Two weeks clear of the tilt with Charleston Southern, I, like many, was interested to see how the offense would continue to perform? How the defense would hold up against one of the top offense in the country - regardless of division? Whether Nick DeLuca would play and play well? How would the team do with the the 13 penalties totaling over 135 yards that were called against them?
Those questions and others were answered in dramatic fashion. Let me get through some numbers before I get too far along. The leading rusher for NDSU was Lance Dunn with 128 yards. The leading receivers were Darrius Shepherd and RJ Urzendowski with 63 and 62 yards, respectively. Easton only totaled 257 yards passing in the game. With all those stats in mind, it would be easy to think that NDSU go throttled, but that DOESN'T happen in the FargoDome. The trick about the team this is year is the Hydra at running back. All four of the running backs and Easton, if you want to throw him in as well, are very capable. They all contributed in double figures on the ground and Shepherd chipped in 20 yards as well. Totaling up to 291 rushing yards in the game. That's classic, ball control NDSU football.
And make no mistake about it, the offense was the driving force in the game. Eastern Washington only totaled 106 yards on the ground but balanced it out with 450 yards through the air.
Offensively driven games historically have not been the strength of the team but even with all the losses from last season, it seems as though the offense will have to carry the team, until the defense is able to catch up. But catch up they will. The coaching staff is too good for the defense to not improve. And that's not to say that they're even bad right now because EWU's offense is just that good, but another 50 - 44 game is not advisable.
But how did the next NFL bound defensive player (DeLuca) do yesterday?
To say he did well, is an understatement. He was one of the only players that didn't get flagged for something yesterday but more then that, late in the game he came up with a 40 yard interception for a touchdown to maintain NDSU's lead. It wasn't enough to avoid overtime, for the second game in a row, but every point mattered so it was as monumental of a play as you could imagine.
Let me just reiterate, there were 13 flags thrown in the game on NDSU, which tallied for 137 yards. That's obnoxious. The focus on player safety is absolutely on point but that many penalties is just ridiculous!
To be completely honest, I don't know how NDSU pulled off the victory yesterday. They were outmatched for much of the second half but I guess it comes back to the old adage, champions figure out ways to win. And they did, again! Instead of curling up when Eastern scored 20 points in the fourth quarter they went to that which is most well established - the running game and the defense.
As King Frazier did two weeks ago, so did Lance Dunn yesterday. A 25 yard touchdown run in overtime but with an even more impressive close out on defense. On a 2 - 15, the Eagles quarterback was intercepted by Tre Dempsey to end the game.
Champions find ways to win.
The last five championships have been a great story but this is a very different team. Many of the players have been a part of the winning but many have not, yet. Nonetheless, they have two great wins this year in championship fashion.
Locking in on a player of the game is no small feat right now. The radio broadcast chose Lance Dunn and he was very deserving of that accolade. Because of the timing of the game clinching interception, I'm inclined to give it to Dempsey, but he is just one of the many great performers from yesterday!
As we look ahead to next Saturday and another highly anticipated contest, with the Iowa Hawkeys, the key thing to pay attention to is how the team will be able to impose their will in the last game against a Big10 opponent. Everyone knows about the disparity in available scholarships and in the perceived talent of the players but over the last five games that hasn't been a problem. It likely will be on Saturday. Win or lose it will be a great experience for this still developing team, but I think the key to whether NDSU will be able to compete and win, will be whether they can impose their philosophy on the Hawkeyes or not.