FARGO, N.D. —
Since it became a Football Championship Subdivision team in 1983, Indiana State has not beaten the No. 1 FCS team in the nation.
The Sycamores have had seven tries, and in each case, the top dog came away unscathed. In fact, ISU is 0-19 all-time against the FCS top 5.
But ISU feels it’s starting to get the hang of what it takes to go to the top of the mountain and emerge victorious, even if it hasn’t yet proven it.
The Sycamores hope to change that at 4 p.m. today when they face defending FCS national champion and No. 1-ranked North Dakota State in the raucous Fargodome.
“You don’t get many shots at No. 1 in your life. We get two shots in two years. It’s time for us to play and relax. There’s no pressure on us,” ISU coach Trent Miles said.
Miles feels the Sycamores are squaring the circle when it comes to competing with the elite of FCS and the Missouri Valley Football Conference. He had high praise for ISU’s practice regimen this week, which is where he believes the seed must be planted to beat the Bison.
“It was probably one of our better weeks of practice … ever,” Miles said.
“They were honed in… When you play a big game, there’s always that something extra, but I think we’re learning what it takes. I think we’re finally getting to the understanding that it’s not just about being excited to play, but you have to be excited to execute the right way,” Miles said.
Last November, ISU stayed with the Bison into the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium. NDSU led 17-10 entering the final period, but the Bison scored a pair of touchdowns in the final period to put the game out of reach.
“We can’t lose ourselves in the moment,” ISU running back Shakir Bell said. “We have to go out and face the team we’re playing against… I think we learned that after last year and after the IU game this year,” ISU running back Shakir Bell said.
The Sycamores (4-2, 2-1) have seen the way the Bison (5-0, 2-0) go about their gameplan and want to emulate it.
“They’re a great team because they execute, it’s not like they have one amazing guy, they’re all good, they’re really well-coached and don’t make any mistakes,” Bell said.
What makes NDSU so good? What doesn’t?
There are only two categories in which NDSU doesn’t rank in the top 50 in the nation in the NCAA’s primary FCS team statistics — net punting and kickoff returns.
The Bison are No. 1 in FCS in total defense (205.40 yards per game) and scoring defense (8.4 points per game). They rank second in turnover margin, third in pass defense, fourth in scoring offense (44.2 per game) and rushing defense and fifth in passing efficiency.
NDSU is also top-ranked in third down conversions (59.15 percent), so they get the ball and keep it.
NDSU’s top-ranked scoring defense is one of the few that rate better than ISU’s unit. The Sycamores are third in FCS in scoring defense as they have given up just 13 points per game.
“Two good defenses are going to go at it, said ISU linebacker Jacolby Washington. “In my opinion, it’s about which defense will last the longest? We have to get ready for it. It’ll be a heavyweight fight.”
Testing ISU’s defense will be NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen, who has yet to throw an interception in 121 attempts. Running back John Crockett has rushed for 122 and 103 yards in the Bison’s pair of MVFC contests.
ISU is healthy entering the contest. No starters are expected to miss the game. With two victories to fall back on, the Sycamores have a measured confidence that they can prevent losing their eighth game to a top-ranked FCS team.
“Statistically, they’re the best team,” said Bell. “Everyone says they’re No. 1. They execute everything soundly, they’re a great football team, but all we have to do is play Sycamore football and there’s nothing we can’t do.”