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Special

by Dan Gunderson

The North Dakota State University football team has the nation’s best scoring defense and the one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. They held South Dakota State University’s Zach Zenner to four yards on eight carriers. In all other games, Zenner averaged 154 yards per game.

So, fans are excused if they tend to forget how amazing the special teams are for the Bison. Special teams usually are easily forgotten if they are good but quickly remembered if they fail. If you ask head coach Craig Bohl, however, he understands the importance behind the third phase of the game.

“Nothing has more of an impact on scoring than field position,” said Bohl. “And nothing has more of an impact on field position than special teams.”

He has a point. NDSU’s opponent’s average starting field position this season has been their own 26 yard line. Trying to drive the ball the length of the field against the nation’s best defense is tough.

Another reason NDSU’s special teams don’t get noticed is because of how little they are used. For instance, junior kicker Adam Keller has only attempted 11 field goals all year. He has only attempted three field goals from 40 yards or longer this season.

Of those 11, he has made eight including all three during the playoffs. And if you think that is minimal, think of the punting game for the Bison. I highlighted sophomore Ben LeCompte’s punting in an article earlier this week, but this stat may be all you need to know.

Teams are averaging 1.3 yards per punt return against NDSU. For the Bison, they have returned three punts this season for touchdowns and are averaging 15 yards per return. The coverage for this team is unbelievable both in punting and on the kickoff.

“Special teams are a very important part of the game. It dictates a win or a loss,” said senior defensive back Bryan Shepherd. “Getting good field position for the team on punt or kickoff to set up our defense in a good position. It is very important.”

One cannot work without the other. The defense is just as important to the offensive success as it is to the special teams being effective. Any well working machine cannot have a broken piece. NDSU has done a great job of making sure all three phases of their team work seamlessly.

“All things work hand in hand,” said Bohl. “I think Ben LeCompte has produced. I think Adam Keller has produced and coverage has been good.”

When you don’t have faith in your special teams, it puts that much more pressure on the defense and the offense. The best example I can think of is last season when NDSU took on Georgia Southern in the FCS Semi-Finals.

GSU had just seen the Bison go ahead on a fourth down touchdown run by Brock Jensen. They had horrible field position to start the drive. However, a deep throw along the sidelines pushed them into NDSU territory at the 36 yard line.

They were only down three and had a great chance to get in field goal range. The only problem was they had no kicker. That season, their kicker at the time, Alex Hanks, had made two field goals in the last seven games. They were so desperate they grabbed a guy off the school’s soccer squad to be the kicker.

A regular kicker maybe makes that kick at the end of the game against NDSU and GSU maybe wins in overtime. However, that wasn’t the case as the Bison were able to block the 50-yard desperation field goal and walk out of the Fargodome with a win.

It is a small and sometimes overlooked aspect of the team but it is vitally important when you need it. The Bison understand and excel at this. Just another reason why they are on the verge of returning to Frisco for a third straight year.

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.