Bison feel fresh, healed up heading into playoff game against Southern Illinois
NDSU expects starting fullback/running back Hunter Luepke back to full speed.
FARGO — In what is about as common in December as Christmas, a Missouri Valley Football Conference team is coming to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome for a playoff game. What happened in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 is set to happen again on Saturday.
The only difference is Southern Illinois is a new playoff foe for the Bison. Moreover, the two did not meet in the regular season because of the eight-game league schedule in an 11-team conference.
In fact, the two weren’t scheduled to play each other last spring, but wound up facing each other in Carbondale, Ill., when Indiana State opted out of the season. That game was historic.
The Salukis ended NDSU’s FCS-record 39-game winning streak and did it in convincing fashion with a 38-14 victory.
“We haven’t talked about it,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz. “It’s the next game.”
NDSU was never really a threat to win that game. The Bison offense had five drives of four plays or fewer that didn’t result in a score and the Salukis held the ball for over 41 minutes of a 60-minute game.
“They were better than us on that day,” Entz said. “They whipped us up and down the field, so what we need to do is be more efficient on early downs, do a better job of getting in some shorter third downs so we can stay on the field.”
Entz said he was impressed with SIU’s tempo, slowing the game down and keeping NDSU’s offense off the field.
“We have to find ways to get them off the field and in the spring we struggled with that,” he said.
The Bison will take a 10-1 record and a No. 2 overall seed into the game. NDSU had a first round bye and began practice for this week last Saturday night. The Bison took last Thursday and Friday off.
“I was excited about the energy on Saturday,” Entz said. “This is a heck of a team we’re going to have to play. Southern Illinois has a ton of talent. I think they’re better than their record shows.”
They’re 7-4 after taking care of South Dakota 22-10 in last Saturday’s first round at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, S.D. The Bison are 6-0 against fellow Missouri Valley opponents at home in the playoffs.
Four of those were against South Dakota State, one against Northern Iowa and 2019 against Illinois State. NDSU is 7-0 overall having defeated the Redbirds in the 2014 title game in Frisco, Texas.
The Bison appear to be about as healthy as they’ve been all season. Entz said he expects fullback Hunter Luepke to be back in the lineup after missing most of the Youngstown game and all of the South Dakota game to close the season with a hamstring issue.
“Otherwise, from just a longevity, banged up, bruises and some chronic things guys are dealing with, I think we’re in a lot better shape just because we were able to give them Thursday, Friday,” Entz said.