Before each North Dakota State football game, the BisonReport will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Indiana State beat writer James Lafary (Terre Hault, Indiana) to preview the Bison's Week 11 home game against Indiana State Sycamores.
1) After starting off the season hot winning three of their first four games, the Sycamores have lost five of their last six games. How are you feeling about this Indiana State team right now?
JF: With the FCS playoffs out of reach for a 4-win Indiana State team, the blue and white are limping towards the finish line in 2016. They've had some bad breaks at times including a couple of heartbreakers against really good MVFC opponents but the bottom line is that the Sycamores have ultimately failed to capitalize and some great opportunities to firmly put them in the playoff picture. Last week's disappointing lost at home against Northern Iowa seemed to put a final damper on the regular season.
2) There's been a lot of talk about quarterback Isaac Harker in the Indiana State media, how good is Harker really as the stats he's put up so far this season are impressive. He's averaging 255.9 yards a game with a 19:8 touchdown to interception ratio.
JF: Despite some struggles in the last couple of weeks, Harker has certainly been a bright spot for Indiana State this season. As mentioned towards the start of the year, he's a very smart quarterback who has displayed his abilities numerous times this season. His statistics and rankings among the FCS and Missouri Valley Football Conference are no fluke. Doing this as a redshirt freshman is also of note and his upside as his career progresses will be something to watch out for.
3) The Sycamores rushing attack has struggled this season as Indiana State is only averaging 3.2 yards a carry. Is that a product of the backs, offensive line or just the negative game scripts that Indiana State has been in recently?
JF: I think the rushing numbers are a bit deceiving. While the offensive line at times has gave way, I think the statistics show maybe some of the inconsistencies in the play calling as ISU gears towards more of a pass-first offense. Anybody who takes the numbers to heart is in for a rude awakening. Roland Genesy has had a stellar season as a power back and second/third options Dimitri Taylor and JaQuan Keys have the capability in the backfield to burst through the line with a great deal of speed.
4) What are the strengths of the Sycamores' defense and who are a few names to keep an eye on for the game this Saturday?
JF: Indiana State's defense has had the ability to create turnovers throughout the season which has been a big plus. The Northern Iowa game was an example of inconsistency but this is a defense that has the capability of being mean and giving the offense numerous opportunities to get back on the field. Senior defensive back Jameer Thurman anchors the defense while Conlan Cassidy has been a major factor on the defensive line including a big day three weeks ago against South Dakota. Tsali Lough and Kevin Beacham are also names to watch out for come Saturday.
5) What are the keys for Indiana State if they're going to beat the Bison on the road, and what's your prediction for the Indiana State vs. North Dakota State game and why?
JF: It's all about putting some consistency out on the field in order to even have a shot of knocking off North Dakota State. Offensively, converting on third downs has been a nightmare and must improve while Harker and company must get back to stringing together big plays and more yards. Defensively, the Sycamores have to do better at forcing 3-and-outs and avoiding getting beat on the big play themselves.
Prediction: North Dakota State 28-10