VERMILLION, S.D. — South Dakota gets its shot at the mighty North Dakota State Bison on Saturday and if nothing else head into the Missouri Valley Football Conference contest with a little momentum.
The Coyotes (4-6, 3-3) put together one of their best performances of the season in a 56-21 win over Youngstown State.
It will take that kind of an effort and probably more to have a chance against NDSU (10-0, 6-0) at the Fargo Dome. The two-time defending national champions have won 31 consecutive games dating back to the middle of the 2017 season, the second-longest streak in FCS history and two shy of the all-time record.
South Dakota, though, can lean on the fact that it played turnover free for the first time all season and ran for a season-best 327 yards last Saturday.
“I knew we were capable of playing better football than we had the previous three weeks,” USD Coach Bob Nielson said. “It was good to see us put together a performance where all three phases played at a high level.
“Offensively we were really consistent, we not only made plays but made plays to keep drives alive and took advantage of every possession when we got it in the red zone. Defensively we made critical stops, did a good job of containing their running game where we got them off schedule and special teams were solid, including a big play that helped flip the game at the end of the first half.”
South Dakota scored touchdowns on its first four possessions against Youngstown State. Both Kai Henry (130) and Canaan Brooks (112) surpassed 100 yards on the ground and Austin Simmons threw four touchdown passes for the third time this season.
Henry became the first Coyote to rush for more than 100 yards in three straight games since 2007 (Amos Allen). Simmons and offensive lineman Alex Jensen were named Valley offensive players of the week as USD snapped a three-game losing streak.’
“Our guys came out and responded to a challenge of a good football team coming in here,” Nielson said. “I think the win was more important to our guys than it was to them. It showed in the way we played coming off the three weeks we had. Coming off the disappointing loss to Western Illinois you never know how the guys are going to respond and we responded in a very positive way and put together a performance we can build on as we move ahead.”
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North Dakota State hasn’t missed a beat despite the departure of head coach Chris Klieman, who left to replace legend Bill Snyder at Kansas State. The Bison lead are among the nation’s leaders in most offensive and defensive categories.
NDSU averages 294 rushing yards per game and quarterback Trey Lance – who is the team’s second-leading rusher – has thrown 182 career passes without an interception. Just two opponents have passed for 170 yards or more against the Bison.
USD’s Simmons has passed for 6,162 yards and needs 79 to pass Wesley Beschorner for second place on the school’s all-time passing list.
Interestingly, both teams are better when their quarterback doesn’t have to throw. In four wins, Simmons has averaged 22 pass attempts and 200 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. In losses, he has averaged 42 pass attempts and 304 yards. Simmons, however, has completed 55 more passes than Lance has attempted.
South Dakota linebacker Jack Cochrane ranks third in the league in tackles with 87. Defensive end Darin Greenfield is three sacks shy of the program’s all-time record of 27 shared by A.J. Schable and Tyler Starr.
The task, to be sure, will be difficult. But it can be done. USD shocked the Bison at Fargo in 2015, ending a 26-game home win streak.
“It’s a great opportunity for our football team,” Nielson said. “One team every week gets a chance to play the No. 1 team in the country and it’s great challenge. A great challenge always brings great opportunity and it’s an opportunity for us to go up there and build on Saturday’s performance.”
Nielson said it’s a combination of things that makes NDSU such a dominating program.
“No. 1, they’ve got really good talent, they’re extremely well coached and don’t make mistakes,” Nielson said. “You’re going to have to go out and find ways to move the football and find ways to stop them.
“They’re a team that has great tradition, obviously a very difficult place to play because of the tremendous crowd support they have. Everybody in the league is trying to build a program that emulates the consistency they’ve had there over the last few years.”