The 2019 FCS Championship game will be played Saturday, January 11 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Here's everything North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz, quarterback Trey Lance, defensive end Derrek Tuszka and linebacker Jabril Cox said before their Bison face off against James Madison.
THE MODERATOR: I am joined by North Dakota State.
We'll open first with an opening statement with coach, then we will direct all questions to our student-athletes, following that they will be dismissed and coach will take over from there.
MATT ENTZ: Super excited to be here today. Know that we are going to play an outstanding football team tomorrow in James Madison University. You look at their roster, a ton of talent. They've won some big-time games. They play in a great league. We're going to have to play at our best to have an opportunity to compete with them.
We look forward to it. Our 14 seniors have been a big part of the reason why we're here this year. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention them before we get into questions.
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THE MODERATOR: At this point if you have questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Trey, weather tomorrow could be who knows, rainy, windy. How do you deal with that?
TREY LANCE: We'll be all right. We're from Fargo. We practice in I'd like to think the worst. It was about negative 14 when we left Fargo. It will be like a spring game to us. We'll be all right (smiling).
Q. Derrek and Jabril, what challenges do DiNucci present?
DERREK TUSZKA: He's a good quarterback. Got some experience back there. He makes a lot of plays happen. He extends plays a lot of times just by his athletic ability, just keeping his eyes downfield.
He can field pressure and escape up the middle. That's something we have to keep an eye on. We've played some athletic quarterbacks, as well. We're excited for the challenge.
JABRIL COX: Going off of what Derrek said, he's a very veteran quarterback. He's not new to this. Basically he has the dual-threat ability as well. He likes to run around and extend plays. Might not make the smartest of plays, but he'll do whatever he has to do to help his team win.
Q. Trey, if you happen to hear your name that you win the Peyton tonight, any thoughts about that if you end up being the Player of the Year in the division?
TREY LANCE: It's a huge honor honestly to be even in the conversation for that. I've said it before, wouldn't be in it without the coaching staff, the position they put me in to be successful. The guys around me getting to this point in the season, Zeb and Noah, and Easton as well, guys that came before me. Wouldn't be anywhere in the conversation without those guys.
At the same time 100% focused on tomorrow.
DERREK TUSZKA: With the physicality, I've said it before, the Missouri Valley in my opinion is one of the most physical conferences in the country. It won't be anything new to us. Definitely something that we have to be the more physical team from the start, start to finish.
Then with that, we'll take care of business.
JABRIL COX: Yeah, this is going to be a game that we're used to. We play all season going through. At the end of the day, whoever makes the most mistakes, that's the team that's going to lose. We have to make our run fits and just execute our plays.
Q. Trey, how happy are you to have Phoenix Sproles back and overall your offensive weapons?
TREY LANCE: Super happy that Phoenix is healthy. He was bummed he couldn't go in the semifinal. He's feeling really good right now. Everyone is happy. His energy is something that separates him from a lot of guys, even on our roster. He's a fun guy to be around. One of my Big East friends. Super happy for him. Just excited.
Q. Derrek, what is the vibe before these final games? Loose, tight, fun?
DERREK TUSZKA: I mean, everybody is locked in and focused. We're here for one reason, that's to win. All the coaches, all the players, we're all just locked in, ready to go.
In my opinion, this whole week leading up to it is a big distraction. I think we've handled it really well, especially with the younger guys not letting it be too big of a distraction. Ultimately know what we're here for, so...
Q. Derrek, how do you tell those younger guys to handle that distraction specifically?
DERREK TUSZKA: I mean, I mentioned it to a number of young guys, enjoy it, take it all in, and don't take any of it for granted. Ultimately you got to still be watching film, still in the playbook. You don't want to get too far away from why we're here. We had some incredible opportunities to go to the Miracle League and stuff like that, which was awesome for the younger guys to experience that. Us up front have been there a few times. We kind of knew what it was going to be like.
Keeping those younger guys on the same page and locked in.
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Q. Trey, what have been your impressions of JMU's secondary on tape? Done a great job of taking of the ball this year. What will be the key to doing that?
TREY LANCE: Just being smart, being prepared. Confidence is key with everything we do offensively. But they're super talented defensively, in the secondary especially. Obviously the two DNs that are two of the best players in the country, especially statistically. They're really good players. I think as a defense, they play really well together. Really well-coached. They're confident. I think it really shows on film.
