McFeely Blog: Five things to watch out for in the Bison-Illinois State game – InForum

FARGO – Oh, for the heyday of 2014 and 2015, when the state of North Dakota and the state of Illinois were division giants of the soccer championship. Bison and red birds met in a classic – perhaps the more classic – national championship game in the history of the division after the 2014 season, which NDSU won. The Redbirds were set for another clash with the Bison in the 2015 playoffs, but unexpectedly lost on the way.

As it stands, the Bison have now won 10 straight wins over Illinois State, dating back to 2010. And it will be considered a surprise if the Redbirds win this Saturday in Normal, Ill.. NDSU (5-0) opened as a 21.5-point favorites against Illinois. State (2-3).

Of course, only one of these programs remains an FCS giant.

The Bison, three favorites of the TD. Unnatural. Yeah.

But that seems to be the state of the program for longtime head coach Brock Spack. After seeing his roster wiped out by withdrawals and transfers when the fall 2020 season was postponed to spring 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Redbirds are in rebuild mode.

After hitting the spring season after four games because he believed his team were too thin on the defensive line, the ISU student newspaper reported that some players thought Spack was too quick to pull the plug. So there is stuff going on in Normal.

It’s a far cry from where Illinois state was when it had Tre Roberson on quarterback, Marshaun Coprich on the running back, James O’Shaughnessy on the close end and a crowd of dudes. defending in Frisco, Texas.

Here are five things to watch out for in Saturday’s game.

Bryce Jefferson will return as the Redbirds’ starting quarterback after sustaining a shoulder contusion in Game 2 of the year against Western Michigan. He’s in his third season of action after redshirting in 2018, but has yet to prove he can consistently displace the Illinois state offensive.

Jefferson has made less than 50% of his passes in his career and has about 75 passing yards per game. Still, Spack brings him back into the starting lineup against first-year student Jackson Waring, who has performed well as a starter in the last two games in Jefferson’s absence.

Waring remains inexperienced and isn’t as mobile as Jefferson, so maybe that’s the head coach’s reasoning. Maybe the two QBs will play against the Bison.

It should be a tough comeback for Jefferson. The Bison defense, despite the absence of some starters due to injuries, is once again one of the best units in the FCS. And the quarterback’s story against the Bison is not a good one.

Illinois State quarterback Bryce Jefferson tries to pass North Dakota Free State goalie James Hendricks in the FCS quarterfinals at the Fargodome last Saturday. David Samson / The Forum

In a 2019 playoff game at the Fargodome, the Redbirds offense had just nine first tries in a 9-3 Bison win. Jefferson was 3 of 8 for 34 yards and an interception. Illinois State had just 194 total yards, even with running back James Robinson on the team.

In a 2021 Spring game at the Dome, a 21-13 Bison win, Jefferson was 9 of 26 with an interception and TD. He had 124 passing yards in that game as the Redbirds totaled 257 yards.

If Bison’s defense can stop Illinois State’s running game and get Jefferson to pitch, it could get interesting. And by interesting we mean ugly.

Speaking of the Illinois state offensive, it’s not good in the fall of 2021. And he’ll have to face the Bison defense. This should strongly favor the NDSU.

The state of Illinois ranks near the bottom of most offensive categories at the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They are last in number of games played and possession time, and ninth out of 10 teams in several categories including total offense, scoring offense, first downs and passes completed (ahead of only NDSU).

Against opponent FBS Western Michigan, the Redbirds had 57 attacking yards. Total. In four quarters.


Logan McCormick of North Dakota state celebrates the sacking of Iowa north quarterback Theo Day at the Fargodome on Saturday, October 9, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

The NDSU, meanwhile, ranks very well in most defensive categories, not only in the Valley but also in the FCS. The Bison lead the conference in total defense (252 yards per game), scoring defense (8.6 points per game), run defense (73.4 yards per game) and pass defense. (178.6 yards per game).

The Bison are nationally ranked No.1 in red zone defense (0.429) and scoring defense (8.6 points per game), fifth in total defense (252.0 yards per game) and seventh in defense in the game. floor (73.4 points per game).

If these trends continue, how is the state of Illinois going to reach 20 points, for example, which might be the minimum of what it needs to win the game?

Perhaps you want the most astounding statistic that sums up the NDSU season so far: The Bison have only allowed their opponents inside their 20-yard line (the red zone) just seven times in five. matches.

