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Bison look to put late-night FBS show at Arizona behind with conference play on deck

North Dakota State hits the road again with Missouri Valley opener at South Dakota

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North Dakota State takes the field against Arizona at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — The Delta charter airplane landed at Hector International Airport around 7 a.m. Sunday, with the sun already up. That’s the downside to a 10 p.m. kickoff the previous night at the University of Arizona, a school in the Pacific Time Zone.

There was no going home and getting eight hours of sleep for the North Dakota State coaching staff, which is usually required to be at a noon Sunday staff meeting although their day usually begins before that. Head coach Matt Entz delayed the post-Arizona meeting until 3 p.m.

The training room hours were also pushed back but by Monday, the Central Time Zone clock had returned to the team.

Getting back on the road is not far away, either. In what will be the longest trip in terms of travel time this season, the Bison will bus to Sioux Falls, S.D., on Friday and then finish the rest of the way to the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D., on Saturday morning. Kickoff for the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener is 1 p.m. at the DakotaDome.

The Bison didn’t get out of Sioux Falls in their last scheduled game at USD, with a COVID-19 issue canceling the 2021 spring season game.

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They didn’t get out of the Arizona game without solving a few issues, either. On Monday, Entz didn’t call anybody out, but questioned a few aspects of his team that need to improve.

“The one thing this football team has never done and I don’t think ever will is finger point,” Entz said. “We’re going to go back and do what we do best and that’s work.”

The work includes wondering about the status of standout linebacker Cole Wisnewski, who missed the first three games recovering from an Achilles injury. Entz seemed perplexed as to Wisniewski’s date of return, which is a call made by the NDSU medical staff and not the coaching staff.

“Are you asking for my medical opinion? From what I see I don’t know why he’s not practiced,” Entz said. “So, wink wink. He’s moving around, he’s flying around at practice. I give our medical staff the business every day because I see him running back and forth doing all these drills and I’m wondering when can I at least start putting a helmet and shoulder pads on him?”

NDSU has rotated Oscar Benson and Julian Wlodarczyk at one outside linebacker spot with James Kaczor manning the other. The middle linebacker spot is still a rotation between juniors Nick Kubitz and Luke Weerts.

“I would love to get to a point where we could pick a guy,” Entz said of a starter. “Somebody needs to give me a reason to pick a guy.”

The 31 points given up by the Bison were the most since a 38-14 loss to Southern Illinois in the 2021 spring season. Take the pandemic season away and the last time NDSU gave up that many was a 56-31 win at Northern Iowa in 2018.

NDSU’s offense rallied the defense in that game erasing a 31-28 deficit by scoring four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. This time, the Bison had to contend with Arizona dynamic quarterback Jayden de Laura and a stable of talented receivers.

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Overall, Entz pointed to the Bison being on the downside to “money downs.”

“It came down to some third down stops,” he said. “The No. 1 thing that I think is we just didn’t play as well as we needed to on money downs. Situational football. Still, there were opportunities to win the football game.”

On the flipside, NDSU remained the top-ranked team in the FCS coaches and Stats Perform top 25 polls and the tackling was better than the prior two games, Entz said. The effort was also never questioned.

“Our kids were very frustrated but nobody’s disappointed,” he said. “Not disappointed in any one of our players or coaches because the effort in preparation was outstanding this week. Now the challenge is to take that same mentality and to put it into this week.”

That could include the buzz around the game, which in the case of the FBS matchup at Arizona included a traveling throng of what the NDSU administration estimated to be around 10,000 Bison fans. Entz opened his Monday press conference with a thank you to the supporters.

“Our players appreciated it, I appreciated it,” he said. “Anyone associated with this program could not be more excited about the volume and excitement those people brought to that game. It was a great college football game.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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