Here's the classic letdown game. NDSU fought through a brutal stretch of games. Seven of NDSU's last nine opponents have been ranked, either in the FCS or in the FBS. One of the two games against an unranked opponent was on the road at Northern Iowa, a bitter rivalry game against a team that is now fighting to back door it's way into the playoffs.
Indiana State is no such challenge. The fighting Larry Birds are 2-5 in the conference, and are certainly no threat to make the playoffs. What they do have, though, are 18 seniors playing in their last game. Indiana State had the MVFC schedule quirk with an open date on the last week of the season. This will more than likely be the last football for those players.
The Bison will honor ten seniors of their own. All ten players have contributed in some very real way to the program's success. There are no fifth year scout team heroes in this group. Zack Johnson, Landon Lechler and Jack Plankers all start across the offensive line.
Eric Perkins is the team's #1 punt returner. Pierre Gee-Tucker and MJ Stumpf make up one of the best outside linebacker tandems in the history of NDSU football. Quentin McCoy is a special teams contributor and the top backup at both outside cornerback positions. King Frazier and Chase Morlock bring unique gifts to the running back room and Brad Ambrosious has been a productive defensive end since his true freshman year.
NDSU needs to avoid the aforementioned let down. It's a program that prides itself on the "1-0" this week attitude that helps against weaker opponents. With that said, this is still the same program that lost to Indiana State in 2012 and South Dakota in 2015. These things do happen, and it's on the players and staff to avoid it.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, no question. If NDSU can win the next two games against two teams in ISUb and USD with a 7-11 record, they'll be home all playoffs long. The Bison will get to play three games in the Fargo (again) in their effort to return to the National Championship game. Fans might look ahead to that possibility, but no one within the program can.
When the Bison have the Ball:
NDSU has a bit of a catch 22 this weekend. They can either try and get the passing game going, which is something that they might need in the playoffs, or they can run the ball. Normally the run game would be the obvious answer. Indiana State, after all, is one of the worst run defenses in the Missouri Valley. NDSU has found success running the ball recently against good run defenses, so why in the world would they throw the ball.
They'd throw the ball because Coach Klieman has outlined the passing offense as something that needs to be improved. It might be for the greater good to get Easton Stick some easy throws early and get his confidence back to where it was when he had to sling it in shootouts against Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington. As NDSU's pass defense and rush offense have improved, and the rush defense stayed dominant, the pass offense has become the slacking phase.
No Matter what happens, I would certainly like to see the Bison get this score up into the 30s or 40s. They have to prove their capable of scoring the ball. A little confidence goes a long way.
When the Sycamores have the Ball: This is a really bad matchup for Indiana State, they can't run the ball very well and their QB, Isaac Harker, can't really run it either. Indiana State is going to become one dimensional very early on in this game. I really don't expect them to be able to do much of anything on the ground. It'll be a good confidence boost game for the defensive tackles that are trying to replace Nate Tanguay.
Indiana State's one true hope for offense lies in wide receiver Robert Tonyan. Tonyan is a big bodied receiver with impressive body control. After playing a base pass defense last week against Youngstown State, the Bison will more than likely go back to shadowing the opposing team's top receiver with Jalen Allison. Tonyan might not be the player that Kupp or Weineke is, but he can't be taken lightly.
Prediction: NDSU is the clear favorite in this game and shouldn't have any issues defensively. It would be nice to see the Bison move the ball a little more on offense than they have been. They've been using their red zone defense to win games that the yardage totals would tell you should have been closer. NDSU wins big enough, but the offense still has much to prove.
NDSU 28, ISU 7