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Don't blink when USD football is running its offense

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FARGO — The DakotaDome at the University of South Dakota opened in 1979 as a multi-purpose facility for football, basketball and track and field. In the last couple of years, two of those sports have meshed into one on Saturdays in the fall with the Coyotes’ football team.

Their offense is a blend of football players and track sprinters. The goal is to run consecutive plays as fast as possible.

It burned North Dakota State on several occasions in 2016, although the Bison held off the Coyotes to win 28-21. USD’s team in general was no match for NDSU last year in a 49-14 Bison victory.

Now in his third year, Coyotes head coach Bob Nielson calls the up-tempo philosophy a work in progress. Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff at the DakotaDome against NDSU is a must-win for the Coyotes, who are 3-4 overall.

“We’re trying to integrate a system that doesn’t just happen overnight,” Nielson said.

It’s practically a direct reversal from his days as the head coach at Minnesota-Duluth, where he led the Bulldogs to a pair of NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010. Duluth played at outdoor Griggs Field near Lake Superior, conditions at times not suitable for a spread offense.

Nielson’s thoughts changed when he took the USD job. It’s indoor football now.

“It’s a significant change from what I was doing at Duluth,” he said. “From an offensive standpoint, it’s built around the things we think we need to be able to do to be successful, the kinds of people we can recruit effectively and to a certain extent that we play indoors. It allows us the kinds of conditions to play that type of football.”

The NDSU defensive coaches are well aware of the system. They worked on defending the scheme in the off-season after 2016.

“We really took a valuable lesson that day,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.

The quick snap when the offense is rolling doesn’t allow an opposing team to substitute very often. That strikes right at a team like NDSU, which usually rotates defensive linemen in every series.

Klieman said it also challenges the mentality of a defensive player. There is no time to sulk about a play because the Coyotes are on the verge of snapping the ball.

“As a defense, we’re going to have to be smart with substitutions and really have it down to real basics so we can get lined up and ready to go,” said NDSU defensive end Spencer Waege.

Where the Coyotes are most successful with the offense is after a significant gain. Klieman said he sees it repeatedly on film; a defense doesn’t get ready and the Coyotes will rip off another big play.

The catalyst is the quarterback. USD was proficient at it in 2016 and ‘17 with Chris Streveler. Junior Austin Simmons took over this year with mixed results.

The Coyotes almost knocked off Kansas State in the opener. They were explosive in wins over Northern Colorado and Missouri State. They’ve also dropped two straight to Northern Iowa and Youngstown State.

“You’re asking your quarterback to make a lot of decisions post-snap,” Nielson said. “Part of the run-pass option type of offense is you’re asking him to read people and make a decision, whether it’s to hand off or throw. That’s really the critical component of running the offense effectively.”


Who: North Dakota State at South Dakota

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: DakotaDome, Vermillion, S.D.

TV: KVLY (NBC Network), Midco-SN

Radio: 1660-AM, 107.9-FM, 92.7-FM

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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