2019 FCS Playoffs Semi-Finals Matchup: Montana State at North Dakota State

FCS Semifinal Round Playoff Matchup: Montana State at North Dakota State
Where: Fargodome, Fargo, N.D.
When: Saturday, December 21st, 1:00PM CST
TV/Streaming: ESPN2/Watch ESPN

Courtesy of MSU Athletics

#5 Montana State Bobcats

Coach: Jeff Choate – 4th Year at Montana State – 4 Years Total as a Head Coach
Record at Montana State: 28-21
Overall Record: 28-21
Big Sky Championships: 0

Montana State is entering into new territory in getting to the semifinal round of the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1984. The Bobcats finished second behind Weber State and Sacramento State in the Big Sky standings this year.

While this is the furthest in the FCS playoffs the Bobcats have advanced since its lone national title at this level, MSU will be playing a somewhat familar foe in the playoffs. The Bobcats played North Dakota State last year in the second round of the postseason tournament and also played NDSU in 2010. MSU and NDSU also met in the semi-final round of the 1976 Division II playoffs. MSU is 1-2 in the postseason against the Bison but do hold a 21-14 record in the series that saw these two border state universities begin their play in 1914.

The Bobcats model is simiar to that of NDSU’s in that it likes to run the ball on offense and play a smothering style of defense. On the season, MSU is averaging 34.0 points per game and 435.7 yards per game But MSU has really picked up its offense down the regular season stretch and into the playoffs. Over the last three games, the Bobcats are averaging 39.6 points per game and 452.3 yards per game, which included games against playoff teams in Montana in the regular season finale and in the playoffs versus Albany and Austin Peay. They have rushed for 279 yards on the FCS’ 7th-ranked rush defense (APSU), and 382 vs. No. 13 (UM) in those games.

RB Isaiah Ifanse has been the key really over that stretch. He has rushed for 483 yards and six touchdowns in his four games since returning from an injury. His 196 rushing yards and 60-yard run vs. Austin Peay last week each set MSU post-season records.

In last year’s game, Montana State was able to drive the field on the game’s first drive but stalled for a field goal. After that, however, that would be one of the few highlights in the game as NDSU won the game 52-10 in Fargo. See below for highlights from that contest:

Courtesy of MSU Athletics

Key Player: QB Tucker Rovig took over the starting position eight games ago. The sophmore has put up some impressive numbers while he has been under center. In that time, he has thrown for 1,705 yards, 17 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. With the Bobcats liking to keep the ball on ground and running for the most yardage this year in program history (3,723 yards), that will likely be NDSU’s key focus on defense to stopping that part of the Bobcats’ offense. With that Rovig will be key to the attack to make the right passing reads when MSU needs to keep drives going and to also keep the Bison defense off-balanced.

Courtesy of NCAA

#1 North Dakota State Bison

Coach: Matt Entz – 1st Year at North Dakota State – 1 Year Total as a Head Coach
Record at North Dakota State: 14-0
Overall Record: 14-0
Missouri Valley Championships: 1

The beat goes on for the Bison after winning its 35th straight and FCS record breaking win last week to secure its ninth straight FCS semifinal appearance. While the game was not pretty from an offensive point of view in the 9-3 win against MVFC rival Ilinois State, the Bison defense was locked in the whole game to secure the quarterfinal victory.

The defense for the Bison have only allowed 11.6 points per game. The NDSU defense has really excelled against the passing game this season in ranking atop the statistical rankings against the pass but are in the middle of the pack in stopping the run. But the key for the Bison has been a bend but don’t break style where NDSU plays shutdown defenses when their opponents get into scoring ranges as can be seen in the points per game average.

The Bison offense as mentioned from the last game has been a little off. It was also not the score at will type that happened earlier in the season. While NDSU on the season is averaging 37.6 points per game and 472.7 yards per game, those numbers have reduced in the last three games. NDSU is averaging just 22.3 points per game and 363.0 yards per game.

NDSU has a 34-2 record in the FCS playoffs, including a 26-1 record in the Fargodome. This is North Dakota State’s 33rd postseason appearance since 1964. The Bison are 69-15 all-time in the postseason including a 64-14 record in the NCAA playoff format since 1973. The lone loss for the Bison in the FCS playoffs at home happened three years ago in the semifinal round against eventual national champion James Madison.

Courtesy of NDSU Athletics

Key Player: QB Trey Lance has been unreal in his redshirt freshman season. The STATS Jerry Rice Award (winner for the freshman of the year in the FCS) has set NDSU freshman records for passing yards (2,491) and passing touchdowns (25) and currently ranks third in rushing yards (870) and rushing touchdowns (11) by an NDSU freshman. His 25 passing touchdowns, 36 touchdownss responsible for, and 66.8 pass completion percentage are fourth in NDSU single-season history. He has also yet to throw an interception in his career. But his play in the playoffs thus far this year has not equalled his level in the regular season. He will need to up his game against the strong Bobcat defense that has been key in stopping the run this year so he will need to be able to use his arm in this game to win the game for the Bison.

Fearles Prediction: The two teams seem to be trending in opposite directions coming into this game. Montana State has seemed to find its groove on offense, while North Dakota State has tailed off on its offense. The two defenses have played solid all season, however, and that trend will likely continue. Having played in the Fargodome last year, the Bobcats will know what to expect in terms of crowd noise and can prepare knowing what it will be like this week. All the trends tend to go towards a Montana State upset but I don’t think we have seen the best play yet in the playoffs by the Bison. NDSU will unleash more unpredictable offense in this game and with the home crowd, they will win this game but it will be much closer than last year’s playoff win by the Bison. NDSU 30 MSU 21