S or N: Trampling Bulldogs
The classical definition for Slobberknocker is a literal hard hit. I'm going to play off that somewhat in a more figurative manner. While in contrast, and maybe more obviously, the Naw's are things that shouldn't have happened and/or need to change.
Before going any further, I know that Western Illinois's mascot is the Leathernecks. Out of respect for the great men & women who protect our country I opted to stick with the image logo that WIU uses for this post's title, even if it's different from their actual one, because those defenders don't deserve anything even remotely resembling disrespect.
Okay, now onto the game talk!
Trey Lance had slumped a little bit once the quality of the opponents ratcheted up this season. Today was a reintroduction into what he's capable of already against lower end FCS schools and an indication of what he may be able to do to every team in the future as he continues to improve. Nearly 1/3 of his yardage came from one play but the chicken or the egg answer is that both quarterback & tight-end benefited each other on that long score. The 312 yards that he finished with come in at eighth-best in school history. His touchdown total for the season is already the fifth-best in one year and the long score was the second-longest in NDSU legacy. And his captaincy lead to the first back to back 50+ point games in conference play since 1984. All in just his tenth start.
For all those big-time stats, and others that I'll get to down the page, the traditional engine of the team was also very much involved today. A handful of sacks from a handful of players, with a few more TFL's on top are the easiest set of numbers to point to that it was a good day. But there were also the interceptions, fumbles and overall suffocating nature of their play. A few of the guys will get their own sections but the collective gets the nod first.
One of my pre-season predictions was that Christian Watson would step into a very prominent role within the offense. He's made some good plays and has steadily increased his production this season. Today may have been the crescendo from that build-up but I think it was just the latest step in his continued growth as a receiver. I'm not saying that he'll crack 100 yards every game with a touchdown on only four catches but he did it once so considering the trend I think it's reasonable to believe that he'll do it again and possibly more often than once every 10 games.
Josh Babicz may not be a 10-catch type tight-end but when you can 90-yard dash guys, volume receptions need not be expected. Between him & Gindorff, two tight-end sets are going to give defensive coordinators nightmares for the next two years. I'm not saying they'll go Alabama on the whole thing and play rock, paper, scissors to decide who gets to score but each one is a threat with every target. Today the big Illini was the beneficiary and it terminated what little reason for optimism remained on the visitor's sideline.
Jalen Bussey is the latest player to see the field thanks to the 4-game rule. I don't know if Western's coaches had waved the white flag by inserting reserve players of their own but whoever the competition was that he was going against was not good enough. Now, I know it was only one game but it's pretty great that the Bison now have a blood relative of Darren Sproles on the roster and this freshman who showed that he's got some of the same it-factor to his game that the long-time pro has had.
Out of the Fog
Speaking of it-factor, Josh Hayes continues his own ascension towards being the shutdown corner for the defense. No question there is a lot that goes into his two interceptions so far this season beyond what he does. Without some of the scheming that offenses have to do to try and avoid Jabril Cox and some of the other well-established players he may not have had the chances to take the ball away but he's done it in two of the last three games, which should be appreciated.
It's not an all-encompassing wrap of the pros and cons to extract from today's game but I think these are the main takeaways!