Jeff Kolpack, Published January 12 2013
Kolpack analysis: Discipline was key in Bison football repeat
It’s hard to accurately measure, but North Dakota State led the country on the Passion Scale by virtue of having the loudest venue and also buying the most tickets for the title game before the playoffs even began.
In both cases, it really wasn’t close.
They flocked to Frisco, Texas, by the thousands to see their team defeat Sam Houston State 39-13 for the FCS title, the second straight for the Bison. They saw an opportunistic offense that made some big plays and a defense that continued to be its consistent self.
Those are general observations.
But if you were to get down to the statistical nitty gritty, an analysis by The Forum can easily point to the Big D.
Not specifically. We’re talking about discipline.
Perhaps no category measures that better than personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, the latter of which are usually taunting or disrespectful comments and do not involve physical contact.
The Bison did not commit either penalty in their four-game playoff march to the FCS title. In fact, they had just one in their last eight games – a 15-yarder in a regular-season game against South Dakota State.
On the season, NDSU was flagged with seven personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in 15 games, with three of those coming in one game against Northern Iowa. In contrast, Bison opponents had 19 of those major infractions.
Some of them hurt, like the three Georgia Southern picked up in the semifinals at the Fargodome. That did not include a roughing-the-passer penalty on NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen that came in the Bison’s game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, capped by Jensen’s 5-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
Another penalty statistic of note: NDSU was whistled for roughing-the-passer just once all season in an age when referees seemingly watch it closer than they used to.
True, the Bison led the FCS in scoring defense, giving up 11.5 points per game. Only 17 teams in the entire division gave up less than 20, with four of them in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
True, NDSU was first in total defense, giving up 234.5 yards per game; first in first-down defense, surrendering 12.7 a game; second in passing defense at 140.5 yards per game; and fourth in rushing defense at 93.8 yards per game.
But with the exception of Marcus Williams’ No. 5 ranking in interceptions, you would be hard-pressed to find many Bison players among the top 100 in any defensive individual categories.
Not many stars? No problem. Team defense takes discipline – the ability to do your assigned task and trust the other defensive players to do theirs.
Moreover, it takes discipline to constantly rotate defensive linemen and secondary players and not lose a beat.
NDSU had no players among the top 100 in tackles for lost yardage. Middle linebacker Grant Olson finished 24th in total tackles, and defensive end Cole Jirik was 65th in quarterback sacks.
The only other Bison players to appear on the top 100 leaderboard in a category were linebackers Carlton Littlejohn and Travis Beck and safety Christian Dudzik.
Littlejohn and Beck tied for 38th in forced fumbles with .27 a game, and Littlejohn and Dudzik tied for 39th in fumbles recovered at .2 per contest.
Yet, opponents found scoring on the Bison very difficult this year.
The offense also contributed to the discipline mode. Overall, NDSU was 16th in the FCS in fewest penalties. The Bison were second in time of possession, keeping the ball for an average of 34 minutes, 21 seconds – just one second behind leader Eastern Kentucky.
Being ranked high in that category takes some clutch third-down plays. NDSU was seventh in third-down conversions with a 50.7 percent success rate.
Like the defense, there were real no individual stars. Jensen was 50th in passing efficiency, down from 23rd a season ago.
Junior Sam Ojuri was 65th in rushing at 74.8 yards per game, although teammate John Crockett was right behind at No. 72.
Left tackle Billy Turner was a consensus first-team All-America pick, but it took Turner and the rest of the offensive line to fuel the second-half onslaught against Sam Houston.
In the end, it was 22 starters, a kicker, punter and long snapper and key backups that paved the way to back-to-back titles. It’s why football is considered one of those ultimate team games.
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia