South Dakota Preview: #10 Coyotes at #6 North Dakota State
With two weeks to play in the 2017 Missouri Valley Conference schedule, absolutely nothing has been decided.
North Dakota State has a slim one-game lead in the standings with four teams, including South Dakota, breathing down their neck, just a game back.
That makes Saturday's (November 11) USD - NDSU match-up especially crucial.
The Coyotes (7-2/4-2 MVFC ) and Bison (8-1/5-1 MVFC) are both down in this week's FCS Coaches Poll. USD dropped four spots after a loss at Northern Iowa. NDSU went from second to sixth after losing at South Dakota State.
NDSU will be taking the field for the first time after a loss in 2017. The Bison turned the ball over five times in Brookings.
The game plan remains the same for the program that won five straight FCS Championships from 2011 to 2015 - run the football, control time of possession, and play solid defense.
North Dakota State is the sixth best running team in the nation, even without leading rusher Lance Dunn, who's out with an injury.
Bruce Anderson has been getting the bulk of the carries in Dunn's absence. Quarterback Easton Stick can also give defenses fits with his ability to scramble out of trouble.
When Stick throws the ball, he's been effective, completing better than 63 percent of his passes. Receivers Darrius Shepherd and RJ Urzendowski combine for 100 yards per game.
Defensively the Bison have the second best group in FCS and it all starts up front. NDSU defenders have sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times in nine games. Caleb Butler leads the way with 4.5 sacks.
All of that pressure up front has led to a very productive year for the Bison secondary. Tre Dempsey is tied for fifth in FCS with five interceptions. NDSU has 14 as a group in 2017. That's seventh best in the nation.
Kickoff in Fargo is 2:30 PM, Saturday.
South Dakota won on its last trip to the Fargodome, in 2015, their first win in Fargo since 1978.
Like the Bison, the Coyotes are trying to bounce back from a game that saw them turn the ball over numerous times.
USD gave it away four times in a 34-29 loss at Northern Iowa, last Saturday (November 4).
The Coyotes started strong with a 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game, while the USD defense did their part, limiting the Panthers to just a pair of field goals on two UNI trips inside the South Dakota 30.
The USD offense has a similar fate later in the first half, with three straight trips inside the red zone, only to settle for Ryan Weese field goals each time.
The Coyotes led for most of the first three quarters and clung to a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, when disaster struck.
USD's first three possessions of the fourth ended in an interception in the end zone, a fumble on their own 32, and a pick on their own 22.
The Panthers converted two of those three turnovers into touchdowns and survived a late Coyote touchdown, failed two-point conversion attempt, and failed onside kick to win by five.
I talked with head coach Bob Nielson about the Northern Iowa loss and the match-up with North Dakota State: