UNI vs. North Dakota State Football Preview
North Dakota State University's football team has been beyond dominant the last ten years. They've been at the top -- or at least shared a spot at the top -- of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, have a combined record of 135-11, have won eight of the last ten FCS Championships.
The Bison are really, really good.
And even for how good Northern Iowa football is nearly every year, NDSU has still had their number.
This coming Saturday, the two schools will face off for the 49th time. Over the previous 10 matchups, the purple and gold are just 1-9 against the green and yellow, with their last victory coming in 2014 at the UNI-Dome by a score of 23-3.
This contest in the Fargodome will be one FCS football fans will tune into in droves, and though the Iowa Hawkeyes will take on Penn State in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Iowans who are able to watch the No. 16 Panthers take on the No. 5 Bison at 1 p.m. should.
What to watch for
The rushing attack of NDSU
The Bison rank first in the country in rushing offense (317 ypg).
Priority number one for the UNI defense should be to contain the run. There won't be any stopping of the running attack when facing a team like NDSU, their best option is to slow it down.
The thing about this offense is the fact that seven separate Bison have ten or more carries through four games. Not only that, six of those seven backs have more than 100 yards rushing so far this season. With that level of depth in the backfield and the ability of NDSU's offense to attack from anywhere (and thus set up the play action pass), it will be difficult for the Panther defense to determine who has the ball and when. Staying disciplined on the defensive end and each player sticking to their assignment will be crucial.
Which defense will break?
Both of these defenses are considered to be top tier in the FCS.
The Panthers have held the four teams they've faced this season to 16 points or fewer, they're tied for sixth in the country in passes intercepted (8), 10th in the country in rushing defense (80 yards per game), tied for second in the country in turnover margin (+9), and 15th in total defense (286.2 ypg).
For NDSU so far this season, they've outscored their four opponents 143-23. The Bison are second in the country in scoring defense (5.75 points allowed per game), fourth in total defense (219.8 ypg), first in red zone defense (25% conversion rate), fifth in rushing defense (60.8 ypg), and are tied for third in the country with fewest first downs allowed (48).
Which offense can make a play?
Although the Bison's offense is ground and pound centric and both defenses are elite, there's always a chance one team gets lucky and busts free for a game-breaking touchdown.
Based on what we've seen from the Panthers this season, it wouldn't be a massive shock to see one of the many weapons at Theo Day's disposal pop off a long score. Isaiah Weston, Dom Williams, Bradrick Shaw, the McShane brothers, Quan Hampton, and the like are all capable of big plays.
I mean, just read this article from earlier in the week:
The Bison are more than capable as well, though. Leading rusher Dominic Gonnella's long for the season is 75 yards. Quarterback Quincy Patterson has broken free for a 52-yard scamper. Patterson's no. 1 receiver Christian Watson has a 67-yard reception to his name.
It's all about chance on big plays. Broken coverages, missed assignments, or trick plays. Which team will be able to catch the other off guard? Who can maintain composure?
The Panthers have an arduous task ahead of them this Saturday. The Fargodome is sure to be packed, NDSU will come prepared as always, and they'll be ready to punch the UNI defense in the mouth.
But, the purple and gold certainly have a shot. An upset could be brewing in Fargo.