FARGO - It took until the eighth game of the year before Zack J. Johnson got to play next to North Dakota State teammate Zack Johnson.

"Yeah, it finally happened," said Zack J. Johnson. "Finally broke that barrier."

The barrier was Zack J. Johnson, a left tackle from Blaine, Minn., getting on the field for an extensive amount of time for the first time in his redshirt freshman season. That came last Saturday, Oct. 29, when he played 12 plays in the 24-20 win at Northern Iowa.

Zack Johnson is the Bison senior left guard from Apple Valley, Minn.

The decision was made at some point in the week of practice leading up to the Panther game to get the younger Johnson into the game. He spelled starting left tackle Colin Conner and Bison head coach Chris Klieman said the reviews were good.

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Johnson got beat once by UNI standout defensive end Karter Schult, who also happens to lead the FCS in quarterback sacks and appears to have the tools to play at the NFL level. Otherwise, the 6-foot-6, 301-pound Johnson held his own.

He came to NDSU as one of the more heralded recruits from the 2015 signing day class. Klieman said the Bison coaches made the decision to tap into his "tremendous upside" and play him against UNI.

"We still have a lot of football left and we need young Zack to be a part of that," Klieman said.

NDSU, 7-1 overall and tied for first with Youngstown State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, hosts the Penguins Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. If Johnson plays against Youngstown, he couldn't have picked two better defensive teams in his first two games of extensive action.

Youngstown has allowed just one rushing touchdown all season.

"Youngstown has a very good defensive line," Johnson said. "Coming into this week, I just have to think you never know when you'll get thrown into the game. I have to be prepared."

Johnson was in the mix to replace All-American Joe Haeg heading into spring football. Conner won the job but Johnson never appeared too far away. The Bison have a few young offensive linemen in that boat, also.

Sophomore Tanner Volson is the backup to starting center Austin Kuhnert and started the first two games of the season when Kuhnert was out. Sophomore Luke Bacon is the backup at right guard.

"A lot of younger guys have been itching to get in," Johnson said, "but all the games have been pretty close and it's hard to get in there. You just have to wait for your number to be called."