Bison return to site of streak breaker against familiar QB – InForum

FARGO — Nine regular season games down, two Missouri Valley Football Conference games to go for North Dakota State. The stakes keep getting higher.

That’s expected to be the case Saturday at Southern Illinois on a couple of fronts: NDSU will be gunning for one of the top eight seeds and a first-round bye in the Division I FCS playoffs. And the Bison will have to do it against a team that is playing for its playoff life. SIU is 5-4 overall and in need of beating NDSU and Youngstown to close the regular season. It does have an FBS win in beating Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference.

The Salukis will be the second team this season NDSU is playing after a bye week following Youngstown State in early October.

“I anticipate there will be some things that will either be new or they haven’t run very often this year that we’re going to have to be prepared for,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz. “Or make some adjustments on the sideline. You turn them on film and you can immediately tell they have some good athletes.”

One of them is quarterback Nic Baker, who leads the Missouri Valley in completions with 206. At 5-foot-9 and 204 pounds, SIU head coach Nick Hill called Baker “unconventional,” a look that has been tough on opposing defenses.

NDSU can relate. Baker was 17 of 23 passing for 254 yards in the spring 2021 season, a 38-14 SIU win that ended a 39-game Bison winning streak, the longest in FCS history and third-longest in Division I history.

Baker was 23 of 32 in the FCS quarterfinal game last season at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, but he wasn’t nearly as effective in the 38-7 NDSU victory.

“As much moxie as any quarterback in the league right now or any of the quarterbacks that we’ve played,” Entz said. “He throws it from about every different arm slot possible. He takes very few negative plays, finds open receivers so it will be a challenge.”

What makes Baker dangerous is his ability to escape pressure, and still find an open receiver. He burned NDSU on a few occasions in the streak-breaking game doing that. Which, speaking of, it will be NDSU’s first trip to Carbondale, Ill., since that game.

“I’m sure plenty of them will bring it up or at least internally think about it,” Entz said of his players. “I don’t think I need to.”

NDSU improved to 7-2 overall with a 56-17 win at Western Illinois last weekend. The Bison have SIU and the University of North Dakota left in the regular season, with both of those teams vying for playoff berths.

“This is the biggest one of the year for us right now because it’s the next one,” Entz said. “It would be disrespectful to Nick and his team because we haven’t started to think about things beyond Saturday.”

The Bison unleashed senior running back TaMerik Williams against Western Illinois with 12 carries that he took for 120 yards and two touchdowns, only the second time this season Williams has been in double digits in carries. He was named the Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career.

The Bison had 10 players with at least one carry and rushed for a season-high 453 yards in cool, windy conditions. The Southern Illinois game may not be much better with a forecasted high of 43 degrees and winds 10-20 mph.

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