SIU has a chance to snap the FCS’s longest win streak

By Tony McDaniel

What makes North Dakota State so good?

Defense.

No. 13 SIU football (5-1, 2-0) will travel to Fargo on Saturday to take on the No. 1 team in the Football Championship Subdivision, The NDSU Bison (5-0, 1-0). The Bison have won 29-straight games and the last three FCS National Championships.

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Head coach Chris Klieman leads the Bison. Klieman took over for NDSU’s former head coach Craig Bohl. Bohl left to take the head coach position at Wyoming after posting a 104-32 record in Fargo.

Klieman was formerly the defensive coordinator for North Dakota State, and his defense is the heart and soul of the Bison.

The Bison are No. 3 in total defense, No. 7 in passing yards allowed and No. 2 In scoring defense. On the field the Bison defense is made mostly of seniors.

Senior linebackers Carlton Littlejohn, Travis Beck, Esley Thornton and Colten Heagle make up the best linebacker core the Salukis will see all season. The three players combine to make up 124 tackles. Heagle and Thornton also have an interception this year. Heagle is No. 11 in the FCS in total tackles with 37.

On the defensive line, senior defensive end Kyle Emanuel will blitz off the edge to create problems for the Salukis’ offensive line. He leads the team with 5 sacks, and is No. 11 in the FCS in that category.

When it comes to defending the pass the Bison are just are good, they rank No. 4 in the FCS in team passing defense.

Junior quarterback Mark Iannotti, senior tight end MyCole Pruitt, and senior running back Malcolm Agnew will have to be at their best in the hostile FargoDome. If not the Bison defense will keep the Salukis out of the game.

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NDSU will have a slightly better defense in tomorrow’s game, but the Salukis have a slightly better offense.

The Bison offense is eerily similar to the Salukis’. The Bison broke in a new quarterback earlier this season, which much like Iannotti has excelled.

Junior quarterback Carson Wentz took over for Brock Jensen. Jensen passed for 72 touchdowns in his career at NDSU.

Wentz is not called upon often to throw downfield, but when he is he’s successful. The junior has completed 66 percent of his passes this year, good for No. 19 in the FCS.

Wentz’s favorite target is his tight end, much like Iannotti.

Senior tight end Kevin Vaadeland leads the Bison in receptions but isn’t posting the monster numbers that Pruitt is.

The way the Bison move the ball most effectively is on the ground. Senior running back John Crockett has 571 yards and 7 touchdowns this season. He ranks No. 12 in the FCS in rushing touchdowns.

NDSU’s offensive line helps Crockett and Wentz immensely. It is not huge, but create holes in the defense for Crockett to run through. They also keep defenses away from their quarterback. The Bison are No. 4 in sacks allowed.

The Salukis can dominate teams in the second half; they are out scoring teams 114-13. Unfortunately for the Dawgs, the Bison are also a great second half team. They’ve outscored their opponents 81-7 in the final two quarters.

One thing that does bode well for the Salukis is it’s previous meeting against Western Illinois. When the Salukis played the Leathernecks SIU beat its in-state rival 34-17.

Last weekend NDSU faced WIU and were in a deadlock most of the game. The Bison were victorious 17-10 only thanks to two fourth quarter touchdowns.

On paper this game is too close to call. It could shape up to be a classic matchup between the two Missouri Valley Football Conference teams. The Salukis will have to be flawless because the Bison have the ability to make SIU pay for its mistakes.

If SIU wins, which it very well can, it will go down as an upset for the ages. North Dakota State will lose eventually, and the Salukis seem poised to be the team to hand the Bison their first loss since 2012.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected], @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 256

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