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.
So what changed? That, of course, has to be the #1 question when it pertains to NDSU's ability to contain South Dakota State's offense. NDSU allowed 6.7 yards per play in the first meeting (that 19 points given up was a mirage) and then proceeded to give up 10.4 yards per play on South Dakota State's first drive. The obvious question is what happened?
I actually don't think the rumors of Taryn Christion's ankle injury were overrated. Yes, the Jacks ran the QB run play in the first drive but there are a few pain management methods (including cortisone) that would allow a player to do things early in the game that they can't do late in the game.
There was a noticeable shift in what the Jacks were willing to call offensively and a noticeable shift in what the NDSU pass rush was willing to do (they stoped containing and started attacking). This might be film review but the box score tells you a lot as well. Christion ran wild in October. He lost 16 total yards on Saturday. Also you can clearly see him grab his ankle on the first play of the fourth quarter after an MJ Stumpf knock-down.
They also got their hands on Dallas Goedert. A lot. Goedert was not allowed any of the free releases that sent him into the secondary with a full head of steam in October. Jalen Allison also did yeoman's work covering Jake Weineke. The most effective thing SDSU did on offense was move Wieneke into the slot on run downs and make Chris Board and Tre Dempsey cover him.
Easton Stick was again sensational. He was a huge part of NDSU converting 10/13 3rd down attempts. 3rd down haunted this offense in the middle part of the season. Not only that, but some of those conversions were on third and long, one was 3rd and 20+. 21 passing attempts, 16 rushes. 9 yards per attempt through the air, 5.2 yards per carry on the ground. Stick was not only a model of consistency but also incredibly clutch. 3rd down is the money down and Stick was straight cash, homie.
Side note: I saw some awful stuff on social media about Stick after the end of the first half play (which was a bad mistake). That was a mistake but for some Bison fans to say that it was just another bad play by a bad player is insane. If you don't think Easton Stick is not only a very good player but the most valuable player to the program for the next two games please stop reading my work because I cannot help you.
This was the best game I've seen from King Frazier in at least a month. It was also clear how much this one meant to him. Frazier was very animated after big runs. Frazier played the part of a senior who had absolutely no desire to end his career by losing to South Dakota State on his home field. Frazier was violent and sudden at the line of scrimmage, making good decisions and good cuts and making them hard.
Darrius Shepherd was held out of the first half, but his hamstring sure looked good in the 4th quarter. He ran a very smart route against the SDSU zone at 11:20 3Q and the run after the catch showed why he's such a special player. He used his body to get his momentum going down the field without removing his concentration from catching and securing the ball. He was headed up the field vertically when SDSU players were moving horizontally to cover the play. The result? A 6 yard throw that resulted in a 25 yard play.
The bubble screen that he took to the barn was flat out afterburner speed (and a great block from Dmitri Williams). Shep, despite playing hurt was a YAC master.
Speaking of Dmitri Williams, his development this season has been real, and has been impressive. Wide receiver is a difficult position to master, no matter what system you play in and Coach Polasek's scheme is no different. Williams has been exceptional as a blocker all season long and is a player NDSU loves to use on the jet action, but he's running real routes now, and he's doing it well. The TD that got called back is the one that is going to stick with everyone but the comeback route he ran on an Easton Stick bootleg to the left was a complex and very well run route.
It really is too bad that he wasn't redshirted a season ago. He didn't produce much as a true freshman and looks to potentially be a special player.
My favorite play of the game was 1Q, 1:44. It was absolutely flawless. Play designs aren't all just X's and O's on a flat white sheet of paper. There is a lot of pre snap motion that is designed to identify opposing coverage, and potentially cause an error in the other team's defensive formation. It's exactly what happened to SDSU here.
RJ Urzendowski motioned across the formation to the offensive left, where there was already a tight end (Connor Wentz) and a wing (Chase Morlock). This forced SDSU to move Christian Rozeboom over Morlock and slide DB Jordan Brown into the WLB spot in their defense. The Bison run a counter that starts at Rozeboom and ends with Jordan Brown one on one in a run defense situation with Landon Lechler (not good for him). Zack Johnson pulls, he and Morlock kick out the play-side end and Lance Dunn is off to the races because NDSU created a mismatch on the other side of the play and rendered Rozeboom useless, chasing a much faster player from behind all the way to the end zone.
The play was so well set up, so well blocked and so well executed by Dunn that it had to be my top play of the game.
Another great game for the offensive line. Specifically the right side. Colin Conner, Zack Johnson and Austin Kuhnert were all either limping noticeably or the game had to be stopped to deal with an injury of theirs. Big Jack Plankers and Landon Lechler picked up any slack that those injuries may have caused. Both players were dominant.
I didn't actually track participation, but it seemed like this was the game that NDSU used the Bryce Messner package more than any other. It was effective too. 300+ yards on the ground isn't going to draw any complaints for me. Yes, the Messner package makes it obvious that NDSU is running the ball, but SDSU wasn't able to stop it whether they knew it was coming or not.
This was another exceptional performance from Dom Davis. What a player he's turning out to be.
There was actually offensive pass interference on the Dempsey interception that wasn't called (2:35 3Q). 44 comes out of the backfield and dives at Plank's knees before the ball is thrown and it happens a good four yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Not a legal play.
What happened at the end of the first half can't happen if you're Coach Klieman, and it can't happen if you're Easton Stick. Yes, that's an obscure rule in that South Dakota State was able to take the five yard penalty and the ten second run off but that last play needed to be snapped immediately and it needed to be a passing play so that the field goal was still an option. Great game, one black mark.
This was another extremely well-called game by Tim Polasek. Christion, whether he can run or not is still a capable passer and he has two targets that are going to play on Sundays. The best way to keep them contained was to not let them play. Running the ball and dialing up third down masterpieces, Polasek helped Defensive Coordinator Matt Entz by only asking him to defend 39 Jackrabbit plays.
Connor Wentz you gotta catch that.
I have honestly no idea what SDSU's left guard was doing on the touchdown to Wieneke that got called back. The call was play action and he pulled (something that's common to set a different pass protection and further "sell" the run fake) but then he just kept motoring on down the field, engaging with MJ Stumpf. Did it have anythnig to do with the end result? Probably not. In fact, it took away a pass protector but it was an obvious penalty and a huge mistake. SDSU would never recover.
Caleb Butler ladies and gentlemen!
It is becoming more and more difficult to defend South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeyer. Klieman won't say a bad word about him, and he seems to be the nicest midwestern guy in the world but this game was again very chippy. Dallas Goedert threw a punch. Mangiarelli was diving at knees on more than one occasion. It is hard not to call South Dakota State dirty, and it's hard to not to associate that with the coaching staff. If they're teaching it it's a huge problem. If it's happening and they're not doing anything about it, it's really not that much better.