Bison expected to have hands full against No. 1 rushing defense in the FCS
FARGO — Workers at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, put the natural grass field through a final mowing Monday morning. The painting of the end zones and sidelines began in the afternoon, a process that has never started this early in the week in the 10 years the NCAA Division I FCS national title game has been in the northern Dallas suburb.
That’s because rain is expected in the Dallas area Thursday and Friday and tarps will be shielding the turf from the moisture. If that happens, it will be a repeat from last year when a Thursday rain soaked the Frisco area.
Meanwhile, in Fargo, North Dakota State continued preparing for James Madison for the 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff. That includes trying to figure out a way to crack the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the FCS.
The Dukes have given up just 61.1 yards per game and an average rushing attempt of 2.2 yards per carry.
“Extremely sound in what they do,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz.
Extremely stingy in what they give up. Weber State had 70 rushing yards on just 19 attempts in JMU’s semifinal victory. Northern Iowa also ran the ball just 19 times in the quarterfinals, but got zero yards for its effort in the 17-0 JMU shutout win.
In the second round game, Monmouth had 93 yards but that came with a major asterisk. After standout running back Pete Guerriero ran 93 yards for a touchdown early in the first quarter, the Hawks equaled UNI in its output total on the ground.
“They keep it relatively simple and let their kids play fast and they make adjustments during the game,” Entz said. “And they’re a good tackling team, a veteran group that has played together for a while.”
It will be a clash of strengths. While the Dukes don’t give up many yards, the Bison have the fourth-best rushing offense in the FCS and it just hasn’t been one guy. Four players have gained between 660 and 940 yards led by senior Ty Brooks. And NDSU’s fifth-best ground gainer is senior Dimitri Williams, who has six touchdowns.
“They are a really good defense,” Brooks said. “We've just got to stick to what we know. I don’t feel like they’ve seen a rushing attack or linemen (like ours are capable of) so we've just got to stick to what we do and come out and play our type of football.”
Northern Iowa is the only common opponent of the two title teams. The Bison defeated UNI 46-14, but that was in the controlled indoor climate of Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The JMU-UNI game was played in mist and 36 degrees.
Still, the closest the Panthers came to scoring was when they reached the JMU 30-yard line late in the game, but gave it up because of downs.
Otherwise, UNI had seven 3-and-outs.
“We’ll be playing an outstanding football team in a few days,” Entz said.
They’ll be playing the Dukes virtually fully healthy. Entz said receiver Phoenix Sproles and cornerback Josh Hayes, both of whom were injured during the playoffs, have been practicing. The only players who have been ruled out are backups like redshirt freshman receiver Zach Mathis and sophomore defensive lineman Bartholomew Ogbu who have been sidelined for an extended period of time.
Entz said Ogbu may apply for a medical hardship.
Entz said true freshman running back Jalen Bussey, who made a one-game splash late in the season against Western Illinois before injuring his finger in practice, will not play.
“We’re as close to full speed as possible,” Entz said.