Running with the Bison
N. Dakota St. looks to ride backfield tandem to national title
FRISCO, Texas -- Every offense strives for balance, finding the equilibrium between establishing the run and using that to set up the passing game. Conversely, there’s the mindset where the inverse is true: pass the ball to soften up the defense so the run game can do its damage.
And then there’s North Dakota State.
Entering the FCS Championship Game, the Bison have two running backs closing in on the 1,000-yard mark: John Crockett needs 44 yards to reach that plateau; Sam Ojuri needs 45.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another team with that kind of balance in the backfield. Overall, the Bison have 2,752 yards rushing and 2,360 yards passing.
|2012||John Crockett||956 *|
|Sam Ojuri||955 *|
|* Entering FCS Championship Game|
Ojuri, a junior, is eyeing his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. If either reaches the mark, it will be the 10th season in a row in which a NDSU back has eclipsed 1,000 yards. The most recent time the Bison did not have a 1,000-yard rusher was 2002, when Rod Malone led the team with 713 yards.
The Crockett-Ojuri tandem has accounted for 384 carries, 1,911 yards and 19 touchdowns. Ojuri has more carries (201-183) and touchdowns (10-9) while Crockett has more yards (956-955) and the better yards-per-attempt average (5.2-4.8).
“We both do really good things,” said Ojuri, who rushed for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. “We have the same kind of style but we’re different in so many ways. We compliment each other. I wouldn’t say one is better; we go out there and do our own thing.”
Added Crockett, a sophomore who was not part of NDSU’s championship team in 2011 while working to become academically eligible: “It’s to the point where you’ve got to have two great backs, you win with two.
“With Deuce-Deuce (Ojuri wears No. 22), he’s a power runner but he also can make you miss and he’s fast. Me, I’m finesse, I’ll make you miss [the tackle] but if I have to lower my shoulder I can do that, too. We compliment each other; it’s a one-two punch.”
Ojuri and Crockett are aware of how close one of them -- or both -- is to reaching the 1,000-yard mark and extending the Bison streak. But neither is bucking to be the first. They contend the game will dictate who gets the carries and each of them is content with the team’s title-game goals trumping their individual achievements.
“We know we’re going to get the same amount of touches,” Crockett said, “but we’ve got this little thing going on.”
At this point both Ojuri and Crockett began laughing and the proverbial cat was out of the bag: The one who ends up with the most yardage will be feted by the other at the restaurant of his choice.
“It’s crazy how it’s panned out,” Ojuri said. For a while Crockett was the yardage leader -- by a wide margin -- until a late-season burst by Ojuri tightened their personal battle. Through five games, Crockett held a 203-yard advantage (432-229) after Ojuri was suspended for the Bison's 48-7 victory against Youngstown State on Oct. 6.
“I was whipping his butt,” Crockett said, “but he came out of nowhere! He is the old-timer.”
Ojuri’s choice: Buffalo Wild Wings. “Let’s keep it nice and easy,” he said. But Crockett has other ideas: “I want to go somewhere nice -- Granite City!”
But first there is the national championship game, which is foremost in both players’ minds. The all-the-marbles rematch against Sam Houston State is at 1 p.m. ET Saturday (ESPN2).
Ojuri, who ran for 27 yards on 10 carries in NDSU’s 17-6 victory against SHSU last year, said this season’s team is ready to capitalize on the opportunity to repeat as national champions.
“As an offense, we weren’t where we wanted to be last year, at this point,” Ojuri admitted. “Looking back, we’re way more prepared, as an offense, and I think that is going to help with the defense, not putting so much stress on them.”
“This is my first time being here,” Crockett said. “What these guys have told me is that this will be one of the greatest times of your life. At the end of the day, we know we have a goal -- and our goal is to win. We’re not accepting just being here.”
The Bison are attempting to become the first FCS team since Appalachian State (2005-07) to repeat as national champions.
While a member of Division II, NDSU was the most prominent North Central Conference program, capturing 26 conference titles and eight national championships (1965, 1968, 1969, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1990) before moving to the DI Championship Subdivision (FCS) in 2004.
For Ojuri, adding a second consecutive DI title to the Bison resume is “really important.”
“We know what we’ve got to do -- and it’s kinda crazy, playing the same team. We haven’t changed much, and neither have they.”
Said Crockett: “People say, ‘if you win one, you get lucky.’ Well, if you win two it shows that you were pretty darn good.
“We like to prepare ourselves as champions. We know we have a goal, and we’re ready to reach it.”