The FCS Playoffs belong to Bruce Anderson.
Anderson, North Dakota State’s 5-foot-11-inch, 216 pound leading running back, dominates when the lights shine brighter and the pressure mounts.
Take the 2015 postseason for example. Anderson, as a true freshman, cemented himself in Bison lore with two kickoff returns for touchdowns in successive playoff contests.
Against Montana in the second round, the native of Ruskin, Florida took Chris Lider’s kick 100 yards to the house in the third quarter, demoralizing the Grizzlies moments after they had finally cracked the scoreboard. The triple-digit return tied the school record, which readers will vividly remember was set in 1928 when Elmer Parisien did so against South Dakota.
Anderson came through again in the Herd’s quarterfinal matchup with Northern Iowa. After the Panthers connected on a field goal to take a 10-7 lead, the playmaker struck again. Anderson broke three tackles and used two spin moves to elude UNI to go 97 yards to the end zone, the fifth longest return in Bison history. His touchdown was the difference in the game, as the Bison went on to win 23-13.
The running back cut his teeth behind 1,000-yard rusher King Frazier as a freshman, running for 503 yards and inspiring speculation of bigger things to come in 2016.
However, it was a different running back who made a name for himself in 2016. Lance Dunn emerged onto the scene with 879 rushing yards and 11 scores. Anderson meanwhile, was on the outside looking in, nursing an ankle injury throughout the campaign.
This year, the reverse has been the case. After Dunn went down for the season with a torn labrum, Anderson had to step in to fill the void. Assuming the starting role did not come easily though, as Anderson rushed for only 141 yards on 48 carries in the first three games after his running mate’s injury.
“When Lance went down and Ty (Brooks) wasn’t 100 percent, I think Bruce felt the weight of the world on his shoulders saying, ‘Man I’ve got to carry this team,’” head coach Chris Klieman said following NDSU’s 38-3 victory over San Diego.
In the Bison’s final regular season game, Anderson regained his form, running for 95 yards against Illinois State. After that game, Anderson admitted that he had finally gotten back to having fun.
“I think sometimes we get away from that,” Anderson said. “We get so hard on ourselves. We’re actually playing college football; not a lot of people get to play college football. I could be injured or I could be out, but I’m getting a chance to play football so go have fun, cut it loose.”
That is exactly what Anderson did against the Toreros. He led all running backs with 112 rushing yards and took his lone reception 48 yards for a score, once again hitting his stride when the game matters most.
Anderson’s play drew the praise of San Diego’s head coach, Dale Lindsey. “I was very impressed by the way he ran over us; he ran through us and made a few guys not want to tackle him. I thought he was really good,” the 74-year-old coach remarked.
After providing big play capabilities as a freshman, Anderson has morphed into more of a power back, adding 14 pounds to his frame. Still, he can provide a spark when the opportunity arises, as he did on his touchdown reception and runs of 34 and 17 yards.
It was a head-turning display for Anderson, which spells trouble for whomever else will find themselves in Fargo for the playoffs. After the breakout against Illinois State, Klieman saw a change in his running back’s play.
“He just started playing football like Bruce knows how to play football,” Klieman commented.
With Bruce Anderson hitting his stride, and Brooks and Seth Wilson complementing him, the vaunted Bison running game will once again prove an imposing group for opponents.
“It’s so nice when you can plug three guys in there and know all three of them are going to make plays,” quarterback Easton Stick commented of his backs.
Bruce Anderson is very familiar with the spotlight of the FCS Playoffs, and, now the veteran in the backfield, he has taken command of the running game for the Bison.
“It’s like a different season we say,” Anderson said. “We just attack it. We take it one game at a time. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself and lose sight of what’s in front of you.”
The star-crossed rematch with James Madison in Frisco is on the horizon, but for Bruce Anderson and NDSU’s trident of running backs, Wofford is all that is on their minds.