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Experience has been gold for Bison QB Cam Miller

Grasp of the offense way different than the last time Miller faced Southern Illinois.

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North Dakota State's quarterback Cam Miller eyes the end zone on a touchdown run against South Dakota at the Fargodome on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

FARGO — The statistical line for North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller the last time the Bison played Southern Illinois looked like something out of a backup late in a game. Two carries, 2 yards with a long run of 2 yards.

Throwing a forward pass was not really an option since that brief offensive package the Bison had for Miller was all about running the ball. The result of that Feb. 27 spring season game somewhat mirrored the yardage that Miller gained; the Bison didn’t have much offense and the Salukis ended NDSU’s 39-game winning streak with a 38-14 beating in Carbondale, Ill.

“We just didn’t have a lot of energy coming into the game,” said Miller, who was a backup to starter Zeb Noland in that game. “I thought we thought we were going to walk out there and beat them pretty badly and obviously that didn’t happen.”

Miller stands to be a different quarterback this time around, both in the grasp of the playbook and the confidence gained from being a starter. He took over for injured starter Quincy Patterson midway through this fall season and has been sharp.

He’s completed 65 of 89 passes (73%) with 11 touchdown throws against two interceptions. Those few running plays that NDSU had for him last spring have morphed into a complete player behind center.

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Last spring, he didn’t throw his first passes until mid-March against Illinois State, going 5 of 7. He took the reins of the offense in mid-April from Noland in the last regular season game against South Dakota State and started NDSU’s two playoff games — a win over Eastern Washington and a loss at Sam Houston in the quarterfinals.

“I have some games under my belt this year and I feel like we’re ready to go this year,” Miller said. “I felt like last year — we obviously lost to Southern and South Dakota State — we didn’t feel as confident going into the playoffs as this year.”

The Bison will take a 10-1 record and a No. 2 overall seed into the SIU rematch at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The two Missouri Valley Football Conference foes did not play in the regular season because of the 11-team, eight-game Valley schedule.

“I feel like we can open up the playbook and do whatever we want,” Miller said. “We’ve been getting the playmakers the ball out in space and they’ve been making plays.”

That wasn’t the case against SIU last time around. Nobody made many plays, on offense or defense. NDSU’s big play was a Hail Mary pass to close the first half; otherwise it was tough sledding.

What appears to have helped Miller the most is time. He took advantage of the summer months to work with his receivers, mainly on timing routes. With the COVID-19 restrictions starting in the summer of 2020 and filtering through last school year, that wasn’t the case.

He goes into this SIU game having played in nine games this fall and starting the last four.

“You can never minimize the value of game day reps, it doesn’t matter if you’re a quarterback, running back or offensive lineman,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz. “Practice reps are tremendous but getting out there under the lights, the crowd, the communication on game day, you can never have enough of those.”

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Entz said Patterson is getting “real close” to full health after injuring his shoulder in mid-October at Illinois State. He started against Missouri State but left that game.

“From a mental standpoint, he’s locked in ready to go,” Entz said.

Whether that means one of NDSU’s leading rushers will get some sort of run package like Miller did against SIU last spring remains to be seen. The one difference is Patterson is in his fourth year of school.

Miller was a green rookie last spring.

“I do feel like I can factor in how the game plays out,” Miller said. “No matter what happens, I feel like I’m the guy.”

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North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller launches a deep pass against Missouri State at the Fargodome on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

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