Kolpack: Bison defense keeps opener from going all-Big Sky on scoreboard
FARGO — Josh Duhamel was a very good football and basketball player in his day at Minot High, certainly a better athlete than he is a coin flipper. The actor and North Dakota native lost the pre-game flip at midfield at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, with a Cal Poly player calling the correct side.
Duhamel could have redeemed himself if he was a master electrician, but it took some guy at the lighting corporate headquarters in the Twin Cities to help the dome folks get the lights back on after they went out in the first quarter. The official word was possible processor error, or something like that.
The 23-minute outage turned into a Neil Diamond sing-along for the 18,483 fans to “Sweet Caroline,” which, come to think of it, the auxiliary lighting was about the same luminescence as a Neil concert. Football? You need all candles blasting.
And that's what happened on the field on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 1. A blasting.
North Dakota State looks like a rather potent team again. You figured as much with 25 seniors returning from a 14-1 season that resulted in the program's 14th national championship. But to see it in action ... Cal Poly had no chance.
That triple option that has treated the Mustang program so well over the years? It was NDSU that had the triple option. Lance Dunn right. Bruce Anderson up the middle. Ty Brooks left.
Those three were part of 458 yards rushing and a 49-3 victory.
"They get it," said Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh of the Bison.
It felt like garbage time late in the second quarter, at least from a fan's perspective. The folks weren't real intense about the opener, although they didn't have to be. The NDSU rushing game was unstoppable.
So the key was for the Bison defense not to turn it into a patented Big Sky Conference shootout. And that's what happened.
"It's always important with the triple option to keep them out of rhythm and don't let them get in that groove," said Bison defensive end Greg Menard. "They had to throw the ball which they're not used to so that was a key to the game for us."
Perhaps the best news for the Bison: Greg Menard is back after missing all of last season with an ACL injury. The senior defensive end had one quarterback sack that was the 25th of his career.
"This is one of the best days of my life to be honest," Menard said. "Just to be out here with the guys and playing with them."
It wasn't really a Menard game, either. He's the pass rush specialist, the quick and explosive end who makes a five-step drop quarterback lose sleep. He said he had to change his game a bit in the Cal Poly game plan.
You couldn't tell. Mustangs star running back Joe Protheroe had a tough day with 14 carries for 57 yards. As a team, Cal Poly had just 82 yards on the ground on 52 carries. That's an average carry of 1.6 yards.
And to think a veteran Cal Poly offensive line is a strength of that team. It had Walsh scratching his head, also.
"We didn't play very well on the offensive line but I think their defensive line caused most of that," he said. "To be honest, we had way more expectation to play better up front. Those five have all started games, multiple years with some of them."
On the other side, NDSU's defensive linemen have all started games and played multiple years also. They won that battle of experienced big guys and it wasn't close.
"That's a really good offense, especially when you throw Protheroe into it," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "The goal is to try and force them to use all three elements in the option phase and make them pitch the ball. For us to hold those guys to three points I thought was pretty good."
No, it was really good. You thought the Bison were loaded with talent during August practice. To see it in action was another matter.
This team is dang good and about the only weakness on Saturday was the pregame coin flip.