After a pair of contrasting wins against Division II foes Angelo State and Arkansas-Monticello, respectively, the No. 16-ranked Bearkats hit the road this Saturday against their first real test of the season in the North Dakota State Bison.
“They’re a very good football team,” SHSU head coach Todd Whitten said. “They’re well coached. They’re physical. When you play these big, physical teams, you have to line up soundly, you have to do the fundamental things well and you have to tackle well. I think they’re the best FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) team we’ve played since I’ve been here.”
In North Dakota State’s season opener against Stephen F. Austin, the Bison racked up 571 yards of total offense with junior running back Tyler Roehl rushing for 238 of those yards.
“The type of offense that they have is just straight downhill running at you. They play powerful ball,” senior defensive back Byran Richmond said.
“We’re looking at having a physical game. We’re just going to have to play hard, take care of our assignments and get a lot of orange hats on the ball. It’s going to come down to who plays the hardest.”
In order to pull off upset, the Bearkat defense will need to shut down Roehl and force the Bison, who threw four interceptions against SFA.
In the previous two games, the Bearkat defense has shown promise, limiting yardage by opposing offenses, but also has been vulnerable at times.
In the first half against Arkansas-Monticello, the Bearkats allowed 268 yards and 10 points before shutting out the Boll Weevils in the second half and holding them to 100 yards.
The Bearkats are looking to play 60 minutes of the type of defense that has stifled opponents.
“We just have to keep working hard and having good practices. We keep stressing the things that are required to win,” Whitten said.
“Putting a complete game together, that’s something we have not been able to do. We still have a lot of work to do. These early-season games are meant to help us so by the time conference games come, we’re playing pretty solidly in three phases of the game.”
“We just have to keep chipping away and we’ll have it all together.”
This game presents some playoff implications for Sam Houston State. If the Bearkats fail to win the Southland Conference championship, a win over a quality top opponent could help the Kats earn an at-large spot in the 16-team FCS playoffs. “Well, each game is critical,” Whitten said.
“Honestly, we just think one week at a time. We’ll count them up at the end of the season.”
When the Bearkats take on the Bison, they will do so in front of a raucous crowd inside of the Fargodome.
“What will make it difficult is the hostile environment you have to play in,” Whitten said.
“It’s indoors. It’s loud as anything. It disrupts our game plan. It’s a unique situation.”
This Saturday, the Bearkats look to make their mark in their last FCS matchup before getting into the conference portion of their schedule.
While junior quarterback Rhett Bomar and sophomore running back Chris Poullard have given solid performances, this FCS Top 25 showdown will show exactly how far the Kats have progressed and how much further the need to go.