Bison to face freshman quarterback
FARGO — About six times every fall, a quarterback in a light-colored jersey takes the Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome in front of 18,000-plus fans. Almost all of them are screaming at him.
Not only is facing a stout North Dakota State defense a physical challenge, but so is communicating with your teammates. It’s yet another facet of the home-field advantage, said Bison senior defensive tackle Danny Luecke.
“They have to yell extremely loud, and some people don’t understand this, but that’s physically exhausting after an hour or two of just yelling,” Luecke said.
Agreed, said Bison quarterback Brock Jensen.
“I didn’t realize that until playing at Kansas State this year how hard it is,” he said. “I had no energy, no breath left before the play even began because of all the yelling I had to do.”
Jensen admits the 100-degree weather had something to do with it, but making sure every player is on the same page before every play can be tiring in a loud stadium. The Wildcats’ partisan 53,351 fans made him appreciate what opposing quarterbacks have had to go through the last four years at the Fargodome.
On Saturday, Illinois State’s Blake Winkler gets the call when the Bison host the Redbirds. It will be the first dome stadium venture for the redshirt freshman, who took over the starting position in the third game of the season.
ISU head coach Brock Spack likened preparing Winkler for Saturday to teaching a kid how to swim.
“You just throw him in the pool,” Spack said. “You just go out and do it.”
Like a lot of teams, Spack said the Redbirds will prepare with piped-in noise to the stadium. Most opposing quarterbacks in the Fargodome are well-versed in silent counts.
But Spack said he also thinks Winkler has the mental makeup to handle it.
“He’s the type of kid that I think will enjoy it,” he said. “I think this will be excellent for him. We’ll see if he can take care of the football and make good decisions against a great defense in a hostile environment.”
Spack said mistakes will probably happen, but the key is to make sure they are not game-changing problems. That’s what happened two years ago when the Redbirds had three turnovers deep in NDSU territory – including an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bobby Ollman.“It’s very difficult to play when you can’t hear anything,” said Bison linebacker Grant Olson. “It’s easy to get rattled and lose your composure so you’ll see one team all of a sudden throw an interception, start getting hit a little bit and the game’s over. Obviously mature, veteran quarterbacks are able to respond well but younger quarterbacks have had problems.”
Winkler has responded in the last month – the 5-4 Redbirds have won four of their last five to maintain FCS playoff hopes. On Saturday, his vocal chords will also get a workout.
“Even before the play begins, you’re tired and it’s extremely tough on an opposing team when you come into a situation like that,” Jensen said.
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found