BY JEREMY HOECK
Rick Fox knows his players aren’t happy with an almost-got-it-done. They wanted to get it done.
The second-year head football coach at Drake University watched his Bulldogs nearly make a complete comeback from a 21-0 deficit at North Dakota last Saturday. Although Drake came up just short, 21-18, there wasn’t much satisfaction in the narrow defeat.
“We were frustrated because we obviously want to win every game, but we didn’t get that done,” Fox said during a phone interview Wednesday. “That was frustrating for us.”
While it may have been frustrating for the Bulldogs (1-1) themselves, it certainly caught the attention of everyone at the University of South Dakota – which hosts Drake on Saturday afternoon.
“They’re not going to go away on us either,” USD coach Joe Glenn said. “They’re almost all seniors, so we’ll have a tough game.”
Considering North Dakota had just beaten FBS Wyoming the week before, what Drake did – holding UND to 25 rushing yards on 36 carries – was certainly impressive. But at the same time, it’s hard to really get a grasp on what to expect with the Bulldogs.
Winners of seven games last year (though, with a loss to an NAIA school), Drake was picked third in this year’s Pioneer Football League (a non-scholarship conference) pre-season poll. In their 2015 opener, the Bulldogs ran for 210 yards but gave up 119 yards on the ground in a 44-30 victory over Division II William Jewell.
Experience, though, is certainly on Drake’s side. The roster includes 17 fifth-year seniors, which undoubtedly comes in handy when you’re playing teams from the Big Sky or Missouri Valley.
“That experience is obviously critical for any season, but especially when you’re playing back to back teams like these,” Fox said.
And although Drake hasn’t defeated a Missouri Valley team since 2007, its defensive performance a week ago naturally has the Bulldogs feeling confident.
Pointing out that Drake has traditionally played pretty good defense, Fox – a former assistant – said there was no magic turnaround for his squad heading into Grand Forks.
“From week one to week two, we just tackled a lot better,” he said. “And I couldn’t be more proud of how our defense played.”
Experience certainly had something to do with that performance, as well. Drake started 10 seniors on defense against North Dakota, and this week’s depth chart has one new starter, but still 10 seniors.
“They just played really, really well,” Fox said. “That’s what we’ve got to have week in and week out.”
And the Bulldogs will need a similar effort on Saturday.
South Dakota ran for 243 yards – behind a career-high 186 from Trevor Bouma – in last Saturday’s win over UC Davis.
“Each game plan is unique, but we always have this in common, you better tackle well,” Fox said. “It doesn’t matter how you scheme, if you don’t tackle well, you won’t be successful.”
Is it really that simple? Yes, Fox said.
“The game of football changes from year to year, with so many innovations, but it still comes down to tackling and blocking,” he said. “If we do that well Saturday, it’ll be a good game. If we don’t, we’ll be in trouble.”
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