.
I know how much the Bison love running the football, but I really think that Stick in a run-pass option is about as dangerous as it gets for the Bison offense, especially when he's rolling to his right. I'd like to see a few waggle concepts in the game plan with a deep option and a run option.
Boy oh boy, they can get that Stick counter play whenever they want it. Polasek's tweaks to the same offense NDSU's been running for almost two decades are subtle, but they're pretty great. There's always a balance between exposing Stick to injury and his talents as a runner. He's just too dynamic to leave in the pocket the whole game.
I've seen it three times now, and the roughing the passer called on Ambrosious on the Dempsey interception was garbage. Two hands to the chest after leaving his feet to tip the pass. No run up at all, he had already left his feet.
There's always a reason to beg for more Bruce Anderson touches. I don't know his health situation but I would have liked to see more conventional runs for Anderson, earlier in the game. It is very much understandable that Frazier and Dunn are the guys Polasek is leaning on. They've stayed healthy and available almost all season. That doesn't mean that Anderson isn't averaging 7.9 yards a carry this season, and didn't average more than 5.5 a year ago. He's electric.
Excellent work from the offensive line. This was as clean of a game as I've seen them play. Stick didn't take any sacks, was hurried just once on 20 drop backs (by a blitzer), and the running game rolled for 9.6 yards per carry. Kuhnert was particularly good. San Diego statistically had the best defense in the country, and the Rams laid waste to it.
I can see why San Diego was particularly good on defense this season. They are very, very, scheme-sound. There were so few mental mistakes by the Toreros in this game. They just weren't big enough. They weren't probably fast enough either. I don't know if they'll ever be able to get those athletes without offering scholarships, but they run a good system.