NDSU look for fourth straight win over ranked opponent
When the 2019 North Dakota State football schedule came out, it became evident the Bison were going to be tested early and often.
Through five tests, the Bison are 5-0. Next up, No. 10 Northern Iowa, the fourth straight ranked opponent for the Bison.
Any time these two teams meet, a slugfest is to be expected, and Homecoming at the Dome will not be any different.
The Panthers come into the meeting with a 3-2 record, losses coming against Big 12 Iowa State in overtime the first game of the season and Weber State two weeks ago.
UNI put any worries to bed of a post-loss hangover last week in handing Youngstown State their first loss of the year. The way the Panthers beat the Penguins gives insight on the game plan for a trip to the Fargodome.
The Panthers stifled the run, giving up 55 rushing yards on 36 attempts. That is a minuscule 1.5 yards per carrying against a rushing attack that averaged 300 yards per game heading in.
If the Panthers want to win the game, they will have to win it on defense. Offensively, the Panthers are yet to consistently put up big numbers, ranking 98th in the nation in total offense.
The most effective part of the offense this season has been the passing game. Redshirt freshman quarterback Will McElvain has been steady for the Panthers this year, averaging 215 yards per game and an 8-1 touchdown-interception ratio.
Isaiah Weston has been McElvain’s top target with four touchdowns in 18 receptions.
The rushing attack provides some balance but has been quiet so far this season, which lends itself to a larger problem.
UNI has been out-possessed so far this season, averaging just over 28 minutes possession per game.
The Bison reverted to type last week at Illinois State, holding the ball for nearly 36 minutes, including two long drives in the second half.
A battle in the trenches is brewing. Northern Iowa hopes to rest on their defensive front to disrupt the Bison offense, something that quality teams have struggled to do so far.
“Both teams rely heavily on the line of scrimmage,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said at his press conference Monday.
The Rams up front have dominated teams this year, not only leading to 288 yards rushing per game but keeping quarterback Trey Lance clean. Through five games, the redshirt freshman has been sacked just five times for a loss of 13 yards.
Keeping Lance out of trouble has helped the Marshall, MN native to be the most efficient passer in the FCS.
The emergence of multiple targets in the passing game has helped, mainly the tight ends. NDSU has historically been a team that utilizes the position due to the run biased nature of the offense, but it has taken another level this year.
The only three Bison players who have multiple touchdown receptions are tight ends. The group is led in terms of scores by Noah Gindorff, who has four receptions, all for touchdowns.
So far, the Bison have managed to avoid the injury bug. Dimitri Williams is working towards a return from injury and is likely to play.
Williams rejoins a potent rushing attack with multiple threats. The biggest surprise of the backfield has been the emergence of Kobe Johnson. The true freshman appeared in his fifth game last week, meaning he will not be redshirted. The Lawrenceville, GA native is third on the team in all-purpose yards, trailing only Lance and Ty Brooks with 246 yards on 39 touches.
Kickoff for the homecoming game is set for 1 p.m. at the Fargodome on Saturday.