FARGO – There were no excuses. Not a one, and there shouldn't have been following that changeup that North Dakota State threw at its home fans on Saturday afternoon.
After 26 straight fastballs that ended with an opponent striking out in the form of a loss at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, the Bison reverted to the 2012 form against Indiana State and the 2011 effort against Youngstown State.
Those were the previous two home losses, but there was perhaps a different feel to the aftermath of the 24-21 University of South Dakota upset. This was the first time you can say in years that this season has a different feel to it following an NCAA Division I FCS national title. After four straight championships, the Bison are more normal than what was once hoped.
It's been a freaky, unpredictable season, and that's not the path to Frisco, Texas. There was the defensive breakdown at Montana. Then there was the defensive wall put up the next three games where you said, 'Hmm, maybe this defense is just as good as the previous years.' After the second half against Northern Iowa and Saturday's 193 yards rushing by the Coyotes to NDSU's 125, now it's back to Montana Mode.
So what is it?
Is this a team worthy of a Missouri Valley Football Conference title? Or is this team going the other way before our eyes?
"You could see it coming a million miles away," said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman. "This is a program-changing win for those guys, and we let it happen at our place."
It's never good when the head coach throws phrases out like a lack of emotion, a lack of energy and not being a focused team. If that was the case, then maybe it's time to consider shaking some things up this week. Klieman hinted at an early-week, more up-tempo practice. As Herb Brooks once said, "I don't want the best players. I want the right players."
There were two reasons why USD was celebrating in the northwest corner of the end zone after Miles Bergner's 33-yard field goal as time expired:
1. The Coyotes deserved to win and played harder than the Bison.
2. The Bison were flat.
That's a recipe for disaster. When told about Klieman's thoughts of his team not having the necessary emotion on the sideline, quarterback Carson Wentz said, "I thought the same and, again, I'm not sure why. ... We were flat today. No excitement. You only get so many opportunities to take advantage of it."
NDSU, ranked second in the FCS top 25 coaches poll, fell to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Valley. Adding to the drama of the loss were the Coyotes, who came in with two losses in the league that were of the convincing fashion.
USD hadn't won in Fargo since 1978 for crying out loud.
"All the credit goes to USD. They had a game plan and they executed," said Bison linebacker Nick DeLuca. "As a defense we pride ourselves in stopping the run, and we weren't able to do that today."
Based on what UNI's Aaron Bailey did in the second half and what USD's Ryan Saeger did on Saturday, if I were Indiana State next week, I would run my quarterback until NDSU proves it can stop him. As for why the Bison can't seemingly run the ball anymore ... that's a good question.
The feel-good in the upset starts with USD head coach Joe Glenn, who endured three NDSU beatings by the combined score of 143-7. That's a men-against-boys thing. He's 65 years old, and you have to wonder how much he has left in the coaching tank. I'm guessing there was a cigar waiting for him when he got back to Vermillion, S.D., on Saturday night.
He was a young coach at Northern Colorado in the 1980s when the Bison took his teams down. He got a rebuttal in the '90s when the Bears started winning Division II national titles. He came out of retirement to take over his alma mater in 2012.
He referenced former USD head coach Joe Salem getting a big upset win in the 1970s, and what followed were three North Central Conference titles. Let's not get carried away. The Coyotes are a ways from competing for a Valley title. Indiana State talked of league titles after the 2012 win, and the Sycamores folded after that.
Glenn said it was not a lucky win. He said the Bison didn't fumble it away or throw interceptions. He said it was done with grit and determination. He was 100 percent right.
"I wish you could have seen our locker room," he said. "It was just fabulous. One game doesn't make a season but we got a taste of something that tastes pretty good."
As for NDSU, it got a taste of what happens when you don't show up.