Q. All three of you, in terms of team sports, you have the most championships as a program since John Wooden's UCLA basketball teams. Does the magnitude of being part of something so historic hit you, realize what you're a part of?
JABRIL COX: I think right now a lot of the guys, we're just living in the moment, just enjoying it. As we get done with our career, we'll look back on it and we'll see the impact that we had, just not on the state of North Dakota, but college football as a whole. We'll really cherish it.
TREY LANCE: Similar to what Jabril said. Just super thankful for the opportunity to be here. Living in the moment. This is all new to me this year, being the first-time starter and everything. Just trying to take it all in and enjoy it.
DERREK TUSZKA: Yeah, they said it all right there, so...
Q. Trey, was there a specific moment when you knew you had something with Christian Watson? Was it a game, a practice? Get on the same page, we can be really good?
TREY LANCE: Even this summer, we got together. He was finally getting to be really 100% for the first time since he's been up here. Just his level of focus, maturity I think just picked up from when I met him when I was on visits here at North Dakota State. His level of athleticism is something that everyone kind of knew, at least on our end. That's why kind of when you guys talked about worrying about the inexperience in the receiver room, that was just something that I didn't really worry about going into this year with guys like Phoenix, Jimmy, and Christian, just because I got to see how much they had grown up over the course of the last two years.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. We'll direct questions to coach.
Q. Now that you're a head coach, this layoff between the semifinal and the championship, was it in any way different for you now that you're a head coach running the program versus being a coordinator?
MATT ENTZ: First thing, I needed to put together a plan. Probably our operations coordinator, Josh Kittell and I, before the semifinal game, behind closed doors, had a plan put together for the what-ifs.
The calendar year provided some unique challenges because of a 12-game season, playing into late December, right up on the heels of Christmas. We wanted to make sure our kids did have a few days off before we started the infamous winter camp that we call it.
It was good. Our kids, we got them back on campus. They enjoy it. We try to keep it somewhat light. It's a great time of the year for us to develop our young kids. I think that's a big reason or big component of why we've been successful over the years is we take full advantage of these days.
Our 14 seniors did a great job of leading throughout our extra weeks. It was a little bit different than what I was used to as far as just how practice was set up, practicing straight through up until this date.
Q. How do you handle the weather today? Possibility is tomorrow of it being not so perfect.MATT ENTZ: Well, probably have to make some decisions early. Do you take the football instead of deferring to the second half just with the idea where is the weather going to be at, how is the weather going to play a role. What the field conditions are. Field conditions are going to be best early in the game. There's probably always a thought process, do you take the ball right off the bat when your footing is going to be at its best.
Throw the wind in there, I anticipate it will come out of the north here in Frisco. That always, too, will throw a wrinkle into things. At the end of the day, both teams are going to have to play in the same weather. We're not going to make any excuses. We need to have great energy and execute like we have all season long.
I chuckle when I hear the response of our players. We've played in some bad weather at practice before. We'll go back to those days if weather does provide some challenges.
MATT ENTZ: We're going to practice indoors today, have a quick walk-through. We'll connect with a lot of our former players today that are in town.
Q. Given the weather conditions for tomorrow, which would you prioritize more? You've talked about these extensively in terms of turnover possession or starting fast, controlling the turnovers and starting quickly, which would you prioritize more?
MATT ENTZ: I want to make sure we start fast tomorrow. I think the team, with the weather, the team that scores first might be able to protect that lead. You never know. Depends on how poor or good the weather gets. So I think if we can start fast during the course of the game, I think that gives us a clear advantage.
Q. How important is it to put pressure on the quarterback?
MATT ENTZ: It's always a critical piece. We need to make sure -- getting pressure on a quarterback is great. If he's getting out of the pocket, then it becomes an issue. We need to do a great job of keeping him in the pocket.
Our defensive guys are fully aware of Ben's ability to extend plays, find receivers downfield. He's got some really good ones. The challenge is up for everybody, from our back end to our front seven.
Q. What makes JMU's defense so special?
MATT ENTZ: I think their front seven, physical. They got two defensive ends that got great inside moves, are going to challenge our offensive tackles. Solid up front in their defensive tackle play. Big, physical players. Guys that have played a lot of football.
