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Stats That Matter: NDSU versus So. IL

Last week was my first endeavor to provide you with a synopsis of the week’s upcoming game against Mo. State. It proved to be an accurate preview of what transpired. I stated, “...a very strong probability of another convincing Bison win.” I think 48-7 meets that. Also, the game unfolded along the lines of Mo. State’s weaknesses. They came out of the shoots stacking 8 and 9 defenders “in the box.” As I forecasted - Stick, “at a minimum, he will have his best game year-to-date.” He tied the school touchdown record with five touchdowns by halftime. “The Bison should be able to run the ball effectively” and “This should not be a four-quarter game.” Though the Bison didn’t hit 300 yards on the ground, they did rush for 245 yards at a 5.8 yards/carry rate and the game was over by mid-second quarter.

Now to this week. Can the Bison finish the regular season with a win and cap an undefeated pre-playoff season? Let’s lift the hood and see what the Salukis bring to the table. Looking at win/loss, it is easy to dismiss them with a 2-8 record going into Saturday at the Dome. Because of the rotating MVFC scheduling, we haven’t played So. IL. the last two years (the last game played was in Carbondale, and Lennon was their coach), so their whole squad hasn’t experienced the Dome.

The best phrase to describe them is enigmatic. This was to be the beginning of a turn around year by new coach Nick Hill (a former record-setting quarterback at So. IL. during its glory playoff teams in the mid-2000’s). They started well with a 49-10 win over Ohio Valley Conference member Murray State (a middling OVC team that is currently 5-5 and “upset” SEMO last week to allow Jacksonville State to reclaim the league title and auto bid to the playoffs). The next game, they hung with SEC foe Ole Miss for three quarters (49-41 going into the fourth), then give up 27 unanswered points to lose 76-41. Can they even spell defense? Your scout squad shouldn’t give up that many points. They finished their non-conference schedule by losing to SEMO (South East Missouri State) 48-40. Right here I wrote them off as any serious contender in the MVFC. Remember the base to NDSU’s dominance? Playing exceptional defense. Just like you can’t teach stupid, you can’t fix bad defensive players.

As the season progressed, they ended up replacing their starting (record holding) senior quarterback Sam Straub because of injury, with another senior, Matt DeSomer. Kind of an all-purpose “Johnny Football” guy (he has played QB, Safety, WR and special teams). He is a gamer and an outstanding athlete. During this transition time, they lost 17-14 to Youngstown State. Straub came back for a game, and IL. State blew them out 51-3 at home. The rest of the season has been shootouts. Losses of 21-24, 31-34 and last week 38-57 to SDSU (was 36-31 midway thru 3rd quarter) and they beat Mo. State on the road 49-35. During Nick Hill’s tenure as coach, So. IL. is 1-14 in games decided by one score or less. They don’t know how to win the close ones.

What should take place at the Dome this week? I feel this might be the best Bison Team to date. They have the most diverse offense {run/pass} with a seasoned senior quarterback, and the deepest defense playing at an exceptional level. All of this is coupled with top ten FCS special teams play. I think the 24 seniors’ sense one of their goals is at hand, an undefeated regular season. The Bison should win by three to four touchdowns and clear the bench in the fourth quarter.

Here is what I am basing this projection on:

· So. IL. is 109th in the FCS in scoring defense (out of 124 teams) and is giving up 38.3 PPG. NDSU is 11th in the FCS in scoring offense at 38.8 PPG. I think there is a good chance the Herd does better than all these other offenses against So. IL.

· They are 104th in total defense, giving up 465.4 YPG. The Bison are 21st total offense at 438.1 YPG. Again, we have a lousy defense going against a terrific offense.

· The Salukis are poor in run defense (92nd in FCS at 207.9 YPG) and even worse at pass defense (106th ranked by allowing 257.5 YPG). They have been bit hard by injuries in their secondary, losing their top 5 defenders since the beginning of the season.

· They are best on the offensive side of the equation coming in at 445.4 YPG total offense (23rd in the nation), 227.3 YPG rushing (19th in national rankings) and passing for 218.1 YPG (57th in the nation). This offensive output generates 31.4 PPG (31st in the country).

· They are minus 5 in turnover ratio, which ranks them 94th nationally.

· Here are some interesting miscellaneous stats. Will our great red zone offense (4th in FCS, scoring at a 92.5% rate) be stopped by a bad red zone defense (ranked 85th and allowed opposing teams to score in the red zone at an 84.3% clip)? So. IL. also average 7 penalties per game to our 4.

· Sagarin gives the Herd a 96% chance of winning and a 32.45-point spread. The Las Vegas betting line has NDSU a 31-point favorite.

In summary, the Bison again should win this game convincingly. They will have to play strong, assignment (gap integrity) defense so as not to let the Salukis out of the box or they can put up 3 or 4 touchdowns on the Bison. This in many ways should be a repeat performance like last week for the offense. Expect the Bison to run at will and Stick to have another great game against an over-matched secondary. On to the playoffs!!

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