It's on. I've been saying it all week. It is so on. It's entirely possible that it's never been more on than it will be at 11 AM on ESPN tomorrow morning, at least not as far as the Fargodome is concerned. The Dome is gonna be rockin' as South Dakota State returns to the Fargodome, fresh off of their first second round playoff win in their Division I history.
It's a familiar tale. A season ago the Bison fell in Montana on the last play of the game. The Griz would return to the Fargodome, and the Bison were ready. The Thundering Herd trampled Montana, winning 37-6. Sure, Montana had proven they could go toe to toe with NDSU, they had even slain the beast. The playoff Bison, though, are a different breed.
It's not just that the Jackrabbits reclaimed the Dakota Marker for the first time since 2009 (in addition to two playoff losses). It's not that they had a defensive assistant complain about sharing the conference title on Twitter. It's not just that their head coach complained about NDSU's use of their intro video in the playoffs. It's not even that Christian Rozeboom twisted Bruce Anderson's ankle and knocked him out for two months. It's actually all of those things, wrapped up into one.
"We're ready to go. I'm fired up. They've been chirping at us, and chirping at the coaching staff. There's no love in this game. It's all hate. We're ready to go." - DE Brad Ambrosious
This feels a lot like years past in that if the Bison can get by a familiar foe in the quarterfinals the semis and the trip to Frisco would appear to be an easier road. NDSU enters this game as favorites, but more importantly they enter this game wanting another shot at South Dakota State.
When the Bison have the ball:
This was the great surprise when the two teams met in October. South Dakota State was bad defensively going in to that game, and quite frankly were not very good at it afterwards, either. The Jacks gave up an average of 26.75 points over their last four games. That's a number that the Bison aren't likely to give up in a playoff situation (or any situation, really).
If the Bison have Darrius Shepherd back they'll have all of their offensive contributors from the beginning of the year available to them, especially in the backfield. The plan against South Dakota State since the day Jake Weineke got there has been to control the ball with the running game and keep he and the Jackrabbit offense off the field. Unfortunately the Bison were forced to punt five times (none for SDSU) and failed to convert on key 3rd downs.
Yes, NDSU should be able to run the ball against a beat up South Dakota State front with their full complement of offensive lineman, fullbacks and runners. They'll also probably see improved passing offense from Easton Stick and his receivers. Stick managed just 143 yards on 20 attempts and failed to record a touchdown pass. He's been playing much better of late, and last Saturday's performance against the #1 statistical defense in the country may have been the best of his career.
When the Jacks have the ball:
Now this is where everyone is paying attention. Christon, Goedert and Weineke. Those three are the players that strike fear into the hearts of Bison fans (and their defensive coaching staff). Through the air, those three combined for 17 completions and 258 yards. Christion added 20 carries for 146 yards. Think about that for a second. 38 plays. 404 yards. 10+ yards per play. Stop them (slow them down even) stop the Jacks.
Christion might be nursing an ankle injury that is affecting his ability to run. Christion had just four positive rushing yards against Villanova, and took 38 yards worth of sacks. That's a far cry from his performance on the ground against NDSU. I'd anticipate NDSU maintaining their rush lanes with a little more discipline until they figure out if he can run or not, but I wouldn't anticipate a spy.
The Jacks have been able to establish more of a running game of late, led by Brady Magnarelli, but if Christion can't offer a threat on the option, Mangarelli isn't going to be able to run the ball conventionally. Not against the Bison, not in the playoffs. I'd be surprised if PGT doesn't play. Stumpf is on another level right now and I can't imagine he's ready to end his career on his home field against South Dakota State.
This is where I'm going to stand out and a lot of other prognosticators are going to disagree. I've looked at this one a lot of different ways, and although I believe South Dakota State is one of the best three or four teams in the country, it's not going to matter on Saturday. North Dakota State is almost bulletproof at the Fargodome in the playoffs, and now they're pissed off. If Christion can't run, the Jacks are going to have a lot of problems on their hands. The Bison are a much better unit in the back end, especially Dom Davis. Bison roll. NDSU 38 Jacks 17