North Dakota State finds itself in a familiar situation Saturday against University of Montana.
Except this weekend, it’s now win or go home. Not lose, watch film and bounce back.
The Grizzlies are red-hot coming into the Fargodome. The Big Sky conference team has won four-straight, including two shootouts against Eastern Washington University and Montana State University, as well as a first-round 24-17 playoff win over South Dakota State last week.
Yes, it’s a rematch between these two teams. Twelve weeks ago these two Football Championship Subdivision teams faced off in Missoula, Montana, where the Grizzles beat the Bison 38-35 with a last-second score. This will be NDSU’s toughest second round match up in its five years of FCS playoff competition.
The Grizzlies have already taken down the Bison this season, and redshirt freshman quarterback Easton Stick will make his first career postseason start.
“It’s a big challenge for (Stick),” NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said about the Grizzlies defense. “This is one of the better defenses that we’ve faced. They got a lot of seniors, a lot of upperclassmen that are playing on defense, that are playing at a high level.”
NDSU cornerbacks will have their hands full with Grizzlies wideouts Jamaal Jones, Ellis Henderson and Ben Roberts. These three student-athletes have combined for 22 receiving touchdowns and just under 2,500 receiving yards combined.
Jordan Champion and CJ Smith didn’t even play in NDSU’s final regular season game, nor did they need to, but the two seniors haven’t been in a game situation since Youngstown State on Nov. 14. And to top it off, Smith was unable to play in the first game against the Grizzlies.
Klieman said Smith will be healthy enough to suit up and play Saturday.
“It’s going to be really important for (Smith) to be able to play and be effective,” Klieman added.
Freshman strong safety Robbie Grimsley has started the last four games for NDSU, but was burned by a few Grizzlies receivers on Aug. 29. Tre Dempsey has started every single game for NDSU this season, but he and Grimsley combined for just 10 tackles and no pass breakups the last time the these FCS foes went head-to-head.
It will be tough, but NDSU gets to play in front of its home crowd, and plenty of improvements have been implemented in twelve weeks.
The running game for NDSU is a lot more effective right now from the last time these two teams played. NDSU has rushed for 1,567 yards in its last four games.
The Bison defensive front four is connecting a lot better, but the Grizzlies and a healthy Brady Gustafson have been in a rhythm late this season, and the UM offense wants to run between 90 and 100 plays Saturday.
A quick offensive attack is similar to what the Grizzlies did in August.
“You have to be able to try and limit some of their plays by holding onto it yourself,” Klieman said. “Even if you’re not scoring points every time, but you’re getting two to four first downs and keeping their guys on the sideline.”
In the last five seasons, NDSU has outscored its second round opponents 161-65. The Fargodome has helped.
“It’s just going to have a lot more noise when you’re on offense,” Bob Stitt said about the Fargodome on Tuesday. “Their fans are knowledgable. They calm down when they are on the field. We are well-aware of what the Fargodome brings you have to prepare for that but its going to be exciting.”
Its win or go home, the Grizzlies have already won round one; now it’s time for round two.
Montana-NDSU Quick Hits
- Series is tied 4-4
- First time since 1970 that the teams have played one other in the postseason
- NDSU points/game 35.8
- Montana points/game 31.2
- NDSU 3rd down conversions 50%
- Montana 3rd down conversions 37%
- NDSU total offense/game 451.3
- Montana total offense/game 437.9
- NDSU sixth straight postseason
- 11 Bison named to All-MVFC Team