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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 28 2013

Kolpack: Defense bottles up Zenner again in victory

Brookings, S.D. - The practice fields for the South Dakota State football team are located a stone’s throw from Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. Somebody needs to investigate if the North Dakota State defense was invited down to watch the Jackrabbits offense prepare all week.

It was as if the Bison knew the play before the home team knew the play. We’re not sure of this, but perhaps it was Bison linebacker Grant Olson calling the offensive plays for the Jackrabbits.

You get the picture.

If you’re a defensive purist, you must be ready to throw the video from the 20-0 NDSU win on YouTube.com. The statistic that keeps blowing me away is this:

The Division I FCS’s best running back – Zach Zenner – finished with four yards on eight carries. Four yards. He was averaging more yards per carry, 8.2, coming into Saturday than he had the entire day against NDSU.

Seriously, now.

“To stop a back like him, everybody has to be disciplined,” Olson said.

Everybody also has to be really, really good. Broken down, it starts with NDSU having the ability to cover SDSU receivers one-on-one, therefore leaving everybody else to think about stopping No. 31.

“It felt like they were filling hard and fast,” Zenner said. “They were coming downhill right away when they saw the run. There was one play when everything looked blocked up and the safety was at the line of scrimmage. In those cases, I just have to make more plays.”

Keep in mind this was the same running back who tore up the University of Nebraska last week with 202 yards in three quarters. The Cornhuskers call their defense the “black shirts,” and perhaps they should FedEx them to Fargo because the FCS junior varsity Bison showed the FBS Big Ten Huskers how to play real defense.

“Watching that film, it wasn’t like they didn’t have the opportunity to make plays,” Olson said of the Nebraska-SDSU game. “They had silly mental mistakes, and it looked like they weren’t playing that hard to be honest. I thought South Dakota State was the more physical team. So I thought for us to stop them, we had to be the more physical team and I think we did that.”

Olson finished with eight tackles and two quarterback sacks. For the game, the Bison had seven sacks, including three straight in one series in the fourth quarter.

During the week, SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier lauded his offensive line for its fine play after four games. He may not be in that same mood this week.

NDSU blew them up at the attack on virtually every running play. As the game wore on, the passing plays weren’t working real well, either.

“My gut feeling is we didn’t stay on our blocks,” Stiegelmeier said. “If you don’t stay on your blocks, it makes it increasingly harder to run the football. I’m disappointed with my gut feeling at what happened at the line of scrimmage.”

The Bison accomplished this defensive line of scrimmage beatdown, by the way, without one of its best players in nose guard Ryan Drevlow. He missed the game with concussion symptoms.

Danny Luecke, Brian Schaetz, Anthony LaVoy and Leevon Perry were credited with just a combined four tackles. That didn’t nearly tell the story of their play.

“We play them every year, so we’re accustomed to how they play,” Luecke said. “They know what we do, and we know what they do. It comes down to executing.”

Football is a funny game. If you were to watch the Bison game films of Division II Ferris State and SDSU and whited out the uniforms, you would swear it was Ferris that was the playoff team last year. The Bulldogs had some success running the ball.

The Jackrabbits went nowhere. Absolutely nowhere, finishing with minus-32 yards rushing.

Olson, perhaps referring to the Ferris game, said he didn’t think the defense was playing as well as it could the first three games.

“Today, that was Bison defense,” he said. “That was ‘Code Green’ football. South Dakota State plays well at home, and this puts us on the right path.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia