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Kolpack: Bison defense of old resurfaces in the 2nd half, stops USD cold

NDSU shuts out Coyotes in the final two quarters on Saturday to take a Missouri Valley road victory.

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North Dakota State's Jake Kava celebrates a sack against South Dakota on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Vermillion, South Dakota.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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Vermillion, S.D.

Finally, after the 2021 spring game was canceled hours before kickoff, North Dakota State got its first visit to the second generation of the DakotaDome. This place is like the Bison defense. It has been renovated and has some very cool, shiny elements to it.

It also isn’t perfect. The suites on the west side cater to the season ticket holder like most modern college football stadiums do.

The dome on the exterior, however, is concrete. I’m no architect, but making something aesthetically out of a hard, gray substance can’t be easy.

If NDSU wants to return to its masterful defense of old, the second half on Saturday is a good place to start.

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North Dakota State's Dawson Weber forces a South Dakota fumble during their football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Vermillion, South Dakota.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

The Bison restored order in the final two quarters after a chaotic first 30 minutes on all sides of the ball to take a 34-17 victory over the Coyotes, one that was a tale of two halves in so many ways. On offense, NDSU quit giving the ball away. On special teams, the Bison quit making critical penalties.

On defense, they shut USD down.

They put up the stop sign when it counted the most, intercepting one pass and recovering a fumble in the final two quarters and, most importantly, shutting the Coyotes out. Safety Dawson Weber was the king of the strip, forcing two fumbles that turned into two NDSU touchdowns.

“Just being very intentional on the details in practice,” Weber said. “I’ve been priding myself first and foremost at practice coming out here and getting my hands on the ball when the backs have it and punching the peanut out.”

The first peanut getting punched out resulted in a Kobe Johnson two-yard touchdown run and a 10-3 lead. The second was a game clincher.

Griffin Crosa’s 25-yard field goal with 8:27 left in the game gave the Bison their first two-possession lead at 27-17. On USD’s ensuing first play, Coyote quarterback Carson Camp appeared to evade a couple of Bison defenders, but not Weber, and Camp’s fumble was recovered by safety Dom Jones.

Starting from the Coyote 43-yard line, the Bison used seven running plays, the last three by Hunter Luepke, including a three-yard TD run, to make it 34-17 with 4:11 remaining.

It’s basic complementary football. The defense did its job. The offense responded.

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“I think the Bison got angry, and got mad a little bit and that’s OK,” Entz said of the second half defensive effort.

The hallmark of a shutdown FSC defense is stopping the run, which NDSU did in the second half. USD running back Travis Theis, who was a load to bring down until the band took the field at halftime, had his tune stopped in the second half.

Theis had just 13 yards and finished with 63 against a defense that had surrendered more than 100 yards in three of its first four games.

“He’s a good player, he can run and it was good to get him down in the second half,” Bison linebacker Luke Weerts said.

The Bison gave up more than 100 just four times all of last year. Again, that’s measuring against a standard most programs don’t get measured against, but nine national titles in 11 years will do that.

Stop the run, force a team to pass … a pretty good recipe for success for a team that plays the game with a physical nature.

“At halftime we just talked about playing our brand of football,” Weber said. “Playing fast, playing together and playing physical and I think it showed in the second half.”

Weber was a microcosm of two halves in another regard, making a costly mistake on a roughing-the-punter penalty in the first quarter that stalled any NDSU initial momentum. He left his feet to try and block it, which Bison head coach Matt Entz said is a no-no. It was a case of an NDSU player trying to do too much coming off a loss.

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“That’s 100% on me,” Weber said. “I’m better than that. Just trying to play above Bison football.”

While Weber has been around for years, Weerts turned in the best effort of his career tying Michael Tutsie as the leading tackler with seven stops, intercepting a Camp pass and recording a QB sack.

Middle linebacker is a position that Entz last Monday at his press conference pointed out that he wanted somebody to prove he can take the job. Junior Nick Kubitz had five tackles and two pass breakups and Entz said after the USD game he was going to watch film first before making any observations on overall play.

“It’s been a journey,” said Weerts, who dealt with an injury last year. “It felt great to get out here and really produce in a game. I just want to play my game and play for my teammates next to me.”

They played better for each other in the second half. At halftime, it was like somebody went into the locker room and unwound the tight rubber band around the entire team.

“We were really just beating ourselves in the first half,” Weerts said.

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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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