FARGO — North Dakota State played nearly 20 true or redshirt freshmen this past weekend in its 47-22 victory against the Delaware Blue Hens, in a matchup of two ranked NCAA Division I FCS teams.
It was also the first true road game for the No. 1-ranked Bison, who played at Target Field in Minneapolis and the Fargodome in their first two games.
“We played 18 either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen players on this road trip,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said. “Any time you can get away from Fargo a little bit, we developed a little bit better continuity as a team. We grew up a little bit.”
The Bison (3-0) continue their nonconference schedule at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against No. 4-ranked Cal Davis at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
True freshman running back Kobe Johnson had a breakout performance, rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts. The 5-foot-9, 177-pound Johnson scored on a 1-yard run that gave the Bison a 7-2 lead with 10 minutes, 12 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Entz said Johnson, from Lawrenceville, Ga., has earned the trust of the coaches and his teammates in his short time with the Bison.
“You have to come to practice and watch how he goes about his business. He practices like a veteran. We challenge our guys to practice like pros and he does,” Entz said.
Bison true freshman kicker Griffin Crosa was named Missouri Valley Football Conference special teams player of the week after going 5-for-5 on PATs against the Blue Hens, adding a 46-yard and 23-yard field goals.
Bison true freshman linebacker Luke Weerts played in his first game with the Bison, recording one tackle against Delaware. The NCAA has a four-game redshirt rule, allowing players to play up to four games in a season without burning a redshirt for that season.
“I think it’s critical to get any playing time for these young guys right now,” Entz said. “We’re using the four-game rule to the max.”
Entz a stickler for tackling
Entz liked the way his defense played for three quarters against Delaware before the Blue Hens scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Delaware popped a few big plays late in the game, including a 44-yard touchdown pass from Nolan Henderson to Chichi Amachi. On that play, Henderson eluded the Bison pass rush before his fired the ball downfield and Amachi made a diving catch at the edge of the end zone.
“I thought we played well for three quarters,” Entz said of his defense. “I had about seven critical missed tackles during the course of the game, two of them on third down. The most elementary of fundamentals is tackling and we’ve got to continue to improve on it.”
Lance not playing favorites
Bison redshirt freshman Trey Lance continues to spread the ball to multiple receivers. Ten Bison players caught passes against Delaware. Lance completed 18 of 23 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver Phoenix Sproles, running back Adam Cofield and tight end Ben Ellefson led the way in receptions against the Blue Hens with three each.
“It’s just happening, I think the other part there is a big trust factor going on with Trey and his receivers,” Entz said.
Lance completed passes to eight different receivers in the season-opener against Butler and nine different targets against the University of North Dakota in Week 2.