Bison head into FCS playoffs with plenty of questions after SDSU loss
Status of leading tackler James Kaczor uncertain with high-flying Eastern Washington coming to Fargo.
FARGO — The Dakota Marker has left the building. The tackling against South Dakota State last Saturday was suspect and North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz has not named a starting quarterback this week.
Add to that the Bison will be going into the Division I FCS playoffs off a loss for the first time since 2010, and there are plenty of questions surrounding the most dominant program in subdivision history.
“Kids are smart players,” Entz said. “They know before our team meeting what they need to work on. When you get beat, regardless if you got beat big or it was a close game, the last thing you want to do is allow it to beat you twice.”
The Bison ended the spring regular season with a 27-17 loss to SDSU, which knocked them from a potential top four seed. NDSU will play Eastern Washington at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome in the first round. The playoff field was reduced to 16 teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Bison will go into the postseason as decided underdogs for the first time since that '10 season, which ended in a quarterfinal loss at Eastern.
“It makes the chip on your shoulder a little bigger,” said NDSU senior offensive tackle Cordell Volson. “It’s not the way it’s been in the past, but if you focus on the past you’re not going to have a future. I don’t think motivation is a problem, I think the guys are hungry and willing to compete.”
NDSU will compete, at least in the first series, with either senior Zeb Noland or freshman Cam Miller at quarterback. Entz said leading tackler and linebacker James Kaczor is a day-to-day decision with a groin injury he’s been dealing with.
“Hopefully we’ll have him back,” Entz said. “It would be a blow to us if we didn’t have him.”
Starting offensive guard Grey Zabel, another freshman, suffered a lower leg injury against SDSU and will not play Saturday. Zabel will be at full strength for the fall, Entz said, and so far only running back Seth Wilson has endured an injury that will keep him out for the fall schedule.
Senior Zach Kubas will most likely start at right guard, although Entz said junior Zach Willis from West Fargo is at full go after missing a couple of games earlier this season. Redshirt freshman tackle Jake Rock and true freshman offensive tackle Mason Miller could figure in the mix.
“We’ll have to be creative,” Entz said.
Running back Kobe Johnson had another MRI this week, Entz said, and has been running and working out. But it’s doubtful he’ll be ready for the Eagles.
The players who need to be ready against high-tempo Eastern Washington are most of the defense. The no-huddle Eagles will try to run up to 90 plays a game led by senior quarterback Eric Barriere and a host of receivers.
The Bison were able to bottle that offense up enough in the 2018 FCS national championship game and a 2017 regular-season game in Cheney, Wash. They had their issues in a 2016 nonconference game at the Fargodome, although NDSU was able to pull out a 50-44 overtime win.
“All we have is what’s on the roster right now,” Entz said. “You’re going to see some other guys that have to get thrown into the mix. Some other guys who have some experience are going to have to step up and maybe be willing to learn a secondary position to give us some flexibility and depth. We better have more than just our 11 ready to go.”