It's here. After a dozen years of wondering what would happen if North Dakota and North Dakota State got together during the Division I era it's time to find the answers. Surely, Bison fans would tell you, North Dakota State would be eleven or twelve wins closer to tying the all time series, North Dakota has been less than stellar. Surely, North Dakota fans would say the UND program would be in a better place if NDSU would have kept the rivalry alive and agreed to play some of the games in Grand Forks.
All the talk is over. North Dakota State heads into it's last non conference game at an unfamiliar 1-1. While the game against North Dakota is important to the alumni (especially former student-athletes), it's a big game for building depth and allowing younger players to play. The onus is on Coach Klieman to both satisfy the fan base by soundly defeating UND, but also to do right by his football team moving forward and getting them ready to play in the Valley.
Despite the men's and women's basketball programs, the baseball programs and numerous other programs getting together on an every season basis, there is built-up animosity that only a football game can blow off. For years Bison fans have had to hear about the "JV" status of FCS football. During those same years UND fans have had to hear about either NDSU football or men's basketball being the first of the two schools to achieve a big milestone.
First FCS playoff appearance? NDSU. First FBS football victory? North Dakota State University. First men's basketball win over a top 25 team? The Thundering Herd. First FCS National Title? Bison. First March Madness appearance? Bison. First victory? Bison. For the last 12 years Bison fans have celebrated unprecedented accomplishments and UND fans have been there to tell them just how minor those accomplishments are. The talk ends today.
When the Bison have the ball:
It all starts with Carson Wentz. Much has been made of NDSU's struggles historically against the 3-4 defense. Much has also been made of UND's 3-4 defense, who currently rank 3rd in the FCS in rushing D at 33 yards per game. The reality is that this Bison offense is engineered differently and North Dakota hasn't played anyone yet. According to USA Today's Sagarin ratings for college football, UND has faced the 179th (Wyoming) and the 217th (Drake) best teams in the country. The Bison have the best offense in the FCS and Wentz can beat North Dakota through the air; I think he/they can run on UND also.
Bison running back Chase Morlock is a versatile weapon and should give North Dakota fits all day. Not only is Morlock a great runner, but he has been unstoppable out of the backfield as a receiver. North Dakota's defense allowed 8.5 yards per pass a season ago, so if the run game slows down look for NDSU to spread UND out and attack them with the pass.
Spreading out the North Dakota defense gets them out of the base 3-4 and puts their depth (or lack thereof) on display. Expect to see jet-action plays to Dmitri Williams and Darrius Shepherd repeatedly. I'm guessing that NDSU could win this game handily by going into the I-Formation and shoving UND around with their superior offensive line, but it would be much easier to spread them out and wear them down.
When North Dakota has the ball:
The UND offense is not an impressive unit. They only averaged 254 yards a game a season ago. They are the perfect candidate for a young NDSU defense that showed signs of coming together a week ago to really dominate before the Missouri Valley season kicks off. The Bison defense became a completely different animal last week with the addition of CJ Smith. Outside of one long play, Code Green was dominant last Saturday.
True sophomore Keaton Studsrud played adequately against Wyoming, but true freshman John Sanitago was the star. Against Drake a week ago, Studsrud threw 3 touchdown passes and Santiago was completely shut down. If North Dakota becomes one dimensional the game will be over quickly. If that dimension is Studsrud trying to beat the Bison with his arm, North Dakota is in big, big trouble.
I fully expect North Dakota to attempt to establish the run early. Running the ball chews the clock and keeps the Bison offense off the field. The only chance North Dakota has is to control the clock and keep the game close until the end. If NDSU can win on first and second down and force early three-and-outs, this game becomes a blowout.
I understand the value of this rivalry. When these two teams got together in Division II the game was often closer than it should have been (either way). That doesn't change the fact that North Dakota just isn't there yet. UND just beat Drake by 3 at home. That is unimpressive.
From what I've seen, North Dakota is on about the same level as Weber State. Expect a similar result. NDSU will prove their point early by mashing the ball against an overrated North Dakota rush defense. As the Bison widen the lead, North Dakota will have to abandon their gameplan and that's when it might get ugly. If North Dakota is forced to throw the ball constantly with Studsrud and the Bison can move Jordan Champion inside to the nickel they will fold. The Thundering Herd rolls on to Brookings.
North Dakota State 48, North Dakota 10