Hanson Field could pose a struggle for the dome dwelling Bison team. The temperature is supposed to drop down to a cool 55 degrees along with some light showers. This will be the first outdoor game for NDSU after playing a stretch of home games in the Fargodome and Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome. This lack of outdoor play could give the Leatherbacks a major advantage.
WIU haven’t lost in Macomb this season against two quality opponents. A 31-27 win against then No. 15 Montana in the home opener was followed by a 45-38 victory against Youngstown State.
When the Bison and Leathernecks faced off last season, the then undefeated Bison won 24-12. Code Green held WIU’s ground game to a total of 31 yards. The Leatherbacks’ returning rusher, Steve McShane, has only averaged 54 rushing yards a game this season. Don’t expect to see much from Western Illinois’ run game this Saturday.
On the other side of the ball, NDSU is averaging nearly 300 rushing yards a game. With Bruce Anderson coming off a hot game where he rushed 172 yards against Northern Iowa, fans could see a big game from the senior running back.
However, like last year’s game, much of Saturday’s big plays might take place in the air. Going into the seventh game of the season, NDSU is averaging 175 passing yards a game while allowing 178. But Bison quarterback Easton Stick has not been called on to throw the ball much with the dominance of the Bison ground game.
In the meantime, WIU is averaging over 250 passing yards a game from returning quarterback Sean McGuire. With three players at over 50 yards receiving a game, McGuire has plenty of weapons down the field. This will force some of NDSU’s secondary to step up to make sure to shut down his options.
The Bison secondary has given up some big plays the last two weeks, but has come up with timely turnovers to stem the tide.
The key for NDSU to beat WIU this weekend will be to shut down McGuire. Greg Menard and Cole Kracz lead the busy Bison defensive front with 4.5 tackles for loss each. Jabril Cox’s hope to play on the Bison offense has been stymied by two games without a pick-six. The Bison linebacker still leads the team with a pair of interceptions.
The largest question mark falls on the Leathernecks’ defensive front. NDSU features the nation’s eighth best rushing attack. Balance is key for the Bison and their stable of backs. Anderson and Lance Dunn are the one-two punch. Anderson has averaged 98.4 yards rushing per game, and Dunn adds another 63.4.
Add on the quarterback run game that was kept in the back pocket last week until the fourth quarter, and NDSU can rack up yards on the ground. If conditions take a turn for the worse, it will be up to the Leatherneck defense to hold the Bison ground game in check.
Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday.