The Bison defense is back to championship-caliber
Last season the Bison defense gave up 20.8 points a game. To the average FCS school, that’s a great year for the Bison that’s disappointing, and that was exposed by the Jackrabbits in January that they were an average defense last year. They missed tackles, the interior d-line was inconsistent, and too many injuries caught up with them.
Through two games, “Code Green” is allowing only 8.50 points a game and 283 yards a game. To be honest, those injuries last year were the best thing to happen to the defense because they gave guys like Jaxon Duttenhefer, Kody Huisman, and Logan Kopp reps. The biggest improvement on this defense is speed. They are a fast football team on defense, they fly to the football, they tackle in open space, and so far, Jason Petrino’s new-look secondary has been phenomenal.
What makes this defense whole is Cole Wisniewski. The converted linebacker fits safety like a glove. He already has three interceptions, and if you asked him, he thinks he should have five, and one of those should’ve been a pick-six. “Code Green” is back to being a feared unit in FCS, but it can’t just be the defense. The offense has to be just as good.
The Bison offense has been inconsistent, to be kind. They are 5th in FCS in total offense with more than 480 yards a game, but the offensive line hasn’t lived up to the billing so far. They haven’t gotten the same push and not a lot of big runs unless the runner himself makes play like Cole Payton did against Maine or TaMerik Williams did against Eastern Washington.
I’m not saying they’re not as good as previous lines, but when your leading rusher from the running back spot is 38 yards by Barika Kpeenu, that is a problem I hope they solve by Valley play. Now give Maine credit for slowing down the run, but the “Rams” finally got it together in the second half, and the Bison did end up rushing for 264 yards, but they have to clean up the false starts, holds, and illegal man downfield penalties.
The rest of the offense has been solid, I like that Tyler Roehl has incorporated the run-pass-option and more dropback passing sets to allow Cam to throw the ball. He was 19 of 24 passing for 152 yards. My biggest criticism is the lulls they go through during the middle of quarters, where they look stagnant and out of rhythm. You can’t do that against Valley teams and expect success they have to keep the pedal down all the time, not just to start or finish quarters.
What I was most frustrated about in this game was the goal-line offense. The Bison were awful on the goalline and in the red zone in general in the 1st half. They were pretty much gift-wrapped a touchdown on their first drive setup in the red zone. It ended up in a field goal. Two drives later off of a turnover they gained a grand total of one yard and kicked a field goal. The next possession they go on a ten-play, 82-yard drive, but get stuffed on 4th and goal from the one.
I understand it’s game two, but the offense has only been able to generate flashes of the potential this offense has. However, they need someone to find that spark and make them more consistent, and maybe it’s a quarterback change?
The Bison may have a quarterback controversy again
Now I’m not saying that the Bison should make Cole Payton the starting QB. What I am saying is that the truth is staring you right in the face. The offense has been more dynamic when Payton is on the field because when he is, magic happens. It’s like watching 2019 Trey Lance, for instance, the 59-yard touchdown run. He eludes a sack and then outruns the entire Black Bear secondary to the endzone. The only question with Cole Payton that everyone asks is, can he throw?
We still don’t know, and he’s been here for three years, he has more rushing touchdowns than he does pass attempts. This to me sounds like the 49ers with Joe Montana and Steve Young, Montana was the dropback traditional quarterback, and Young was the athlete. Matt Entz is Bill Walsh in this scenario, which one do I go with?
Bill Walsh selected Montana, and they won the Super Bowl. With Entz, he must make a decision, and he must do it quickly because if he doesn’t, Cole Payton may leave. Cam Miller told Dom Izzo during media day, “I plan on coming back”. If you are Cole Payton what do you do at this point, do you stay and wait your turn or do you transfer?
At this point, it’s still up in the air. Two QBs do work or don’t work, depending on who you ask, but if one goes down and you are left with one, your offense is very one-dimensional. Just ask Brent Vigen and the Montana State Bobcats.
Montana State vs. South Dakota State
The other game on Saturday that Bison fans were watching was # 3 Montana State returning to Brookings to take on the defending champion and #1 team, South Dakota State, and new head coach Jimmy Rodgers. Montana State looked great out of the gate leading 10-7 at halftime, but then Tommy Mellot got hurt, and it was up to Sean Chambers, who is a runner, not a thrower.
The Bobcats ran the ball the entire half, literally they never threw a pass till the last drive of the game it felt like, Brent Vigen didn’t trust Sean Chambers to throw it, and his team kept making mistakes. They had false starts in key spots and a bad interception. They blocked a punt but couldn’t get it into the endzone. They settled for three and then gave up a touchdown two plays later.
The final drive for the Bobcats will live in controversy. They work it near the Jackrabbits 30 yard line, then Chambers throws to the endzone, where it is caught for a touchdown, but it’s reviewed, and it looks like the receiver may have had a foot down, but he didn’t have clear possession of the ball so it was ruled incomplete and the Rabbits won the game. This game told me that Montana State hasn’t changed since the Bison beat them down in Frisco two years ago and that the Rabbits are very beatable come November when the Bison come to town.
The Rabbit’s D-line is nowhere near as good as it was last year, not even close. Montana State ended up rushing for 211 yards, Reese Winkelman graduating is going to hurt SDSU because his replacements have not been nearly as good so far. Give the Jacks credit they rallied to win, but I think the Bison have a great chance to go back to Brookings and end this four-game losing streak to the Jacks and take back the rock.