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Game Day notebook: Bison receiver Green scratching the surface of his versatility

NDSU redshirt freshman WR Eli Green could see more opportunities in the postseason.

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North Dakota State receiver Eli Green (86) could see more opportunities for the Bison after D.J. Hart entered the transfer portal prior to the start of the Division I FCS playoffs.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum
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FARGO — North Dakota State redshirt freshman Eli Green had four receptions during the regular season, but the receiver could be asked to play an elevated role as the Bison enter the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs.

The Bison are down a receiver after junior DJ Hart recently entered the transfer portable following the end of the regular season. On the flipside, Green has been targeted on deep balls in NDSU's most recent stretch of games.

"I think he's been playing an elevated role lately," said Bison head coach Matt Entz. "He's a pretty talented young man. ... We'll see where his ceiling is, but he's only scratching the surface of how we can use him."

The No. 3-seeded Bison (9-2) host Montana (8-4) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. NDSU had a first-round bye.

The 5-foot-11, 186-pound Green, from Farmington, Minn., has four catches for 38 yards this season and nine rushing yards on one attempt. He had two catches for 19 yards in a 42-21 victory against the University of North Dakota two weeks ago to end the regular season.

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Green nearly hauled in a deep ball, that was out of his reach, at Southern Illinois in the second to last game of the regular season.

"He's got speed, he's got a willingness to run across the middle," Entz said. "He's got good hands, in and out of breaks full speed. ... He's picked up our offense at a high rate."

Senior receiver Zach Mathis has 23 catches for 330 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bison. Braylon Henderson, Jake Lippe and RaJa Nelson have also been reliable targets for quarterback Cam Miller. Hart ranked fourth on the team with 183 receiving yards on 13 catches before he entered the portal.

“I feel we put a good game plan every week with every position getting their opportunities and then us making plays based on what we’re seeing," Green said. “I’m ready to take as many as I need and make some plays where they need to be made.”

Green redshirted last season, but said that was valuable in that it gave him time to learn the playbook and adjust to the college game. It also gave him an opportunity to watch senior wide receiver Christian Watson, who now plays for the Green Bay Packers.

“I learned a ton from Christian and it was insane to be here my first year and have a guy like that, be someone that I could watch and learn from," Green said. “That’s someone we all want to be like. ... It was awesome being able to watch him and learn from him.”

Green said this time of year is why he chose NDSU, which is the defending FCS national champions.

“I came here because I wanted to play for a team that went deep into the playoffs and got opportunities at national championships," Green said.

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North Dakota State's Eli Green reaches for a pass against Southern Illinois during their football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Carbondale, Illinois.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Bison wary of Montana's Flowers exploding on kickoff returns

The Montana offense has the ability to present the Bison defense with some issues, particularly if quarterback Lucas Johnson gets hot. The Grizzlies had games in which they piled up points, like 63 against Eastern Washington, 57 vs. Cal Poly and 53 against Portland State.

But don't sleep on Montana's special teams, either. Kickoff returner Malik Flowers is one of the best in FCS history, tying a subdivision record with seven career returns for touchdowns. He did it last week and sparked a come-from-behind win over Southeast Missouri State.

"I think he's very talented," Entz said.

How does NDSU address Flowers on kickoffs? In a perfect world the Bison would kick it through the end zone on every kickoff.

"I wish it was because if that were the case we would do it every time," Entz said. "If we could do something like that it would be great, but we just have to hit our lanes. We treat our kickoff coverage similar to a defensive snap, there's a fit to it. We have to do a great job of getting off blocks, avoiding blocks and stacking blockers and hopefully that ultimately comes down to tackling people. They do a really good job from a schematic standpoint."

Montana head coach Bobby Hauck was a former special teams coach at UCLA, Colorado, Washington and San Diego State. Entz figures that experience puts more of an emphasis on it with the Grizzlies.

Not only does NDSU have to be wary of Flowers, but Montana's Junior Bergen returned a punt 58 yards last week against SEMO for a touchdown. He has a long punt return this season of 72 yards.

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"Same thing, they utilize their personnel really well," Entz said. "Special teams are a critical role and their returns teams are really good."

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  • NDSU defensive tackle Jaxon Duttenhefer, linebacker Logan Kopp and defensive end Kole Menz were named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer team this week. Duttenhefer was the third-leading tackler on the Bison defensive line with 24 stops. Kopp had 31 tackles and two interceptions and Menz had seven tackles. All three redshirt freshman played in all 11 games.
  • NDSU has a 5-4 lead in the all-time series against Montana that dates back 1914. The Bison earned a 37-6 victory in the last meeting, which came in the second round of the 2015 FCS playoffs at the Fargodome.
  • The Bison have made 13 consecutive FCS playoffs appearances (2010-2022) to rank third all-time for the longest streak. Montana is first with 17 (1993-2009) and New Hampshire is second with 14 (2004-2017). SDSU is fourth on the list with 11 in a row, from 2012-2022.
  • NDSU has a .932 winning percentage (41-3) in FCS playoffs games for the highest all-time playoff winning percentage in the subdivision. Marshall, which is now in the FBS, is second with at .793 (23-6) and Youngstown State is third at .777 (28-8).
  • Since 1985, a Missouri Valley team has been a top four seed 30 times but only twice previously have two Valley teams been in the top four: Northern Iowa (1) and Southern Illinois (4) in 2007 and Illinois State (2) and NDSU (3) in 2015. South Dakota State is the top seed and the Bison No. 3 this year.
Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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