FARGO, N.D. (AP) — It often is a do-or-die down. And so far this year, North Dakota State has been living large.
The Bison lead the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision in third-down efficiency, converting them 59.15 percent of the time. NDSU is 41 of 72, and that is considered a major reason why the Bison are 5-0 and ranked No. 1 in the FCS media and coaches polls heading into Saturday's game against Indiana State at the Fargodome.
"I never lose hope in our offense and my team that we're not going to get that first down," said offensive tackle Billy Turner. "I kind of look at it as a normal down and I have faith in us that we're going to get it. There's no real pressure on us when it comes down to third-and-long."
Never was that more evident than against Youngstown State last Saturday. NDSU converted on third down 11 of its first 12 times and finished 11 of 15. It was a backbreaker at times, especially when five were third-and-7 yards to go or longer.
"It's a lot harder to make a first down when it gets over five yards," said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. "That's a real credit to (quarterback) Brock (Jensen), offensive line and the receivers. I thought the receivers made some great catches."
Not surprisingly, the top eight teams in the category all are nationally ranked. Bohl said a good conversion rate is around 40 to 50 percent. But 59 percent? The Bison defense also is grateful.
"It's phenomenal," said linebacker Grant Olson. "It keeps us on the bench drinking Gatorade, getting some rest after some of those long drives teams have got on us. It gives us a chance to recuperate and make the adjustments we have to make on the sideline."
Making good on third down also tends to wear down the other team's defense, Bohl said. Every Bison opponent has felt the wrath with perhaps the exception of Robert Morris, a game in which the Bison were 5 of 12.
NDSU was 12 of 21 against Colorado State, 7 of 10 against Prairie View A&M and 6 of 13 against Northern Iowa.
"I think we have good schemes called on third down," said NDSU receiver Zach Vraa. "If we get caught in third-and-long, we have a couple of routes aimed at a little longer than 10 yards and we have faith in Brock and our receivers that we know on third down we can be pretty consistent."