Colonels’ second-ever trip to the Dome
After a well-deserved weekend off, the No. 1 North Dakota State Bison start the quest for the great number eight at the Dome Saturday against Nicholls State.
The Colonels got a taste of this state’s football last weekend in a first-round victory against North Dakota. Nicholls struggled to pull away from the Fighting Hawks until late in the game to advance with a 24-6 win.
The recipe for victory this week will be much of the same cooking the Colonels came up with last week. Nicholls controlled the clock registering a 34 to 26 minute advantage in time of possession. Aiding the clock control was managing to limit the Fighting Hawks to just 44 yards rushing on the afternoon.
Getting that same result against the Bison is a whole different beast. The Bison come into the game with one of the deepest running back groups in the nation. While no Bison has touched the 1,000-yard mark this season, the committee averages a touch over 300 yards rushing per game. No one back is averaging more than 10 carries per game.
NDSU continues to add wrinkles into the running game due to the variety of options available. In the Bison’s final home game against South Dakota, the Bison twice used the Delta formation, but instead of carrying the ball with either of the two traditional halfbacks or quarterback Trey Lance, it was fullback Hunter Luepke carrying for 10 yards a clip.
If first-year head coach Matt Entz has shown anything in the regular season, it is scheming up wrinkles like that to keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
The Bison backfield offers a strong blend of youth and experience. Lance, who won Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year, was joined on the conference’s All-Newcomer team by Kobe Johnson. The freshman running back is fourth on the team in rushing yards, behind Lance and seniors Ty Brooks and Adam Cofield. The two seniors were honorable mentions on the Valley’s all-conference teams.
On the flip side, the Nicholls rushing attack will need to continue their fine form from the first round. Julien Gums led the charge, tallying 172 yards and crossing the 1,000-yard mark on the season.
But the key for the Colonels to spring the upset will be on the perimeter. Dai’Jean Dixon enters Saturday’s contest with four straight contests with over 100 yards receiving. The 6’ 4” junior will likely see a lot of Marquise Bridges in the second round.
Bison defensive end Derrek Tuszka will want to see Colonels quarterback Chase Fourcade in the backfield. The senior quarterback will want to avoid any meeting and comes into the game averaging 221 yards per game and 16 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
For the Southland conference champions, it will be the second-ever trip by the program to Fargo. A 2005 meeting went the way of the Bison 26-13 a year after defeating the Colonels 24-14 a year prior to the first leg of the home-and-home.
Winner of the game will move onto the FCS quarterfinals the following weekend against the winner of No. 8 Central Arkansas and Illinois State.
Kickoff for Saturday at the Fargodome is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.