You look at their roster, especially on defense, full of juniors and seniors, guys who have played in an outstanding league, the CAA. Have been in the playoffs. Many of them have been to the national championship game.
I think their linebacker, No. 52, I think his last game is Word, I think he's a really good football player. Jumped off the screen when I was able to watch a lot of the offensive clips.
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Q. How would you compare and contrast the two conferences? You have a lot of familiarity with the CAA.
MATT ENTZ: Well, we've only played two teams in my time here. It's been the same two, JMU and Delaware. I think it's a very talented football league. You just watch the film, it doesn't lie. I think there's a lot of athletes running around, consistent play up front.
Missouri Valley, we pride ourselves on being good on the line of scrimmage. I think the CAA does, as well. Then I think you throw in the mix of four-year transfers or FBS transfers, that really elevates the talent that's on a lot of the rosters in the CAA.
Q. Is there going to be a moment you will take tomorrow to appreciate first year in the national championship game? Will you do that tomorrow at all?
MATT ENTZ: Probably not tomorrow. You know me, I'll be wired and ready to go and excited (smiling). Probably not in the mood of talking to a whole lot of people.
I have been reminded by a couple members of our staff to make sure I do enjoy it. It's been full speed ahead. We haven't taken the foot off the gas.
I do appreciate this moment. I appreciate our kids, their approach to practice every day, their chip-on-their-shoulder mentality that I mentioned this morning to them. I thought it was a big part of why we're here, why we had a lot of success during the season.
Q. To that end, what is the key to keeping everyone so focused despite how big of a stage this is?
MATT ENTZ: Well, I think part of it is leaning on our seniors who have been here before, who have gone through this process. Once we got to Frisco, we didn't deviate the schedule a whole lot than what it was a year ago. I think just routinely and consistent message that we're going to make the game the main thing.
Yeah, were there some other events that we enjoyed, the Miracle League, the barbecue bowl? Yes. But we consistently talked about we were here to win a football game, we were here to compete at the very highest level.
That says a lot about our staff and our seniors, as I mentioned. When you can keep a team that on the calendar is as young as ours right now, have as many teenagers as we have with us.
MATT ENTZ: Sometimes I have the opposite concern (laughter). It's not tightness, it's the number of tick-tock productions they have.
No, I'm excited. You're exactly right. We do have an extremely young football team when you look at their date of birth. But we have had some great experience this year. We've played a lot of people. The way we practice, I think it prepares our kids to play on this stage.
I'm not concerned about focus. What I am concerned about at times because of our youthfulness is getting so amped up and so excited that we need a moment to kind of let things slow down for us.
Hopefully we can do that during warmups, we can kind of get that initial energy out, then reel them back in before kickoff.
Q. How pleased have you been with the maturity of your younger players this season?MATT ENTZ: I've been pleased. Of course, I'd be lying to you if I said they make good decisions all the time or they're always on time or they never miss a class. But overall, when you have as many young kids as we do on the football team right now, newcomers to college football, extremely excited about the race to maturity that we talk about a lot at NDSU. Those guys have shown it. As the season has prolonged, they've continued to do what we ask and continue to show that they're maturing into what we expect, and that's Bison.
Q. Trey Lance, if he is to win the Peyton award tonight, why do you think he's deserved it? What has he done to this point of the season to be able to win that?
MATT ENTZ: I think the numbers speak for themselves. He's a starting quarterback for a team that's 15-0. He hasn't turned the football over. I haven't looked statistically, probably our leading rusher. Has done a number of positive things.
If his numbers aren't good enough, I don't think Trey is going to worry about it too much, neither am I. If you were to ask him, I know he would tell you the same thing: The only trophy he's worried about is the one that they hand out on the stage over there.
Q. James Madison's two running backs that get the most carries, what are the different challenges those running backs provide?
MATT ENTZ: Physically they provide just a little bit of some differences in size and makeup. Breaking tackles is the one thing that both these guys do an outstanding job. They play behind a veteran offensive line. There's either two or three seniors on that group. I think everyone else is an upperclassman or a junior. We've played against a number of them previously.
They trust their offensive line. They're going to continue to have a consistent run game. But what it does, it forces you to have to tackle all game long. That becomes difficult. The same recipe we try to do is keep force feeding the run game and eventually one is going to pop, one is going to bust a tackle, and you're going to have an explosive play.
