Subscribe for 33¢ / day

FARGO -- It sounds odd because he moves just a couple of feet over on the line of scrimmage, but North Dakota State sophomore Cole Karcz is becoming a two-way player for the Bison. He’s splitting his time these days between defensive tackle and defensive end.

The big picture is Karcz is becoming more valuable by the day.

It’s an asset because if the Bison are to make a run at another Missouri Valley Football Conference title, they’ll need their defense to handle the line of scrimmage in a physical conference. They host 5-1 Western Illinois at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

“We have guys who can play for days,” Karcz said.

Several of them made the plays last Saturday, Oct. 14, in the 27-24 overtime win at Youngstown State. The Bison turned in a season-high eight quarterback sacks led by linebacker Jabril Cox with two and defensive end Stanley Jones with his first 1.5 of the season.

“I think the main thing is the whole defensive end group got better,” Jones said.

Karcz isn’t even listed on the two-deep chart, but that doesn’t mean he’s not in the rotation. He played 31 snaps at defensive end and 14 at defensive tackle against the Penguins. At 6-foot-4 and 262 pounds, the Bison used both spots against a bigger team like Youngstown.

He spent his first two years at defensive end before putting on enough weight to warrant the move inside. So last week, when the Bison coaches asked him to play both spots, it wasn’t like it was a foreign concept.

“It helped a lot the first two years playing defensive end,” he said. “I have a good background in that and know what I’m doing there. It’s just the weekly adjustments that I have to learn.”

Karcz had six tackles against the Penguins with one quarterback sack. He played in just four games in mop-up as a redshirt freshman, but has cracked a defensive line unit that returned eight players who played at least eight games from a year ago.

“We’ll continue to play him a little bit outside and a little bit inside,” said head coach Chris Klieman.

The eight sacks were by far a season high for the Bison, who have 16 on the season. A string of blowouts early in the season probably held that number down, but if NDSU is to make a run for another conference title, they’ll need to put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The last five games will feature five of the best quarterbacks they’ll see in the regular season, starting with Western’s Sean McGuire on Saturday. Northern Iowa the following week has Eli Dunne, followed by South Dakota State (Taryn Christion), South Dakota (Chris Streveler) and Illinois State (Jake Kolbe). All are returning starters and all are either a junior or senior.

The Bison defensive line counters with a good dose of experience of its own.

“We have so many guys that can play at such a high level that we’re able to rotate and keep guys fresh,” Karcz said. “It helps because you can go in and play fast because you know you’re going to come out and be well rested.”