Here are some notes leading up to No. 16 South Dakota State traveling to No. 1 North Dakota State for the Dakota Marker and at least a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title. I’ll have live coverage Saturday from Fargo starting at 2 p.m.:
NDSU is not only No. 1 in the FCS in total defense in giving up 180.7 yards per game, it’s there by a wide margin. The second-best team is allowing 277.1.
The Bison have allowed just one opponent to rush for 100 yards and one opponent to pass for 200 yards.
However, while they’re plus-10 in turnover margin for the season, they’re at minus-1 over the last four weeks. They lost one in that stretch and two others could have gone either way.
SDSU mixed up its travel routine a bit, opting to leave earlier than usual for Fargo. Probably not a bad idea since the Jacks have just one win there since the John Kennedy was in the White House. That came in 2008. What does coach John Stiegelmeier remember most about that game? That the Jacks fared better in turnover margin and special teams than they had in the past. It didn’t hurt that they had a few borderline heroic performances, too, from Ryan Berry, Ryan Crawford, JaRon Harris and Kyle Minett, to name a few.
Saturday is senior day in Fargo. The Bison will honor seven seniors. Yes, just seven. And only four are on this week’s two-deep chart.
By comparison, NDSU has two two-deepers from Sioux Falls: Sophomore WR Trevor Gebhart and sophomore DE Mike Hardie. Gebhart has 30 catches for 333 yards with one score, while Hardie has 15 tackles plus two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
By my count, SDSU is facing a defending national champion for the ninth time since 1984. Six of those have been against NDSU and all at the D-II level.
The Jacks are 0-8 so far with the most recent being 2002 against North Dakota, a 21-13 defeat.
Jacks LB Ross Shafrath leads the FCS in solo tackles per game at 7.2, and is on pace to break the school record in that category. He attributes that to the fact that LB Chris Tracy plays more pass coverage, leaving Shafrath and T.J. Lally in the box and in position to make stops.
“Everyone is doing their 1/11th,” he said.
The NDSU defense has allowed just nine trips inside the red zone through nine games this season. Unofficially, opponents have run just 19 plays inside the Bison 20-yard line compared to 98 plays inside their own 20-yard line.
Injury update: SDSU WR Jason Schneider and LB Robbie Jelsma are fine after getting dinged up at Southern Illinois, leaving OL Josh Kage (knee) as the only player who played last week and won’t this week.
The Bison have lost just 2 of their last 24 games and both have been in Fargo. Coach Craig Bohl admitted to being perplexed by that.
“Our fans are certainly into the ballgame,” he said. “And why that has occurred, I can’t put my finger on it. We’ve played just well enough to get beat in both of those games. We’re still believing we have a nice homefield advantage, and we need to utilize that.”
Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.