Coming off arguably their best overall performance of the season last Saturday in a 24-7 win over Illinois State, the Bison will head east to take on the Western Illinois Leathernecks this Saturday. Much like the trip to Indiana State a few weeks ago, this will be the first time the Bison have made the trip to Macomb, Illinois since 2018 where the Bison crushed the Leathernecks 34-7. While this year’s edition of Western Illinois football may be a very disappointing 0-8, the Bison know they have to keep focusing on themselves as they enter the dog days of the season.
“We’re going to talk about the Bison,” Bison coach Matt Entz said. “We start pouring them into talking about this player, that player, I think we create some distractions. We’re just going to keep talking about the things that we have to do to play Bison football on Saturday.”
As stated, this week’s matchup presents some similarities to the game at Indiana State just a few weeks ago. As was the case with traveling to Terre Haute, this is the first time that many players on the Bison roster have played in Macomb.
“Very few have been down there just due to the rotation of the conference schedule,” Entz recalled. At the end of the day, field, state, it’s all the same as anywhere else to me. We’ve got to go out and execute and we’ve got play Bison’s brand of football.”
As for the Indiana State week, the Bison were coming off a big homecoming win against Youngstown State and were set to face South Dakota State the following week. In that game in Terre Haute, the Bison were only able to beat a one-win Sycamore team by five points. Now coming off a home win over Illinois State, the Bison are faced with what could be a ‘trap game’ before taking on Southern Illinois on November 12. To stay locked in, senior safety Dawson Weber and the Bison need to come into Macomb with the right state of mind.
“Focus on us,” Weber stated. “Got to go in there with the right mindset. Take each day, each practice one day at a time and each game one game at a time and we’ll see the results we want to see.”
As the Bison head to Hanson Field, a place they’ve never lost, they look to carry on their solid performance from the run defense against a Leatherneck team that’s averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. Addressing the issues in the run game defensively is something the Bison worked on during the bye week and it certainly showed last Saturday by allowing just 76 total yards on the ground.
“We just honed in on the details in the bye week,” Weber cited. “We focused on ourselves. We focused on the fundamentals, tackling, all the basics on defense that we need to find that result on Saturdays.”
As for the running game on the offensive side of the football, the Bison were able to see Kobe Johnson return to the backfield this past week. Johnson, who had been dealing with a high ankle sprain, ran for 51 yards on 10 carries last Saturday in his first game since October 1.
“He looked like he didn’t miss a beat,” Entz said of Johnson. “I was really excited for Kobe. You’re always concerned with the high ankle sprain that it’s going to take time. I think he’s running as hard as he has in his career here and it’s a benefit to our program.”
Along with quarterbacks Cam Miller and Cole Payton getting their share of carries, running backs, Hunter Luepke, TaMerik Williams, and more are also splitting their carries with Kobe Johnson. Despite having so many running backs to give the ball to, Johnson started to feel like he was getting back into his routine on Saturday.
“Honestly I would say Saturday I feel like I’m back fully in a routine,” Johnson stated. “The game was moving pretty fast for me, a couple carries. To be able to slow down as the game went forward, it was big for me.
As for the passing game, quarterback Cam Miller is coming off a game where he attempted the most passes in a game during his career at NDSU with 30. While attempting 20 or more passes for the third straight game, Miller has remained extremely efficient. Through eight games, Miller has completed 69.8% of his passes, ahead of his school record of 67.8% from last season.
“His time, his effort, his energy along with Coach Hedberg and our offensive staff have enabled us to do that,” Entz said of Miller. “Having 10 other guys on the offensive side of the ball that buy into his leadership and his ability.”
Miller and the Bison offense will look to continue their success against the Leathernecks when they kick off from Macomb at 1:00 p.m. this Saturday. The game will be exclusively televised on ESPN+ but you can listen to Rob Hipp on the play-by-play and Bison legend Phil Hansen on the commentary at Bison1660-AM or 107.9 The Fox on the FM dial.