Idaho State’s fate was sealed after its first four drives.
The Bengals started last weekend’s game against Northern Arizona with an interception on fourth down, a blocked punt recovered deep in their own territory, another pick and a lost fumble. Drive No. 5 ended with a missed field goal and marked ISU’s final possession of four plays or more until its five-play scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.
The early-game deficiencies tipped the score in NAU’s favor and took ISU’s offense out of its rhythm, similar to games earlier this season when sustained drives stalled in enemy territory with no points.
“Our early first-quarter scoring drought is an issue that we’ve got to take care of,” Bengals coach Mike Kramer said Wednesday at his weekly press conference. “We’ve got to be able to end drives with touchdowns and not end drives with turnovers down in the red zone.”
Idaho State has committed 15 turnovers this season. The Bengals’ turnover margin of minus-7 is 12th in the 13-team Big Sky and tied for 113th in the 122-team Football Championship Subdivision.
Through six games this season, opponents have scored 48 points off ISU’s turnovers, with a season-high 24 coming from Oregon State.
“Those are unforced errors that we certainly have to get corrected,” Kramer said. “Hopefully we get them corrected by this game (against North Dakota).”
ISU’s defense has forced eight turnovers this season, but the frequency has been inconsistent. The unit turned Simon Fraser over three times and Sacramento State twice, but each other opponent has committed one or zero turnovers.
“Our goal is three a game and we haven’t been hitting that mark,” sophomore linebacker Joe Martin said Wednesday.
The Fighting Hawks (5-2, 4-0 Big Sky Conference) have the league’s best turnover margin at plus-10, which ties for fourth in the FCS. Junior quarterback Keaton Studsrud has thrown one interception in 179 pass attempts, and the defense has intercepted an FCS-best 13 passes.
“They’re on the rise in terms of acquiring turnovers and they are limiting their own mistakes,” Kramer said. “Well-coached football teams do that. Hopefully, we’ll appear to be the same thing on Saturday.”