North Dakota State’s defense has the well-earned reputation of shutting down high-powered offenses in key games the past five years. Some games stand out: South Dakota State in the FCS playoff quarterfinals in 2016, Jacksonville State in the national title game following the 2015 season, Montana in the playoffs’ S econd round in 2015.
There’s no doubt the Bison have been terrific defensively. But as SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier pointed out after NDSU locked down his talented trio of quarterback Taryn Christion, receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert in the playoffs, it is often NDSU’s offense that leads to some remarkable defensive numbers.
Stiegelmeier’s point: Time of possession is important; an offense can’t score if it’s not on the field.
Saturday was no exception. Eastern Washington is the latest team to learn about the combination of Bison defense mixed with a grinding offense. The Bison beat the Eagles 40-13.
NDSU’s performance in Cheney, in fact, was peak Bison football.
Some eye-popping statistics tell the story:
- NDSU had a 42:40 to 17:20 edge in time of possession. It’s not a team Division I record: NDSU out-possessed Western Illinois 43:47-16:13 in 2015 (thanks to reader Zach Vanhorn for pointing out that game).
- That doesn’t tell the entire story. Eastern Washington actually had the TOP advantage after the first quarter, 7:37 to 7:23. That means the Eagles possessed the ball for only 9:43 total over the game’s final three quarters.
- But wait, there’s more. NDSU’s edge only got greater in the second half. Eastern had the ball a total of 5:21 in the second half.
- Not done yet. Eastern had the ball for 1:43 in the fourth quarter. The Eagles’ TOP numbers looked like this from the first quarter to the fourth: 7:37, 4:22, 3:38, 1:43.
Much was made of Eastern Washington’s lack of offensive punch one year after it put up 556 yards and 44 points against the Bison in an overtime loss at the Fargodome, and certainly new head coach Aaron Best has some issues trying to find balance between passing and running, but it is impossible to put up yards and points when you’re not on the field.
Another thing worth noting: NDSU ran off the last 11:50 of the clock in the fourth quarter with a 17-play, 80-yard possession. Counting the start of a drive at the end of the third quarter that began with 5:36 left on the clock, the Bison had the ball for 18:53 of the game’s final 20:36.
Eastern quarterback Gage Gubrud and his receiving corps are taking heat in the Spokane area for not being productive offensively, but the Eagles defense couldn’t get off the field Saturday. Best pointed out several times in his postgame remarks that NDSU converted third down after third down — and he was right. After going 1 of 6 on third down in the first half, the Bison were 6 of 8 in the second half.
That led to more time on the field for the offense, more minutes chewed up that didn’t allow Gubrud and the Eagles offense back on the field.
It was a thing of beauty, from the Bison’s standpoint.
Here’s a list of games during NDSU’s successful run in which the Bison memorably controlled the clock, none of which were quite as impressive statistically as Saturday:
- 2013 — NDSU 36:03, Kansas State 23:57 (final score 24-21 for Bison), regular season.
- 2013 — NDSU 40:20, SDSU 19:40 (final score 28-0 for Bison), regular season.
- 2015 — NDSU 40:04, Weber State 19:56 (final score 40-14 for Bison), regular season.
- 2015 — NDSU 43:47, Western Illinois 16:13 (final score 59-7 for Bison), regular season.
- 2015 — NDSU 39:19, SDSU 20:41 (final score 28-7 for Bison), regular season.
- 2015 — NDSU 40:36, Montana 19:24 (final score 37-6 for Bison), FCS playoffs.
- 2015 — NDSU 40:51, Jacksonville State 19:09 (final score 37-10 for Bison), FCS championship.
- 2016 — NDSU 36:40, Iowa 23:20 (final score 23-21 for Bison), regular season.
- 2016 — NDSU 40:55, SDSU 19:05 (final score 36-10 for Bison), FCS playoffs.
- 2017 — NDSU 42:40, Eastern Washington 17:20 (final score 40-13 for Bison), regular season.