Sept. 23, 2009
By Kyle Kensing
WATCH VIDEO: NDSU RB Pat Paschall Breaks Off a 91-Yard Touchdown Rush
Headlining a blockbuster Saturday slate are two games that could go a long way in the top-heavy Missouri Valley Conference race. Illinois State hosts South Dakota State, and Southern Illinois welcomes North Dakota State as all four squads look to set pace.
"A win here would give us a lot of confidence moving forward," said NDSU tailback Pat Paschall. "The way we're approaching [meeting Southern Illinois] is like last year."
The Bison handed SIU its only Missouri Valley defeat of the '08 campaign. If Paschall and his lofty 200 all purpose yard per game have anything to do with, NDSU could duplicate that feat.
But don't think the Salukis forgot that blight on an otherwise flawless MVC record.
"Know that this game, for us, is personal," said SIU quarterback Chris Dieker. "It's definitely in the back of our minds."
Dieker threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the Oct. 2008 match-up, which NDSU snatched from SIU despite trailing by three scores.
For the Salukis to avenge that loss, limiting the rushing is crucial said cornerback Korey Lindsey. That begins with Paschall, who in last season's game rushed for 77 yards on 12 carries.
"We'll be looking for him to come out and make plays," Lindsey said of Paschall. "We're trying to have a relentless pursuit.
"Looking back at last year, we tackled poorly. So we studied that and we're trying to build off that," Lindsey said.
The Saluki defense has found success through two games, allowing just 19 points per game. After a near-miss at Marshall, the team regrouped for a 59-7 rout over Southwest Baptist wherein both the offense and defense flexed its muscle.
For two teams boasting gaudy offensive numbers of 505 total yards per game (SIU) and 446 (NDSU), as well as the two top running backs in all of FCS (Paschall and SIU's Deji Karim), the tale could be told on the opposite end of the ball.
"Each week we're getting better as a defense," defensive end Coulter Boyer said. The sophomore leads the Bison with two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. "Our defense as a whole has been working hard to be together, to all be in the right place at the right time."
When two offensive juggernauts such as these collide, being in the right place for a critical stop at the right time can make all the difference.
Respect for the Redbirds
"To get a road win over a great team like Illinois State on their home turf would mean a lot, and give us so much confidence the rest of the way," SDSU defensive end and two-time All-American Danny Batten said.
From 2-6 a year ago to a major MVC test, ISU is looking to emphasize a dramatic turnaround against a team from last year's conference upper echelon.
"We're looking to prove we're a lot better than we have been in the past," said ISU cornerback EJ Jones. "South Dakota State has a lot of respect in the conference, and we're trying to earn that."
Jones and the rest of the Redbird defense faces a challenge in a Jackrabbit offense averaging better than 42 points per game. Captaining that unit is quarterback Ryan Crawford, who Jones said: "knows that offense inside and out.
"He's a very efficient guy. [SDSU is] very balanced and don't make mistakes."
Indeed, SDSU has turned the ball over just twice in two blowouts victories, vs. Georgia Southern and Indiana State.
"We've had a good turnover factor... and both those were easily preventable," Crawford said.
The Jackrabbit offense has been the result of "a combined team effort," Crawford said, elaborating: "The receivers are catching everything, the O-line is blocking and making holes, and [Kyle] Minnet and [Tyler] Duffy are really running great."
Perhaps more impressive than the Jackrabbits' offensive output is the defense, which is allowing three points a game.
"We're a mature football team," Batten said. "We're more experienced now than we've ever been on defense."
And that's something ISU tailback Clifton Gordon said the Redbirds recognize and are looking to solve.
"We have to try and just keep them off balance," he said, adding: "This game is huge for us. We don't want to pay attention to rankings."
Big Game in the Big Sky
Another pair of ranked conference opponents meet Saturday as No. 24 Northern Arizona welcomes No. 3 Montana to the J. Walkup Skydome. Montana has dominated the Big Sky for two decades, oftentimes using the conference schedule as its warm-up for a playoff run. Dating back to 1993, the Grizzlies have won at least a share of 15 conference championships. The only interruptions in that streak came in 1997 when Eastern Washington won it, and in 1994 when a little program called Boise State claimed the Big Sky.
The Lumberjacks on the other hand have one split Big Sky crown in that time, a three-way tie in 2003. Saturday's contest is a major hurdle for NAU's aspirations, but would a win would put the Lumberjacks in the Big Sky driver's seat early. NAU will go as quarterback Michael Herrick takes them -- he is averaging over 230 yards passing per game after contests vs. Arizona and Southern Utah.
The road gets no easier for perennial powerhouse Delaware. The Blue Hens have already faced defending national champion Richmond, suffering a one-point loss in that one before taking on in-state opponent and fellow contender Delaware State.
Now, Delaware takes on a William & Mary team ranked in the top five and boasting national accolades. The Tribe made headlines with an impressive defeat of Virginia in Week 1. The Blue Hens are already 0-1 in the treacherous Colonial Athletic Association, and while the loss to Richmond came by the thinnest of margins, standings don't equate point differentials.
A win on the road would be a statement for a Delaware bunch that fell out of the rankings, but more importantly would keep the team out of an 0-2 hole.
Another Notch in the FCS Belt?
FCS programs have made their mark in this young campaign with signature wins over Bowl Subdivision opponents. McNeese State could join Richmond and William & Mary with such distinction when the Cowboys face neighbor Tulane. McNeese State is coming off a 40-36 defeat of powerhouse Appalachian State and 56-0 blanking of Savannah State.
The team brings from Lake Charles, La. to New Orleans its potent offense, led by the backfield duo of quarterback Zack Fourroux and tailback Todd Pendland. The Cowboy offense is registering 41 points an outing through three appearances.