FARGO — The statistics of note of the North Dakota State football team belong to quarterback Trey Lance, whose 23 touchdown passes and zero interceptions have him in the discussion for a couple of major Football Championship Subdivision awards.
He’s completing 70 percent of his passes and is second on the team in rushing despite limited carries in the last couple of weeks.
But the performance of the Bison offensive line, although not as easily identifiable with numbers, has been equally impressive if not better. On Monday, Nov. 18, left tackle Dillon Radunz was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week for the second time in three games.
It’s the fifth time a Bison player has won the award. Moreover, NDSU has not given up a quarterback sack since the end of October when South Dakota State got to Lance one time for a 6-yard loss.
The Bison are fourth in the FCS in sacks allowed with seven in 11 games behind three teams — Wofford, Davidson and Kennesaw State — that run the triple option and don’t throw much.
“I know it’s a badge of honor to know Trey has been touched very little this year,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz. “I think those guys believe in one another; they believe in what we’re doing offensively. … I think they’re going out and doing their job at the highest level that they can, and I think part of that is coach (AJ) Blazek continues to push them and challenge them to be better.”
That includes blocking down field or near the sideline when Bison players have gotten through the initial line of scrimmage.
“To see 6-6, 310-pound guys flying down field trying to get another block, I think they’re taking pride in every little thing they can,” Entz said.
An added bonus has been the health. The Bison have had the same starting five of Radunz, left guard Nash Jensen, center Karson Schoening, right guard Zack Johnson and right tackle Cordell Volson.
“Of course they’re going to have their bumps and bruises that you have playing college football,” Entz said. “What’s helped though, I don’t know if we’ve had an offensive lineman play over 50 snaps in a long time. When you start thinking about snap No. 51 through 68 and you multiply that times four (games), there’s 80-100 snaps less of football.”
Several backups have seen extension action like freshman left tackle Jalen Sundell, sophomore right tackle Cody Mauch, junior guard Zach Kubas and freshman guard Jake Kubas.
NDSU will put its depth to test on Saturday, Nov. 23, when it travels to Carbondale, Ill., to face Southern Illinois. The 2 p.m. kickoff is the final regular-season game.
Meanwhile, the power conferences of the FCS are dominating the two principal top 25 polls late in the season. NDSU (1), SDSU (5), Illinois State (7) and Northern Iowa (9) are in the top 10 of the STATS.com media poll. Also in that poll are James Madison (2) and Villanova from the Colonial Athletic Association and Montana (3), Sacramento State (4) and Weber State (6) from the Big Sky Conference.
The FCS coaches poll differs slightly with the same four Valley teams in the top 10, but Montana State of the Big Sky instead of Villanova giving the Big Sky four teams in the top 10.
If the Bison beat the Salukis, they will most likely get the No. 1 seed in the FCS playoffs and receive a first-round bye when the selections are announced at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. If SIU knocks off the Bison, NDSU would still have a strong case for a top two seed.
Entz said he didn’t know the severity of an undisclosed injury that caused fullback Garrett Malstrom to leave the 49-14 win over the University of South Dakota. True freshman running back Jalen Bussey, who burst on the scene in his one game this season with 123 yards rushing against Western Illinois, will be sidelined about six weeks after breaking a finger attempting to catch a pass in practice.