It was a legendary performance by NDSU's Grant Olson the last time Wofford came to town
FARGO — The season was getting long for Grant Olson not only because he and his North Dakota State teammates were getting ready for final exams, but they had to do extra homework that week against Wofford College (S.C.). The Terriers brought a rare triple-option offense to the Fargodome for a 2012 FCS quarterfinal matchup.
The Bison middle linebacker remembers feeling beat up from the rigors of enduring eight physical games in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Olson finished the season with 148 tackles, the most in NDSU's Division I era.
One game, however, provided shock and awe.
Olson set a school record with 29 tackles against the Terriers, a scrum of a game won by the Bison 14-7. The two teams hook up again Saturday, Dec. 9, in the FCS quarterfinals at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
"It was a really good scheme and it was tough," Olson said of Wofford's offense. "They were well-coached and they played hard. I remember they played extremely hard and extremely disciplined."
As the man in the middle, Olson was assigned for the most part to Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein, who got the ball 24 times that day.
"He was assigned to the fullback and the fullback, boy, he was a stud," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman, who was the defensive coordinator in 2012. "Those two guys became best of friends I think by the end of the day as many times as they ran into each other that day."
Olson's tackles broke the school record of 26 set by safety Ken Clark in 1989. NDSU also blocked a 26-yard field goal, recovered two fumbles and never let the Terriers' offense into the end zone. The only Wofford touchdown was an interception return in the second quarter that tied the game at 7-7.
The eventual game-winner was a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brock Jensen to receiver Zach Vraa with 1:02 left in the first half. Other than that, it was a Bison defensive gem that won the game.
"It's something that if you don't go against it very often it can be very difficult," Olson said. "One thing that helped is our scheme back then — and it's probably the same now — was very assignment-sound and assignment-based. Every play as a linebacker you had a specific gap and a specific responsibility. All year you were prepared to be a assignment-sound team so it wasn't me, it was everybody doing their job."
As part of their preparation this week, Bison defensive players have been looking at that 2012 Wofford game. The Terriers have the same offensive coordinator and Klieman said the offense hasn't changed a whole lot.
To put the 29 tackles by Olson in perspective, only 10 NDSU players have 30 tackles or more in 12 games this season. And the Bison have played a lot of players on defense, either because of a depth rotation or because of blowouts in at least five games where the backups played more snaps than usual.
"It's crazy, you look at those stats and you think 29 tackles — people aren't getting that in an entire season," said NDSU safety Robbie Grimsley. "So just to see that is awesome. But it's attainable against these guys if you're really flying to the football and going to both sides of the field. It's definitely possible."
Olson is currently the linebackers coach at Indiana State. Before that, he was an assistant at the University of Wyoming, where he was part of game preparation for triple-option teams Air Force and New Mexico.
"It's a stressful week," he said. "All the defensive coaches go through that when they're facing the triple option."