Craig Bohl could not say definitively what most everybody inside the Fargodome feared Saturday -- that senior linebacker Grant Olson was lost for the rest of the North Dakota State football season with a knee injury. The Bison head coach said that only doctors Olson had yet to see could make that determination. But the sight of Olson standing on the sidelines for most of the second half on crutches, his left knee wrapped in ice, seemed to say everything.
It appears there is a pretty good chance Olson suffered a dreaded ACL tear and his storied Bison career is finished.
Grant Olson (right) speaks with KFGO's Scott Miller.
It's a shame. Olson is a remarkably talented player who is the heart and soul of the fearsome Bison defense, and perhaps the entire team. As the middle linebacker he is the quarterback, the Brock Jensen equivalent, of NDSU's top-ranked defense. Olson also happens to be a good guy, a young man of deep faith who leads NDSU with his body and mind.
"He is the most instinctive and brightest player I've coached in my 31 years," said Bohl, who was defensive coordinator of then-powerhouse Nebraska prior to coming to Fargo.
And now Olson appears to be gone, which cannot be a good thing for the Bison.
But many fans and some members of the Fargo-Moorhead media needed to take a deep breath and step away from ledge after Olson's injury. It's not good, certainly, but it's hardly the end of the Bison season in their chase for a third straight FCS national championship.
First, NDSU methodically beat Illinois State 28-10 to remain undefeated. The Bison are 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference. It's not the Bison curled up in a ball after Olson's injury occurred during a tackle three plays into the second half.
Second, the cliched response that the energy drained from the Fargodome and the team itself after Olson's injury wasn't true. The fans were dead the entire game. And NDSU's on-field performance belied what some wanted to believe.
Bison held Illinois State to 196 total yards, including just 72 passing yards. There was no appreciable drop-off after Olson left the game. Illinois State scored three points in the second half and gained only 82 yards after halftime.
That's not to say losing Olson won't hurt. But Carlton Littlejohn moved from the outside into Olson's spot in the middle and had a career-high 16 tackles. Essley Thorton and Travis Beck played outside linebacker. And the Bison occasionally played with five defensive backs by bringing Bryan Sheppard into the game.
An aside: Beck was injured twice early in the game when his injured left shoulder appeared to pop out. But Beck dragged himself off the turf both times and continued to play. Bohl said it's a recurring thing Beck will have to deal with until the season is over.
It's not like Olson is NDSU's only talented defender. The Bison have overwhelmed teams up front with Kyle Emanuel, Leevon Perry and others. They still have Colten Heagle at safety. And All-American cornerback Marcus Williams will return after missing much of Saturday's game. In other words, it isn't like the cupboard is bare.
There is some history here, too. The Bison lost Perry and Heagle to season-ending injuries last year and still won a national championship with the nation's top-rated defense.
Olson himself nearly missed the title game against Sam Houston State after having an emergency appendectomy the week prior to the trip to Frisco, Texas. He played, but was a shadow of his fierce self. The Bison still rolled over the Bearkats.
No doubt Olson's loss will present another hurdle to the Bison's pursuit of a three-peat. But to think it's over without Olson is folly, and more than a little insulting to the rest of the talented Bison defense.
As Bohl said: "We have been resourceful in the past, and we anticipate we will be resourceful in the future."
(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)