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NDSU offensive coordinator: Efficiency will be key to passing game

RJ Urzendowski runs drills during Bison football practice Monday, July 31, at North Dakota State.Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO --- It was the talk of the North Dakota State offense before Courtney Messingham was named the team's offensive coordinator when the temperature outside hovered around zero degrees last winter. NDSU completed 58 percent of its passes last season and the entire offensive brain trust made no bones about it: That figure needs to improve.

Spring football came and went and the questions of progress naturally persisted. That parlayed into the summer when the players work on the trade on their own since NCAA rules prohibit coaches from having direct contact with their players.

"The hard part from a passing game standpoint is they're going against the same defense over and over and over again on their own," Messingham said. "So then you start saying, hey everybody has everybody else's tendency down and the coaches are not able to tweak things and make sure we're coaching the finer points of it. So it will be important to get the details and the finer points and try to make sure fundamentally we understand what we're trying to do."

Coaching the finer points started this week with the opening of fall camp on Monday, July 31. Junior Easton Stick is the unquestioned starter and leader at quarterback, with senior Cole Davis providing a veteran presence behind him.

Behind them is untested. Henry Van Dellen is a redshirt freshman who got plenty of reps in spring football. The true freshmen are Holden Hotchkiss from Lakeland, Fla., and Noah Sanders from Lakeville, Minn.

All of the quarterbacks will still be running the West Coast offense, it's just that it may have some different nuances with a new offensive coordinator.

"We're adjusting to everything he put in so with a whole summer of practice under our belts, just keeping moving forward in fall camp is big for us," said senior receiver RJ Urzendowski. "I felt like we improved a lot in the offseason. And Easton's had another year under his belt and all of us players had another year, which only helps. So we have a fire coming into this year."

Messingham has some veteran players to work with. Stick is 23-2 as a starter. Running backs Lance Dunn and Bruce Anderson are in their third year of seeing regular duty, and Urzendowski and Darrius Shepherd are proven returning receivers. The top two tight ends are seniors Connor Wentz and Jeff Illies.

That being said, Messingham implied the Bison aren't going to sling the football all over the field like a Big Sky Conference team. Not with a veteran defense returning that appears to have some shutdown capability.

There will be two points of emphasis in the next couple of weeks, he said.

"One, we have to understand that we have to respect the football—we cannot turn it over," Messingham said. "We have one of the best defenses in the country, so we have to make sure we don't put them in a bad situation. Second, we have to become an efficient passing team and when we get ready to roll in Game 1, people have got to come away saying, 'Man, I don't care how many yards they threw for, they threw it very, very effectively,' and for us to do that we have to be efficient."