As re-emerging in-state rivalries go, North Dakota State's stomping of the University of North Dakota ranked somewhere between snoozer and rigor mortis. With the Bison leading 24-7 early in the third quarter, it was quiet as Terre Haute, Ind., in the sold out Fargodome. Even the loudmouth Fighting Hawks fan trash-talking near the press box in the first half shut up tight as Fort Knox.
UND's run-stuffing defense and a Fighting Hawks' offense that was as explosive as a wet dishrag were the culprits.
Thank goodness for Trey Lance.
The question is: Was there too much of Trey, particularly late in the game?
As Bison head coach Matt Entz said last week after scolding Lance for not running out of bounds, it's a long season.
First things first.
Lance was spectacular at quarterback again, showing a big-time combination of a strong, accurate arm and feet nearly as sweet as Walter Payton's. He turned a 5-yard run in the first quarter into highlight material, weaving and chopping with his feet like he was moving to music. Later, a 35-yard run included some cutting and high-stepping along the sidelines that left his teammates in awe.
"The dynamic he brings to running the ball, he runs like a deer out there," Bison offensive tackle Dillon Radunz said. "It's fun to watch."
Lance completed passes to nine different receivers in an 11-for-15 performance. He threw for 162 yards and two touchdowns, leading the quarterback to sing the praises of young players who "maybe haven't played a lot, but are really talented. They haven't had the opportunity to see the field before this year."
One of those young guys, 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman beanpole Zach Mathis, caught a lovely 41-yard toss from Lance in the first quarter for a key early first down.
Lance brings a dynamic that even Easton Stick didn't bring to the Bison as a young player. Lance throws a better ball, particularly on the move, than the early version of Stick. He's making reads at the line of scrimmage, as a second-game starter, that are impressing his veteran offensive linemen.
"Obviously Trey is young and Easton was a veteran. So going from a veteran to a young guy is different. But Trey has come along at a rate we could've never expected," Radunz said. "Obviously we expected some things from him, but I was telling Trey after the game we got more front looks and stems between Butler and UND than we did all of last season and ... he handled them."
If you compare what Lance and the Bison did with what the Fighting Hawks offered offensively, it's obvious the gulf between the schools has not narrowed since they last played in 2015. Anybody who says otherwise is kidding themselves. NDSU is fast, talented, athletic. UND is vanilla yogurt, lacking speed and explosive playmakers.
You're not going to dink and dunk your way to a victory over the Bison.
About the only question is how much NDSU should expose Lance, who is clearly now The Franchise on offense. The Bison managed Stick's carries the final two years of his outstanding career, saving the best for late-season and playoff games. Stick was banged up his sophomore season and Bison coaches vowed to not let that happen again.
So far, first-year coach Entz hasn't put a governor on Lance. The quarterback carried the ball a team-high 16 times, netting 95 yards and two touchdowns. Some were scrambles, sure, but this was a game that was not in doubt in the second half.
"Some of it, the couple of times he scrambled, was unintentional. He ran rather than him trying to force something," Entz said. "I think as the season progresses we'll have to continue to monitor, just like a pitcher. What's his pitch count going to be?"
Another question that needed to be asked: Why was Lance in the game late in the fourth quarter when the Bison had a 38-7 lead?
Entz got a little snippy in his answer.
"We're going to continue to make sure we win games," Entz said. "Otherwise, if we lose games it's a bigger news story, right?"
Well, maybe. But a couple of points here.
NDSU wasn't going to lose that game once the fourth quarter started.
And, it would be a massive story if Lance got hurt running the ball late in the fourth quarter of a 38-7 game this early in the season. For the record, Lance had an 8-yard carry with 5 minutes left in the game, a play that was called back because of an illegal formation penalty. Is that worth it?
Lance has shown signs he's a player he could carry the Bison to Frisco, Texas, again. Maybe multiple times. It's early September. The playoffs are in December. That is, as the coach has said, a long season.