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It’s not entirely inaccurate to describe North Dakota State’s rushing attack as downright mauling.
The numbers come at you fast and stacked on top of one another and it’s a bit dizzying. Although it’s a small sample size, The Bison are one of the top teams in all of FCS football in yards per carry (6.61 yards) and ninth in yards per game (274.3). The team’s 1,097 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on the ground through four games is impressive, and one could argue they’d be higher on the statistical offensive leaderboard if they didn’t ease up on the gas in the second half.
It begins with a three-headed monster at the running back position with seniors Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn along with junior Ty Brooks.
Here are the stat lines through three games for the triple threat of Bison rushers:
- Bruce Anderson – 44 rushes, 322 yards, 7.3 yards per attempt, 3 TDs
- Lance Dunn – 35 rushes, 213 yards, 6.1 yards per attempt, 3 TD
- Ty Brooks – 30 rushes, 171 yards, 5.7 yards per attempt, 0 TD
Trying to find carries for all of his talented running backs is a good problem for head coach Chris Klieman to have, who certainly wasn’t planning to pull redshirt Seth Wilson for the final eight contests due to several injuries at the running back position last season.
Having three dependable running backs also likely helps each one of them. With three-plus carrier options on the sideline, there’s too much talent not to keep guys fresh by relying on one pair of legs.
Their variations of style might affect the defense a little bit, in terms of the type of runners that each one of them are, what their skill sets and strengths are may affect a defense to some degree. Each running back on the squad provides a unique role and skill set. Dunn, who was on pace to set the school’s record for touchdowns before sustaining a hip injury last year, provides the big play, home run ability. Anderson is the bruiser that you want out there when chewing clock and Brooks is the all-around back that provides you with excellent pass catching ability.
And this isn’t even mentioning senior quarterback Easton Stick, who possesses the ability to move the chains on the ground as well. Through three games, Stick leads the team with five rushing touchdowns on 159 yards rushing to go along with 672 yards passing, five passing touchdowns and a wildly efficient 157.8 passer rating. While Stick may not be a true run-first quarterback, his mobility and ability to extend plays on his feet give NDSU’s already supremely talented offense another dimension.
It’s not usual to have this kind of running back depth in the FCS, and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham has done a good job of utilizing each player.
“Because of the way we practice, we can get a lot of reps. We do double reps, lots of 11 on 11, so it gives those guys a lot of opportunities to touch the ball,” Messingham told Bison Illustrated on media day. “The other thing is that you need guys that are bought into the team concept. Sometimes you have to learn and get better from other guys so when you get that opportunity, you take it.”
A noteworthy ploy in keeping the talented, versatile trio consistently involved offensively is sprinkling them in the passing attack. While they aren’t Stick’s primary targets, we’ve seen all three backs line up on the outside every so often this season. Through three games, Anderson, Dunn and Brooks have combined for nine catches, 55 yards, and one touchdown. Now, some of those receptions were small lobs out of the backfield, but the point still stands: Klieman is making a point to get all three weapons involved — wherever that may be.
For as much as I praise Anderson, Dunn and Brooks, the offensive line deserves nearly as much credit. That includes senior Tanner Volson (preseason All-Missouri Valley selection), Luke Bacon and Colin Conner. Then you have junior Zack Johnson, who was also a preseason All-Missouri Valley selection. Last but not least, sophomore Dillon Radunz is in his first season as the full-time starting left tackle after missing last year due to injury.
Sometimes you have to learn and get better from other guys.
The Bison are not only loaded on the line this season, but for years to come as well. Their constant stockpiling of offensive linemen has become a vital recruiting tactic in recent years.
NDSU’s offense has become a well-oiled machine. The better the rushing attack is, the more opposing defenses will get worn down. Then, Easton Stick, Darrius Shepherd, Dallas Freeman, Desmond Cain, Ben Ellefson and the other weapons can attack and really look to open up the field.
While Stick and his young receiving core continue to learn each other, they can be rest assured that their ground game will be effective. Don’t expect a single guy to reach 200 carries this season, but if he does, it’s because he earned them.
Now, envision a defensive coordinator having to scheme a way to slow this offense. That doesn’t sound like much fun.
I’m Dan Slaubaugh and this is your Slaubaugh Scoop.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful October. Go Bison.