NDSU coach Chris Klieman concerned about ISU’s offense

Rob Gray

Senior Writer

What will Mark Mangino and the Cyclones throw at NDSU? (Rob Gray photo)

Plenty of documentary evidence points conclusively to ISU offensive coordinator Mark Mangino’s prowess as a tactician.

And that’s part of the problem as far as first-year North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman is concerned entering Saturday's 11 a.m. matchup with the Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium.

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"A little bit of we’re not sure what they’re going to do,” Klieman, a Waterloo native, said during Tuesday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference coaches’ teleconference. “We’ve looked at a ton of film from previous years and looked a little bit even at Youngstown (State, where Mangino worked last season) film, but we’ve been kind of preparing for a lot of different offensive looks that we could potentially see.”

Mangino, who even ISU running backs coach Lou Ayeni has honored with the “Mangenius” tag, obviously won’t offer any hints.

He didn’t show anything wild in the spring game nor in the one fall practice open to the media.

He’s played it close to the hip, as he should.

“We’ll see,” Mangino’s often said about the latest version of his previously hard-to-stop schemes.

So will Klieman, who’s played and coached in several games in Ames.

His debut at Jack Trice Stadium came in 1987. He was a soon-to-be star defensive back for Northern Iowa.

The Panthers led 38-21 in the fourth quarter before ISU forged a furious comeback fueled by a famous — or infamous, depending on which side you cheered for — onside kick that set up the winning field goal.

No hard feelings, Klieman said.

“It’s a great environment,” he said.

He had more to say, of course — some of which follows below:

 About the difficulty in scheduling FBS foes, given the Bison’s 7-3 record against such teams (including a 24-21 win at Kansas State last season …

 Klieman: “We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had pretty good football teams the last three years that I’ve been here. But I think all of us in the Missouri Valley are, down the line, going to have a tough time scheduling (FBS) opponents with the power five, realignment and stuff.”

 Does that anger, irk and/or frustrate him?

 Klieman: “I think it frustrates all of us in the Missouri Valley as far as we all want that guaranteed game and we all need that money game. I’ll let the higher powers that be figure that stuff out, but I think it’s fun for all of our kids at all of the Missouri Valley schools to play those big games — to go out to Oregon, or Missouri or Iowa or Oklahoma State. All of those are really fun for our players so I hope we get to continue to do those things.”

 Most unknowns for your team exist on offense, save for star returning receiver Zach Vraa (1,191 yards, 15 TDs) and running back John Crockett (1,277, 11 TDs). How has that group progressed?

 Klieman: “We feel good about their progress. Now it’s just going against each other, so I guess when the lights come on Saturday at 11 a.m. we’ll find out how well they've progressed. The experience we have with Crockett at running back and Vraa at receiver and even a couple of our tight ends back, I think is a bonus. We feel (quarterback) Carson (Wentz) is ready to go in this kind of environment, but time will tell. He’s been a backup here for the last few years. He’s played in some games, but probably not on meaningful snaps, so we know that we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us this week. And just as I listen to other people — we’ve got to get better this week. It’s the No. 1 goal for us to get better and start clicking before we get into conference play in October and this is obviously a big challenge for us right off the bat playing at Iowa State.”

 About Wentz: Is he pretty even-keel, or can he get a little too hyped after waiting for so long?

 Klieman: “I think he’s a pretty grounded kid. He’s really excited about his opportunity because in the past couple years we’ve had (all-American) Brock Jensen, who was just an unbelievable quarterback for us and in our system. Even as a staff in the past few years, we’ve said if something happened to Brock we feel Carson’s a very capable guy that could continue to lead us. Well, unfortunately for Carson, it’s taken him three years to get to that spot, but we’re excited about what he’s going to do. We know he’s going to make some mistakes .. .We hope he’s going to learn from this experience as well as the next three non-conference ones we have.”

 Klieman also spoke at length about ISU and the challenge it represents in a Monday news conference:

 On hopes that his defense can figure out Mangino’s plan and solve it …

 Klieman: “We’ve got a lot of veteran kids on defense that have seen an awful lot of offenses throughout the last three years, and we’ve got to be able to adapt and adjust. I know this, he has had tremendous offenses wherever he’s gone. and they've put a lot of points on the board and a lot of yards up there so we’ll have our hands full trying to slow them down.”

 On Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson …

 Klieman: “Dual threat. He can run the football extremely well. He can throw it very well. He’s had a lot of starts under his belt. We have probably more film on him than we did on the other two and I know when they named Richardson the quarterback it probably gave us a little bit more time just to go through all the plays and stuff that he had done. but he's a very capable quarterback who can run it and throw it.”

 On how they’ve won four straight games vs. FBS foes after losing to ISU in 2009 …

 Klieman: “I think part of it is the culture here, just how we prepare the kids and how hard we work in the offseason with (strength and conditioning) programs; how hard we work in the summer getting those kids in great shape to play. Because they’re always early games, always in the first two or three weeks, so I think conditioning’s a big factor. I think experience is a big factor. This year’s group of seniors were freshman when we beat Minnesota and sophomores when we beat Colorado State. They kind of learned how to do it, so to speak.”

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