No. 2 North Dakota State, No. 8 Youngstown State ready for showdown
By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(STATS) - Chris Klieman can easily recall the last time his Bison traveled to Youngstown State, because it was one of the most physical contests he's been a part of throughout his tenure at North Dakota State.
Now he's bracing his squad for a similar battle when two of the Missouri Valley Football Conference's top running backs and defenses meet Saturday night at Stambaugh Stadium.
Something will have to give in the showdown as the second-ranked Bison (5-0, 2-0 MVFC) have won 11 straight road contests - the longest active streak in the FCS - and the eighth-ranked Penguins (3-2, 1-1) have won 11 in a row at home.
NDSU's Lance Dunn leads the MVFC with 566 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns after finishing with 74 yards and two scores on 16 carries in Saturday's 52-0 win at Indiana State. He's run for at least two touchdowns in every game this season and had 76 yards and a score in last year's 24-3 home win over YSU.
Dunn will face a Penguins defense that ranks third in the conference with 293.4 total yards allowed per game, but is fifth against the run at 123.4 yards allowed per contest. NDSU, however, may want to test the Penguins through the air after YSU allowed South Dakota's Shamar Jackson to catch 11 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown last weekend.
"It's a different type of offense than we've faced the past two weeks," said coach Bo Pelini, who led the Penguins to the national championship game last year. "Dunn is a really good player and they have a really good offensive line. They have a number of backs that can hurt you."
The Penguins are likely to be coming off a challenging week of practice after Pelini lamented that his team wasn't prepared well enough for Saturday's 31-28 loss at No. 4 South Dakota. Still, YSU was in position to win before the Coyotes booted a 29-yard field goal with seven seconds left to grab their fifth straight victory.
"Some of the things that haven't hurt us, could've hurt us, and sometimes when they rear their ugly head it costs you a football game," he said. "Success in football lies in the detail … and we didn't play up to the standard that I have on Saturday."
"I point the thumb at me because I look at the film and I say we weren't prepared. We didn't react. We didn't make adjustments. We weren't very efficient on offense and made too many mistakes."
The Penguins, who have lost to Pittsburgh and South Dakota by a total of 10 points, are likely to keep leaning on Tevin McCaster. The junior ranks second in the league behind Dunn with 536 rushing yards and eight scores.
McCaster shined in the loss to the Coyotes with 90 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 22 carries, but he's likely to find the going much more difficult against a NDSU team that ranks second in the MVFC with 64.8 yards allowed per game.
"We have to create some negative plays so they're not in 2nd-and-4 and 2nd-and-5, which they've been in a lot, and that makes 3rd-and-1 and 2s a lot better than 3rd-and-long," Klieman said. "We need to find ways to stay on the field against the aggressive defense that they have and we have to be able to get off the field. Time of possession will be critical.
"If we don't tackle McCaster better than we did (against Indiana State), he's going to have a big day against us."
Klieman said the Bison are preparing for both YSU quarterbacks after Nathan Mays filled in for starter Hunter Wells against the Coyotes. Wells hurt his shoulder against Robert Morris in Week 2 and then re-injured it on Sept. 30 against South Dakota State, but could return for this contest.
Easton Stick, NDSU's signal caller, has excelled at taking care of the football with 10 touchdowns passes and no interceptions. He also leads all of FCS with a 73.8 completion percentage after throwing a career high-tying four TD tosses against the Sycamores.
Stick's four-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds left was the difference after the Bison rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to escape with a 27-24 win on Nov. 14, 2015 that marked YSU's last home defeat. The Bison have won the last five meetings in the series overall, though they realize snapping the Penguins' impressive run at Stambaugh won't be easy.
"Our guys are really bright kids and they know it's a tall task going to Youngstown," Klieman said. "They're really good up front on both sides of the ball and they have good skill so we know the tall order we have this week."
Updated October 12, 2017