What a week. North Dakota State has had to balance supporting the family of Chase Morlock after the death of his father and the preparation for the biggest rivalry game on the 2016 schedule. Head coach Chris Klieman started Monday's press conference by reminding everyone that there are bigger things in this world than football. The Bison football program is a family. The family has had a rough seven days, but they have a lot of football-related goals left to achieve.
One of those goals is certainly to keep the Dakota Marker in Fargo. The game against SDSU is the only "trophy game" the Bison play in each season (outside of the National Championship trophy). The Bison have won eight straight against the Jacks, and six straight Dakota Marker games. The current run has pushed the Bison to an 8-4 lead in a Dakota Marker series that they once trailed 4-2. No team had won more than seven straight games since NDSU took 16 straight games from the Jacks between 1976 and 1992.
Saturday's game is between a very balanced squad at NDSU and a high powered South Dakota State offense with a weak defense. South Dakota State is allowing 200+ yards per game on the ground, and the Bison love to run the football. The unquestioned weakest part of NDSU's defense is the pass defense. Jacks QB Taryn Christion is sporting a 20 to 1 TD to INT ratio and ranks sixth in the country in passing yardage.
A win against the Jacks would push the Bison to 3-0 in the conference and send them off on their upcoming two game road trip on a high note.
When the Bison have the Ball
This week, more than any (except for maybe Eastern Washington), the Bison are going to try to run the football. They should be able to run the ball against a weak South Dakota State run defense, but that's not entirely the point. SDSU has one of the better offenses in the FCS. Keeping the ball away from the Jacks and keeping the defense reseted will be the key to the game for the Bison on the offensive end.
Fortunately if the Bison do want to mix things up and throw the ball down the field, South Dakota State isn't any good at defending that, either. The Jacks rank 107th in the country against the pass, allowing 281 yards per game. Depending on the health and availability of the various fullbacks on the roster the Bison may choose to spread the Jacks out. Easton Stick may not have the statistical success that Christion does, but he's asked to do a lot less.
If NDSU plays up to their potential on the offensive side of the ball they should be able to score, almost at will. They just might have to.
When the Jacks have the Ball
They might have to because South Dakota State is a very good offense, and they're good where NDSU struggles: through the air. The Jacks have a top 15 offense and are averaging over seven yards per play. Their passing offense ranks fifth. Christion is a very talented quarterback that was recruited by NDSU out of Sioux Falls. Christion chose to stay at quarterback and chose to stay in-state at SDSU.
Christion is propped up by two NFL-level pass catchers. All American Jake Weineke is the name that everyone knows. Last year, Bison cornerback CJ Smith took Weineke away almost completely, but NDSU has struggled defending the pass this season. Weineke has height and elite ball skills that no other receiver the Bison have faced possess. Worse than that he now has a secondary target for the NDSU pass defense to worry about, tight end Dallas Goedert.
The Bison defense will probably be able to completely take away the Jacks run offense. SDSU isn't that great at running the ball in the first place and the weak spot of their offense is probably the offensive line. Yes, the Jacks want to throw the ball and the Bison sometimes struggle to defend it, but making any offense one dimensional is a positive.
These two squads will appear to be in a shootout early. Weineke and Goedert will give the Bison secondary troubles, and NDSU will run the ball on the Jacks at will. In the second half the strengths of the NDSU program will shine through. The legendary Bison conditioning will allow NDSU to own the fourth quarter as the defensive line of NDSU gives Christion fits and the Bison offensive line wears down the Jacks front. NDSU wins the fourth quarter 14-0 and takes the game Bison 41 Jacks 24