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Published November 27 2012

Schnepf: NDSU needs to follow Bryant, Lombardi creeds

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Paul “Bear” Bryant won his share of college football games subscribing to the theory: “Defense wins championships.”

Vince Lombardi won his share of professional football games subscribing to the theory: “The best defense is a good offense.”

Legendary coaches.

Legendary philosophies.

In a state advertised as legendary, which notion are North Dakota State football fans subscribing to as their Bison begin defense of a national championship?

There’s no need in hiring a polling firm to answer that question. A survey of Bison tailgaters will most likely reveal: “defense wins championships.”

You can hear football fans in South Bend, Ind., chanting the same slogan. After all, it’s probably the only chance Notre Dame has at winning a BCS championship.

But is it the only way NDSU will win an FCS championship?

The Bison certainly proved last year that defense does win championships. But like last year, this year’s defense will need some help to make another run of four straight playoff victories.

And it all starts Saturday against South Dakota State – which is subscribing to the theory that “defense” could produce its first national championship.

It’s two of the nation’s best defenses going head-to-head in the Fargodome – where 17 days ago they slugged it out in a 20-17 Bison win.

The Bison defense – which ranks first nationally in scoring, rushing, passing and total yardage – will be asked to stop Zach Zenner. If the nation’s leading rusher is limited to 43 yards again, SDSU could be in for a long day.

But for that to happen, the Bison offense needs to rediscover the efficiency it displayed during the first five games of the season. That won’t be easy against a Jackrabbits defense that ranks fourth nationally in scoring and eighth in total yardage.

Back in early October, NDSU’s Brock Jensen was the fifth-ranked quarterback in passing efficiency – throwing only four interceptions in his previous 12 games.

In his last six games, Jensen has thrown seven interceptions – three returned for touchdowns. Jensen now ranks 36th in passing efficiency.

Jensen and the Bison are well aware that avoiding turnovers is key during a playoff run. Last year, the Bison entered the playoffs with six error-free games. That number has dwindled to four this year.

But there is one national statistic that bodes well for this year’s offense – which in turn bodes well for the defense. The Bison offense ranks No. 1 nationally in time of possession – hanging onto the ball for 35½ minutes per game.

Yes, Mr. Bryant, defense did win a championship last year. But – as Mr. Lombardi believed – the best defense needs a good offense.

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Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com