“The drink will flow and the blood will spill. And if the boys want to fight, you better let ’em.”
That’s a line from a Thin Lizzy song. In fact, the band’s most iconic of songs, one we all know.
Side Note: The album featured above (“Live And Dangerous”) is in the upper echelon of live rock albums. So purchase it, if you can.
Now, you are here to read about Bison football, I know. However, the reason I have included the above lyric is that it is an exact representation of what Saturday’s game will be like. The drinks will flow, blood will spill (figuratively speaking, we hope) and if the boys are going to fight, you better let them. The boys, in this case, are the Bison and Jackrabbits. The two teams will be playing in what is the 108th meeting of the two with the Dakota Marker on the line for the 15th time.
Many know that North Dakota State lost the Dakota Marker to South Dakota State in Brookings last season. They also lost to the Jackrabbits in 2016 at the Fargodome. NDSU did defeat SDSU in the FCS playoffs later that season, however. Though the Jackrabbits have won the last two meetings (regular season only), the Bison had won the previous eight games between the two schools.
The common question facing South Dakota State coming into the season was how they would adjust to life without star tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke. Both of which were Bison killers throughout the course of their Jackrabbit career. However, both players are now gone, leaving the Jacks without two of the program’s best playmakers. Yet, they have responded to the criticism, winning both of their games in convincing fashion. South Dakota State routed Montana State and absolutely demolished Arkansas-Pine Bluff, scoring 90 points in the process. Their opening game against Iowa State was canceled due to weather, the Jackrabbits were down 7-0 when that game was called.
Needless to say, it’s hard to judge what South Dakota State is on both ends of the field. Not to discredit Montana State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but both teams were thoroughly unprepared to play the Jackrabbits. In the case of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they were a far worse team than many forecasted, and the Jackrabbits exploited that to a near unsportsmanlike advantage.
Coach Chris Klieman said the team will rely on past games against South Dakota State as the preparatory film. According to Klieman, the film from their first few games of 2018 are useless after the first quarter or so. Regardless, this Jackrabbits team still has Taryn Christion at quarterback and some budding supplemental weapons for him to throw to. The primary one being Cade Johnson, who is averaging 150 receiving yards and three touchdowns in two games.
The Jackrabbits always come ready to play, but it is hard to judge this 2018 team on film based on the lackadaisical opponents they have faced. We’ll try though.
We’d be remiss to discredit how dominant South Dakota State’s offense has been so far in 2018. In only two games, they’ve racked up 135 total points (90 in one game alone) and have accumulated 935 more yards than their opponents. The discrepancies do not stop there as, on average, the Jackrabbits are racking up 719 total yards per game. Their opponent is only gaining 251 yards per game. Say what you will about their opponents, but that is relatively remarkable. But wait there’s more:
Interesting tidbits here: SDSU has ran 128 total plays, their opponents have ran 114, only a 14 play difference. Yet, the Jacks have out gained opponents in total yards 1,438 to 503. A 935-yard difference.
— Bison Illustrated (@bisonmag) September 25, 2018
That small difference in total plays ran indicates one thing: South Dakota State has thrived thanks to the big, explosive play. The same can be said for North Dakota State as well. Yet, one has to assume that big plays will be kept to a minimum thanks to the Bison defense.
Now, it’s already been said that South Dakota State is missing their two biggest passing targets from last season. However, senior Taryn Christion is still their quarterback and is as good as any signal-caller in FCS. Christion has thrown for 651 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season. He also has a rushing touchdown but has not netted any positive yardage on the ground, which is surprising. Do not take that as an indication that Christion is no longer mobile. Bison fans know that his mobility is what has beaten them in the last two Dakota Marker match-ups.
Part of that formula for Christion in beating NDSU is getting outside the pocket and making a throw downfield, giving the receiver a chance to make a catch on a defensive back. For the longest time, Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke could jump up and make those plays thanks to their size. As seen below.
The Jackrabbits do not have that size (or talent level, yet) at the skill positions in 2018. So where there was a mismatch last year, it is nonexistent this year. The only definitive mismatch the Jackrabbits may have through the air is speed. Cade Johnson is a very fast wide receiver. However, is he faster than Jalen Allison, Marquise Bridges or Josh Hayes? That question will be answered come Saturday.
Johnson has been the primary skill player for South Dakota State, making plays with his hands and feet.
The 2018 Jackrabbits do not utilize their tight ends or at least they have not yet. Their first-string tight end, Kallan Hart, has not recorded a reception yet this season. Johnson and junior wide receiver Adam Anderson have 55 percent of SDSU’s receptions this season. In the first GIF above, the Jackrabbits run a jet sweep sort of play, one they have run quite a few times this season. Delaware ran the exact same play last Saturday against the Bison and it went for negative yardage. If that play was John Stiegelmeier’s offensive wrinkle, he may need to re-think it.
South Dakota State has also been efficient on the on the ground so far this season. Three different running backs have seen at least 14 touches and they average 7.2 yards per carry. That mark is just below NDSU’s number of 7.5 yards per attempt.
It’s safe to say that outside of the four or five minutes they played against Iowa State, the Jackrabbit defense has not been tested. Though they have been stingy, only giving up 10 points per game to opponents, one has to wonder: how many meaningful quarters of defense have they played? Their game against Arkansas-Pine Pluff was over by the end of the first quarter. The Montana State game was in the bag at halftime too, so is that three worthy quarters of defense for South Dakota State?
The same could be said for North Dakota State’s defense. However, it’s safe to assume the Bison have played a more dominant style of defense in the quarters that have mattered. I mean, they have only given up one touchdown all season (the stats will say two, but one was a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Delaware).
South Dakota State surrendered 310 yards of total offense to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Some of that you can say was done in garbage time or whatever. What happens in garbage time is what sets the tone for the next game though. If South Dakota State plays sluggishly and allows their opponent to make some plays in the fourth quarter, what perks them up for the next game? Wouldn’t they be stuck in complacency for a period of time?
On the other hand, has NDSU given up significant yardage in “garbage time”? Sure, they gave up a touchdown to North Alabama, but you can’t say there was a lack of effort. And even so, look at what happened against Delaware. The first defensive play was a pick-six and there were two more interceptions and all-around dominance that followed.
It’s worth noting that the Jackrabbits were dominant defensively in the Dakota Marker game last season. They bring back virtually the same defense that forced five Bison turnovers and sacked Easton Stick three times in 2017. The chances of a repeat performance from the Jackrabbits are slim. One has to assume Easton Stick has watched this tape extensively and knows which throws not to make too.
That being said, expect South Dakota State to bring a good amount of pressure on the Bison offensive line. Their front seven is their most veteran of groups. Luckily, NDSU has an equally experienced offensive line, which could be better prepared for this South Dakota State line as opposed to last season.
As Coach Klieman alluded to earlier this week, this game will be won in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. That is what makes this rivalry a true slobberknocker.
If the boys want to fight, you better let them…