Mar. 19—In the 112 all-time meetings between UND and North Dakota State, the teams have met just twice in the Division I era.
The Bison have outscored UND 72-16 in those two victories, with UND generating 61 yards of total offense in 2015 and 230 yards of total offense in 2019.
When No. 2 UND and No. 4 NDSU meet Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, Bison coach Matt Entz is expecting to face a different test than those two previous meetings.
The Fighting Hawks are off to a perfect 4-0 start, sitting in the driver's seat of the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings. The Bison, meanwhile, suffered a head-turning 38-17 defeat in February at Southern Illinois — a team UND beat handily 44-21 in the season opener.
"Right now, on paper, they're better than we are," Entz said. "In their two-deep, they have 14 seniors. Everyone loves to have that veteran leadership. There's continuity in the program. Coach (Danny) Freund has done a really good job in his second year. I'm sure there's a level of consistency and comfort they have in his system. I'm sure they're playing really confident because they've beat some good football teams."
The UND-NDSU matchups in 2015 and 2019 featured elite Bison quarterbacks in first-round NFL Draft choice Carson Wentz in 2015 and projected first-round selection Trey Lance in 2019.
The 2021 matchup has uncertainty at quarterback for the Bison. Lance is sitting out the spring season as he prepares for the NFL draft. His initial replacement, Zeb Noland, has struggled during NDSU's 3-1 spring start. Entz wouldn't say whether he'll start Noland or freshman backup Cam Miller against the Fighting Hawks.
It could be a matchup of freshman quarterbacks as UND will start redshirt freshman Tommy Schuster, the reigning Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Schuster is coming off his first career 300-yard passing game.
"They protect him," Entz said of Schuster, who has only been sacked once in four games. "You watch film and there's very little drop-back pass. It's a moving pocket with nakeds, screen game, three-step drops. They're trying to get the ball out of his hands. There's nothing wrong with second-and-5. Coach (Bubba) Schweigert does a nice job making sure they know it's not bad to punt.
"They're really good. I think that high ranking — I know some people have them first in the country — they've probably earned it. They have improved play up front on the offensive line. Otis (Weah) is back and is a tremendous downhill runner and can make you miss. They have a solid wide receiver corps and tight ends. The defense isn't very big but coach (Brett) Holinka does enough things to always try to change your picture on your quarterback late pre-snap."
North Dakota State is on a school-record 31-game home winning streak. The Bison last loss at home came to James Madison in the 2016 FCS semifinals.
While UND is in the Top 5 for the first time in program history, the Bison have been ranked in the Top 5 since Nov. 9, 2015. NDSU has not been outside the FCS Top 10 since opening the 2011 season ranked No. 11.
"We really haven't done anything yet," Schweigert said. "They're the program that has won the championships. We're just four games into a season, and we're looking to keep winning games and earning No. 5. We don't really talk about the rankings and try to eliminate the outside noise. You have to really focus on what's important and that's your preparation."
UND and NDSU will meet as conference opponents for the first time since being members of the North Central Conference in NCAA Division II in 2003. When the teams stopped playing in 2003, UND had won 10 of the last 13 meetings.
"I think it's a big game," Schweigert said. "This is the reason we wanted to be in the Missouri Valley Football Conference — to play our rival school for a conference game is just different than when we played non-conference. We want to go down and play our best, and we know it's a difficult challenge.
"This is fun. This is what you want. If you're a competitor, you have to have fun with this. I hope our players have fun preparing for it."
No. 2 UND vs. No. 4 North Dakota State
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, Fargo.
TV: Midco Sports Network (Alex Heinert on play-by-play, Ryan Kasowski analyst).
Radio: 96.1 FM (Jack Michaels on play-by-play, Tom Dosch analyst)
Streaming: The game will available on ESPN-Plus.
Betting line: North Dakota State -3.5, over-under at 36.5, per Bovada.
Injuries: Through four games, UND's starting 22 has remained almost unchanged from week to week, with the only variation coming based on matchups and not on injuries. The injury with the most intrigue took place before the season started when wide receiver/quarterback Brock Boltmann suffered a lower-body injury. Boltmann has yet to play this season for the Hawks. He traveled last weekend to Western Illinois, where he worked out in cleats on the field with trainers before the game with the Leathernecks, but he didn't dress for the UND victory. Boltmann remains doubtful for this weekend against the Bison. UND senior tight end Derek Paulson, who has six catches for 53 yards this season, was hurt at WIU and didn't play in the second half. He remains listed as the starter in UND's weekly depth chart, although many teams don't reflect new injuries in the public 2-deep. UND outside linebacker Ted Mullin was penalized and ejected for targeting in the second half of UND's win in Macomb. Due to the NCAA's targeting rules, Mullin will need to sit out the first half against the Bison. Mullin hasn't been in UND's 2-deep all season. He's played in four games and has three tackles.
The Fighting Hawks will win if: the game isn't too big for a roster short on big-game experience. UND's run game continues to thrive with the tandem of Luke Skokna and Otis Weah, with the Moorhead product Weah having a little extra near his home turf. With only one sack all season, the Fighting Hawks keep freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster upright against a tough Bison defensive front. UND's defense pressures either a flustered and frustrated Bison quarterback Zeb Noland or overwhelms a raw and inexperienced Cam Miller. With limited attendance due to the pandemic, UND isn't rattled by the Fargodome aura and the 31-game home winning streak.
The Bison will win if: Cam Miller has his coming-out party on Saturday in the Fargodome. After weeks of a stagnant offense under assumed starter Zeb Noland, Miller is injected into the lineup and provides a spark and a new belief. Miller's running style adds an extra dimension the UND defense can't account for. The Bison defense plugs the run game for Otis Weah and Luke Skokna, preventing UND from an effective play-action pass option. UND redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster gets out of his comfort zone as he's forced to play from behind, a situation he's never encountered in his first five games of action.