Questions, that is what surrounded the North Dakota State Bison since the national title loss to South Dakota State in January. Some of those questions were quickly answered as the Bison shutdown an always explosive Eastern Washington offense in a 35 - 10 win in front of a crowd of 22,546.
Leading up to this game NDSU officials weren't optimistic that many fans would show up to the first college football game held at the home of the Minnesota Vikings, U.S. Bank Stadium. At the beginning of the week there were talks of maybe 18,000 if they were lucky but Bison nation showed out and filled in some of the purple with green and yellow to cheer on their beloved Bison. NDSU head coach Matt Entz called the atmosphere "Awesome". North Dakota State did it's best to mimic the feel of the Fargodome by adding Bison logos on the 25 yard-lines, the Gold Star Marching Band did their usual pregame program, they brought in Dan Michaels to do public address, and the team came out of Vikings locker room to the sound of Thunderstruck and a roaring crowd.
NDSU's "Code Green" defense has a new play caller in Jason Petrino, new corners, a converted linebacker at safety in Cole Wisniewski, new starters at linebacker, and a defensive line that was mediocre at best in 2022. The question was could they hold up against an Eastern Washington team that likes to pass the ball and push pace. Not only was the herd ready for the challenge they embraced it, holding the Eagle offense to 10 points and 5 of 17 on 3rd down. The secondary inexperienced but it didn't appear that way only allowing one coverage bust that resulted in a touchdown. The front seven was excellent chasing Eastern Washington quarterback Kekoa Visperas around the whole game, sacking him twice and picking him off on the last play of the first half. They also only allowed the Eagles to 72 yards rushing. For the first test of this new look NDSU defense they passed with flying colors.
The Bison offense also had questions as over the years they had become more and more predictable in what they would call and when. It took a 45-21 beat down by the Jackrabbits in Frisco to make offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl change some things on offense and they did in a big way. They started by throwing the ball more as Cam Miller attempted 25 passes, completing 18 for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Eight different receivers caught a pass, Zach Mathis was the leader receiver with 53 yards and Joe Stoffel caught both of Miller's touchdown tosses. The Bison's bread and butter is the ground game and they took advantage of a Eagle defense that was ranked dead last in rushing defense in 2022, rushing for 337 yards. The Bison are trying to use backup quarterback Cole Payton as much as possible and they did that as he was the leading rusher with 104 yards including a 70 yard touchdown. TaMerik Williams and Cam Miller also found the endzone. The Bison incorporated more formations with 3+ receivers in the game allowing for more spread offense and run-pass-option which gave Eastern Washington fits. NDSU took a quick 14-0 lead but Eastern cut the lead to seven by the end of the first quarter but that's as close as they would get as the herd outscored the Eagles 21-3 in final three quarters.
North Dakota State goes back home Saturday, September 9th, at 2:30 PM for the home opener when the Bison host the Maine Black Bears of the Coastal Athletic Association.