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Offensive Headache

by Dan Gunderson

The North Dakota State University football team has a big task at hand on Saturday, December 14. I’m not just talking about their FCS Quarterfinal game against the Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers. I am also talking about the size of the CCU offense, particularly the offensive line and running back for CCU.

The average size of CCU’s offensive line is 6’3”, 305 pounds. That doesn’t include their 6’6”, 250 pound tight end Thomas Pauciello, a guy who is known more for his ability to block than to catch.

You also have Big South Offensive Player of the Year, Lorenzo Taliaferro, bearing down on you. Taliaferro checks in at 6’2” and 230 pounds. So far this year, he has run for 1,676 yards and 26 touchdowns.

When talking to junior linebacker Carlton Littlejohn, I asked him if watching tape on Taliaferro reminded him of Wofford’s running back from last season, Eric Breitenstein.

“They are similar styles. Big backs that get downhill real fast,” said Littlejohn. “You just try to control the line of scrimmage, not let them get too much open space.”

Controlling the line of scrimmage may be a tall task for NDSU with the Chanticleer’s size advantage. Littlejohn believes his team can attack their size in a different way.

“We have to use athleticism, use what we have to our advantage,” said Littlejohn.

Athleticism will play a key part of this game not only at the line of scrimmage but at the second and third levels of the defense. CCU is not the type of offense that wants to run right up the middle like a South Dakota State University would.

CCU wants to trick you with read option, giving their dual threat quarterback Alex Ross a chance to handoff, run or pass out different formations. It has worked well for the sophomore who has thrown for 2,908 yards so far this season while running for 650 yards.

The last time NDSU faced a dual threat quarterback was the second game of the season when the Bison took on Ferris State University. Jason Vander Laan, the quarterback for the Ferris State, ran for 100 yards. NDSU will have to be disciplined while trying to keep Ross at bay.

“We just focus on sticking with our assignments and not allowing him to get out the pocket too much,” said Littlejohn. “Guys have to step up and know what they are doing at all times. Know what their assignment is when the quarterback scrambles or gets out of the pocket.”

There are so many elements to this offense that could make a team nervous. Especially a team that is no longer with their top player in linebacker Grant Olson. This is the best offense NDSU has faced since losing Olson to injury back on November 9.

Littlejohn was the man tapped to take over at the middle backer position for Olson. Olson’s advice for Littlejohn this week has been pretty basic as he prepares for this dynamic offense.

“He is just helping me out with my keys, helping me get in the right gaps,” said Littlejohn. “Just the usual thing he has always been doing, even when he was playing.”

I would imagine that is the type of advice being given by the coaches of NDSU to the defense. Don’t try to play out of control. Know your assignments and stay poised. There is no better team in the FCS when it comes to executing the fundamentals than NDSU.

Size may be an advantage for CCU but NDSU will be ready to counter that size with excellent technique and a senior laden squad hungry for a third 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.