Losing the FCS kickoff weekend game they have become accustomed to afforded the North Dakota State Bison an extra week to prepare for their home opener this Saturday. After an intensive five week fall camp, the Herd will welcome the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils to the Fargodome to begin the 2017 season. Coaches, players and fans alike all eagerly await the chance to see the 2017 Bison take the field and begin a new championship streak.
A football program known for producing prodigious names such as Jerry Rice and Deacon Jones, MVSU has fallen off considerably since their heyday in 1984, Rice’s senior season. The Delta Devils have not recorded a winning season since 2006, a year in which they recorded a 6-5 record. MVSU hit their lowest point in 2010 after posting an 0-10 record and failing to score more than 20 points in a single game.
The last time the Delta Devils faced NDSU in Fargo was in 2006, when the Bison defeated them handily by a score of 45-0. The two squared off in the following year at Rice-Totten Stadium in Itta Bena, Mississippi with similar results: the Herd dispatched MVSU, 58-7.
The Delta Devils will have to hope for a miracle if they’re to even have a chance of upsetting the nation’s No. 2 team. In 2016’s 1-10 season, MVSU relied heavily on their passing game, largely due to fact that their running game posted a meager 279 yards last season, ranking dead last in the FCS. The Delta Devils’ only hopes offensively are that their running game can improve and that quarterback Austin Bray can continue to progress. Bray was an adequate signal caller for MVSU last year, completing 54 percent of his passes.
One area of the game in which the Delta Devils surprisingly excelled in 2016 was clock management. MVSU ranked 25th in the FCS in time of possession, an odd number considering their ineffectiveness in converting first downs and advancing the ball down the field. The Delta Devils average of 31:40 was just a mere 11 seconds less than the Bison last season.
The deck is stacked against MVSU to begin the season. After Saturday’s game with the five-time FCS national champions, the Delta Devils will take on Southern Illinois in Carbondale, Illinois. A home date with No. 21 Grambling State is on the horizon thereafter.
Meanwhile, the focus for the Bison will be getting snaps to backup players and evaluating the depth of the team. Head Coach Chris Klieman elaborated on his plans for Saturday’s tilt at his Monday press conference.
“I don’t know how good we are. I don’t know how good Mississippi Valley State is,” Klieman remarked. “We need to worry about us. We need to play a lot of guys regardless of where the game is at in the first quarter, where the game is at in the third quarter,” he continued.
The head coach mentioned that the offensive line in particular will receive a great deal of attention. Klieman plans to play seven or eight offensive lineman throughout the contest to take stock of the available talent. “We need to improve as a football team and that starts with our offensive and defensive lines,” Klieman stated.
Klieman believes that an advantage the Bison have over last season is that there is a greater number of players available for the non-conference schedule. “We have a few more bodies that we feel are capable of playing that we weren’t saying ‘Oh boy, there’s going to be a significant drop off’. ”
Getting backups the all important snaps in development terms is something the Bison did not get last year, especially in the non-conference schedule. Home games against Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington both went into overtime, while the away game at Iowa was a last second field goal.
This year, the tough game at Eastern Washington is surrounded by two easier opponents, Mississippi Valley and Robert Morris. Backups figure to be getting snaps in both games.
In spite of making an effort to ensure that many different backups will get playing time, Klieman reiterated that the top priority for the game will be to win. With a struggling Mississippi Valley State team coming to Fargo, Klieman will get both of his wishes: a gaudy win and a chance to play his backups early and often.