Iowa can’t overlook North Dakota State just because Carson Wentz is in the NFL
Iowa football is off to a fast start in 2016 with two wins by a combined 63 points. They cruised through Miami (OH) and Iowa State, but their toughest test of the early season will come against an FCS school this week, North Dakota State.
North Dakota State has won the last five FCS championships, the only program at any NCAA level to do that. They’ve also set an FCS record with five straight wins against FBS teams. Sure, the teams they played haven’t been the cream of the crop, however it’s an impressive feat, nonetheless.
A big reason for their success over recent years comes from their quarterback play. Despite playing in the FCS and missing eight games last season, Carson Wentz still proved enough during pre-draft workouts to be drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles this year.
Whether Wentz is able to stick in the NFL is irrelevant when it comes to North Dakota State football because the Bison have found a system that works. They’re the #1 team in the FCS Poll, are 2-0 on the season, and Easton Stick continues to prove that he can be a reliable successor to Wentz.
Besides leading the Bison to two wins this season, Stick started eight games for them last season, too. Carson Wentz missed significant time and Stick went 8-0, leading the Bison to the FCS championship game before Wentz returned.
Carson Wentz and North Dakota State football still go hand-in-hand with each other. That being said, it may be time to look at their new quarterback whose gone 10-0 in his career, because Easton Stick has a chance to put himself on the map by playing well against #13 Iowa.
It’s safe to say that Stick has never played an opponent with the talent Iowa has. It will be a lot different than playing Eastern Washington, however if there’s one thing we do know about Easton Stick it’s that he can handle the pressure.
Kinnick Stadium will be rocking knowing the history of the Bison against FBS teams, and Kirk Ferentz won’t have his team overlooking North Dakota State. Pressure will be high for both sides as Iowa doesn’t want to be another FBS team to fall to the Bison, and North Dakota State wants to prove they’re more than just Carson Wentz.
As tough as it was to lose Wentz for the majority of the 2015 season, it helped prepare Stick for situations like this. The Bison were just 4-2 at the time Wentz went down and Stick couldn’t afford to have a transition period. He went in against #18 Indiana State and led the Bison to a 28-14 victory.
North Dakota State’s situation is eerily similar to what the Oklahoma Sooners went through when Landry Jones backed up Sam Bradford. Jones got valuable experience in 2009 when Bradford went down in week one against BYU. It helped prepare Jones early in his career, knowing Jones would be the starter the following season.
Last season, Stick managed to win the remaining five regular season games, scoring at least 55 points in two of them. They also won three postseason games with Stick under center. King Frazier‘s 1,184 yard season and 11 touchdowns definitely added another dynamic to the Bison’s offense, however the Bison didn’t shy away from their game plan.
Stick completed 61.2 percent of his passes and threw for 13 touchdowns on the year. Not to mention two key touchdown passes in their semifinal win over Richmond.
While the Hawkeyes may be the best team Stick has ever had to pass against, he’s been battle-tested. He’s played in both the FCS semifinal and against multiple top-10 FCS schools. The stage won’t be too big for him and Iowa can’t expect him to come in and make dumb mistakes just because he’s not as talented as Wentz.
In a way, the Bison’s early season schedule has prepared them for their bout with the Hawkeyes. They have faced two top-10 teams to start the season. That hasn’t fazed Stick, though.
He’s completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 451 yards and four touchdowns. Not to mention helping the Bison score 50 points against #8 Eastern Washington a week ago. The Bison are going to run with King Frazier and Lance Dunn a lot, however they’re not afraid to trust Stick in key situations.
If the Bison want to pull off the upset, Stick can’t turn the ball over. He only has one interception this season, however Iowa has already forced four turnovers and has scored a touchdown off of every turnover.
While the Hawkeyes pass rush has been inconsistent at times, they’ve proven that they can get to the quarterback in a hurry and force quarterbacks to make bad decisions. Stick may have big game experience under his belt but he’s still a young quarterback.
Whether it’s nerves or youth, young quarterbacks have a tendency to force throws late in games. That can’t happen from Stick if the Bison want to win. It will only pump up the Iowa crowd even more and he’ll learn quickly that the smallest mistakes against the Hawkeyes secondary could be costly.
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Stick hasn’t owned turnover problems early in this season, though. He has a big arm and is able to run a lot better than Wentz. While Wentz’s arm is superior, Stick’s legs add a dynamic to the offense that wasn’t seen before.
He’s ran 21 times for 129 yards and a touchdown this year, second on the team in rushing yards. In 2015, Stick finished second on the team with 550 yards and third in rushing touchdowns with five. Against a Hawkeyes defense that is only giving up 3.7 yards per carry, trying to confuse them with option plays could open up the field.
Seeing Carson Wentz play in Iowa City a year ago would have been really cool. That being said, Easton Stick isn’t a scrub, he can play. Stick has a big arm, moves well outside of the pocket, and is already a proven winner.
North Dakota State is the one FCS team that no one will ever overlook. They’ve gained the respect of the nation.
Ferentz has already expressed his respect for the Bison, and has been able to keep the Hawkeyes focused every week during their 14 game regular season winning streak. They’ll need that same focus this weekend because Easton Stick can burn them if they underestimate his talent. He’s not Carson Wentz, but he’s still a very good quarterback.