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Marker Week: Can We Avoid Being Jacked?

This is a flip the coin game. Basically the same Blue Bunny team that ripped the Bison a new one last spring (+300 yards rushing, OUCH!), will take the field this Saturday in Brookings. Of course my allegiance is with the Herd, but I always promise to give you my unvarnished view on each opponent. Apart from Gronowski going down in the 1st QTR, the Jacks would have taken home their first National Championship. They have 26 seniors on their roster (many who are Covid holdovers), so if they want to grab the title ring, this is their year to do it.

A quick review of the Jack’s year started with a drubbing of FBS Colorado State 42-23. They amassed 466 total yards on offense with a balanced attack of 242 yards on the ground and 224 through the air. Even though CSU is a 3-5 team, they have a good defense, ranking 14th in the nation in total D (allowing all others than the rabbits 287.5 YPG), 18th in run D (89.1 YPG versus rest of schedule to date) and 36th in scoring D (only 18.5 PPG). They followed this big program win with three blowouts against cup cakes, Div II Lindenwood (52-7), Ind. State (44-0) and new comer to the FCS (and winless) Dixie State (55-7). Expectations were high on another trip to Frisco.

Then the SIU Saluki’s happened. There is no other way to explain this other than the Jacks stepped on their own appendage on this one. They blew SIU off the field both offensively and defensively well into the 2nd QTR. SDSU was ahead 17-0 and had a 1st and goal at SIU’s eight yard line. Two plays got them to the one yard line. So instead of giving the ball to Strong (who was ripping thru SIU’s defense), Oladokun fakes it to the RB and loses 4 yards and in comes the kicking unit on 4th and five for a chip shot FG to make it 20-0 at 9:06 left till half. Score that TD and the game is over at 24-0 at home.

SIU climbs back into the game at 20-14 at the intermission (aided by an Oladokun INT). To start the 2nd half, the Rabbits hold SIU to a three and out. They then march down the field to a 1st and 10 at the Saluki 24 yard line, only to have Oladokun get intercepted on the nine yard line.

Now things really get crazy. SIU marches 87 yards and stalls out with a 4th and goal at the 4 yard line. In comes the kicking unit and he makes the FG. Just a second, SDSU gets a penalty that moves the ball to the 2 yard line. SIU decides to go for it, thus nullifying the FG. Javon Williams gets stacked up at the goal line and tries to lunge the ball across the goal. He fumbles it and SDSU gets a 97 yard scoop and score. So instead of taking the FG and only trailing 20-17 or if they got the TD, leading 21-20, now they give up the TD and a 2 point conversion to give the Jack’s a 28-14 lead.

The rest of the game was more of the same with SIU tying the game with 34 seconds left at 35-35. The Salukis scored first in OT and kicked the extra point. SDSU scored their TD, but at home decided to go for two and didn’t succeed. Now SDSU had a blemish on its record on the road to Frisco.

The theme for the Jacks the next two weeks is inconsistency. They beat Western IL, 41-17 holding their prolific offense to only 237 yards, but could only muster 370 total yards against one of the worst defenses in the FCS (the Leathernecks have given up 461.9 YPG to everyone else).

After the Leathernecks, UNI came to Brookings and manhandled the Jacks run game, allowing only 60 yards rushing. The Panthers beat the Jacks using opportunistic D, a sporadic effective run game and hitting Isaiah Weston and others (9 passes for 11 or more yards, with Weston gathering in a 39 and two 40 yard strikes) in the deep pass game. An early fumble gave UNI a short field and they scored early to make it 7-0. Three key sacks and an interception stalled SDSU drives. UNI’s kicker also hit four FG’s, including a 51 yarder and a 55 yard one (big time kicks). The real key was holding the Jacks to just 60 yards rushing (53 by Strong on 14 carries).

Last week they got back on the winning track, beating a bad defensive team, Youngstown State 47-16. The Penguins are the worst D team in the MVFC and 120/123 in the FCS giving up a whopping 478.1 YPG, 2nd worst in MVFC run D yielding 192.9 YPG (108th in FCS) and allowing opponents to score 37.6 PPG (109th in FCS). This game has little or no bearing on this week’s match up. They went on the road and beat a lower level MVFC team.

Now that both NDSU and the Jacks have played eight games, what can we dig out of the weeds for this game? As you know from my analysis viewpoint I expect good teams to beat bad and average teams. I want to know how they fare against Sagarin ranked teams a 150 or lower (generally playoff quality teams), teams that play good D (give up under 325 in total D, 125 YPG in the run game and under 20 points in scoring D) and those with good offenses (+400 YPG in total offense and 200 YPG rushing).

Using the above criteria, SDSU has only played three teams worth anything. Colorado State (81 Sag), UNI (101 Sag) and SIU (87 Sag). All three of these opponents hit the defensive bar for total D, only UNI & CSU hit the under 125 YPG in rushing and under 20 PPG scoring. On the offensive side only SIU is over 400 YPG and none average over 200 YPG in rushing.

The Jacks shine on the offensive side of the ball against these top three opponents. They scored 33 PPG, almost 2 TD’s more than what these teams gave up to all other comers (19.5 PPG). The total yardage figures are even more impressive. The Bunnies totaled 461.7 YPG, an amazing 150% more than these teams have given up (308.7 YPG). They also excelled in the run game averaging 161.3 YPG against teams only giving up 116.1 YPG on the ground.

