For the first time since 2009, NDSU wasn’t the team walking off the field victorious to begin the season. An “Uh-Oh”-1 record isn’t as aesthetically pleasing on paper when you’re expected to be a frontrunner in the FCS. With two weeks to dwell on what transpired Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, why not look at the positives? Here are your 11 reasons NDSU is still in the hunt for another trip to Frisco, Texas.
#11 – Nick DeLuca
When Nick DeLuca started his first game at middle linebacker last season against South Dakota, it was clear NDSU – again – had found itself an all-conference-caliber middle linebacker. DeLuca recorded 12 tackles and registered his first career interception to put the cherry on top of a dominating break-out performance.
Following the NDSU middle linebacker lineage isn’t easy, but DeLuca’s physical ability has made the transition seamless.
Joe Mays, Preston Evans, Grant Olson and Carlton Littlejohn had their strengths. And it appears through DeLuca’s first six collegiate starts, he’s all four of his predecessors rolled into one. With the hitting ability of Mays, agility and mobility of Littlejohn and humility of Evans and Olson, the 6 feet 3-inch, 244-pound junior is only getting better and already encompasses what you need from a middle linebacker.
What didn’t DeLuca do on Saturday?
He was second on the team corralling 12 tackles. He made two behind the line of scrimmage, one of which resulted in a quarterback sack and turnover for Montana. His interception in the third quarter halted a promising Montana drive and gave his offense a chance to put the game away. Also, in an otherwise forgetful defensive drive that resulted in the game-winning touchdown for the Griz, DeLuca came away with a huge pass deflection on a third-and-10 that would have easily resulted in a first down.
DeLuca was everywhere Saturday night, pounding Montana running back John Nguyen with punishing tackles. It helps that he added noticeable muscle mass to assist him in whipping undersized running backs to the ground like rag dolls.
If anything reassures fans the Bison defense will eventually get back up to speed, it begins with the play of their middle linebacker.