Once again, Bison running back depth may be tested

Tanner Volson lifts up teammate Bruce Anderson of North Dakota State after his touchdown against Montana State during their NCAA FCS second-round playoff football game Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO -- No Lance Dunn, no problem for the North Dakota State backfield. The Bison will dive into their depth at running back Friday when they host South Dakota State in the Division I FCS semifinals at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

Dunn is questionable, if not doubtful, with a ligament injury in his elbow suffered last week in the 35-0 win over Colgate. Bison head coach Chris Klieman said the hope is it would heal enough late in the week to allow Dunn to practice.

If he can’t go, the Bison will go with the rotation of senior Bruce Anderson, junior Ty Brooks and sophomore Seth Wilson.

“As you can see, when people go down, somebody has to step up and the depth we have here at NDSU is incredible,” Brooks said.

Brooks missed some time this year with an ankle injury but appears to be back to health. Or at least as healthy as he can get this time of the year.


“I think all the running backs have been dinged up this year,” he said. “Lance was out last year so it’s the same kind of thing. I know we have to go out there and execute the job.”

While Pierre Strong has carried the load for SDSU, the Bison have spread the carries to an assortment of backs. Five players have between 409 yards and Anderson’s team-leading 845.

“Yeah, you play a physical game,” said the 5-foot-9, 178-pound Brooks. “Between the tackles, outside, especially being my size, you have to bring something to the table but it just comes with being a running back. You get hit a lot.”

Big-time awards for Bison players

NDSU center Tanner Volson was named the winner of the 16th annual Rimington Award that goes to the top center in each of the FCS, Division II, Division II and NAIA football. He joins some exclusive territory with Bison centers.

Joe Lund in 2012 and Rob Hunt in 2004 also won the award.

Volson, a senior from Balfour, N.D., was previously named to the all-Missouri Valley Football Conference first team and the Associated Press FCS All-American first team. He’s made 28 consecutive starts in the last two season and has played in 57 career games.

Besides Volson, quarterback Easton Stick and safety Robbie Grimsley were named to the AP All-American first team. Defensive end Greg Menard and linebacker Jabril Cox were named to the second team and offensive lineman Zack Johnson and punter Garret Wegner were named to the third team.


SDSU back emerges from nowhere

When SDSU played the Bison at the dome to open the Missouri Valley Football Conference, senior Isaac Wallace ran for 110 yards including a 61-yard touchdown run. Wallace was sidelined for the season, however, and that left the door open for Strong.

The redshirt freshman from Little Rock, Ark., has been outstanding and is just 19 yards short of reaching 1,000 for the year. He was named the Missouri Valley’s Freshman of the year. He’s averaging 10.1 yards per carry.

“I think they hit a lot more explosive plays now,” said Bison defensive end Greg Menard. “Just watching film, that jumps right out of the page. He’s running for 50-yard, 60-yard gains. He’s making guys miss in the open field and he’s creating his own space.”

Strong began the season fourth on the running back depth chart.

“He had to emerge out of necessity,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “I think that’s a good lesson for coaches. Believe in your players and good things will happen.”

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