FARGO — North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller has learned leadership on the fly during his first season in the Bison football program.
The true freshman has yet to make his first collegiate start. Miller, however, led the NDSU offense for all but one series last weekend in a loss against South Dakota State, which earned the No. 1 seed for the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs.
“I’ve had to grow up pretty quick,” said Miller, who played high school football in Solon, Iowa. “It’s a lot different, trying to lead 21- and 22-year-olds instead of 16- and 17-year-olds is a huge difference. Trying to earn the respect of my teammates is one thing that I’ve really tried to work on.”
Miller could get his first start this weekend when the Bison (6-2) play host to Eastern Washington (5-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gate City Bank at the Fargodome in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
Bison head coach Matt Entz hasn’t named a starting quarterback and said that decision won’t be revealed until moments before kickoff Saturday. NDSU senior quarterback Zeb Noland has been the starter for the first seven games played this spring.
“I don’t think it matters,” Miller said on whether he gets the start. “I’m going to be ready to go when my name is called. I think both of us are going to be ready to go.”
Miller led the Bison on two long touchdown drives in the second half against SDSU, capping both with touchdowns runs. One drive covered 76 yards on seven plays and the second was 75 yards in 12 plays.
Miller’s 2-yard touchdown run evened the score at 17-17 with less than three minutes to play in the third quarter. SDSU countered with 10 points in the fourth quarter for a 27-17 victory to earn the Missouri Valley Football Conference automatic bid for the playoffs.
“South Dakota State was a great team and I don’t know if we’re going to see a defense quite like that for a while,” Miller said. “I think that gives us confidence that we moved the ball against a really good defense.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Miller completed 9 of 16 passes for 149 yards with an interception against the Jackrabbits. He also rushed for 38 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts.
“Cam provides us with the ability to do some of the quarterback run game,” Entz said. “You do force people to defend a little bit (differently). … He made some good throws, some accurate throws, some good decisions.”
Miller has played in six games this spring, completing 17 of 30 passes for 223 yards, while rushing for 120 yards on 36 attempts. The SDSU game is his most extended playing time this season.
“Having Cam in there is maybe a little different than having Zeb,” Bison senior offensive lineman Cordell Volson said. “It’s kind of similar to having Trey (Lance) there last year, knowing that Cam can take off any second and go make a play. … He’s got the capability to make plays with his legs so that’s huge and I think it adds another dynamic to our offense.”
The Bison are the three-time defending FCS national champions. They are entering the postseason unseeded for the first time since the 2010 season. NDSU also had its run of nine consecutive MVFC titles snapped with the loss against SDSU.
“It could be the best thing that’s happened to us, we don’t know,” Miller said of the loss to end the regular season. “We’ve got a lot of guys who don’t like losing and I think it could really help.”
Miller said he’s “grown a lot” this spring.
“Getting thrown into some tough situations has helped me grow as a person and I think those are lessons that are going to help me in the future,” he said.