It could be worse for Towson University. The Tigers’ coaching staff could make their players watch and listen to the FloSports production of the game when reviewing the tape against North Dakota State.
That was the sentiment of many Bison fans on social media sites during the nonconference matchup at Johnny Unitas Stadium. The Colonial Athletic Association’s blocking out of the normal television crew that airs Bison games meant any NDSU fan not in Maryland on Saturday that wanted to watch the game had to either go to a bar or restaurant or fork over the monthly fee to watch a junior varsity production.
And if you did neither, here’s what you missed: the Bison offensive line was really good and the Bison defense was really, really good.
The 35-7 win over the Tigers was dominant, with about the only downer for NDSU an apparent injury to defensive end Spencer Waege and a shutout streak of nine straight quarters coming to an end.
The scoreless streak started by holding the University of Albany to nothing in the final two quarters of the season opener. NDSU and its host of backups stopped Valparaiso 64-0 last week. Towson hardly sniffed the end zone until the fourth quarter against the NDSU backups.
It’s a different defense than the one that took the field last spring.
“We weren’t satisfied with how we played in the spring,” said Bison linebacker Jackson Hankey. “We don’t think that was up to the ‘Code Green’ standard of defense we play around here. To start the season in the nonconference and play really, really well has been a huge confidence boost and we’re excited to get into conference play and hit the ground running.”
Towson hit the ground more than it ran. The Tigers had 30 carries for 37 yards. The 163 yards passing did little damage. In all, NDSU gave up only 13 points in the 3-0 start.
“It’s stifling run defense,” said Bison defensive end Will Mostaert. “Great fits in the run game and everyone knows what they’re doing in the pass game. Just playing fast.”
The Tigers showed some life on their first series with a couple first downs. The next three possessions in the first half were three-and-outs, however, and NDSU took a 21-0 halftime lead.
One of them started at the Bison 12-yard line after an 87-yard kickoff return. If ever there was a statement made by the Bison defense in the last three games, that was it. Four plays. Eight yards. A goal line stand and a deflated Towson offense on one sideline and an inflated Bison team on the other.
"That was huge," said Bison head coach Matt Entz. "That's going to have a direct benefit as we get into league play, the confidence and ability to get a stop when we need to."
It’s easy to enjoy a comfortable lead when the other team is allergic to the end zone. Before popping champagne corks, however, consider the schedule. True, two were CAA programs and the CAA is a traditionally tough league, but Albany and Towson hardly have the look of challenging favored James Madison for the auto berth.
“I don’t think we’ve done anything yet,” Mostaert said. “It’s a long season, a lot of great teams we’re going to play and we have to step up big in big games.”
It’s the same attitude Entz took after the game. Asked if the identity of the defense has been restored and he put that answer off until a later date.
“I think it’s too early to talk about that,” he said. “I think we’re going to continue to move forward, you’re only as good as your last game.”
The big games in the Missouri Valley Football Conference start in two weeks at the University of North Dakota. Expecting shutouts will be traded in for expecting to hold a team down long enough for the offense to score.
“I’m proud of every one of the guys on defense,” said Bison receiver Christian Watson. “I love those guys and we need them to continue to do what they’re doing.”
It was NDSU’s second Division I meeting with Towson, with the last one, ironically, a 35-7 NDSU win in the 2013 FCS national championship game. The Tigers had standout running back Terrance West to throw at the NDSU defense in that one.
They had nobody of that kind of talent on Saturday. The better-than-usual attendance of 9,109 had little to cheer about.
The Tigers scored late and even that was a chore, taking five plays inside the 4-yard line to finally get a touchdown. A late hit penalty on the Bison after a third down tackle helped the cause.
It wasn’t all good news for the Bison defense. Waege was helped off the field in the third quarter on a fourth-and-14 pass play that came up short. It appeared to be a knee injury. Entz didn’t know the extent of it after the game.
“It’s a huge loss for us having Spencer go down,” Mostaert said. “We’ll need younger guys to help with depth and make plays.”