SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — North Dakota State bounced back from a stunning loss a week ago with a dominating defensive performance Saturday afternoon at Plaster Stadium.
The No. 6-ranked Bison shut down Missouri State, powering their way to a 25-0 victory against the Bears in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
"Guys were really locked into the game plan," said Bison defensive end Spencer Waege, who had three sacks.
The Bison (3-1, 2-1 MVFC) responded after a 24-point loss at Southern Illinois the previous weekend that ended their Division I FCS record 39-game winning streak. NDSU scored 25 first-half points against Missouri State (1-4, 1-1) and the Bison defense did the rest.
"They’re a good defense, they don’t make any mistakes," said Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino. "First of all, they make you earn everything and then they are very, very good on the defensive front. Their quickness and power and speed on the defensive front. They are able to take away your quick passing game.”
NDSU avoided losing back-to-back games for the first time since 2009 with the decisive victory against the Bears. The Bison used explosive plays, timely special teams play and stifling defense to get back into the win column.
"I never want to be part of a locker room like that again, so that win was huge," Waege said.
"Any time you lose, it's important to jump back and get a W," added Bison head coach Matt Entz. "I don't think you have to think long and hard about that."
The Bison made changes along their offensive line, moving senior Cordell Volson from left tackle to right tackle and junior Cody Mauch from right tackle to left tackle. NDSU also rotated in younger players, including true freshmen, along an offensive front that struggled to open running lanes seven days earlier against Southern Illinois.
"Comfort level and trying to find a consistent group," Entz said of the offensive line changes. "We don't have a ton of veteran depth in that group."
The Bison had two touchdown plays that covered at least 53 yards, while their defense had seven sacks. NDSU limited Missouri State to 63 yards rushing on 34 attempts. In contrast, NDSU rushed for 272 yards on 48 carries. The Bison possessed the ball for nearly 34 of the game's 60 minutes.
"We knew last week wasn't how we play football," Waege said. "We had to get back to our brand of football."
The Bison limited the Bears to 221 yards on 63 plays. Bears starting quarterback Jaden Johnson completed 13 of 21 passes for 132 yards and was sacked five times before he was lifted late in the game.
“Offensively, we’ve got to learn how to be consistent," Petrino said. "We moved the ball at times, but we didn’t have the consistency and then we had to throw the ball; their defensive line was able to tee off on us and make it very difficult for the quarterback.”
The Bison got an early spark on special teams after punter Garret Wegner rushed for 23 yards on a fourth-and-6 play. Wegner scooted for a first down to the Missouri State 44-yard line.
“It was a big play," Petrino said. "They certainly did a good job with it, made a good call on it. We actually were rushing three guys so you have to have the ability to stop it, but they executed well and it certainly became a big play in the game."
Eight plays later, Bison quarterback Zeb Noland floated a 7-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Noah Gindorff in the end zone to give NDSU a 7-0 lead with 1 minute, 49 seconds to play in the first quarter.
That drive came after the Bison forced a Missouri State turnover. Safety Dom Jones recovered a fumble after Johnson was stripped of the ball by linebacker Jasir Cox. That momentum-shifting takeaway came the play after a Noland interception gave the Bears the ball at the NDSU 28-yard line.
“Fumbling it right back after we had a big play on defense, where we could have had a big play on defense, really hurt us," Petrino said. "You’ve got to be able to tuck the ball away.”
NDSU took over at its own 29-yard line with 7:43 to play in the first quarter after the fumble recovery that led to Gindorff's TD catch.
NDSU used big plays to score its next two touchdowns.
Freshman running back Jalen Bussey zipped through the middle of the line of scrimmage before making a defender miss downfield on his way to a 53-yard touchdown run. After linebacker James Kaczor ran in the 2-point conversion, the Bison took a 15-0 lead with 6:24 to play in the first half.
NDSU took an 18-0 lead after Jake Reinholz connected on a 38-yard field goal with 1:25 to play in the second quarter. The Bison, however, weren't finished.
After multiple Missouri State penalties forced a Bears punt, the Bison took over at their own 19 with 25 seconds remaining until halftime. Two plays later, Noland connected with wide receiver Braylon Henderson for an 81-yard touchdown that gave NDSU a 25-0 lead with eight seconds to play in the half.
“That was a big mistake on us, first of all me, on getting a penalty," said Petrino, who was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that helped lead to a Missouri State punt. “We’ve got to get into our prevent look and not allow that type of a throw. They did a good job of executing it and made a great throw and catch.”
The Bison gained 263 yards on 31 plays through the first 30 minutes. Noland completed 5 of 8 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, shaking off his early interception. Noland finished 10 of 15 for 135 yards and was sacked once.
Those 25 first-half points proved to be more than enough for the Bison defense.
"It's a step in the right direction," Entz said.