Jeff Kolpack, Published October 26 2012
Salukis defense poses a challenge to NDSU
That fact hasn’t been lost on the North Dakota State offense this week. It was the lone offensive flop in a season that ended holding a national championship trophy at 14-1.
“Yeah, I know I didn’t perform to my abilities,” said center Joe Lund. “A lot of guys didn’t do too well. We were just getting used to the defenses and how they played it and I think we felt our way through it too much.”
The defense is SIU’s 3-4 alignment (three down linemen, four linebackers) that has caused more problems than traditional 4-3 looks have. In Lund’s instance, he’ll have to contend with 6-foot-1, 304-pound nose tackle Kayon Swanson straight up.
NDSU had no problem with South Dakota’s 3-4 defense last week in a 54-0 victory. Lund said he’s hoping there will be carryover this week.
“I think often times we get more credit than we deserve and probably more criticism than we deserve, depending on the week,” said offensive line coach Scott Fuchs.
Fuchs said the defensive front of SIU will be the best NDSU has faced this season. The Salukis lead the Missouri Valley Football Conference in quarterback sacks with 15 in five games.
“They’re very athletic, physical, tough kids,” Fuchs said.
In the past, NDSU switched Lund to guard and Austin Richard from guard to center against a 3-4, but that will not happen this year. Richard was a senior last year and Lund is the veteran presence in the offensive line.
“This is the year for me to step up especially,” Lund said.
Ojuri and Crockett still waiting for big games
NDSU junior running back Sam Ojuri said he’s still waiting for the day both he and John Crockett are 100 percent healthy on the same Saturday. In Ojuri’s case, he’s finally reached that point for the SIU game today.
Ojuri sprained a knee ligament the first day of fall practice and followed that with a sprained ankle in the season opener against Robert Morris.
“It’s awesome to get my full stride back,” he said.
Meanwhile, Crockett has battled a hip pointer the last two weeks, but he’s expected to play today.
Statistically, however, both are not where the duo of Ojuri and D.J. McNorton were last year when Ojuri averaged 5.9 yards a carry and McNorton 5.2.
Crockett is averaging 5.0 yards an attempt and Ojuri 4.2. Crockett has the high game of 122 yards against Northern Iowa.
“We’re not where we need to be and we know that,” Ojuri said. “That’s just how we look at ourselves. We criticize us the hardest of anybody. We’re just trying to fix things we’re doing wrong and go from there.”
Turnovers have fueled SIU’s season turnaround
After a 2-3 start, SIU has turned its season around ,and one of the biggest reasons has been the turnover margin. The Salukis lead the league at plus-nine, meaning in five conference games they’ve gotten nine more turnovers than their opponents.
They’re tied for first in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision with 13 fumble recoveries and tied for third with 21 forced turnovers. They’ve made them count, too, returning five of them for touchdowns.
That includes a 100-yard fumble return by linebacker Bryan Presume and a 100-yard interception return by safety Anthony Thompson. The Salukis have also returned two blocked punts for touchdowns.
“They are all well-designed plays,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “The punt block unit is well-coached and schematically presents a lot of problems. It’s not by chance they’ve blocked a punt in the last three games. Anytime you manufacture points outside of what your offense makes, your chance of winning skyrockets.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found