Third-ranked South Dakota State travels to Fargo on Saturday to meet up with No. 1 North Dakota State in the 15th annual Dakota Marker game.
The Jackrabbits (2-0) have had possession of the Dakota Marker — a 75-pound replica of quartzite pillars that were once used on the border to separate North Dakota and South Dakota and given to the winner of the annual matchup between the Dakota land-grant institutions — for two consecutive years.
“It’s a great rivalry. I won’t have to say anything to get the guys going,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said.
SDSU beat NDSU 19-17 in Fargo in 2016 to gain control of the Marker for the first time since 2009. When the two teams met in Brookings last November, the Jackrabbits handled the eventual national champion Bison 33-21.
“The rivalry means a lot to this school and this program,” Jackrabbits senior quarterback Taryn Christion said. “To keep that Dakota Marker in the Dykhouse (Student Athlete Center) means a lot, and we’re aiming to keep it here.”
Christion has been a key player behind SDSU’s offensive success in the last two Dakota Marker matchups, but he insists the big numbers he has put up against the Bison in the past are just coincidence.
“It’s just another week,” Christion said. “I don’t approach it differently. I just (have happened to have had) good games when we play (NDSU).”
In his two career regular season victories against the vaunted Bison defense, Christion has thrown for 632 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He added 166 yards and one touchdown on the ground while taking three sacks.
Suffice it to say, North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman is aware of what the SDSU offense can do with the football.
“We have to do a really good job of not giving (Christion) an easy pre-snap picture,” Klieman said in his weekly press conference. “Because if you do, he’s a really talented guy that’s going to pick you apart.”
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For the Jackrabbits, getting Christion and the offense going early will be important in Saturday’s game.
“I think (moving the ball early) adds to the confidence of the football team,” said Stiegelmeier. “Two years ago, we got them going up and down the field and had to win on the last play of the game, so the bottom line is staying focused for 60 minutes.”
Last season’s loss to the Jackrabbits was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season for the 2017 Bison squad that won the FCS National Championship for the sixth time in seven years. A punishing rushing attack and top-notch defense have been key elements to North Dakota State’s success during the program’s historic run that has brought them six national titles in seven years.
The Jackrabbit defense’s success against the NDSU ground game will be a key factor to any success they hope to have to win Saturday’s matchup.
The Bison are averaging 41.7 points a game and 296.7 yards rushing through the first three contests.
The NDSU offensive attack is led by senior quarterback Easton Stick and senior running back Bruce Anderson. Stick is third all-time in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in rushing yards by a quarterback, but is capable of making plays in the passing game as well. He led the conference in pass efficiency rating (169.5) last season.
Anderson led all Bison rushers with 1,216 yards a season ago.
“(The Bison) are predictable in the concept that they want to run the football,” Stiegelmeier said. “They are going to throw the play-action pass and spread us out and throw the ball, but if they have their way, and you can see it when they’re winning, they are going to run the football.”
Since winning their first of its six titles in 2011, North Dakota State has gone 61-5 in the Fargodome.
“North Dakota State creates the best environment for the home team that there is in terms of difficulty and intensity, so we’re looking forward to it,” Stiegelmeier said. “How often does No. 1 get to play No. 3 during a season? Here it comes in the first week of the conference season.”