Date: Saturday, December 9th
Time: 2:30 PM (ET)
The Quick Hits
For the first time ever, South Dakota (10-2) is in the quarterfinals and the 'Yotes will be at home to boot. After a solid win over Sacramento State last weekend, 3-seed USD returns to the DakotaDome again to welcome in one of the most decorated teams to ever play in the FCS and a squad they beat in that very building two months ago. The Coyotes are staring down the barrel of a green and gold gun they know all too well.
North Dakota State (9-3) nabbed one of the most exciting wins you'll see at any level last week when they blocked an overtime extra point attempt in Bozeman to stun Montana State. Now back in the familiar territory of the Missouri Valley, the Bison are eying yet another road victory to return to the semis. NDSU, for its struggles this season, appears to be hitting its stride at precisely the right time. To move on, though, they'll have to topple a team that has its number.
Leading the Bison is one of the most coveted and pressures filled jobs at the FCS level and the man that's been tasked with that over the last five years is Matt Entz. Entz, who has won two national championships with NDSU, leads the team into their 17th playoff game under his watch. He's 59-10 overall as a head coach and has only lost two postseason contests. Entz actually coached alongside South Dakota's Bob Nielson as an assistant in 2013 at Western Illinois.
The Coyotes are coached by the aforementioned Nielson who has led the program to all three of its playoff appearances. Nielson has won 40 games since coming in from WIU in 2016 and has helped the 'Yotes find the winning formula that has eluded them for so long. He's 3-3 all time in the FCS playoffs but also won two national titles at the Division II level with Minnesota-Duluth.
South Dakota Offense vs North Dakota State Defense
The USD offense will go as far as signal-caller Aidan Bouman and receiver Carter Bell will take them. Bouman is really good at taking care of the ball and he seldom makes errors when throwing. He has only tossed four picks all year (258 passes). Bell has been on the receiving end of 829 of Bouman’s 2,352 passing yards this year and has hauled in five of his 14 touchdown throws.
The Bison will need to find a way to break that connection and senior safety Cole Wisnieski may be the answer. Wisnieski has six interceptions this fall along with five PBUs and 79 total tackles. He has an eye for where the play will be and can hang with most receivers he’s matched up against. He will be a key for the North Dakota State secondary and if he can bottle up Bell then NDSU’s chances go up.
Travis Theis will take the majority of the carries in the ground game for USD. He has 172 rushing attempts this year and has racked up 808 yards and six scores. Bouman will use Theis often, especially if things are clicking for the offense. That means guys like Bison defensive lineman Eli Mostaert and Jake Kava will need to be at their best.
Mostaert and Kava have combined for 16 tackles for loss this year. Kava leads the team with seven sacks while Mostaert has 34 stops. Pair that with senior DE Dylan Hendricks and his 10.5 tackles for loss and you’ve got a mean NDSU defensive line that could make life difficult on Theis. In their first meeting this year, the Bison held Theis to a mere 39 yards.
North Dakota State Offense vs South Dakota Defense
Bison quarterback Cam Miller didn't put up impressive numbers last week but, as he always seems to, he did enough to give his team the opportunity to win. Miller won't typically light up a stat sheet but he will make the necessary plays. On the season he's thrown for 2,321 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 178.5 passing yards per contest. Miller has only thrown four interceptions as well.
On the ground the Bison will field a three-headed monster consisting of Miller, fellow QB Cole Payton and running back TaMerik Williams. Williams is a big play guy who’s capable of busting it open on any handoff. Last week he had a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half against MSU. Payton and Miller have each rushed for double-digit touchdowns this year and have over 500 yards.
The good news for South Dakota is that they have linebacker Brock Mogensen on their defense. Mogensen has authored 109 tackles this year (52 solo) and is seemingly in on every play. He spearheads a group that is allowing just 15.4 points and 137.2 rushing yards per game this season. As long as he’s patrolling the middle, the ‘Yotes have a chance.
On the back end it will be DBs Dennis Shorter and Myles Harden in coverage. Shorter had a big game the last time NDSU came to town, posting an interception and 13 tackles. He and Hardin each have six PBUs to lead the team. Harden also has a pick and a fumble recovery on the year. These two will look to slow down receivers Eli Green and Zach Mathis.
Green is tops among North Dakota State pass catchers with 663 yards while Mathis has a team-high six receiving touchdowns. Tight end Joe Stoffel will also serve as a target for Miller. Stoffel, who has five TDs, has caught a pass in all but two games for the Bison this season.
The Special Teams
Special teams proved to be the difference maker for NDSU last weekend, specifically their special teams defense. The Bison drew up a perfectly executed play to block that PAT so if this game comes down to a kick as well, don't put it past Entz and company to pull some magic out.
Senior kicker Griffin Crosa will take field goal duties for North Dakota State. His illustrious career has seen him make 38 field goals (46 attempts) and post a long of 47 yards. Crosa has had a few struggles this season, though, missing four of his 15 tries. He is, however, 62-of-63 on his extra point attempts this fall. Kaedin Steindorf will serve as NDSU’s punter. He averages 43.6 yards per boot this year and has pinned opposing offenses inside the 20-yard line 11 times.
Jayden Price will take kick returns for the Bison while RaJa Nelson will handle punt runbacks. Price has one house call this season and has 144 total return yards. Nelson has not found the end zone but averages 28.4 yards a pop.
The Coyotes will have one of the best kickers in the nation at their disposal in Will Leyland. The sophomore standout has not missed a field goal this year (12-of-12) nor has he failed to convert an extra point. Five of his field goal makes have come from at least 40 yards and his longest kick came from 50. If the ‘Yotes offense can get past the 40-yard line, Leyland is in play.
Keyondray Jones does the punt returns for USD. He has taken 12 this fall for a total of 202 yards. South Dakota doesn’t typically run back a ton of kicks but when they do, it’s usually Bell who will handle those.
South Dakota State has almost all the outside factors of this game working in its favor. The 'Yotes are at home, should have a raucous crowd on their side and they have already beaten the Bison this year. The one thing they don't have, though, is the battle-tested resolve that NDSU does and that's the factor that'll decide it. The Bison will ride the momentum of their heart-stopping win last week into this one and, when crunch time hits in a close game late, they'll be ready. Williams or Miller will make a play in the final moments to put this one on ice after a crucial takeaway from the defense.
Score Prediction: South Dakota: 24 - North Dakota State: 27