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Triple trouble: Bison will be challenged with the option offense of Charleston Southern

FARGO--North Dakota State will face its share of potent quarterback and receiver combinations this season, a virtual dose of potential double trouble. Next Saturday, Aug. 27, however, Charleston Southern will unveil its triple option offense at G...

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One of the last game’s in which North Dakota State had to deal with a prolific triple-option offense came on Dec. 14, 2012, against Georgia Southern, which was led by quarterback Jerick McKinnon (pictured above) -- now a running back with the Minnesota Vikings. The Bison open the 2016 season Saturday against Charleston Southern’s productive triple-option offense.

FARGO-North Dakota State will face its share of potent quarterback and receiver combinations this season, a virtual dose of potential double trouble. Next Saturday, Aug. 27, however, Charleston Southern will unveil its triple option offense at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

For NDSU, it's Georgia Southern all over again.

Those were the days when the Bison defensive coaches hardly slept in preparing for the GSU option offense in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs. In an age of college football where an emphasis is placed on up-tempo and spread offenses using a variety of receivers, the Buccaneers are, in philosophy anyway, more old school.

"It's just a unique offense, especially in this time of college football," said NDSU defensive coordinator Matt Entz. "You just don't run into it very often unless you're playing the Navys, the Armys or the Air Forces of the world. It's going to be a great challenge for us."

Perhaps nobody will be challenged more than strong safety Robbie Grimsley, who probably would be wise to look at old film of former Bison strong safety Colten Heagle against Georgia Southern. Heagle acted more like a linebacker in the '11 playoff game when he had 15 tackles, nine of which were solo and many of those coming near the line of scrimmage. He frequently found himself one-on-one with the quarterback or running back with not much help behind him.

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"I have similar responsibilities as he probably had during that game," Grimsley said. "It's just me and knowing who I have, whether it's the quarterback or pitch player on every play and making the plays when I get there."

It's a different Grimsley who took the field in the ESPN college football opener at Montana last season. He was a true freshman from Hutchinson, Minn., who admittedly was "just kind of getting thrown in there." The Bison secondary struggled in the loss to the Grizzlies, but got better as the season went on-and was especially stingy in the FCS playoffs.

"I just feel way more confident overall," Grimsley said.

Entz went a step further, saying his confidence "has grown dramatically."

"He's got a good grasp of what we're doing defensively," he said.

Getting a grasp on Charleston Southern probably starts with quarterback Kyle Copeland, who unlike Georgia Southern, will most likely operate more from shotgun formation than under center. He has his top three running backs returning in Darius Hammond (856 yards), Mike Holloway (731 yards) and Ben Robinson (422 yards).

On any one play, a safety like Grimsley could key on any of the backs.

"We're going to have to use our safeties," Entz said. "Somewhere in defending the option, you're going to have to be able to use him to get eight, nine guys in the box to make sure we're sound."

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In the football language, it means each player will have to be responsible for a gap or a fit. And when facing a team that can go sideline to sideline, the hardest part for say a linebacker is to avoid the feeling of having to make every tackle.

"Yeah, you have to trust each other and know they're going to get their responsibility so you can focus on yours," Grimsley said. "If that doesn't happen, there's really not much room to make it right in this game."

Grimsley saw elements of read option last year in preparing for teams like Northern Iowa. He said some elements of a triple option in high school. But the last week or so has been unique in preparing for an offense.

"We had teams who had an option play here and there," he said, "but it wasn't the offense Charleston Southern has, so I really haven't seen it to this degree."

0B5_aBmBKVrk7U3lqUy1DRXBiNTA.jpg
One of the last game’s in which North Dakota State had to deal with a prolific triple-option offense came on Dec. 14, 2012, against Georgia Southern, which was led by quarterback Jerick McKinnon (pictured above) -- now a running back with the Minnesota Vikings. The Bison open the 2016 season Saturday against Charleston Southern’s productive triple-option offense.

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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