Montana State vs. North Dakota State: 10 numbers to know before the FCS championship game
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By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - Some of the teams that have faced North Dakota State in FCS championship games haven't quite grasped what they were in for come early January in Frisco, Texas.
Make no mistake, Montana State first-year coach Brent Vigen knows all about how the Bison stand alone in FCS college football, having been a player in Fargo and then holding a big role at the start of their dynasty, serving as offensive coordinator on the first three (2011-13) of their record eight title teams.
He even has Montana State (12-2) playing and winning like NDSU (13-1) as they head into a championship game showdown on Jan. 8. Both teams are among the best in the FCS in running the ball, and they've been the best at limiting opponent scoring.
Here are 10 numbers to know heading into their championship game matchup:
Incredibly, NDSU's dynasty program has not spent any weeks ranked No. 1 in the two national polls this season, and it's the same number of times All-America wide receiver/kickoff returner Christian Watson has played this postseason due to injury, although he warmed up before Friday night's national semifinal against James Madison.
NDSU ranks second in the FCS in rushing yards per game (281.3), with six players above 350 yards, led by TaMerik Williams with 696. Montana State hopes to get back Isaiah Ifanse (1,539 yards) from injury as the rushing leader of an attack that averages 225.5 rushing ypg, or No. 7 nationally.
NDSU will become the first program to play in the FCS championship game nine times - all in the last 11 seasons. Add in Montana State's 1984 national title and the two finalists are a combined 9-for-9 in the championship game.
Making his first three career starts during Montana State's playoff run, freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott has been a revelation, producing 11 touchdowns (six rushing, four passing and one receiving).
The finalists rank 1 and 2 in the FCS in scoring defense. NDSU opponents are averaging 11.2 points per game, and it's the lowest of the Bison's Division I era (since 2004). Eight of the 14 opponents have been held below that average, including two in the playoffs. Montana State ranks second in the FCS in allowing 13.4 ppg. Only two opponents have scored at least 20 points.
Montana State is tied for the second-best turnover margin in the FCS at +15. Included is the second-lowest interception rate (under 1 percent with just three in 306 attempts, and none thrown by Mellott).
No team is more dangerous than NDSU when having extra game preparation. Since 2006, the Bison have won 36 straight games following open weeks in the regular season and postseason (20 home games, eight road games and eight championship games in Frisco).
NDSU's defense has set a program record with 49 sacks, led by defensive ends Brayden Thomas (nine) and Eli Mostaert (7.5). Montana State isn't far behind with 42, led by D-ends Daniel Hardy (16) and Amandre Williams (8.5).
Sure, different years and teams, but NDSU has defeated Montana State in each of their last three playoff matchups since 2010 by a combined 136-41, a 95-point spread that includes the Bobcats' most recent season (42-14 in a 2019 semifinal against coach Matt Entz's Bison).
Since the beginning of their first FCS championship season in 2011, the Bison are 129-1 when they gain 162 or more rushing yards. They're 19-11 when below that mark.
Updated December 18, 2021