Bison Head to Vermillion for a Tricky Test

BRITTANY HOFMANN | THE SPECTRUM
Easton Stick (12) and Darrius Shpeherd have ignited the Bison passing game in the last month.

A trap game is something that describes a scenario in which a good team is coming off a big win and faces off against an inferior opponent the following week.

Saturday’s matchup featuring the North Dakota State Bison (7-0, 4-0 Missouri Valley) and the University of South Dakota Coyotes (3-4, 2-2 Missouri Valley) fits all the criteria of a trap game. The Bison are fresh off a takedown of seventh ranked Illinois State, and are now heading south to take on a Coyotes team that just lost by double digits to a Youngstown State team with a losing record.

Recent history suggests that NDSU will not dare to underestimate this South Dakota squad. In 2015, the unranked Coyotes waltzed into the Fargodome to take on a then second ranked Bison and came away with a shocking 24-21 upset win.

The game also seemed to be doomsday for Bison, as Carson Wentz went down with injury. 

Sure, by season’s end the Bison were celebrating in Frisco, Texas.

Nonetheless, USD proved that the NDSU football program was in fact, mortal. Last week, the Bison’s focus was on containing star running back James Robinson. However, this week the man to watch is Coyotes quarterback Austin Simmons.

Thus far, the Coyotes offense has operated almost exclusively through the junior quarterback’s right arm. On the year, Simmons has thrown over twice the number of passes as Bison quarterback Easton Stick.

USD comes into the game with the best passing attack in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at just under 300 yards per game. Despite all the passes Simmons has thrown, he has only thrown for two more scores than Stick.

But the Bison defense has been swarming this season. The pass rush is led by Greg Menard and Cole Kracz, each with 4.5 sacks this season. The air attack may be necessary with the Bison front also holding the best rush defense in the conference.   

On the Bison side of things, the Stick and Co. will look to pick up where they left off against Illinois State.

The Coyotes are coming off a game in which Youngstown State torched them for 295 yards on the ground. The banged up Bison running back group will have a chance to feast on Saturday. Bruce Anderson missed the Illinois State game, so the backfield featured Lance Dunn and Ty Brooks. 

In the passing game, Stick and wideout Darius Shepherd look to keep their connection white hot. Over their last four games, Shepherd and Stick have accumulated 403 yards and four scores. 

USD will likely need a win on Saturday to keep its playoff hopes alive. A third straight loss in the MVFC could be the final nail in the coffin. It just goes to show how fast things change in college football.

A month ago, USD was firing on all cylinders and looked like a potential dark horse in the race for the Missouri Valley crown. Yet this Saturday they’ll need 60 minutes of nearly flawless football to take down the Bison.

For the Bison, this game appears to be another stepping stone on their way to another conference championship, and home field advantage in the FCS playoffs. A loss wouldn’t mean the sky is falling. Upset losses happen every week.

However, a loss could be the difference between playing an FCS semifinals game in the friendly confines of the Fargodome and having to get on a plane and fly across the country.

Three years ago, the Bison fell right into the Coyotes’ trap. The Coyotes had no business winning that game in 2015, but nobody told them that. While the roster may have changed, the experience the coaching staff and remaining players gained from that loss will be just as vital to the game as any scheme. The battle for Dakota supremacy will be on display starting at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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