If South Dakota State has any visions of repeating as Missouri Valley Conference champions and grabbing a second straight first-round bye in the FCS Playoffs, a win Saturday (November 4) over North Dakota State in the Dakota Marker game is a must.

The Jackrabbits (6-2/3-2 MVFC) begin the week two games back of the Bison in the standings with three games to play.

They'll be facing a North Dakota State (8-0/5-0) team that is sticking true to the blueprint that brought five straight FCS titles to Fargo from 2011 to 2015 - a strong running game and a strong defense.

The Bison are the top rushing team in the Missouri Valley, sixth best in the nation, averaging nearly 280 yards per game. But they'll be without their top weapon Saturday as Lance Dunn misses the SDSU game with a knee injury. He's scored 18 times this season and is averaging eight yards a carry.

That means more carries for Bruce Anderson, who rushed for 78 yards on 26 attempts in last week's win over Northern Iowa. Quarterback Easton Stick can also run it occasionally. He picked up 172 yards three weeks ago against Youngstown State.

Stick is efficient through the air as well. He's completed 63 percent of his passes in 2017, throwing for 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Half of his scoring strikes have come to RJ Urzendowski. Darrius Shepherd leads the team with 25 receptions.

Ball control is the name of the game for NDSU. They are fifth in FCS in time of possession, a battle SDSU won in their 19-17 win in Fargo last season.

The Bison have the top defense in the nation overall. That success can be measured in three big ways: allowing just two yards per carry on the ground, sacking the opposing quarterback 27 times (#2 in FCS), and forcing 22 turnovers.

NDSU has been doing it without top lineman Greg Menard, who's missed the entire season with an injury. Meanwhile, linebacker Nick Deluca, the team's leading tackler, missed two games earlier in the year.

But the Bison have tremendous depth on defense. Five different players have three or more sacks in the first eight games. While defensive backs Tre Dempsey (5), Robbie Grimsley (4), and James Hendricks (4) have combined for 13 of NDSU's 14 interceptions.

Kickoff is 2:00 PM in Brookings, Saturday.

For the second straight week, the Jackrabbits scored at will and used a strong defense effort in the second half for a 52-24 win at then number-12 Western Illinois.

The SDSU offense put the ball in the end zone on seven of their ten possessions, overcoming a Taryn Christion interception that helped the Leathernecks grab an early lead.

But the Jacks got impressive days from running backs Brady Mengarelli and Mikey Daniel, who averaged nearly six yards a carry. A lot of those runs came on first and second down, making for very manageable third downs for the SDSU offense.

Christion used his top two receiving weapons to perfection. Wide receiver Jake Wieneke caught three touchdown passes, while tight end Dallas Goedert has 113 receiving yards. Marquise Lewis added a pair of TD catches as well.

Defensively, after giving up 17 first half points, the Jackrabbits clamped down, limiting Western Illinois to just 19 second half plays and forcing a pair of turnovers.

Christian Rozeboom had a big day with ten tackles, an interception, and fumble recovery. Jordan Brown forced that fumble.

I talked with Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier about the Western Illinois win and the match-up with North Dakota State: