FCS Game of the Week: UC Davis at North Dakota State
By CRAIG HALEY
Week 4 Matchup: No. 4 UC Davis (2-1) at No. 1 North Dakota State (3-0)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. at the Fargodome (18,700) in Fargo, North Dakota
Series: North Dakota State leads 6-4 (last meeting: NDSU won 35-16 at home on Oct. 6, 2007)
The Skinny: These powers meet in the Big Sky-MVFC Challenge series and arguably the biggest nonconference game of the FCS regular season. They have an interesting history together, meeting in the NCAA Division II playoffs in four straight season from 1982-85 and also becoming founding members of the Great West Conference when both rose to the FCS level in 2004.
In the playoff matchups, UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins was an Aggies player in 1982 and then an assistant coach the next three seasons. His team soars into the raucous Fargodome behind preseason first-team All-America QB Jake Maier, who shredded Lehigh (38 of 49, 389 yards, 4 TDs) last Saturday. During Maier's career, the Big Sky program is 10-1 when he surpasses 350 passing yards. The offense relies heavily on RB Ulonzo Gilliam (65 touches and 310 yards from scrimmage) and Maier spreads the ball out to different targets, including to WR Carson Crawford (21 receptions). The defense had to rework the secondary after graduation losses, and up front the Aggies racked up seven sacks against Lehigh. They've struggled to stop third-down conversions (allowing 46 percent), and that is a specialty of NDSU's offense (58.1 percent, third-best in the FCS). Punter Daniel Whelan (45-yard average) is off to an excellent start this season.
North Dakota State also had seven sacks in its most-recent win, a 47-22 romp at nationally ranked Delaware. Pressure up front from DE Derrek Tuszka boosts the play of safeties Michael Tutsie (22 tackles, 3 interceptions) and James Hendricks, and All-America OLB Jabril Cox gets all over the field. First-year coach Matt Entz said the weekly goal is to have a combined 55 rushing attempts and pass completions, and there's a good chance of that with the physical offensive line opening lanes for RBs Ty Brooks, Kobe Johnson and Adam Cofield, and QB Trey Lance dominating as the nation's most-efficient passer (233.1). Seven of the redshirt freshman's nine TD passes have gone to tight ends. A 25th straight win would break the eight-time defending Missouri Valley Conference champ's tie with the 1992-95 Penn and 2001-02 Montana squads for the third-longest winning streak in FCS history.
Prediction: UC Davis is good with running something innovative offensively to trouble an opponent, but the Aggies have to handle play at the line of scrimmage, where the Bison so often dominate for wins. North Dakota State, 34-21.
Updated September 19, 2019