Almost as incredible, the Bison only allowed their opponents to score three times during those seven trips inside the 20 (two touchdowns, a basket).

North Dakota didn’t own the ball inside the Bison’s 20-yard line once in a 16-10 NDSU victory two weeks ago. The Hawks’ only touchdown of the game came on a 30-yard pass. Their deepest penetration into bison territory was on the 25th, which ended in an interception.

090521.S.FF.NDSUfootball.Mostaert .jpg

Eli Mostaert of North Dakota state is set to fire Albany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler at the Fargodome on Saturday, September 4, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

By comparison, Western Illinois have allowed their opponents to enter the red zone 22 times in six games. Indiana State (six games) and Youngstown State (five games) allowed their opponents to enter the red zone 20 times each.

More statistics that point to problems for the Redbirds:

Illinois state is last in the Valley to convert third-try odds, at just 15 of 56 for 26.79%. Conversely, the defense of the NDSU allows opponents to convert to third position, down 22.06% of the time (15 out of 68).

It looks like a lot is against the Redbirds offense in this game.


Bison or Redbirds: who will win?

Illinois State Redbirds or NDSU Bison: Who do you think will win?



After a strong start against inferior opponents in their first three games, the Bison haven’t executed the ball so impressively in their last two games. NDSU entered the game in North Dakota averaging 348.3 rushing yards per game, and consistently ran for a respectable 223 yards that day. The Bison ran just 181 yards against northern Iowa.

With the Bison still leading the FCS with 289.8 rushing yards per game, it looks like they need to get back to the ground and pound philosophy that has won them so much success. They must revive their half-offensive.

Quarterback Quincy Patterson II was the key NDSU runner against a strong UNI defense, converting some key third downs on long runs. The NDSU has never been able to regularly move its team of running backs. The Bison’s longest scrimmage run by a running back against the Panthers was a 13-yard dash by Kobe Johnson. Dom Gonnella, Hunter Luepke, Jalen Bussey and TaMerik Williams were unable to free themselves for the big winners.


North Dakota State’s Jalen Bussey faces East Washington in his FCS Football Playoff Round 1 game on Saturday, April 24, 2021 in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

It would be nice to see a few home runs – or at least a few doubles – by substitutes Johnson and Bussey. Bussey had a 72-yard run against Valparaiso, but other than that his long run for the year is 12 yards against Towson.

After two difficult games with the ball, Patterson needs a break. If the Bison are to keep him as healthy as possible before the end of the season – that is, the game in South Dakota in early November – they had better limit quarterback races to one. handful of matches instead of relying on him for a ground attack.

Patterson had 19 carries against UND and 12 against UNI. Some were scrambling over assists, but it would be up to the NDSU to limit Patterson’s expected points to five or less against the Redbirds.

This is the point in the FCS season where depth becomes a factor and historically the NDSU has shown better depth than other programs. Injuries add up and how a team can replace missing players plays a big part in winning and losing.

Injuries, as with all football teams, continue to play a role for the Bison.

The NDSU have lost potential All-American defensive end Spencer Waege for the season to a knee injury. Starting defensive end Brayden Thomas suffered an elbow injury against UND that kept him from facing UNI. Defensive end Tony Pierce left the UNI game with what appeared to be a leg injury. Outstanding starting linebacker James Kaczor missed his third game of the year against the Panthers with what has been described as a groin-related injury he sustained in the spring. Linebacker Luke Weerts has also been sidelined for two games.


North Dakota State linebacker Cole Wisniewski assists a tackle from Northern Iowa’s Bradrick Shaw with teammates Jasir Cox and Jackson Hankey on Saturday, October 9, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

And that’s just the defense. Offensively, starting center Jalen Sundell suffered a knee injury against UND and did not play against UNI.

Other than knowing that Waege is out for the season, it’s unclear when or if the other injured Bison players will return.

So far, NDSU has managed to plug the holes. One of the best examples is linebacker, where second student Cole Wisniewski replaced Kaczor and made six tackles, a season-high, including five solo saves against UNI with a sack and a rushed quarterback.

Pushed into action as a true freshman in the spring due to Kaczor’s groin injury, Wisniewski improved every week after a few rough times in the spring.

And at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Wisniewski brings the necessary size to a group of linebackers that is undersized by Bison standards.

The Bison remain statistically the best defense in the FCS, even with numerous injuries to key players. If they can keep their current players healthy and recover some of the injured players for the stretch run, that bodes well for later in the season.

About Jimmie P. Ricks

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