(Stats Perform) – North Dakota State’s victory over Central Arkansas on Saturday went from being quarterback Trey Lance’s spotlight game for NFL scouts to a surprising struggle to extend the longest winning streak in FCS history.
In the Bison comeback, Lance displayed some of the skill set that has led to him often being projected as a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
But the redshirt sophomore struggled enough in the 39-28 win – the 38th straight by the three-time defending FCS champion – that it brought pause to the hype machine that has built this year.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game:
– Lance should take his time with deciding on entering the draft as an underclassmen, especially drawing on an assessment from the NFL advisory board. “Don’t know, still don’t know,” the 2019 Stats Perform Walter Payton and Jerry Rice award recipient said afterward about a decision. Lance added he was confident in his passing, although he overthrew receivers and too often into coverage against a game Central Arkansas defense, posting the second-lowest passer rating (107.1) of his 17 career starts – all wins. The damage Lance does on the ground (143 yards, two touchdowns on Saturday) is immense, but the running will have to lessen on the next level to guard against injuries.
– Consider this fact: Lance accounted for 292 yards and four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) even with an off day passing the ball. Simply throwing his first career interception was a negative. But he remained poised throughout the tight game and used his mobile style to make throws on the run and to take off into open space. He’s a true dual threat.
– The Bison will be fine without Lance in the potential spring season even if he ends his college career to prepare for the draft. They were rusty in the first and only game of the fall yet in the fourth quarter wore down a defending Southland Conference co-champ that was playing its fourth game. Some new players, especially on defense, still have to settle into larger roles. Junior linebacker Jasir Cox, younger brother of Jabril Cox, who did a grad transfer to LSU earlier this year, made big plays just like Big Bro. This is a program that returned only seven starters a year ago and went on to capture a ninth straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title and eighth FCS championship in nine years.
– No FCS team – and few in college football – does the fullback/tight end power combo quite like the Bison. Lance threw 16 of his 28 touchdown passes to tight ends last season and his first this season went to junior Josh Babicz. His other scoring pass – the 23-yard game-winner with 7:35 left – went to sophomore fullback Hunter Luepke, who then added a 13-yard TD run to put the win away. The Bison don’t need to be overly creative offensively when they can power through opponents in different ways, especially with the blocking and offensive skills of their fullbacks and tight ends.
– Central Arkansas’ upset bid supported its favorite’s role in the Southland preseason poll, which was released prior to the conference season being postponed to the spring semester. Basically treating the trip to Fargo as their national title game, the Bears held the lead three times, including 28-25 near the midpoint of the fourth quarter, and got gutsy performances out of quarterback Breylin Smith and linebacker Dre Matthews, who will be seniors next fall when coach Nathan Brown’s squad actually gives chase of the national title game (they aren’t playing in the spring). The opportunity to play the best of the best in the FCS will go a long way with the Bears.