At some point, the little engine that could stops being the little engine and becomes the big, hulking train that runs you right off the tracks. Like the FBS opponents steamrolled by North Dakota State the previous four years, Iowa State found out firsthand that NDSU is nobody’s little engine, despite their FCS label. The Bison dominated the Cyclones 34 – 14 before 54,800 fans, including 7,000 – 8,000 wearing green and yellow, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, extending their winning streak to 25 games. It’s the longest winning streak in the history of the FCS and the longest active streak in all of Division I.
It was such a dominating performance that it had national sports outlets, like Bleacher Report, writing things like, “Why the Big 12 Should Extend Invite to Top FCS Team North Dakota State.” The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, asked a similar question on Sunday morning. That’s right, a newspaper in New Jersey is keeping tabs on NDSU and thinks “maybe its simply time for NDSU to move up to the FBS.” USAToday followed suit, calling the Bison “the scariest team” in college football. CBS Sports advised FBS teams to stop scheduling NDSU. Well, if you can beat them, join them.
Even with a new head coach, Chris Klieman, and for the most part a new coaching staff, combined with many new starters, like quarterback Carson Wentz and four new rams on the offensive line, the Bison looked every part the juggernaut we’ve grown used to the last three years. While the faces may have changed, the tradition, culture, and preparation have not. It was business as usual for a determined group looking for their fourth straight national championship. “The tradition is the same. The culture is the same. The preparation is the same,” said Bison free safety and team captain Christian Dudzik. “Same hard-nosed offense, same gang-tackling defense; it’s the way we do things.”
After falling behind 14 – 0 early in the second quarter, it was all NDSU in a big way. The Bison offense punished an overmatched Cyclones defense. NDSU hit lighting on their second offensive play of the quarter. John Crockett burst through the middle of the line, left a safety hugging air, and went 80-yards untouched to put the Bison on the board. “I got a great offensive line, they opened up the holes and my job is to make the last guy miss,” said Crockett, who finished with 138 yards and three touchdowns on seventeen carries. “It doesn’t get too much easier than that, run straight and make somebody miss.” Crockett was voted by ESPN.com as the Capital One Impact Performer of the Week, beating out Southern California’s quarterback and a wide receiver from Florida State.
For their part, after the two early scores, the Bison defense suffocated ISU, allowing them to cross midfield only once the remaining 44 minutes of the game. “Once we get that offense rolling, as a defense we sit there and say now it’s our turn,” said defensive end Kyle Emanuel, also a team captain and maybe the most underrated defensive end in college football. Emanuel paced the NDSU defense with nine tackles, four for loss, and two sacks. “All we can do, regardless of what the score is, is try to get a stop and get the ball back to our offense.”
Mission accomplished. The Bison scored the game’s final 34 points, led by their rushing attack, which outgained ISU 302 – 102 in rushing yards and scored all four NDSU touchdowns. The Bison averaged an eye-popping 6.9 yards per rush against the Cyclones. That’s just not supposed to happen when an FCS team plays a team from a power five conference like the Big XII. Nobody told that to the Bison, though, whose physical attack overwhelmed the Cyclones. “The toll of that type of offense began to take effect on us, it’s designed to wear you down, it did wear us down,” explained ISU head coach Paul Rhoads. The Bison offense controlled the football for nearly 36 minutes, piling up 506 total yards. “It got to a point where we couldn’t stop them from getting a first down let alone control anything of the outcome of the football game.”
The three-time defending FCS champs have now rolled up five straight wins against FBS competition with wins over Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas, all members of the Big XII, and Minnesota from the Big Ten. Throw in a win against Colorado State from the Mountain West and it’s easy to see why NDSU has become one of the biggest stories in all of college football. SportsCenter led into its highlights of NDSU’s demolition of ISU by calling the Bison “America’s team.” NDSU was trending nationwide on Twitter, and not just once. Of the top ten topics trending in the United States during the game, three were about the Bison. “North Dakota State,” “#NDSUvISU” and “#GoBison” all made the top ten list. Lee Fitting, the producer of ESPN’s College GameDay, was also paying attention, tweeting, “Uh oh Fargo. I see you Bizon.”
NDSU had moxy, they had swagger, they had an attitude about them maybe best summed up by Wentz hurdling an ISU defender midway through the third quarter for a 20-yard carry as the Bison marched towards Adam Keller’s second field goal of the game and a 20 – 14 lead. For his part, Wentz answered any questions Bison fans may have had about their new quarterback. “He’s a great quarterback,” said Zach Vraa, NDSU’s all-conference receiver, who finished with eight catches for 96 yards. “I trust him to put it out there, the short passes, the long passes. Hopefully we can keep this rolling.”
Wentz finished the day 18-of-28 for 204 yards, including a 44-yarder to Vraa to ISU’s 1-yard line that setup Crockett’s second touchdown of the day that tied the game at 14 – 14. “It helped once John popped that big run,” Wentz said. The junior from Bismarck, N.D., has spent the past two seasons as the backup to Brock Jensen. “It took a lot of pressure off me and the rams really started coming alive and we started opening up holes and things just came easier for me after that.”
For NDSU, with all the new faces and in the absence of 24 highly-touted seniors from last year’s 15 – 0 team, it was as an impressive season-opener as the program-defining victory in Manhattan, Kansas last August. The Bison plan to keep the victory express rolling down the tracks. “We’re in full force, ready to go,” said Crockett. “We’re not holding back on anyone and we’re ready to keep this train rolling.”