The Bengals almost completed the best second-half comeback I've seen from an Idaho State team last night, pulling themselves up from a 31-7 deficit to within a field goal, before ultimately losting 38-35 to North Dakota. Some random thoughts on the "morning after":
--If you're a glass half-full guy, you have to be impressed with the continued maturation of ISU QB Russell Hill. He had a tremendous second half in particular, and finished 30 of 44 for 396 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions. He led ISU on drives of 82, 79, 91 and 78 yards. And he played the entire second half without his top receiver, Eddie Thompson, who went down with a knee strain.
--In Thompson's absence, Jaron Taylor emerged: 8 catches, 159 yards, two TDS. Isaiah Burel also performed well, catching 7 balls for 70 yards, and Edsel Logan got in the end zone, as well.
--While it took a while for ISU to fully integrate him into the offense, RB Ken Cornist was terrific, picking up 72 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and catching four balls for 36 yards. Several times, second-effort runs by Cornist kept those monster ISU drives alive.
--There weren't a lot of highlights defensively, but you still have to admire the play of LB Ryan Phipps (10 tackles, 3.5 TFL and a forced fumble), safety Rashard Richards (11 tackles, a forced fumble), and true frosh safety A.J. Storms, who had 7 tackles, a TFL and FF before going out with an ankle sprain.
--I'm continuing to become a Josh Crittendon fan. He is undersized at defensive tackle, but continues to produce, getting six tackles and a TFL. He leads all ISU down linemen in tackles by a wide margin.
The bad news: the defense continues to struggle, The Bengals gave up 241 yards rushing (their season average, by the way), and had no answers for incredibly efficient Sioux QB Danny Freund. While we're on the subject of North Dakota, please note this is a GOOD football team. Josh Murray run over, around and through the Bengals for 204 yards, and Freund, who came into the game completing nearly 74 percent of his passes, didn't disappoint, hitting 20 of 26 for 237 yards, 3 TDS and no picks. Freund has not thrown an interception since Oct. 13 of last year -- 234 straight passes. I don't care if you're playing Irving Jr. High, that's efficiency.
Contemplate this for a second -- as good as Murray was last night, he'd still be the No. 2 running back on this team if not for the academic ineligibility of Ryan Chapell, who ran for almost 1700 yards as a sophomore last year.
That said, the Bengals know they simply cannot continue to play this poorly on defense and be competitive in the Big Sky Conference. The coaching staff will be looking for answers this week as ISU prepares for its conference opener next week against an explosive Eastern Washington ballclub. They also have to be concerned about continued slow starts by the offense (the Bengals have scored just 7 points in the first half of all three games this year), the reliability of their kicking game (Jarrett Huk missed two makeable field goals, one of which was overturned by a penalty), and the injuries to Thompson and Storms.
Tune in to the Coach Zamberlin call-in show Monday night at 6 p.m. on KSEI 930 AM, or join us in person at Chili's, for an update on the injury situation and Coach Z's thoughts on getting the Bengals ready for the beginning of conference play.
And thanks again for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun! --Brad B.
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