Q. Considering the success that other Bison head football coaches have had here in this game, does it create any additional pressure for you?
MATT ENTZ: Not at this time right now. My concern is just to make sure that we're doing everything right on and off the football field. We're going to provide hopefully the best experience that these guys can have being Bison. That's my number one goal as a head football coach.
Q. You mentioned on the teleconference last week one of your base concerns coming in was making sure what you did still looked like Bison football. With all the success the program had, what have been the biggest keys to keeping that fire burning?
MATT ENTZ: I think the first thing we always talk about, we always address early in the season, is we treat every year as a different year. There is no carryover. I'm going to go back to a couple years ago. I had a young man by the name of MJ Stumpf, he had won a national championship as a backup. We asked him, MJ, you won a national championship. His comment was, Coach, I haven't won one yet. You only win them when you're a starter at NDSU.
That's part of the desire of every kid wants to live up to the expectations that our tradition has shown. We treat every year differently. This is the last game that the 2019 football team is ever going to play. We're going to look different next year. We look different than we did a year ago. Each team has their own nuances, characteristics.
This is a pretty good football team we have right now. I think that's part of the way we avoid complacency, is we continue to challenge them who they are, to be the best they can be in that moment right then.
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Q. They have some wide receivers that are explosive. How do you contain them?
MATT ENTZ: We got to do a great job of taking away some of the RPO game, the easy-access throws. Riley Stapleton, a big-time receiving threat. Any time you're having to defend a wide receiver that's 6'5", and they're going to do a great job of identifying what coverage we're in, trying to see are we going to roll it to the field, roll it back to the X, especially in the three-by-one formations.
We're going to have to do a good job of trying to disguise some coverages, do some things cat and mouse with the quarterback, give looks pre-snap, play a different coverage post-snap. We can't have them have easy throws and easy access because both those guys can break tackles and do a great job of scoring touchdowns and making big plays for their team.
Q. Your offensive line, to run the football as successful as you do, starts up front. Tell us about that unit a little bit. What are their strengths, even outside the football complex?
MATT ENTZ: If we're going to talk offensive line, let's make sure we understand that they're called the Rams. That's their nickname. That's what it's been for a number of years now. They really appreciate that.
If there's one group or position group on our team that represents who we are and where we come from, it's the offensive line. They're an unbelievably tight-knit group. Majority of them all live together, so it's probably about three or four houses.
We have a lot of legacy in that position group. We have brothers, we have sons of dads who played at NDSU. There's a lot of built-in pride in that room.
Some of the things that you have to be, you have to love football to play on the offensive line because you're going to get plenty of reps, you are going to get plenty of individual time, plenty of practice.
In my opinion, they have one of the best offensive line coaches in the country in A.J. Blazek. For him to come in, in a group that had great continuity, but to be able to blend in and be seamless...
The five starters are who they are. Outstanding football players. Where people don't see it is our five guys who are in the wings are just as good as those guys. That's why we get excited when we talk about our Rams and the future of Bison football.
MATT ENTZ: They do get into a number of different sub-packages. If you're an 11 personnel or in a passing situation, they'll get into some strictly nickel scenarios.
We have to try to find the right matchups and move our play-makers around. How can we do that? Is it putting different people in the backfield? Is it getting different receivers inside at the X? All the same things that their offense is going to challenge us with, as well.
They do a great job defensively. The thing that you appreciate out of JMU's defense is they don't try to defend you with a quantity of calls. It's the quality of calls that they have.
You watch them, you can tell they're well-coached. They play extremely hard. For a group as talented as them, that's what gets scary, is how hard they play during the course of a game.
Q. You mentioned Coach Blazek. What impact has he made on this program in his first year?
MATT ENTZ: I think coming in and taking over what, in my opinion -- besides your defensive coordinator, your offensive line coach as NDSU might be the most important next hire because, again, as I mentioned before, that room and that position group really sets the table for who we are as a football team.
Our physical nature starts with our offensive line. Our defense has to be physical so they can survive spring ball. We help one another. We work together.
But he's done a great job. We've added some things, wrinkles offensively. We've tweaked some protections here and there throughout the course of the year.
But to have a guy with his experience and his knowledge to come in and to pick up has been really an asset to Tyler Roehl and our offensive staff.
THE MODERATOR: That concludes the press conference. Thank you, everyone.
MATT ENTZ: Thanks, guys.