FCS Game of the Week: North Dakota State at South Dakota State
(STATS) - Top 10 FCS programs North Dakota State and South Dakota State are both trying to do the same thing this week - go 1-0, as their simplistic rallying cries go.
In truth, there's a little more at stake in their Missouri Valley Football Conference matchup at SDSU on Saturday. Second-ranked NDSU (8-0, 5-0) can take a big step toward securing a seventh straight conference title and the No. 10 Jackrabbits (6-2, 3-2) can retain the Dakota Marker trophy they won in last year's regular-season matchup. Plus, there are plenty of implications for the FCS playoffs, where the rivals have met in three of the last five years.
Time of possession is a major point of emphasis with the two coaching staffs heading into the STATS FCS Game of the Week. Last year's two-game split suggests why: When SDSU won 19-17 in the regular season, it ran 78 offensive plays to NDSU's 59 with nearly a five-minute advantage of game clock, but when the Bison won 36-10 in their national quarterfinal, they had a nearly 22-minute edge and ran 73 plays to the Jackrabbits' 39.
NDSU coach Chris Klieman says it's paramount to keep SDSU's explosive offense off the field: "Our ability to get after the passer and be better on first and second downs (are keys), so we're not in 3rd-and-2 and 3 where they have a lot of versatility they can use."
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier knows the Bison will try to do that through their run game: "They've expanded a little bit this year with the new coordinator (Courtney Messingham), a new flavor to the run game. There are times, though, in the game as you watch film, they're going to line up with two tight ends, two backs and just try to run it down your throat."
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=
The Matchup: No. 2 North Dakota State (8-0, 5-0 Missouri Valley) at No. 10 South Dakota State (6-2, 3-2)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium (19,340) in Brookings, South Dakota
Television: ESPN3, Midco Sports Network, KVLY, NBC North Dakota
Series: North Dakota State leads 60-41-5 (last meeting: NDSU won 36-10 at home on Dec. 10 in the FCS quarterfinals)
The Skinny: The series predates the Dakota Marker trophy, which has been handed out since both programs moved to Division I in 2004. These are two of the four programs that can claim to have been in at least the last five FCS playoffs (also New Hampshire and Sam Houston State). The Bison have the nation's top-ranked defense and have posted 19 sacks over their last three games. LB Jabril Cox will sit out the first half after being ejected for targeting in last week's game. The Bison secondary, led by veteran safeties Tre Dempsey (15 career interceptions) and Robbie Grimsley, will be spread out by SDSU TE Dallas Goedert and WR Jake Wieneke. Bison junior Bruce Anderson (638 rushing yards, four touchdowns) has taken over as the No. 1 running back with Lance Dunn lost to a torn labrum in his hip. NDSU knows how to put away opponents, averaging nearly 19 minutes in time of possession and outscoring opponents 159-30 in the second half this season. There's good reason NDSU seeks to keep the ball away from SDSU. The Jackrabbits have scored 114 points in their last two games (Missouri State and Western Illinois) - the most in a two-game span of their Division I era. QB Taryn Christion was the STATS FCS National Offensive Player of the Week after the 52-24 win over WIU. Wieneke is a touchdown machine with 54 on 260 career receptions. Goedert has 2,577 career receiving yards, just 24 behind the MVFC record held by Southern Illinois' MyCole Pruitt (2,601) from 2011-14. The Jackrabbits lead the FCS in converting 56 percent of their third-down attempts. Sophomore LB Christian Rozeboom (77 tackles) already has 12 games with double-figure tackles in his career. Both teams are strong in the kicking game, with the punters adept at setting up good field position.
Prediction: The Bison have been the more consistent team, although SDSU knows how to beat them. North Dakota State, 27-24.