The last two defeats for the Bison football teams were odd for several reasons. For starters, the losses occurred at home. Rarely do you see a two-time defending champion have their losses come at home. Second, the defeats were not to a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
The last two losses, one on November 12, 2011 to Youngstown State University and the second on October 13, 2012 to Indiana State University, were to Missouri Valley Football Conference teams. While losing a conference game is not all that rare, the fact that neither of these teams made the FCS playoffs in the years of the loss does make it an odd loss.
Finally, the score of the games, to me, was another oddity. NDSU has made a habit of winning close games the last two years. Both of the losses in the last two years have been by a combined six points. Both times, NDSU had a chance in the end but failed to come through.
I want to start by looking at the 27-24 loss to the Penguins of YSU back in 2011. In that game, the Bison offense seemed to be in top form as they scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the game. They had caused a turnover and looked to be on their way to a victory with a 21-10 lead early in the second quarter.
Then, the wheels began to come off the bus, so to speak. The Bison allowed YSU to score on their next three drives. The defense was acting more like a sieve, allowing a combined 226 yards over 26 plays in those scoring drives. Those drives also ate up a combined 11 minutes off the clock.
When you look at the final stats, you see a very one-sided game. NDSU only had 11 first downs, allowed 214 yards of rushing and a combined 451 yards of total offense. This type of one-sided game will not happen in 2013 against NDSU.
The defense is too deep, too good and too experienced to have it happen again. The game served as a wakeup call to the NDSU defense as they went on to win the National Championship five games later. In the case of this game being an anomaly or something more, we can go ahead and say anomaly.
The 17-14 loss to the Sycamores in 2012 may be more telling. If you look at just the stats, NDSU dominated this game. The Bison only allowed 197 yards of total offense, had 20 more plays than ISU and had nine tackles for a loss. Turnovers, the key to winning any game, were the reason NDSU lost this one.
Quarterback Brock Jensen threw three interceptions with two of them being returned for touchdowns. ISU did just enough defensively to hold NDSU out of the end zone and walk away with a hard earned victory.
Why this game may serve as more of a blueprint for teams trying to defeat NDSU is that the offense is much more susceptible to lapses in consistency than the defense. This game for the Bison was just the start of a stretch of games that saw the offense sputter.
Two weeks later, the Bison didn’t have a lead against Southern Illinois until five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The week after that, Jensen again threw three interceptions in a narrow victory of the Missouri State Bears.
It didn’t get much better the next week when the Herd had 251 yards of total offense and only 80 yards passing in a 20-17 victory over South Dakota State University. NDSU finally did get it turned around offensively on their way to a second straight national title.
Looking at these two losses, it is easy for me to say that NDSU’s Achilles heel is their offense. Teams in search of that big victory over the two-time champions will be gearing up to stop this offense rather than trying to figure out the defense.
Will this lead the Bison to lose more than one or two games this season? No. Absolutely not. This group as a team is too good to lose more than two games all year long. I fully expect them to make another visit to Frisco. Just hope this offense does not start to falter towards the end of the season.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.