North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman mentioned more than once in his postgame comments about the "motivation" his team felt to beat South Dakota State. When pressed if there was anything specific thing he'd like to point out, Klieman shook his head and zipped his lips.
"Nope," he said. "Just really excited to play today and the guys were, too."
Klieman did offer this nugget, though.
This game was one of three in his three years as head coach that he didn't believe the Bison were going to lose, no matter what. The first was against Western Illinois last year. The second was the playoff game against Montana a year ago. And this, the rematch against the Jackrabbits.
"I felt really good this week. I don't care what guys were out. There's a resolve in those kids. And I had a calmness. (Injured defensive player) Nate Tanguay asked me at halftime, 'You OK coach?'" I said, 'Yup, I'm good,'" Klieman said. "I had a real calmness because those kids weren't losing this football game. It wasn't the coaches. Coaches did a nice job. But those players won this football game."
We could speculate all we want about why that would be. We could guess that the manner in which Bison running back Bruce Anderson was injured when the teams met on Oct. 15 had something to do with it. We could spitball and say that some SDSU Twitter activity seemed odd following that narrow 19-17 Jackrabbit victory. Maybe Klieman isn't even aware of such things. Don't know. We could reckon a lot of things that Klieman will neither confirm nor deny.
Maybe running back King Frazier allowed a little glimpse inside the bubble with this comment:
"I'm not a big fan of SDSU at all. I'm pretty sure my brothers aren't either," he said. "I just felt like we came out with a chip on our shoulder with something to prove. That first game isn't really how we should've performed. And we came out and did our thing today."
That "thing" was, and stop me if you've heard this before, a punishing ground game and a vicious defense that pummeled the Jackrabbits into meek submission. NDSU won 36-10 and, save for a Three Stooges end to the first half and a bad interception to start the second, could've been much worse.
Motivation is one thing, but execution is another. The Bison did that like they always seem to come December, dialing up the intensity and speed with which they play. NDSU's offense ran, ran and ran some more against the Jackrabbits to the tune of 302 yards. They possessed the ball for a remarkable 41 minutes and ran 73 plays to SDSU's 39.
And when the Jackrabbits' talented trio of quarterback Taryn Christion, Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke were on the field, it didn't go quite like it did in October. That's when SDSU piled up 523 total yards. Christion ran wild for 141 and threw to Goedert and Wieneke like they were playing in the backyard. Goedert had 11 catches for 150 yards. Wieneke had six for 108.
This time? Not even close. After getting 146 yards and 10 points on their first two drives, they totaled 46 yards and no points the rest of the way.
This wasn't defense. It was a life sentence with no chance of parole.
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said NDSU's best defense was its offense and that is true to a point. The Jackrabbits offense was rarely on the field after the first quarter. But that is not giving enough credit to NDSU's defensive players or scheme. Christion never got free with his legs and, because of sacks, finished with minus-16 yards rushing. Goedert and Wieneke made plays early, but disappeared in the second half.
Instead it was Greg Menard, Tre Dempsey, Grant Morgan and Caleb Butler standing out when the Jackrabbit offense was on the field.
This is how different things were this time. Because of injuries, Butler was forced to play some fullback last time the teams played. In the rematch, Butler had back-to-back sacks of Christion in the fourth quarter that provided the defense's exclamation point.
"Our d-line played tremendous. Four-man pressure, they were hassling him all day," Dempsey said. "You could see that he was frustrated. Then when we did bring pressure, he was throwing the ball into the ground. We got after him, man."
During last year's playoff run, the Bison defense shut down four teams known for their offensive firepower. Through two games this year, the pattern is established again.
Next up is James Madison, the champions of the Colonial Athletic Association averaging 50 points and 532 yards a game. The Dukes hung 65 points on Sam Houston State to reach the semifinals.
Without whatever motivation SDSU provided, the Bison will have to dial up the defense again.