The battle for the Nickel trophy commences this Saturday
One of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season is here. The Bison football team heads north to play the North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Saturday, Oct. 2.
This will be the 114th time since 1894 the pair have met on the gridiron, and the stakes have never been higher. The Hawks lead the series all time at 62-49-3, but the Herd has won the last three games.
The Bison come into this game ranked fifth in the country, despite outscoring opponents 127-13. NDSU will have to control the game if they hope to move up in the national standings.
UND is ranked tenth in the country, and they aren’t going to let the Bison waltz into the Alerus Center and just hand them the win.
Both teams are coming off week four byes, and this will be the first conference game of the season for both squads. The Hawks are 2-1 on the season, their lone loss coming from Utah State 24-48 on Sept. 10, while the Herd has remained undefeated at 3-0.
Both teams come into this game with slightly different ways of getting into the endzone. The Bison have been a run-heavy team this season averaging around 340 yards a game, while the Hawks have been more of a pass-laden squad averaging about 260 yards a game.
While the two offenses differ in how their game plan is laid out, something that has troubled the Hawks throughout the season is turning the ball over. UND has already lost five fumbles on the season. The Bison come into this game with statistically a much better defense only giving up 196 yards a game compared to UND with 361 yards. The Herd also rank number two in scoring defense, while UND ranks 29th. The Hawks have put up as many yards as the Bison offensively, but if the Bison find ways to force turnovers this should lead to a win.
The Bison defensive front will have to get to Tommy Schuster, UND’s quarterback, early to get him uncomfortable. If the Bison can get an early pressure on Schuster, he may feel rushed in the pocket and the Hawks’ offense will crumble.
If you’re the Hawks, the only way to get to the Bison is by loading the box and blitz. NDSU loves to run the football, and blitzing will force the Herd to adjust to the influx of defenders coming in on the running backs.
Inversely, the Bison’s running game speaks for itself. The whole season, NDSU has been able to get huge pushes up front opening gaps for Dominic Gonnella and company to gain chunks of yards. Even with the Hawks practicing a run-heavy defense all week in practice, it’s going to be hard to adjust to the physicality of the Bison offense on run plays.
One of the facets of the Hawks’ game the Bison should consider adjusting for is how many yards UND gives up through the passing game. This season the Hawks have given up an average of 240 yards a game through the air. The Bison have legitimate weapons at receiver, as Christian Watson has been leading the receiving core with an average 66 yards a game. With plenty of protection up front, Quincy Patterson has the skills to make big plays for the green and gold.
Ultimately the Bison should prevail as victors. That being said, there’s no doubt the Hawks won’t go out without a fight.