NDSU looks to pull off another FCS upset at Iowa
North Dakota State has won 11 consecutive games overall and five in a row against FBS opponents since 2010, though those streaks figure to be in jeopardy against a Big Ten squad that Bison coach Chris Klieman says might be the best they've ever faced.
Following back-to-back overtime home victories, North Dakota State - the No. 1 team in the STATS FCS Top 25 - will try to become the eighth FCS school to beat an FBS opponent this season when it visits Iowa - the 13th-ranked Bowl Subdivision team - on Saturday.
Klieman, who grew up a Hawkeyes fan in Waterloo, Iowa, believes the Hawkeyes' imposing size and overall physicality will be the biggest challenges for NDSU (2-0). Led by LeShun Daniels (195 yards, 3 TDs) and Akrum Wadley (170 yards, 3 TDs), Iowa has rushed for 410 yards over its two games and ranks 10th nationally with 6.3 yards per run.
''If we can control tempo the entire game and keep their offense off the field, have long drives, fatigue their defense and get points on the board, it only helps the team as a whole because it keeps our defense fresh and allows them to get stops and allows us to get back on the field,'' Daniels said.
The Bison can't let that happen after allowing 275 rushing yards in their first two games. They also let Eastern Washington's Gage Gubrud throw for 450 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 50-44 win.
C.J. Beathard has thrown for 427 yards with four scores and no picks for Iowa, which has racked up 87 points and 715 total yards. The Hawkeyes rolled past Iowa State by 39 points last weekend - the biggest win over their rivals in coach Kirk Ferentz's 18 seasons.
"Beathard's an exceptional player. These guys up front are a lot better than Eastern Washington or Charleston Southern ... this is a Big Ten offensive line," Klieman said.
"They're not going to beat themselves, so that being said, we have to eliminate the mistakes we've made to give ourselves a chance."
Klieman would like his squad to cut down on its penalties - particularly offensively - and he's also hoping Easton Stick can continue to make strides. The sophomore made several key plays against the Eagles, completing 17 of 26 passes for 257 yards with two scores. He's also run for 105 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the two games.
Lance Dunn leads NDSU's rushing attack with 179 yards on nearly seven yards per carry. Fellow sophomore Darrius Shepherd has been the top target in the passing game with eight catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
They'll face an Iowa defense that showed improvement last week, holding the Cyclones to 291 yards and forcing Iowa State's two quarterbacks to complete just 14 of 35 passes for 165 yards and one interception.
"When we talk about North Dakota State, they take a backseat to no one," Ferentz said. "They're accustomed to winning. They know what it takes and they've got good players who are well coached.
"I'll go out on a limb and predict this will be a really strong team, a really tough opponent for us."
NDSU has gone 8-3 with a five-game winning streak against FBS programs, though that run has come against Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado State, Kansas State and Iowa State - hardly national powerhouses. The Hawkeyes are seeking their 15th straight regular-season win and 10th in a row at home, which is a streak that started with a 31-14 victory over Illinois State last September.
"It'll be a daunting task," said Klieman, who began coaching at NDSU in 2011 and is 30-3 in his three seasons as head coach. "We'll have to come up with great game plans and our kids have to play exceptional football for us to have an opportunity to be successful. Make no mistake, since I've been here this is the most complete team that the Bison will face."