(1-0) North Dakota State 24, (0-1) Charleston Southern 17 (OT)
I know a lot of the pundits are cheering today about what a great college football game the FCS Kickoff was and how this contest bears out the truth that “anyone can beat anyone on any given Saturday”. Initially, I watched it live on Saturday night and was genuinely impressed with the poise and intensity of both teams. Then, I went back and watched it again on replay (thank you, ESPN3) and was, to be honest, extremely disappointed. Respectfully, this game sucked. Yes, it was a tightly-contested contest throughout and the finish came down the wire and beyond but, just because it was a close game that got Mack Brown to slightly raise his voice in volume at the end from Old-Man-Telling-Stories-After-Sunday-Dinner Level to Slightly-Drunk-Old-Man-Telling-Stories-At-Christmas-Party Level doesn’t mean it was a good game. I think what we all expected and hoped for with two such highly-ranked teams was essentially playoff-caliber football played in August. Rather, this was the kind of game you might expect from two teams who haven’t played a live contest in eight months and are breaking in a fistful of new starters. The replay shows just how many penalty flags, miscues and so many, many missed opportunities — especially for the Bison — littered the field at the end and that’s really what we saw Saturday night, two teams on national television just trying to make sure they got lined up straight. Because it was on ESPN proper doesn’t change that.
On to the Big South perspective:
Offensively, there was just one single positive for CSU and his name was Mike Holloway. By himself, Holloway’s 146 rushing yards on ten carries accounted for nearly half of CSU’s 263 total yards of offense for the entire night. Still, while that’s a great rushing total, he rolled up 109 of those yards on just three carries. Take away those three individual plays from the stats sheet and CSU did virtually nothing else on that side of the ball. QB Kyle Copeland was 8-20 passing for under 100 yards and was, frankly, beaten nearly into oblivion by the NDSU front seven. I hope they gave that guy a full-body ice bag with his post-game meal.
Defensively, however, CSU played hard and very intelligently. The Bucs blitzed religiously and, at some point or other, sent virtually every defensive player on the field at the new NDSU starting quarterback, a young man who may become a talented starter for the Bison but who does not yet resemble the top-2 draft pick whom he has to replace. (Honestly, that kid double-pumped so many times in the face of a 6-man rush. Did he also fill his car up twice at the gas station on the way home from the game? Yes, that’s a terrible joke.) Further, CSU’s defense, which matches up much better with spread teams, also took advantage of the fact that NDSU chose to give show less power looks than we’re used to seeing. I suppose that the NDSU coaching staff hoped to take advantage of QB Easton Stick’s athleticism but it also partially negated their significant size advantage on the O-line and played right into Charleston Southern’s hands. Even though the Bison still had a very solid statistical output on the night, the Bucs kept the majority of the plays in front of them and prevented NDSU from getting into any kind of offensive rhythm, keeping the Bison largely out of the end zone during regulation and keeping the sputtering CSU offense in the game. They also collected two late half turnovers which led directly to the Bucs’ first score and a chance to win the game outright, respectively.
On special teams, kicker Jacob Smoak was a revelation. Who is he? No one knows, apparently. The CSU sports information department doesn’t even have a headshot for the guy on the team roster page. All we know is that he’s a freshman with a big leg and nerves of steel. But, with the offense stagnant, the Bucs really needed a spark from their special teams and they just didn’t get it. Credit goes to the NDSU cover teams as CSU’s best kick return of the night was by Darius Hammond for 27 yards and that drive ended in a Kyle Copeland interception.
What does this loss mean for CSU? – In terms of poll rankings, it should mean virtually nothing. Not many – including me – gave CSU a lot of hope to win going into this game and the close score probably means that the Bucs may see a slight drop in the polls but not a significant one. What does hurt CSU in this loss is that it creates a very slim margin of error for their postseason hopes. The Bucs have ten games left on the docket but only eight of them are against D1 competition. Included in those eight games, are visits to ACC powerhouse Florida State and FBS-transitional Coastal Carolina. CSU has been reasonably successful against Coastal in the last few years but haven’t won in Conway, SC since 2008. FSU will, obviously, be heavily-favored against the Bucs and Coastal probably will be as well. If CSU has any slip-ups at all in Big South conference play or against Bucknell – the only other D1 team on the slate –, it’s quite conceivable that, despite all the hype and good will generated from their tight loss in the FargoDome, the Bucs could be sitting at home in December.