FARGO, N.D. — It’s a classic case of what has been an unstoppable force against an immovable object.
The challenge for Wofford’s triple-option offense in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals is to run up against a defense that has been a human version of a brick wall.
North Dakota State (11-1) leads the country in fewest rushing yards allowed, only 63.2 per game and 2.3 per carry. Wofford (9-3), meanwhile, ranks second nationally with 357 yards per game.
Those two sides will clash at 2 p.m. Central today in Fargo, with the winner advancing to the semifinals next week. The defending FCS champion Bison are top-ranked and seeded No. 1 overall in the playoffs.
“They do a great job of stopping the run,” said Wofford running back Eric Breitenstein, who has rushed for 1,900 yards this season and is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award given to the best offensive player in FCS. “We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
NDSU has allowed more than 90 yards in a game only twice this season – 127 by Missouri State and 111 by Illinois State. Four times the Bison have held their opponent to fewer than 50 yards.
Southern Illinois had 11 yards on 17 rushes. South Dakota had 17 yards on 27 carries and then improved to 21 yards on 23 attempts in the rematch. South Dakota State had 21 yards on 23 attempts. Even Colorado State of the Football Bowl Subdivision Mountain West Conference struggled to run the ball against NDSU, managing only 72 yards on 24 tries in a 22-7 loss.
“They are pretty stout on defense,” Wofford wide receiver Jeff Ashley said. “They are very impressive. That’s the main reason they are where they are.”
But what about facing a triple-option team? The Terriers usually believe they have an advantage in the playoffs because most teams haven’t faced that sort of offense. Last week, Wofford ran for 454 yards against New Hampshire. In the previous playoff game, last year against Northern Iowa, the Terriers ran for 457.
NDSU doesn’t see the option much, either, but shut it down in a 35-7 win against Georgia Southern in the FCS semifinals. The Eagles ran for 186 yards, but that was about half their average.
“We’ve seen them against Georgia Southern and they stopped Georgia Southern,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “They did a great job. We’ve very similar, but we have a few small differences and, hopefully, we learned from watching that.”
New Hampshire had an open date prior to playing Wofford and still allowed Breitenstein to rush for 237 yards and three touchdowns. And he didn’t play much in the second half.
“Thank God we had two weeks (to prepare),” Wildcats head coach Sean McDonnell said afterward. “If we had only three days, (Breitenstein) might have had a little bit more.”
Ayers said he believes that NDSU, even with only a week to get ready, will be a much stiffer test for the Terriers.
“North Dakota State is going to have a plan,” Ayers said. “They are very well-coached and have some great players. The first thing we have to do is get a first down. Then we take it from there. We just need to stay on schedule. If we can just get 31/2 yards every time, we move the sticks.”