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J.P. McBride | The Huntsville Item | December 14, 2017

SHSU's run defense needs to bottle up Bison in FCS semis

  The Bearkats have allowed 180.2 rushing yards per game this year.

It would be an understatement to say the Bearkats' last three postseason exits have been ugly.

Sam Houston State football has been plagued by different issues in the losses, but the crux of each has been the same: the Bearkats have been gashed on the ground.

Sam Houston has allowed a combined 935 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry and 16 rushing touchdowns in losses to North Dakota State (2014), Jacksonville State (2015) and James Madison (2016).

The sixth-seeded Bearkats get a chance at some redemption on Friday though.

Sam Houston State is tasked with slowing down second-seeded North Dakota State's fifth-ranked rushing attack (267.5 yards per game) in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, with kickoff scheduled for Friday at 8 p.m. ET inside the Fargodome. The contest will be televised on ESPN2.

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Bearkats senior defensive tackle P.J. Hall — one of the few SHSU players who played in the 2014 loss to the Bison — believes the Kats are better equipped to handle North Dakota State's power-run game this time around.

"I feel like we've been more physical upfront and we have more depth on our defense than we did my freshman year here," Hall said Tuesday. "We'll be able to rotate (more players) in Friday. I think that will help us a lot."

On paper, it seems like North Dakota State's rushing attack has a big advantage over the Bearkat defense, which ranks 94th in run defense (180.2 yards allowed per game).

Sam Houston is excited to prove past critics of the Bearkats wrong.

"Someday, my hope is that this program wins a national championship and I'm hoping that's going to be this year. To do that, you need to go through North Dakota State," Sam Houston head coach K.C. Keeler said. "You just have to. It's only the right way to do it. They're the standard. That's who we're trying to become."

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Even though the Bison lost their top running back, Lance Dunn, to injury seven games into the season, North Dakota State's offense kept on chugging thanks to running backs Bruce Anderson and Ty Brooks. The pair has combined for 1,608 rushing yards and 15 rushing scores.

The Bearkats will also have to worry about North Dakota State freshman running back Seth Wilson, whose role in the Bison offense has increased during the playoffs.

Wilson led the Bison in rushing during their quarterfinals win over seventh-seeded Wofford last weekend with 74 yards on 15 carries.

"It seems like they can plug running backs in and those guys just become stars," Keeler said.

Add North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick — who averages 6.3 yards per carry and has the second-most rushing touchdowns (11) on the team behind Dunn — into the mix and the Bison have a lot of different options to throw at the Bearkats.

Keeler said defending against Kennesaw State's triple-option offense, which used eight different rushers against the Kats last week, was good preparation for what his defense will face Friday night.

"I think last week helped us a lot, even though it was the triple option and you have to put a totally different defense in to defend the triple option," Keeler said. "Especially with the one week of preparation, it was all about being disciplined and putting your eyes in the right place. It was also a very physical ball game. I think (that experience) bodes well for us going up against North Dakota State."

This article is written by J.P. McBride from The Huntsville Item, Texas and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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