The level of expectations for the Bison football team coming into the season has turned into the same narrative year after year: Can they defend the title, again? Will the loss of last year’s talent rear its ugly head? Over the past five seasons, the Bison football team has toppled any potential adversity and remained on top. And guess what? This team is constructed to do more of the same this season. Let’s check out why.
The Return of the Machines
The Bison offense has the most loaded running back position group in at least a decade. With 1,000-yard performer King Frazier back for his senior season, along with Moorhead-native and Swiss army knife, Chase Morlock leading “The Machines,” the only thing head coach Chris Klieman is worried about is getting them touches.
“This is the most depth we’ve had at running back with a number of guys that have had a lot of experience,” said Klieman. “That’s why they pay Coach (Tim) Polasek the big bucks for is trying to find ways to get multiple guys on the field.”
It doesn’t end with Frazier and Morlock. Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn also return after receiving 185 carries combined in 2015. The sophomores chiseled their own roles in the offense last year in unique ways.
Anderson’s burning, straightaway speed landed him as the primary kick returner. Klieman’s move paid off in the playoffs when Anderson took two kickoffs back for touchdowns in back-to-back playoff games against Montana and Northern Iowa. The 100-yard return against the Grizzlies all but sealed the game for the Bison, completing their journey for revenge against a team that upset them in the first game of the season. The following week, Anderson’s touchdown shifted the momentum of the game when he took back the second-half opening kickoff for six to give NDSU its first lead. The Bison never looked back and defeated the Panthers 23-13.
After redshirting in 2014, the 2015 spring game was Dunn’s time to shine. He showed his ability against the second team defense, finding the end zone on a long run. That run got a lot of fans talking going into the season. Dunn found himself third on the depth chart and was able to rack up 127 yards through the first four games. Dunn was sidelined with a hamstring injury the next two weeks against Northern Iowa and South Dakota before returning to the rotation in the backfield. The flash Dunn showed in the spring game returned against Missouri State when he took a carry 60 yards for a touchdown. He also notched his first 100-yard game against the Bears.
“We have to find a way to get all four of those guys a decent amount of touches in different ways,” Klieman said. “I’m so excited for King Frazier in his senior season. I think a lot of people saw how dynamic of a running back King could be the last half of the season. I think he is the leading guy coming in as far as getting a good chunk of the carries.”
Frazier will come in as the starter, just as he did 13 times last season for the Bison. He led the team in rushing with 1,184 yards, averaging 5.3 a pop.
Running back isn’t the only position the Bison won’t have to reload at this season. The defensive line loses one starter from last season in Brian Schaetz, but that’s it. The six or seven that found themselves in the rotation are all returning.
“It’s a great place to have depth,” Klieman said. “It’s the number one place you want to have depth because it’s hard to play 70 plays as a defensive lineman.”
Klieman said the emergence of Aaron Steidl, Stanley Jones, Caleb Butler and Grant Morgan last season will complement the returners nicely this season. He expects eight players to shift in and out from the defensive line this season.
Three of the four starters from last season’s defense are returning. Defensive tackle Nate Tanguay will enter his third season as a starter while Brad Ambrosius and Greg Menard enter their second season of crashing of the edge together for the Bison.
“We were playing eight there in 2012 and 2013, and then we didn’t have that luxury as much in 2014 and 2015,” Klieman said. “Now some of these other guys are starting to emerge and we have two kids that we redshirted last year in Derrek Tuszka and Cole Karcz as well. We’ll see how they come along. We have a lot of guys there, which is a great problem to have.”
The defensive line, coached by Nick Goeser and Jamar Cain, will highlight a Bison defense that found its groove during the playoff run. The group was led by the run stuffing ability of tackle Tanguay. Defensive end Menard emerged as one of the most feared pass-rushers in the country. The sophomore’s team-leading 14.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks earned him third-team All-American honors by STATS FCS.