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Bison defense to be tested by one of NCAA's all-time rushing leaders

Youngstown State running back Jaleel McLaughlin in ninth place in career yards

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at Kentucky
Youngstown State Penguins running back Jaleel McLaughlin (8) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Kentucky Wildcats last week at Kroger Field.
Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports
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FARGO — They’re powerful moving objects, usually north of 200 pounds and not the easiest to take to the ground. North Dakota State may face its stiffest running back test Saturday when Youngstown State comes to town.

Jaleel McLaughlin has been a load for the Penguins, a 5-foot-9, 183-pound senior who has made art of shedding tackles.

“Explosive back,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz.

McLaughlin has exploded onto the NCAA’s all-time rushing chart with his 6,946 career yards, and is the NCAA active leader in yards, attempts and touchdowns. He’s currently ninth on the all-time list and needs just 30 yards against the Bison to move past Brian Shea from Emporia State (1995-98) and Germain Race from Pittsburg State (2003-06) into seventh.

Those are statistics that aren’t of concern to Bison defensive players like linebacker Logan Kopp, who’s seen enough of McLaughlin on film already to get an understanding of him.

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“We’ve been watching him a lot,” Kopp said. “He had a real explosive run against Kentucky, one of the top SEC teams and top FBS teams right now, so he’s no joke. But I think we’re going to be ready for him.”

McLaughlin’s total includes more than 2,400 yards in each of his two seasons at Division II Notre Dame College (Ohio), where he was a finalist both years for the Harlon Hill Award that goes to the best player in D-II. He has 2,168 yards in just over two seasons at Youngstown including the spring 2021 season that doesn’t count on his eligibility.

Whatever the division, he’s made a living off breaking tackles, something the Bison defense is looking to shore up after a 3-1 start heading into the 1 p.m. Saturday kickoff at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. NDSU is 1-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, while the Penguins had a bye week last week.

“It’s an issue right now and not one that we’re ignoring,” Entz said. “It feels like we have too many guys trying to saw people in half first instead of tackling. If we can just slow people up, we’ll get someone else there.”

Entz also wasn’t pleased with the Bison letting a quarterback or back get to the outside unabated.

“All these things are correctable in my opinion,” he said. “Tackling is a fundamental and those are some things we have to continue to work on just like getting off blocks and sustaining blocks on offense.”

Kopp, a redshirt freshman who backs up James Kaczor at one outside linebacker spot, played in one game as a true freshman and preserved his eligibility. He’s steadily seen his contributions to the defensive game plan increase this year and it’s been a daily learning curve.

“We haven’t had the success we would like to have as far as tackling goes,” Kopp said. “Way too many missed tackles in these first four games this year, but just making an emphasis on it every day in practice. Just doing everything we can to focus on good technique and finishing on the ground every day.”

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The Bison have grounded McLaughlin so far in two games against him. He had 52 yards on 11 carries in a 49-17 NDSU victory in Youngstown last season and 19 yards on eight carries in the 2021 spring season, a Feb. 21 game in front of friends and family members. NDSU won 25-7.

The Bison surrendered 127 yards to Bhayshul Tuten of North Carolina A&T in the second game of the year, but otherwise held other running backs well under 100 yards rushing. Last week, USD’s Travis Theis got loose for a few runs in the first half, but the Bison held the Coyotes to just 45 yards on the ground in the second half.

McLaughlin promises to be another one of those challenges.

“He’s a great player, he can run the ball and he’s fast,” said NDSU linebacker Luke Weerts. “We’re going to have to get him on the ground.”

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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