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Week 1 Preview: North Dakota State Bison

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The time has finally come! There's no going back now, kickoff is tomorrow!

The Basics:

  • Date: Thursday, 9/3/2009
  • Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
  • Time: 7:05pm CDT
  • TV: Mediacom (Iowa)
  • Bison Payday: $330k
  • Line: None (at least not in Vegas)
  • Key Players Out:  Darius Darks (questionable) (WR, ISU - Hamstring), Shamen Williams (WR, NDSU - suspension), and Garret Johnson (DE, NDSU - Suspension)

At a glance

North Dakota State (NDSU) and Iowa State (ISU) have plenty of question-marks about their programs heading into the season. With NDSU, the focus is on the players. With only 10 returning starters, the Bison have a new feel to their team. My take from the Bison faithful is confidence in the coaching staff, less confidence in the players since a majority are unproven.

For ISU, the focus is on the coaches. A majority of the starters return, so for the most part there is an expecatation on how the players will fare. ISU fans would hope that players will have improved, and there are a handful of new faces starting (mostly JUCOs), but the questions heading into this game resemble the following: "How will the players adjust to the formations/schemes will the offense/defense run?", "Will this coaching staff be more organized than the previous one on gameday?", and of the course the BIG questions like "What will the entrance music be?", "How will the players take the field?",  etc., etc.

10 Things You Should Know and Predictions After The Jump!

10 Things You Should Know

  1. 2009 is a rebuilding year for NDSU. Last year's 6-5 team lost 8 professional-caliber players. With only 10 starters returning from last year, this team looks to be down from previous years. This isn't the same team that beat the Gophers, Ball State, and Central Michigan.
  2. NDSU is clearly a running team. They ran the ball 60% of the time in 2008, have a solid running back , and offensive line. NDSU's OL weighs 315 lbs on average, and their running back, Paschall averaged 5.6 yards/carry in 108 attempts.
  3. NDSU QB Mertens is unproven. Last year Mertens completed 58.5% of his passes, for 2000 yards, threw 16 TDs, and 15 INTs. On paper, it doesn't seem that bad if he just cuts down on the INTs. Turning over the ball 1.3 times/game really hurts, especially when you lose as many close games as NDSU did last year.
  4. NDSU's receivers are inexperienced. Their starting WRs (Williams and Holloway) caught 3 passes for 26 yards, combined. Huge question-mark from this team.
  5. Physically, ISU's DBs match NDSU WRs well.  NDSU's Williams is 5-11, 172 lbs while Leonard Johnson (LJ) is 5-10, 189lbs. NDSU's Holloway is 6-1, 188lbs while Kennard Banks is 5'9, 191 lbs. No matter who covers who, ISU isn't giving up more than 3 inches, and are slightly bigger as well.
  6. ISU will likley stack the box on defense. On paper, ISU's DBs should be able to handle NDSU's WRs one-on-one. Look for ISU to shut down the run by stacking the box, and forcing NDSU's unproven QB and inexperienced WRs to make plays.
  7. NDSU's QB (Mertens) was just named the starter this past Monday. I wonder at what level Merten's confidence is at right now. He's a senior, three time letterwinner, returning starter, and the coaching staff clearly isn't sold on him.
  8. NDSU's QB has to consistently make plays to stay in the game. Look at ISU's 2007 season with losses to Kent State and UNI. While Kent State is not a FCS team, a bad MAC team is at the same level.  With Kent State, their QB streched the field by running for first downs on 3rd and long plays. Remember, their QB ran for 80 yards that game. With UNI, their QB went 23/29, and consistently converted on 3rd downs. Now let's switch to last year. SDSU's QB gave the game away, and despite being able to move the ball well at times, SDSU was never really in it. If a team's offense can stretch the field, ISU's D can be had. 
  9. Look for ISU to come out fired up! I am sure the entire team is fed up with the 10 game losing streak from last year. I'd fully expect the Cyclones to take their aggression out on the Bison.
  10. ISU fans should temper the offensive expectations early in the season. In Tom Herman's first season with Rice, it took Rice 3 games to break 20 points, and 6 games before their QB had a 300+ yard passing day. This is Arnaud's 3rd offensive system he's had to learn in college. While Arnaud may have better attributes than Rice's QB, I would not be surprised for the offense to need a few weeks before they start clicking at the level ISU fans may expect.  Also, I wouldn't expect ISU to open up the playbook too much, with the Iowa game the following week.

Prediction Time!

Here's how I see the game playing out. ISU's offense will be able to move the ball effectivley, but they will play use a pretty basic offensive gameplan. A problem with the Cyclones last year (and during scrimmages this fall) was scoring in the red zone. I wouldn't be surprised to see ISU move the ball between the 20s well, but have to settle for field goals to start the game. I think the no-huddle, spread offense is going to wear out the Bison as the game continues, and I look for ISU to open it up more in the 2nd half.

Defensively, I see ISU getting a couple of interceptions. The Bison will be forced to pass, and Mertens will be out to try to prove to the coaches, fanbase, and himself, that he should be "the guy" (normally that doesn't bode well). NDSU's size on the offensive line and ability to run the ball is respectable, but if the Bison do not show any sign of a passing game, there are going to be 8 guys stacked looking to stop the run.

I would guess the score to be 41-20. ISU's offense scoring 27 points, with the defense and special teams putting up 14.

Who's ready for football?!