- North Dakota State are 3.5-point road favorites in Sunday’s FCS quarterfinal matchup with Sam Houston State (ESPN, 3 p.m. EST)
- The Bison are 37-2 all-time in the FCS playoffs and scored 35 unanswered points in last weekend’s first round win against Eastern Washington.
- Read below for a breakdown on the matchup, odds and a pick on the game
Eastern Washington brought the top offense in FCS football to North Dakota State last weekend, but it was the Bison that ran up the score.
NDSU took full advantage of the Eagles’ weakened run defense and gashed them en route to a stunning 42-20 first round playoff victory. Dominic Gonnella and Jalen Bussey combined for 306 rushing yards and two touchdowns. North Dakota State returns to action as a 3.5-point road favorite at Sam Houston State on Sunday, who have the third-best rush defense in the nation.
North Dakota State vs Sam Houston State Odds
|Team||Spread at DraftKings||Moneyline||Total|
|North Dakota State||-3.5 (-104)||-143||O 47.5 (-104)|
|Sam Houston State||+3.5 (-118)||+118||U 47.5 (-118)|
Odds as of April 29th
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Can the Bison Unleash Another Stampede?
Before last weekend, fullback Hunter Luepke was the leading rusher for North Dakota State. After the win, Gonnella took over that mantle and Bussey moved to within six yards of Luepke. Bussey has averaged 9.8 yards per carry across all games this spring and averaged 11 yards per carry in the win over Eastern.
— Bison Report (@BisonReport) April 25, 2021
The explosion from the ground attack came at a great time for North Dakota State, who started true freshman Cam Miller for the first time all season. Miller didn’t face much pressure, wasn’t sacked once, and only threw 11 passes all game. The threat of Miller’s mobility played into the decision to start him over senior Zeb Noland, but he didn’t need to do much running either. He still got off five rushes for 30 yards and a touchdown to add to his pair of scoring passes.
Play action was a big part of the Bison’s offensive success against Eastern, but repeating that is going to come down to how effective Gonnella, Bussey and Luepke can be out of the backfield again.
Last weekend, Monmouth threw for nearly 300 yards against Sam Houston, but NDSU hasn’t got that level of production from its quarterbacks all season. The Bearkats are likely going to continue to sell out against the Bison rushing attack, so Gonnella’s wiggle and Bussey’s elusiveness are paramount to NDSU staying productive on offense.
How Sam Houston Will Counter
Defensively, the Bearkats are a completely different animal up front than Eastern.
Senior defensive lineman Jahari Kay has the second-most tackles for loss on the team with eight this season, including 2.5 in last week’s win against Monmouth. Junior linebacker Trevor Williams is a smallish defender, but leads the team in total tackles and tackles for loss with nine.
NDSU is going to face a much tougher push up front against a Sam Houston side that only allowed 2.2 yards per carry against the Hawks last weekend.
Ramon Jefferson takes it to the house from 56 yards away to increase their lead!#EatemupKats
— Sam Houston Football (@BearkatsFB) April 24, 2021
The Bearkats have one of the best offenses in the country but play in a weak Southland Conference. Among 97 qualifying FCS teams, Sam Houston has the conference’s best defense at No. 52, nationally. Prior to Monmouth, the best defense that the Bearkats faced this spring was Nicholls, which finished as the 66th best unit this spring. Last week against the Hawks, Sam Houston ran just over half as many plays as their opponents and only finished with 257 yards of offense.
North Dakota State’s defense has allowed fewer than ten more yards per game than Monmouth’s for the year, and rallied to shut down Eastern after a rough start last weekend. The Bison had a miserable showing against South Dakota State’s rushing attack to close out their spring season two weeks ago, but have otherwise been reasonably reliable at slowing opposing ground games.
The Final Word
Sam Houston has been a nice story in its corner of the FCS landscape, but the level of competition the Bearkats have played this spring hasn’t prepared them for the type of game they face on Sunday. The Bison weathered an early scoring run by the top offense in in the country last weekend and ended up dominating Eastern in a 35-point swing to win.
The forecast for Sunday afternoon is predicted to be stormy, so Sam Houston’s passing attack could be hampered and the Bearkats won’t have the advantage of being acclimated to the heat. The weather could make the under an attractive option, but NDSU looks like it’s on track for another FCS championship run, and it would be stunning if Sam Houston was the team to derail the Bison.
The Pick: North Dakota State -3.5 (-104)
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