After two straight dominating performances, the North Dakota State defense is looking like the unit of old. Bison fans are breathing easier as a result. In the season opener, the Montana Grizzlies piled up 92 plays for 544 yards against the normally staunch Code Green defense, a group that was tasked with replacing seven starters from one of the best units in the Football Championship Subdivision over the last four years. The Grizzlies, operating under a new offensive system and first-year head coach threw the ball all over the field and scored on the last play from scrimmage to knock off the Bison.
Since the 38–35 loss at Montana, the Bison defense has yielded a combined 16 points to Weber State and the University of North Dakota. The Wildcats added a touchdown on a kickoff return. Both of UND’s scores were setup by special teams miscues, a long punt return and a fumbled punt. Take those off the board and the Bison would likely have shutout their neighbors from Grand Forks. Digging deeper, the numbers are more impressive. The Bison locked down on UND like a steel cage, giving up a Division I-era low 61 yards and three first downs. Weber State didn’t fare much better, totaling only 206 yards with six first downs.
“Montana, we had a bad taste in our mouths and after that we’re like, ‘We don’t want to feel that again,’” said Nate Tanguay, a sophomore defensive tackle from Mukwonago, Wis. The Bison defensive front was in UND’s backfield all afternoon. NDSU finished with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. “I was so impressed defensively how we dominated the football game,” explained Bison head coach Chris Klieman. “That’s as well as we’ve played up front collectively with a bunch of guys on the defensive line, linebackers hitting their fits, safeties hitting their fits and keeping the ball in front of us.”
Klieman said before the season started that it would take the Code Green defense a few weeks to gel. And gel it has, right in time. Finished with their nonconference schedule that included three Big Sky opponents, the Herd opens Missouri Valley Football Conference play Saturday at South Dakota State followed by a homecoming date with Northern Iowa, the only team that beat the Bison last year. SDSU opened the season with their first ever win against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, beating Kansas 41–38. The Jacks followed that up with a win 55–10 win against Southern Utah and a 34–10 drubbing of Robert Morris.
“South Dakota State has a dynamite offensive line. Moving forward, we have to be able to control the line of scrimmage with our front guys,” Klieman said. NDSU has won seven consecutive battles against SDSU – including a pair of playoff games in 2012 and 2014. The last time the Jacks beat the Bison was in October 2009. Graduating what was widely considered to be the best class in SDSU history, many thought it would be a rebuilding year in Brookings, S.D. Instead, the Jacks find themselves ranked No. 7 in the FCS Coaches’ Poll, just five spots behind the No. 2 Bison.
This showdown for the Dakota Marker will be the first conference game for both teams. Despite the fact it will be the first weekend in October, the rivalry game could go a long ways in deciding the conference race and playoff seeding. “We’ve got to come out like that every game now,” explained Tanguay after the UND win. “We have to get better because we have some really good teams coming up.”
The game kicks off at 6 p.m., and is televised on NBC North Dakota, Midco Sports Network and ESPN 3. Radio coverage is available on the Mighty 790 KFGO.