North Dakota State’s football team is favored to beat tiny Wofford College by 20 points Saturday in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals, according to the betting Web site 5dimes. The Bison are the No. 2 seed, the Terriers No. 7 and the game is being played at the Fargodome, where fans have been known to make life miserable for opposing offenses.
“They play in a facility, quite frankly, where you’re down two touchdowns before you start the game because of the crowd,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers told me Tuesday in an interview for my 970 WDAY radio show that will air Wednesday morning. “You have to overcome a lot.”
So, maybe 20 points might be the final spread. Or maybe that could be a little generous.
If you go by what happened the last time these two programs played, you’d have to go with the latter.
A very talented NDSU team, with the core group in the middle of winning three straight national championships (and eventually five overall), won that game 14-7 and had to hang on for dear life in the fourth quarter to do it. The same type of game could easily unfold this weekend.
Yes, yes, we know. The Bison and Terriers played that game five years ago and there are no players left from those teams and that game has nothing to do with what’s going to happen Saturday.
Fair enough, but there are enough similarities between the programs, the schemes they run and the types of athletes on the field to draw a general comparison. The Terriers still run the triple-option and still play strong defense.
Wofford is not going to be an easy out for the Bison. In its quest to return to Frisco after losing in the semifinals to James Madison a year ago, this might be NDSU’s toughest matchup on their side of the bracket.
The Terriers are fast, athletic, physical, big enough on both lines of scrimmage, play good defense and are extremely well-coached. Ayers has been at Wofford for 33 years, 30 as head coach. His staff has been around awhile. These guys know what they are doing.
“I think they are faster than they were in 2012,” Bison coach Chris Klieman said at his weekly press conference. “They just have so much more speed.”
Klieman mentioned how physical Wofford was in that game against a Bison team that included defensive players like Cole Jirik, Kyle Emanuel, Grant Olson, Christian Dudzik, Travis Beck, Carlton Littlejohn and Brian Schaetz. Offensively, NDSU featured Brock Jensen, Billy Turner, Joe Haeg, Andrew Bonnett, Ryan Smith, Sam Ojuri, John Crockett, Zach Vraa and Andrew Grothmann. The Bison were loaded.
Yet NDSU took only a 14-7 lead at halftime and scrambled to keep Wofford out of the end zone in the second half. The Bison had just five first downs in the second half and had to stop the Terriers twice inside their 10-yard-line in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory. NDSU’s Anthony LaVoy blocked a 26-yard field goal early in the fourth following a long Wofford drive and the Bison stopped the Terriers on downs at the 7-yard-line with 3:24 left.
The Wofford offense, led by bowling ball fullback Eric Breitenstein, outplayed NDSU’s offense. The Terriers outgained the Bison 326 to 262 total yards and NDSU had just 167 rushing yards. Jensen threw for only 95 yards on 13 completions. Breitenstein had 135 yards on 24 carries.
The Bison defense kept Wofford’s offense from scoring, the Terriers’ only TD coming on a Jensen interception that was returned 35 yards for a score by Blake Wylie in the second quarter.
The point is not to rehash was happened five years ago, but to show Wofford plays pretty much the same as it did. The triple-option is still the triple-option, only the Terriers have a better quarterback running the show in senior Brandon Goodson and some remarkable speed from running back Lennox McAfee. They do what they do. And they do it well.
It’s an oddball offense for which to prepare.
“You can think you have this phase covered and this phase covered and this phase covered and all of the sudden it comes at you 10 times faster because these guys know what they are doing and they are really talented,” Klieman said. “I’ve been a part of so many games against option teams where in the first quarter you feel like you’re never going to stop them because they march it down and score or they march it down and get big drives because you’re just not used to the speed.”
For his part, Ayers mixes the expected measure of respect and praise for NDSU with a confident touch here and there. He likes some of the matchups.
“Their offense versus our defense, I think we have a good matchup,” Ayers said in comments to South Carolina media. “The offensive line on our side, I think we’re going to have a big challenge. But overall we match up well.
“The game will be decided by who executes the best. The advantage they have is when they are trying to call plays, it’s dead silent. When we try to call plays, there’s 18,891 people screaming. It makes it difficult. All that being said, we had a taste of that when we went down to (South) Carolina and did a good job. We’re going to have to be dialed in as far as communication. After that, when the ball is snapped, let’s go play ball.”
The Terriers lost a Nov. 18 game at South Carolina 31-10, and were playing without three defensive starters. They’ll be back for the Bison game.
A Wofford win in Fargo would be an upset, no doubt. It would be a surprise, but not a shock. The Bison, and their fans, would be wise to not sleep on the Terriers, as learned in 2012.