When the head coach of the North Dakota State University football team, Craig Bohl, made the comment that senior linebacker Grant Olson was the smartest player he had ever coached, I was taken aback. Coach Bohl had been coaching or playing in college for nearly 37 years.
He was a coach at the University of Nebraska during their mid-90s heydays. He has coached linebackers like Roman Humber and Joy Mays at NDSU, both who have went on to have solid NFL careers. In all those years, Olson takes the cake.
So, you have to imagine that there is going to be some kind of fall off now that Olson is done for the season with an ACL tear in his left knee. I think fans in general believe that NDSU’s chances at making a third straight national title went from nearly 100 percent to somewhere in the 20s.
Frankly, I am not buying it. I think NDSU will be just fine even with Olson on the sidelines carrying the clipboard. Not because Carlton Littlejohn is going to be a better middle linebacker than Olson. Not because we are going to see Colten Heagle and Bryan Shepherd have more of an impact in stopping the run on defense.
It is because the defensive line for NDSU will continue to dominate opposing offensive lines. The defensive line for NDSU, in my opinion, is the best defensive line in the Football Championship Subdivision.
This isn’t because they have one great specific player, although the likes of Kyle Emanuel and Leevon Perry would be the unquestionable defensive star on another team if it wasn’t for the fact they play for NDSU. It has to do with the amount of depth and how fundamentally sound this team is at the defensive line.
The starters on the defensive line, Ryan Drevlow, Emanuel, Cole Jirik and Perry, demand so much attention from an opposing offensive line that they tend to not be able to get downfield to make blocks at the second level.
The sight lines for linebackers are usually pretty clear since guys like Drevlow and Perry tend to take up two blockers at a time. You also have the fact that your outside rushers, Emanuel and Jirik, are also good at protecting the edge against running plays.
Does anybody remember the last time a running back on an opposing team was able to get to the edge on this defense? That is in large part due to the fact that the defensive ends are able to string out their blocks and play contain on the running back.
The final factor that makes this defensive line so good is the depth. The Bison held the Kansas State Univesrity Wildcats to 41 yards rushing and they didn’t have their best defensive tackle, Leevon Perry, available for the game.
The backups, Jeremy Gordon, Mike Hardie, Danny Luecke and Brian Schaetz, are not a downgrade in talent. When they come in, they are just as good as the guy they replaced. Not only does this make it easier for coaches to run a rotation on the line without a fear of talent drop off, but it also keeps your best players fresh for the fourth quarter.
It is no coincidence that NDSU has allowed a total of six points in the fourth quarter this entire year. Just like on offense, the strength of the defense begins and ends with how good your defensive line is performing.
This is not to say that Grant Olson and his leadership won’t be missed. He is a special player and the heart and soul of the defense. It is saying that because of this defensive line, I still fully believe that this team will be playing in Frisco, Texas in January for another national title.
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.