FARGO — Updating the offensive line depth chart for the North Dakota State sports information department so far this season has been no work at all. It’s been the same five since the Bison football team opened the season against Butler University (Ind.) at Target Field in Minneapolis.
It’s been junior Dillon Radunz at left tackle, sophomore Nash Jensen at left guard, junior Karson Schoening at center, senior Zack Johnson at right guard and junior Cordell Volson at right tackle.
“That’s huge, and just how dominant they’ve been is huge too,” said Bison quarterback Trey Lance. “From top to bottom, those are some big dues and tough to see over at some point. But having those guys — just the communication they have every day with me and with each other.”
There’s a part of Johnson, the only senior of the bunch, who is still in disbelief he’s playing his final year at guard but the transition from tackle has gone seamless.
It helps that nobody has been hurt.
“It shows how healthy we are, how well we’re moving so it’s awesome,” Johnson said. “It shows our physicality. (Zach) Kubas gets in there for Nash sometimes so to have all six of us moving together and keeping that connection has been really good.”
NDSU and its physicality takes on another physical team, Illinois State, Saturday morning in the quarterfinals of the FCS Division I playoffs at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Redbirds have relied on defense in reaching this point of the playoffs almost shutting out Southeast Missouri State 24-6 in the first round and holding off Central Arkansas 24-14 last Saturday. Both were on the road.
Illinois State is fourth in the FCS in scoring defense giving up 16.5 points per game. NDSU is first at 12.3 points a game.
“It will be a physical game, just like every other Valley game,” Johnson said.
Sproles: Injury won't slow him down
NDSU receiver Phoenix Sproles was wearing a shoulder brace in the wake of the 37-13 win over Nicholls State (La.) last Saturday. The sophomore was hurt in the second half after catching a pass from Lance.
Sproles said the tackle caused an “the awkward fall” and he fell on the tip of his shoulder.
“It was more like how much could I tolerate,” he said of the pain after the play. “At the time I was too sore to do what I wanted to do. But I’m rested up and ready to go.”
He’ll be in the starting lineup Saturday morning when the Bison host the Redbirds.
“I’m happy it wasn’t anything serious,” Sproles said.
NDSU looking for better start
Bison coaches and players this week put a premium on getting off to a faster start than they did in last week’s 37-13 win over Nicholls. NDSU punted after four plays and missed a field goal on its first two possessions.
“Obviously it’s not ideal how we started last week but at the same time I think it’s only going to help us going forward and realizing we can’t have that,” Lance said.
Said Bison head coach Matt Entz: “A slow start overall. We had a great first play (a 36-yard pass from Lance to tight end Ben Ellefson) but didn’t have any complementary plays after that.”
NDSU scored a touchdown on its opening drive against Missouri State in the last regular season game, but punted in each of its next three possessions and it was tied 7-7 at halftime. The Bison eventually wore down the Salukis in a 21-7 victory.