Following a disappointing loss to South Dakota State this past weekend, the North Dakota State Bison look to rebound against South Dakota this Saturday.
The Herd have the opportunity to clinch a share of their seventh consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference championship with a victory Saturday. Currently 5-1, the Bison are alone in first place atop the conference.
NDSU’s last home game of the season will pay tribute to this year’s class of 20 seniors. After last week’s loss, the group of seniors will be looking to make a statement in their final home regular season game.
The Coyotes established themselves as national title contenders early in the season, but have since fallen off in recent weeks, having lost two of their last three games. USD won three straight games against top 15 teams following a win against FBS’ Bowling Green, but stumbled on the road against Illinois State and Northern Iowa.
Signal caller Chris Streveler has enjoyed a rebirth in his second season at USD. Streveler transferred to South Dakota following the 2015 season after spending three years at the University of Minnesota.
The senior has become one of the premier quarterbacks in the FCS, completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,718 yards, both of which lead the Missouri Valley. His 21 passing touchdowns are second in the conference, and at a clip of 302 yards per game, Streveler is the only passer in the conference with over 300 yards in the category.
Beyond his abilities throwing the ball, Streveler has also used his athleticism to beat opponents with his feet. Streveler has rushed for 477 yards and eight touchdowns, making him an irreplaceable weapon for the Coyotes.
“We have to keep him in the pocket,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “When he gets out on the edge and breaks contain, he can beat you running the football (and) he can beat you throwing the football. For us, we need to do a great job of keeping him in between the tackles.”
For the second straight week, the Bison will have their hands full defending the passing game. The Coyotes have racked up 340.3 yards passing per game in conference play, due largely to Streveler’s play and their depth at receiver.
Shamar Jackson and Brandt Van Roekel have been the quarterbacks’s top receiving duo. Jackson leads the team with 605 receiving yards and three scores. Van Roekel has tallied 360 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
In addition to Jackson and Van Roekel, Alonge Brooks and Kody Case have rounded out the USD receiving corps. Both have caught four touchdowns each, and Case’s 20.5 yards per catch ranks second in the conference.
Jalen Allison will find himself in coverage against Jackson. Allison’s sound coverage skills and positioning will help to neutralize the junior wideout and go a long way in determining how successful NDSU is against a lethal unit.
Klieman believes one crucial aspect for his defense will be handling South Dakota’s pace of play. The Coyotes 743 offensive plays rank third in the nation. “Once they cross the 50, boy they’re going as fast as they can,” Klieman said. “That’s the big thing for us; we have to get lined up.”
For the Bison’s offense to regain its footing, Klieman and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham will turn to the ground game. NDSU failed to run the ball often enough against SDSU, contributing to their offensive issues. The head coach said both Bruce Anderson and Ty Brooks will need more touches to spark the offense.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We’re going to get back to what we do, and just do it better,” Klieman said.
South Dakota, though, has been stout against the run, conceding 137.5 yards on the ground per game since conference play began. Their defense has been spearheaded by breakout sophomore Darin Greenfield. Greenfield has stuffed the stat sheet with 16.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, which will make him a handful for the Herd’s offensive line.
In the secondary, Phillip Powell has turned opportunism into interceptions, picking off three passes this year. He’ll attempt to take advantage of Easton Stick’s poor form. Stick has thrown seven interceptions in his last three games. Still, Klieman remains confident in his quarterback.
“I don’t have any concerns with Easton,” Klieman said. “If Easton Stick’s the quarterback here, I’d take him for another 20 years. I’d have a great career here.”
For NDSU to bounce back from last week’s loss, it will be critical to establish a run game early and control the clock. South Dakota ranks seventh in time of possession in the conference as a result of their style of play. The Bison, meanwhile, rank first, and playing USD is an ideal opportunity for the Herd to grind out possessions.
If the Bison can take an early lead and rely on their running game, NDSU will be able to right the ship and send their seniors out with a home victory.