Kolpack: Sproles joins the Bison football speed club in rout of Coyotes
NDSU offense rolling after Missouri Valley title-clinching victory over USD.
There would be no guy holding crutches running after University of South Dakota receiver Jeremiah Webb in the end zone. There would be no second guessing a head coach late in the game.
There would be no video going viral or national publicity with ESPN. There would be nothing of any sort of heroics.
There was only a beatdown.
Perhaps the answer to how the Coyotes would come down to earth from the last-second Hail Mary win against South Dakota State last week was provided by the Bison offense in the first quarter Saturday afternoon. NDSU scored touchdowns the first four times it had the ball and before USD head coach Bob Nielson could adjust his tie, this game was nearly over.
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The 52-24 win at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome made it two straight games the Bison offense looked sharp. Last week it was a ground pounding of Youngstown State.
NDSU showed some dash and flash against the Coyotes. Sideline pass to Phoenix Sproles. Gone. One move on a cornerback and it was 75 yards for the touchdown. That made it 14-0.
Sweep handoff to wide receiver Christian Watson. Gone. A 43-yard zig-zag touchdown that buckled some USD knees.
That made it 28-0.
If anything, this game settled something with Sproles. Hurt since the fall of 2020, first a knee and then a hamstring issue, the legs appear to be healthy.
“I didn’t know Phoenix was that fast,” linebacker James Kaczor said with a smile.
“I didn’t know he was that fast either,” said running back TaMerik Williams, immediately following Kaczor’s comment. “Honestly, I saw him make the move and thought, what if he takes this to the house? Then I saw the extra gear and I’m like, where has this been? I didn’t even know he was this fast. It was exciting to watch him make that play.”
Later, Bison head coach Matt Entz admitted he wasn’t sure if Sproles was ever in full gear until lately.
“He looked pretty fast, didn’t he?” Entz said. “He’s one of those guys who’s all in, all the time. You almost have to back him down on his rehab.”
That excitement reached the point that with 12 minutes left in the second quarter, the crowd didn’t care much to make some noise to bother the Coyote offense. That’s what 28-0 will do.
“It’s super nice when your offense can go run it down the field and score on just about every drive,” Kaczor said. “It makes playing defense a ton of fun. We came out, executed, started fast and that’s what you need to do against good teams like South Dakota.”
It wasn’t the 700 yards of total offense NDSU put up on the Coyotes the last time they played in Fargo in 2019. It just felt like it. The Bison had two touchdowns called back because of penalties, one to Sproles, and a long punt return called back. The hidden yardage in those penalties were enormous, but it didn’t matter.
NDSU is rolling.
“When you can have 522 yards against the second-ranked defense in the conference,” Entz said, “we’re creating opportunities for ourselves and it’s going to end up being a good day.”
It wasn’t perfect. The Bison fumbled on back-to-back running plays late in the half, recovering one and losing the other. Running back Kobe Johnson lost 14 yards on a basic sweep play on the first play of the second half, a drive that ended with a sack.
NDSU’s offense looked like it was still in the halftime locker room. So did the special teams. Carter Bell took the punt and scored from 47 yards and it was 28-10. At that point, the Bison were writing a script on how to let a team make a miracle comeback.
Maybe Crutches Guy was slated to make an appearance after all.
But NDSU settled down on the next drive, driving to the USD 12-yard line and getting a 30-yard field goal from Jake Reinholz. If anything, it calmed the big play Coyote threat.
The Bison put it in overdrive from there and it’s on to the playoffs.
Quarterback Cam Miller is in control of this machine. He was 19-of-23 passing for 219 yards. In the last two games, he’s 29 of 37 for 388 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“He’s been a competitor his whole life,” Entz said. “Very talented. Very smart, football-savvy kid and he’s doing a great job. He’s confident now and we all know that when you believe how you’re playing and how you’re approaching every game, it’s hard to beat you.”