WIU Leathernecks face No. 2 North Dakota State on the road

WIU Leathernecks face No. 2 North Dakota State on the road

The beginning of Western Illinois’ season has been a repeat performance of a year ago. This time around, though, the Leathernecks want a different ending.

After outlasting Missouri State 49-30 last weekend, the Leathernecks have started their season 5-1 for the second consecutive year. WIU, however, stumbled down the stretch in 2016 and missed the FCS playoffs with a 6-5 record.

Taking a closer look at this season, there is some reason for concern. Western has gotten off to slow starts yet shown the ability to rally. In most cases, those comebacks have translated into victories.

“We didn’t get off to a good start against South Dakota (in the only loss of the year). We kind of lagged after the big Coastal Carolina win,”receiver Jaelon Acklin told HERO Sports. 

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Acklin’s goal is to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship, a difficult task in the toughest FCS league in the country.

We haven’t done that here in awhile,” Acklin said. “But we’re still in a good spot. We just have to have things go our way. And then we really want to make the playoffs and make a run there.”

While most experts see the Leathernecks doing just that, the road continues with a trip to perennial conference king and national championship contender North Dakota State.

With quality wins over Northern Arizona, Coastal Carolina and Northern Iowa contributing to a 4-0 road record, the Leathernecks are primed to play well inside the Fargodome. The unbeaten Bison want to keep winning to remain at home throughout the FCS playoffs,” national writer Craig Haley wrote earlier this week.

The game

Western Illinois (5-1, 2-1 MVFC) at North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the FargoDome in Fargo, N.D.

The rankings

Western Illinois ranks 10th in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll and 12th in the FCS Coaches poll. North Dakota State is ranked second in both polls.

Three key matchups

  1. WIU running game vs. NDSU defense:  If Western is going to knock off the Bison, the Leathernecks need to run the ball effectively to open up the passing game even more. That means the combination of Steve McShane and Max Norris will get their carries (along with an occasional receiver reverse or QB draw).
  2. Explosive plays:  Big plays have sparked the Leathernecks all season long. There’s no bigger WIU playmaker than receiver Jaelon Acklin, who has 46 catches for 828 yards and eight touchdowns. The senior also has 10 rushes for 195 yards and three touchdowns.
  3. Dealing with the Dome:  Over the years numerous opponents have wilted playing against NDSU at the FargoDome. It’s not just the home atmosphere, it’s also because the North Dakota State is talented. The Bison are the only defense in the FCS still allowing less than 200 yards per game, and the Bison are second in yards allowed per play (3.64) behind top-ranked James Madison (3.43). NDSU also ranks first in scoring defense with 9.2 points allowed per game.

The power of gold

North Dakota State will wear its alternate gold jersey and green Harvest Helmet against WIU. The Bison are 24-0 in the gold jersey since the 2011 season opener including last year’s FCS playoff win over South Dakota State. NDSU is 7-0 in the green helmet since its November 2015 debut including this year’s win at Eastern Washington.

Historical stat

Western started 6-1 six times in a nine-year span from 1997-2003.

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