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Bison concentrating on depth in season-opener vs. Mississippi Valley State

NDSU head football coach Chris Klieman addresses his linebacking corps during a recent practice at August camp. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO—Mississippi Valley State, North Dakota State's season-opening football opponent on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 2, has struggled mightily in recent years coming off back-to-back 1-10 seasons. The Delta Devils are ranked 252nd out of 254 teams in a USA Today Division I football power ratings system this week and dismissed about 15 players from last season.

So, in his first weekly press conference on Monday, Aug. 28, Bison head coach Chris Klieman predictably spent most of the time talking about his team. And the one word that kept coming up?

Depth.

"I don't know how good we are, I don't know how good Mississippi Valley State is," Klieman said. "We need to worry about us. We need to play a lot of guys, regardless of where the game's at in the first quarter or where the game's at in the third quarter."

That means, for example, a few backup offensive linemen will probably play earlier rather than later in the 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. It's something that didn't happen much in last year's non-conference schedule against nationally-ranked FCS teams Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington, and No. 13-ranked Iowa.

Klieman said several of the Bison backups simply weren't ready to play last year.

"I think this year they are," he said. "We have a few more bodies that we feel are capable of playing that we aren't saying, 'Oh boy, there's going to be a significant drop-off this year.' "

The reason: larger junior and senior classes that consist of players who have been in the system for four or five years and the fact the Bison were able to redshirt the entire freshman class last season.

"And because the guys are a year grown up in the system," Klieman said.

Klieman said he expects junior backup linebackers Dan Marlette and Levi Jordheim to play a significant number of snaps. The hope is to regularly rotate defensive linemen and to get the backups in the secondary into the flow more.

"We just feel like we have more depth this year that we've been able to develop," Klieman said.

The non-conference is not expected to present the physical challenge of a year ago when it comes to Mississippi Valley and Robert Morris University (Pa.), the Sept. 23 opponent at the Fargodome. RMU is No. 235 in the Sagarin Ratings, which is essentially a preseason poll since just a few teams played last week.

Still, Klieman said this year's team would probably be a better fit with last year's schedule. The Eastern Washington and Charleston Southern games both went into overtime.

"Had we had same schedule and be able to play with 15 more guys which we're anticipating this year, no matter what the schedule is, I think it would have helped us," he said. "But because of us playing the extra quarter or the extra series in overtime as well as Iowa, having that limited depth like we had last year did hurt us down the road."

Klieman announced defensive end Spencer Waege from Watertown, S.D., will have his redshirt pulled and play as a true freshman. Tight end Jeff Illies, out with a knee injury, will not play against Mississippi Valley but is running at full speed and is expected to play at Eastern Washington.

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