Photo By Hillary Ehlen
It’s no secret that if North Dakota State has had one weakness defensively, it’s their ability to contain versatile quarterbacks. Since 2015, the Bison have only lost five football games. Of those five, two of them came to what many would consider a “dual threat” signal caller in South Dakota State’s Taryn Christion.
However, 2018 has seen a different result. North Dakota State has been able to dominate dynamic quarterbacks. Christion, Khaleel Jenkins, Christian Lopez, Austin Simmons and Troy Andersen were all mobile quarterbacks on NDSU’s schedule this season. All of them took significant punishment from the Bison front seven too. For Christion, he faced the pressure twice.
That being said, the notion that North Dakota State fails to properly contain mobile quarterbacks has been debunked. It is now a misnomer. Those who still abide by that idea have clearly not watched a North Dakota State football game in 2018.
Now, with the FCS national championship upon us, the Bison are again tasked with a weapon under center in Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere. The sophomore may be the most dangerous quarterback the Bison have faced all season. To date, Barriere has racked up 2,855 total yards, 603 on the ground and 2,252 through the air. He has also accounted for 31 touchdowns this season. Yet, Barriere has not seen a front seven like the one he will see on Saturday at Toyota Stadium.
“It’ll be a good challenge for all of us up front,” said junior defensive end Derrek Tuszka. “I know he’s not the first mobile quarterback we’ve seen this year, but it will be a good challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
Tuszka happens to be playing his best football at the most opportune time for North Dakota State. He has accrued 44 total tackles so far this season, including 11 for loss and 6.5 sacks. Of those 6.5 sacks, four of them have come in the last four contests. Thanks to that (and Barriere’s lack of size), Tuszka expects to pressure Barriere early and often on Saturday.
“We’ll be getting pressure on him all game, but we’re expecting them to run a little bit as well so we’re ready for that. The game plan hasn’t really changed a whole lot, we’re just going to try and keep him in the pocket,” he said. “We know he wants to scramble and make plays on his feet and throw the ball around that way. Nothing is really going to change up front, we’re going to get after him and we expect him to run and pass the ball.”
Senior defensive end Stanley Jones shares in the sentiments of his teammate. However, he feels that stopping Barriere starts with mindset. “I think the main thing we need to do is not let it slow us down,” said the senior from Bismarck, N.D. “When you hear about a kid who can run the ball or he’s a threat both ways, passing and running, some teams get a little bit hesitant. For us, it’s important to not slow down and play our game.”
Jones continues, stating that rushing Barriere is just within the flow of the game. “It’s just however the game flows, we just need to do our thing. We’re not going to overthink it too much,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job this year whether it’s a mobile quarterback or just a passer of just playing our game. As the game goes and things happen, we’ll make changes.”
The senior has been an underrated weapon for current defensive coordinator and future head coach Matt Entz. He has accumulated 33 total tackles (seven of those for loss) and forced two fumbles on the year.
With a mobile quarterback and a veteran offensive line, both Jones and Tuszka highlight the importance of rotating defensive linemen out on a consistent basis. It has been a hallmark of the Bison defense for several years now. However, Eastern Washington features an experienced offensive front with four seniors protecting Barriere.
“We saw most of these guys last year when we played them, so as long as we can have fresh legs, fresh bodies to rush after them, getting after them, I think it will help us out a lot,” Tuszka said. The Bison defeated the Eagles 40-13 in Cheney, Washington, last season. “Always trying to stay fresh and wear them out.”
Jones takes into account Eastern Washington’s veteran leadership up front but is quick to point out that this Bison defensive line is veteran-laden as well. He believes the constant rotation will wear down Eastern Washington, something that has happened on a consistent basis to opponents all season. “I think it helps with any team and on the defensive line, you need to have fresh bodies in there constantly and I think it wears on some teams,” he said. “That will for sure help us out.”
Saturday is no doubt a big moment with plenty of storylines attached to it. Tuszka, who still has one year of eligibility left, knows it’s important to send 24 seniors and coach Chris Klieman out on the right note. However, Tuszka also recognizes the game is important for offseason momentum as well.
“It’s a big game for everybody, sending coach out right, the other coaches out right. Also, the younger guys getting reps. It’s a big game,” he said. “I know going into this game, if younger guys have big games, it just carries over into the offseason, gives them confidence. That only helps us in the offseason.”
The Warner, S.D., native is also excited to have his current defensive coordinator take the reigns of the program next season. Having seen Matt Entz evolve as a coach over his time at North Dakota State gets him excited about 2019. “I’m so pumped,” Tuszka said regarding Matt Entz taking the head coaching position. “I really get along with him and I love the way he coaches. Now that he is transitioning from a defensive coordinator to head coach it’s huge. I’m excited for him and it’ll be good next year, it’ll be fun.”
Tuszka is quick to note that 2019 is an afterthought right now. “It’s business as usual, that stuff will take care of itself in the end,” he said about the transition. “I try not to worry about that, we got a game to worry about.”
Jones feels the same when speaking about Entz and his head coaching capabilities. “Coach Entz is awesome, man. From the moment I came in, he took me under his wing and helped me out and talked me through things,” Jones said. “He’s a player’s coach, smart. I think next year, nothing really changes. NDSU has been NDSU forever, there’s just been a different person at the head. He’s just the next man up and he’s going to do an awesome job, I’m really excited for him.”
For the Bismarck High School grad, this game has a little more meaning attached to it. This being his final collegiate game, the opportunity to ride off into the sunset with 23 other seniors and Chris Klieman is top of mind for Jones. He says he has tried to savor his final Bison moments these past three weeks.
“This whole journey has been awesome from the beginning. Those coaches came in with us and for them to leave with us, it’s just really special,” he said. “Obviously, nobody wants coach Klieman to leave because everybody likes him so much and the rest of the staff that’s heading out, but we’re just going to enjoy the moment. We’re not thinking about the future, we’re just enjoying this moment and having some fun.”