Game Preview


South Dakota
Saturday, September 22, 2012  2:30 pm CDT
ESPN 1000 Radio

Game Preview: South Dakota
by Jonathan Hodges

Northwestern (3-0, 0-0) concludes the non-conference portion of their regular season by hosing the South Dakota Coyotes (1-1) at Ryan Field. South Dakota is a member of the FCS (formerly known as I-AA) having moved up from Div. II a couple of years ago, and is in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, home to recent NU opponents Southern Illinois and Illinois State. The Wildcats have faced South Dakota four times, when they hosted them four consecutive years from 1924 through 1927. In fact, the first game played at the stadium now known as Ryan Field was against South Dakota in 1926. NU went 4-0 in those games, outscoring South Dakota by a combined 123-9.

Opening Line: no line.

Who Should Win: Northwestern. This one is easy; NU went undefeated against its three non-conference BCS AQ foes and has established a formidable run game. Meanwhile, South Dakota has had many problems stopping the run in its two games so far (both against FCS competition), in which they went 1-1. The Wildcats should be able to overpower the Coyotes on the ground while stonewalling them on the other side of the ball and allow the 'Cats to get playing time for some of the younger players.

Upset Factor: Yes, we all remember New Hampshire in 2006. But, South Dakota is no UNH (who was ranked number one in the FCS that season and would go on to run up a streak of five consecutive victories over FBS teams): although South Dakota edged a bad Minnesota team in 2010, they are 1-3 vs. FBS teams since moving up to Div. I in 2010 and have an average score in those games of 19.5-43.0. Plus, they cannot stop anyone on the ground this year and have not been able to establish a run game, something their head coach Joe Glenn has wanted to do. Barring an epic collapse and a deluge of turnovers by NU, the 'Cats should be able to roll in this one.

NU Offense vs. USD Defense: The 'Cats rank 40th in the FBS in rushing with 202.7 yards per game so far this season along with three established running threats in Venric Mark, Mike Trumpy, and Kain Colter. South Dakota, meanwhile, are 115th in rushing defense in the FCS, allowing 276.0 yards per game and haven't really been able to stop anyone (they have allowed 4.9 yards per carry this season). Expect NU to keep it on the ground as much as possible and pound away with their physically superior offensive line, and anticipate Treyvon Green and Tyris Jones to get in on a good number of carries once NU builds a lead.

NU Defense vs. USD Offense: USD QB Josh Vander Maten is competent and averages 4.3 yards per carry along with a 70.6% completion rate through the air. RB Marcus Sims has potential to be dangerous on the ground with a 7.5 yards per carry average. And WR Terry Terrance is their biggest passing threat having hauled in both of USD's passing TDs so far this season. But, the Wildcats should be able to control the line of scrimmage (NU is currently 16th nationally and second in the Big Ten in rush defense allowing just 80 yards per game) and prevent the Coyotes from moving the ball much at all.

Special Teams: Hopefully NU will not have to rely on special teams much at all this week and will only be sending out Jeff Budzien to kick extra points. Although Budzien has been stellar so far, it would be nice to give the FG team a break and to rely on controlling the line of scrimmage on offense and defense as a method to run away with this game.

Notes: Despite missing a good portion of the second half of the BC game with an injury, Venric Mark remains seventh nationally (and leads the Big Ten) in all-purpose yards per game with 196.7. Budzien is tied for 18th nationally (and leads the Big Ten) in scoring at 11.0 points per game. South Dakota is being paid $325,000 for their visit to Ryan Field. Under Fitz, the 'Cats are 24-10 (0.706 win rate) when appearing on BTN. The 'Cats have won their last five games vs. FCS opponents by an average score of 37.2-9.0. NU has an active streak of 26 quarters and 196 pass attempts without throwing an interception (last was in second quarter versus Minnesota on 11/19/2011).

Prediction: Northwestern 49 - South Dakota 6
Northwestern's lines have dominated the past two games and I expect that they will do that and more against this FCS opponent. Fitz is employing various methods to keep this team focused, like putting starting spots and playing time up for grabs and focusing on executing to this own team's level and not that of their opponent, and that should help NU go out and take care of business. Expect a lot of younger players to get in the game as NU finishes off non-conference play with a solid victory.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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