Let’s bring in the Herd’s top opponents this fall. Here it is: one common foe, UNI then Mo. State (109 Sag) and UND (119 Sag) added in. SDSU will play UND the last game of the season. Our offensive struggles show up here. These three teams average giving up 357.3 YPG and we only got 325.3 YPG. We were strong (but not great, +200 YPG is the gold standard) in the run game getting 182.7 YPG from teams that only yield 123.1. On the scoring front we average 25.7 PPG versus the 20.5 these teams average. These stats show the need for the QB change that happened.

Cam Miller took over late in the 3rd QTR versus Mo. State and won the game for us. He came out at the end of the 3rd QTR last week against Ind. State. Combining these two games into one, Cam hit 17/23 passes (73.9% completion) for 290 yards, 5 TD’s with one INT & sack. He also rushed for 11 times for 45 yards (4.1 YPC). He also stretched the field and hit multiple receivers, including our long forgotten TE’s.

Now for those who think we have entered the Holy Land, tap the breaks. This red shirt Frosh will be facing his biggest game on the road with not much starting experience (he will be starting his 4th game).

At this point in time SDSU is a vastly better and more experienced offensive team than NDSU. The stats are clear on that against the better competition.

You might be asking, “But Ron, you push that it is defense that wins championships”. You’re right, so let’s lift the hood to see some of the greater details here. Quite frankly, it is the Blue Bunnies biggest weakness.

Overall, the Jacks look good on D stats, except they are bolstered by the five cup cakes they have played (YSU, Ind. State, Dixie, DII and Western IL). They’ve held these foes to 227 total yards, 54.8 yards rushing and 9.4 PPG scoring. Man that sounds like Code Green numbers, except the “Sister’s of the Poor” shouldn’t be beating you. It looks like JMU’s easy schedule where they rack up great numbers.

How did the no name defense of the Rabbits (maybe it’s no name because it really hasn’t been that good since going to Div I?) do against the three tough opponents they have faced? First and foremost, they lost two of these games, so their problems are bigger than the Herds. These three teams aren’t offensive juggernauts, except SIU. They have tallied 391.7 YPG, 156.3 YPG rushing, 235.4 YPG passing and scored an average of 28.3 PPG. These totals would rank them 41st in total offense in the FCS and 45th in FCS scoring (the bottom of the top third of teams), so these aren’t high flying offensive numbers.

The Bunnies gave up an average of 447.7 YPG in total D (Bad!!, would rank 112th in total D in the FCS), passing increased to 277.3 YPG versus the 235 they gave up to other teams and scoring bumped up from 28.1 to 30.7 PPG. The only stat they slowed down opposing teams on from their averages is rushing from 156.3 YPG to 136.7 YPG, which is above my standard of excellence of less than 125 YPG. Houston, we have a problem, the Jack’s play bad defense against average offenses from tough teams. The Herd needs this to continue to win on Saturday.

How about the Code Green’s numbers against their tough opponents? UNI, UND and Mo. State averaged 409.8 YPG so far this year against other opponents in total offense (would rank 34th in FCS), 160.9 YPG in rushing, 248.9 YPG in passing and 29.7 PPG in scoring (again 34th in FCS). These average offensive stats are slightly better than what SDSU’s defense faced, but I won’t quibble on this point.

How did Code Green fare? In every category we slowed these teams down. Total O dropped from 409.8 YPG to 330.3. We stuffed the run dropping these teams from 160.9 YPG to 105.3. Their passing game was slowed up from 248.9 YPG to 225. Finally scoring D (really the most important stat at the end of the day) fell from 29.7 PPG to 16.7 (about 2 TD’s less per game than these teams averages).

Summary: The Jacks did worse on the field when compared to these teams average offensive production and Code Green did significantly better in slowing these teams down on all levels.

One last comparison, common opponents, they beat Ind. State 44-0, we beat them 44-2. Nothing really to see here against this average foe.

They lost to UNI, we beat them. Here I don’t want to focus on the stats, but the physicality. We beat UNI in the trenches on both sides of the ball and were able to eventually run effectively in the second half. SDSU didn’t beat UNI in the trenches. I think much of Saturday will be determined by who has the biggest balls. Code Green should be smarting from the ass whopping the Jacks put on them last spring. Will this overcome SDSU’s desperation to win and maintain any hope of getting seeded for the playoffs?

What needs to take place for the Herd to come away with a victory in Brookings?

1) We have to contain Pierre Strong and Isaiah Davis (if he is back). DL and LB’s have to maintain gap integrity and make sure tackles.

2) We have to pressure Oladokun. UNI got three sacks that stopped drives. His run game has to be contained. Code Green has 31 sacks, almost 4/gm.

3) The Rams have to win the line of scrimmage and keep Cam clean. He is a young QB and has to be confident in what he is doing. Not running for his life or constantly being in 2nd & 3rd and long situations. Jack’s have 24 sacks (3/gm), this is about 1/gm less than Code Green. Who wins this battle goes a long way in securing victory. Both offenses have only allowed 10 sacks.

4) Get three and outs. Jacks convert 42% of 3rd downs (29th in FCS), but only 2-10 versus SIU and 5-19 with UNI, both losses! The best defense is keeping the offense off the field.

5) We need a spark from J D Price in punt return game. Jacks are 65th in punt return D at 8.3 yards per punt. Price is one of the best in country at 13.3 yards per return. I hope they kick deep to either Watson or Raja on KR. Due for a big return.

Why do I still put this game in the toss up column? We aren’t showing the overall stats of a Bison unbeaten team (2013, 2018 or 2019). Yes the D is there, but not the offense. Those teams dominated in all phases. We haven’t to date. This is this teams chance to make history. Go Bison!!

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