Four injured Bison back at practice, but will they play against James Madison?
FARGO—North Dakota State head football coach Chris Klieman said Monday, Jan. 1, running backs Ty Brooks and Lance Dunn and cornerbacks Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush have been participating in practice. But whether that translates into the four playing in the Division FCS national championship game Saturday, Jan. 6, is unknown.
Klieman turned the question into a type of cat-and-mouse game.
"We'll find out, we'll see on Saturday," he said. "We have to keep you in some suspense. Everybody is moving around, let's just say that so I'm optimistic guys will have an opportunity."
The fact Dunn has returned in some fashion was new to the Bison preparations in advance of taking on James Madison in Frisco, Texas. He's been out since mid-October with an injured hip, an ailment that did not require surgery.
He was on pace for a record-setting season and is still tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with 12, despite missing the last seven games. The other three players were injured in the semifinal win over Sam Houston State.
It's not the first time Klieman has kept his title-game lineup in the dark. Quarterback Carson Wentz, who missed half of the 2014 season with an injured wrist, was announced as the team's starting quarterback the day before the FCS title game against Illinois State.
At least in this case NDSU has the benefit to having three weeks between the semifinal and championship games. If Wimbush and Allison can't go, true freshman Josh Hayes and sophomore Marquise Bridges will get the call at the two cornerback spots.
Both Hayes and Bridges have had the benefit of time now that school is on the semester break. Klieman specifically pointed out cornerbacks coach Bryan Shepherd in being able to further help the younger players along.
"With both (Wimbush and Allison) ailing somewhat, and us not having school right now, he's been able to spend some extra time with Marquise and Josh Hayes and Dom Davis and trying to get those guys more up to speed," Klieman said. "That's been valuable to us in the fact we don't have classes and not under the 20-hour rule."
The 20-hour rule is an NCAA stipulation that prohibits student-athletes from spending more than 20 hours a week on required team activities.
Allison is considered the team's best cover corner and in theory would probably be matched up against JMU wide receiver Riley Stapleton. The 6-foot-5, 218-pound sophomore has been hot in the playoffs with 16 receptions for 321 yards and three touchdowns. That includes a 40-yarder with 56 seconds to play that tied Weber State in the quarterfinals.
"He's a difference maker," Klieman said. "He may not have made a ton of explosive plays early in the season but all of a sudden he's taken off. You always worry about a matchup against someone that big and strong."
Klieman also confirmed that linebacker Levi Jordheim is back at full speed and will play against the Dukes. That could also impact special teams, where Jordheim was a regular contributor before leaving the South Dakota State game in early November with an injury.
"Having Levi back will be big for us," Klieman said.