NDSU finish non-conference slate with top-4 matchup
For the second straight week, the North Dakota State football team faces a ranked non-conference foe, this time in the cozy confines of the Fargodome.
However, Saturday poses the largest non-conference test for the Bison, and possibly the best quarterback they will face this season, in No. 4 UC Davis and Jake Maier.
The 2-1 Aggies roll into Fargo on a high, coming off a 41-13 demolition of Lehigh last week. Maier earned Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors with a 38-49 day of passing for a career-high 389 yards and four touchdowns. The Aggies scored all 41 points before Lehigh got on the board in the fourth quarter.
The trip west for UC Davis will be the third hostile stadium for the Aggies this year. Already, they have played against Cal, a 13-27 loss, and San Diego. The game against the Toreros broke San Diego’s 21-game home winning streak, which was the longest in the FCS.
Now, the Aggies will have another chance to break the longest winning streak in the FCS, as NDSU’s streak stands at 20 games.
“We have a really good football team coming to Fargo this week,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said. “They have played in big venues, so I am sure coming to the Fargodome will be coming to another game for them.”
Maier will likely be the deciding factor for UC Davis and is a threat that Entz is going to prepare for.
“He limits turnovers, very efficient with the football. He seems to have really good understanding and command of the offense,” said Entz of Maier.
The Bison defense will get one defensive counter back for this game. Senior James Hendricks is likely going to be available after missing the Delaware game with a concussion. Hendricks returns alongside strong safety Michael Tustie, who has three interceptions in the last two games.
The backend of the Bison defense will be looking for an assist from the defensive line to make Maier uncomfortable. Derrek Tsuzka leads the charge of the Bison line, which features seven players with at least one sack.
The Aggies’ offensive front has kept Maier clean so far this season, allowing just four sacks on the year.
On the other side of the ball, the UC Davis defense will have to deal with the shear amount of depth the Bison have mustered.
With the likely return of Dimitri Williams to the running back corps, NDSU could play five backs with a fair amount of carries.
“I haven’t look game by game, but 10 carries is about max for any of the backs right now,” Entz said. “If we can do it that way and do it by committee, it makes us better.”
The passing game has seen similar growth with at least nine receivers logging a reception in the last two games.
The tight end position has been a favorite target for redshirt freshman Trey Lance, with the group hauling in seven touchdowns in three games. Noah Gindroff, the most likely run blocker of the group, has scored on each of his three receptions.
If there is a weak spot from the Delaware game for the Bison, it was special teams. NDSU had a blocked punt, a botched snap and gave up a long kick return against the Blue Hens.
It is likely that kicker Jake Reinholz will remain out with a leg injury, leaving field goal and extra point duty to freshman Griffin Corsa. Corse knocked through a 46-yard field goal off the top of the cross bar against Delaware.