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Jarrod Breeze | | January 3, 2014

Breeze: Battle of wills

FRISCO, Texas -- The FCS national championship game has come down to this -- a power running game against a physical defense.

And the way North Dakota State sees it defensively, the closest thing to replicating All-American Terrance West and Towson’s potent running game is what it’s faced across from its own line of scrimmage. For the Bison do things in much the same vein as the Tigers.

“The most similar team that we played like Towson is our own team, all spring ball and all fall camp,” linebacker Grant Olson said. “In some ways, we been preparing for some of their type of offense for four years, some of us. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult to defend.

“This is the type of game a lot of us really look forward to. We stop the run on defense. That’s who we are, that’s what we do. We’re looking forward to a great challenge.”

Linebacker Esley Thorton concurs. Towson presents something different than the spread offenses the Bison usually face.

“We see our offense all spring and all fall and go against power football all the time,” Thorton said. “We like this kind of stuff. It will be nice to fit up some power and some two-back run game.”

North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl also sees the similarities.

“Some of it is the style of offense that we play. Anytime you put two backs in the backfield anymore some people may think it’s an illegal formation,” Bohl said. “That’s been an advantage for us through the years is we’ll do things that a lot of people don’t see every week. So for our guys it’s a little bit like spring football.”

A trademark of the North Dakota State defense is stopping the run, and it’s doing so at an 88.3 yards per game clip in the playoffs. West has rushed for a record 2,410 yards in 15 games and sees no reason to stop now.

“They have a pretty good defense, but we have been playing against good defenses all year long,” West said. “It all about executing and who wants it most, and we have been doing that all year long playing on the road. We just have to defeat every obstacle they throw our way.”

Defensive end Brad Ambrosius thinks West can be contained, however.

“He’s obviously a very big threat to our defense. But I think we can hold him in check if we go out and hit him and make sure we get him to the ground,” Ambrosius said.

Olson and Thorton agree getting off to a fast start is paramount.

“I thinking setting the tone for the game is absolutely huge,” Olson said. “Getting that first punch in and letting somebody know you’re here to play four quarters of really physical football is definitely a great thing to do.”

North Dakota State knows only one way to play defense.

“We got all 11 guys playing fast and playing to the football,” Thorton said. “If the first guy misses the tackle, we got someone else coming in.”

That’s what’s made the Bison the best defense in the country. They’re allowing just 11.7 points a game in the playoffs.

“I think it’s because of the way we practice. We try to make practices tougher than any situations we might face in games,” Ambrosius said. “The coaching staff is phenomenal, the way they prepare us. They challenge us every day to get better and better.”

Only one more challenge remains: Stopping Towson.

“Our goal’s going to be to stop the big plays and be assignment sharp,” Thorton said. “We know they’re a good football team. They’re here for a reason, just like us.”

“It’s going to be a battle of wills,” said Olson, who will see only limited action coming back from a torn ACL. “We’re going to run the football, they’re going to run the football. We’re going to try and stop the run, they’re going to try and stop the run. It’s going to be one heck of a game.”


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