North Dakota State is one of the best football teams in the nation and an FCS powerhouse for many reasons.
One of those has been adjustments and learning on the fly.
The Bison beat No. 3/4-ranked Montana 22-10 by limiting the Grizzlies’ rushing attack to 256 total yards, and only 68 of those came on the ground. Travon Van, who scored four touchdowns with six touches against Central Washington earlier in 2014, was held to minus -4 yards rushing.
Meanwhile, the Bison rushed for 280 yards and 5.1 yards per carry.
Physical play is how the Bison have always won, and will continue to win at this rate.
“We couldn’t be happier with where we’re at,” NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. These kids will stay hungry and they’ll continue to work.”
Sure, NDSU has been a model of consistency the past years, not is reflected by not only its 28-game win streak, but by how NDSU has been able to win.
The Bison find ways to win in a plethora of different ways.
NDSU’s drives stalled near or in the red zone five times, but kicker Adam Keller converted on a school-record five field goals. Those 3’s kept building up on the Grizzlies, who kept hope alive with each halted Bison possession.
“It was frustrating,” said Bison quarterback Carson Wentz. “But that’s how it goes sometimes. Credit their defense for stiffening up in the red zone.”
And maybe some of the credit goes to the 18,980-strong fan base for being loud enough to make things hard on Montana when it had multiple chances to take the lead.
“I thought we just struggled all around, so credit to (NDSU’s) defense,” said Grizzly quarterback Jordan Johnson. “It was tough to communicate, but I thought that we would be able to settle down.”
Maybe it was the halftime adjustments. NDSU hasn’t given up a single point in the fourth quarter this season, and the Grizzlies couldn’t even score in the second half.
“We try to learn with what we see in the first half,” Klieman said. “(The players) make a lot of the adjustments, as well as us as coaches making the adjustments.”
Or perhaps it was how the Bison pecked away at Montana’s defense. NDSU controlled the ball for 20 more minutes while rushing the ball 55 times.
Sooner or later, the Grizzlies were bound to fall too far behind to even hope to catch up.
“We like to control the ball,” Wentz said. “We just wear down teams and that’s what happened today.”
In reality, it was all of the above. The Bison win games because they know how to pick, and fight, their battles. They know how to game plan and how to prepare. They know when to run and when to pass. They know when to take a risk and when to take a sure thing. They know how to play through adversity and how to capitalize on opportunity.
No, wait, NDSU knows.
“We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game,” Klieman said. “We had to eliminate explosive plays, win on third down and control the line of scrimmage.”
Maybe most importantly, NDSU knows how to win meaningful games. And as long as this run continues, every game will carry more significance.
“We just talk about being 1-0 at the end of the week,” said Bison running back John Crockett. “We don’t talk about how we need to win this many games to keep the streak going, because then we’ll be consumed by the streak. Then we’ll just lose focus and lose what our true goal is and that’s winning a national championship.”