FARGO — North Dakota State has been red hot in the red zone so far this season. In 14 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, the Bison have scored all 14 times with 12 touchdowns and two field goals.
That 100 percent success rate will be tough to sustain the rest of this season starting Saturday against Cal Davis at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
The Bison were 6 of 6 in the red zone last Saturday in the 47-22 win at the University of Delaware.
“That’s a good day,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz. “That’s a really good day. That’s efficient.”
It was so efficient that Entz had only one issue with one of his team’s offensive series all day, which came at the end of the first half. He said quarterback Trey Lance missed an open Adam Cofield in the flat. The drive ended with a two-yard loss by Cofield and an incomplete pass to Christian Watson.
Still, the Bison got a 23-yard field goal from Griffin Crosa and NDSU led 20-9.
“That was probably the one that at halftime I wish we would have been more efficient,” Entz said.
55 is key number for Bison offense
The number 55 is a weekly benchmark for the Bison offense. The goal, Entz said, is for the number of rushing attempts plus completions to add up to at least 55. Against Delaware, the Bison had 59 — 41 carries and 18 completions.
“That allows us to keep the time of possession and that allows us to keep the ball moving,” Entz said.
NDSU had a time of possession advantage of 31:56 to 28:04. It was more decisive in the first half.
Moreover, the Bison had only one play for lost yardage -- the two-yard loss to Cofield.
“I think that says a lot about the offensive line,” Entz said. “It says a lot about the crew chiefs (tight ends and fullbacks) and the decision making of our backs. So kudos to our offense for never really giving up positive plays to the defense.”
NDSU also reached the 55 plateau in its first two wins of the season. The Bison had 50 rushing attempts and 11 completions against the University of North Dakota and 45 carries and 12 completions against Butler University (Ind.).
The win last week at Delaware was NDSU’s 24th in a row, which is tied for third for the longest winning streak in FCS history with Montana (2001-02) and Penn (1992-95). James Madison won 26 in a row in 2016-17 and NDSU has the top streak of 33 straight from 2012-14.
The last Bison loss was 23-21 at South Dakota State in 2017, a game in which NDSU didn’t come close to its 55 standard. The Bison had 27 rushing attempts and completed 16 passes that day for sum of 43.
This is the third year of the Missouri Valley Football Conference vs. Big Sky Conference Challenge Series and if the Valley is going to make it three in a row it’s going to have to do some catchup.
The Big Sky has a 3-1 lead after Northern Arizona beat Missouri State 37-23, Montana won at South Dakota 31-17 and Montana State beat Western Illinois 23-14. Northern Iowa’s 34-14 win over Southern Utah is the lone Valley win.
There is plenty to play for on Saturday, however, with five matchups including the Davis at NDSU clash. Other games are Idaho State at UNI, Northern Arizona at Illinois State, South Dakota at Northern Colorado and Southern Utah at South Dakota State.
The betting website 5Dimes has the Valley favored in all five games. NDSU was established as a 25½-point favorite earlier in the week.
The Missouri Valley won the Challenge Series in each of the first two years by a 5-3 margin, with playoff games not counting. The home team won all eight games last season.