Rugged Wofford thinks it can hang with battle-tested Bison

Wofford quarterback Brandon Goodson (14) communicates with teammates during the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina defeated Wofford 31-10. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

(STATS) – One could imagine simply making it to the FCS quarterfinals is barely enough to elicit a yawn from North Dakota State at this point, as the final eight is old hat to a program that’s in its eighth straight year of making it this far.

Wofford has been here before, too. In at least one way, quite literally.

The second-seeded Bison try to keep things rolling Saturday as they host the seventh-seeded Terriers, with both teams envisioning a ball-control battle in the trenches much like the one they played in this round five years earlier at the Fargodome.

A quarterfinal meeting in 2012 would seem to have little bearing for most college football teams who have turned their programs over completely since then, but in the case of North Dakota State (11-1) and Wofford (10-2), not a whole lot has changed.

“They’re an exceptional football team. Very similar to what we played in 2012,” Bison coach Chris Klieman said. “I think they have the ability to throw it a bit more depending on how the game is going. But overall, it’s very similar as far as what they want to do, which is run the football.”

That’s what they’ve done more than any FCS program besides Cal Poly and The Citadel over the past six years. However, that version of the Terriers threw it just 88 times in 13 games, seven of which came in their last one, a 14-7 loss that served as one of the Bison’s toughest tests on the way to their second of what would be five straight national titles.

This Wofford team has thrown it 144 times, but what stands out most to Klieman is the separation the Terriers can create on offense.

“I think they’re faster this year than they were in 2012,” he said. “They have so much more speed.”

Wofford had one pass play longer than 38 yards all season five years ago, but it has four that have gone for at least 48 yards in 2017 and quarterback Brandon Goodson has hit some other big gainers as well. One came with the first half winding down in last week’s round of 16 matchup with Furman, as Goodson found Blake Morgan for a 33-yard strike that put the Terriers ahead to stay in a 28-10 win.

But Wofford, a surprise quarterfinalist last season before bowing out to Youngstown State, isn’t going to waltz into Fargo and surprise the Bison by throwing it 25 times. To keep it close – and the Terriers are 20-point underdogs – they’ll have to grind it out on the ground against a run defense that’s eighth in the FCS, allowing just 2.8 yards per carry.

“You know it’s coming, but you don’t know where it’s going,” Klieman said of Wofford’s triple-option attack. “Option football’s all about having great eye control, great discipline, assignment sound football. You have to have every phase covered.

“I think both teams know if you can hold the ball for 35-plus minutes you’re going to have a great opportunity to be successful.”

Wofford’s defense will have its hands full with a Bison offense that wants to control the ground game as well behind quarterback Easton Stick and running back Bruce Anderson. Only Alcorn State averaged more yards per carry than North Dakota State (6.0).

The Terriers, though, have allowed just 1.87 yards per tote in their last five games against FCS opponents.

“I think we’ve got a good matchup (against NDSU’s offense),” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said. “I think we can match up with them all across the board. The advantage they have is when they’re trying to call plays, it’s dead silent. When we try to call plays, there’s 18,891 people screaming and it makes it difficult.”

For the Bison, the pain is in the preparation of simulating the option in practice with such a quick turnaround.

“You’re doing this all in essentially 2 1/2 days of practice,” Klieman said. “You can think you have everything fit up well, but then all of a sudden it comes 10 times faster on Saturday because they’re a lot faster than our scout team guys.

“I’ve been a part of games against option football where in the first quarter you feel like ‘boy, you’re never gonna stop them.'”

NDSU won’t panic if it falls behind. The Bison had been outscored 41-30 in the opening 15 minutes of their final six regular-season games prior to last week’s 38-3 rout of San Diego, and they outscored their opponents 141-63 the rest of the way.