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Maturing Bison secondary face another challenge with SDSU

FARGO -- North Dakota State began the season with a young defensive secondary and considering the schedule the Bison played, there was no easing into it. They were thrown into the proverbial fire and after five games lived to tell about it.

North Dakota State strong safety Robbie Grimsley Dave Wallis / The Forum
North Dakota State cornerback Jalen Allison. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

FARGO - North Dakota State began the season with a young defensive secondary and considering the schedule the Bison played, there was no easing into it. They were thrown into the proverbial fire and after five games lived to tell about it.

Sophomore cornerbacks Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush, sophomore strong safety Robbie Grimsley and junior free safety Tre Dempsey had to learn how to defend the triple option of Charleston Southern and then deal with a trio of teams with heralded receivers in Eastern Washington, Iowa and Illinois State.

"We've definitely grown up, you can see it every week," Dempsey said. "The plays the corners are making now, at the beginning of the season they weren't making. Yeah, we're coming along."

The group will most likely get its stiffest passing challenge yet when South Dakota State comes to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome on Saturday in a battle of Missouri Valley Football Conference league leaders. The Jackrabbits feature wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert.

NDSU defensive backs coach Joe Klanderman called the growth of his group "exponential" with a different offense to prepare for every week.

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"So every week is going to be something new for these guys," he said. "The experience we have at safety is helping us grow quicker at corner but certainly those guys look much more comfortable on film every week."

Wieneke is the fourth decorated receiver the Bison will have faced this season following Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp, Iowa's Matt VandeBerg and Illinois State's Anthony Warrum. Kupp did some damage with a couple of touchdown receptions before leaving in the second half with a shoulder injury.

VandeBerg also caught a pair of touchdown passes against the Bison, although NDSU held him down for the most part with four receptions for just 39 yards. Warrum had five receptions for 82 yards but didn't factor into the scoring.

Now comes the Jacks, who will throw a two-headed monster at the Bison in Wieneke and Goedert.

Goedert, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior tight end from Britton, S.D., leads the team with 34 receptions for 561 yards and eight touchdowns. Wieneke, a 6-4, 215-pound junior wide receiver, had 33 catches for 595 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"It's a nice challenge for us," Grimsley said. "We want to be tested like that because we know we have to rise up. Just being able to see those guys and test our abilities and see what we're able to do, we love it every week."

Certainly, SDSU has tested its competition and passed, especially lately. Quarterback Taryn Christion threw five touchdown passes in each of the last two games and now has 20 against just one interception.

He was 32 of 51 last week for 466 yards in a 45-39 win at Southern Illinois. The touchdown passes were spread between four receivers.

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Conversely, NDSU has adjusted the look of its secondary inserting freshman Dom Davis as a fifth defensive back in the last couple of games. In that package, outside linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker moves further inside replacing middle linebacker Matt Plank.

It was effective last week in a 27-3 win at Missouri State. The Bears had trouble getting any of their receivers open.

"It gets Pierre inside to a more comfortable place instead of trying to cover a shifty 5-5 receiver," Dempsey said. "Dom can get it done. He can tackle in the open field and we're thankful to have him. He's out there competing his tail off and I'm proud of him."

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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