Are JMU and North Dakota State on a Collision Course for Frisco?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU and North Dakota State have met twice in the past three seasons.

In 2016, the Dukes beat the Bison 27-17 in Fargo to end NDSU’s national championship streak. The game thrilled fans on both sides, with the Dukes throwing the first punch by jumping out to a 17-0 lead. As the Bison tend to do when they’re rarely challenged, they responded.

NDSU tied the game at 17 thanks to stifling defense and a methodical and efficient offense. Then, JMU bounced back. The Dukes switched momentum with a clutch field goal from Tyler Gray, and Bryan Schor’s touchdown strike put the Bison away. JMU won 27-17.

In January of 2018, No. 1 JMU and No. 2 NDSU met in the national title game in Frisco, Texas. This time, it was the Bison who drew first blood.

The Bison defense clamped down on JMU’s offense, helping them jump out to a 17-3 lead. The Dukes nearly added a touchdown but had to settle for a field goal before the half and entered the locker room down 17-6.

This NDSU team spent the season at No. 2 and wasn’t quite as explosive as some of its previous teams, but man, the Bison rarely made mistakes. They avoided mistakes, played physical football on both sides and held onto their lead throughout the second half.

Despite not scoring a second-half point, NDSU’s stellar defense and fantastic first half proved to be the difference. Bryan Schor’s fourth-down pass with under a minute remaining fell harmlessly to the turf, and the Bison won 17-13.

JMU felt like it could’ve, and maybe should’ve won the game, but that’s what makes NDSU great. The Bison just win games, in this case a national championship, even if they don’t play flawless football and allow other teams chances to win. The NDSU program is filled with winners, and that showed in the 2017-18 season.

After those two fantastic matchups that saw both games decided by 10 points or fewer, fans on both sides remained in contact. Whether it’s through heated social media debates or frequent updates on the opposing team from local media members, there’s still a strong connection between the Bison and Dukes even though they rarely meet on the field.

Considering both teams have two of the larger and more engaged fanbases in the FCS, it’s no surprise that there are elements of a rivalry.

Could we see another JMU-NDSU showdown this season?

Through seven weeks, it seems like a real possibility.

The Bison, who were expected to take a step back, have done no such thing. Redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lance is a stud, and the Bison’s defense remains an immovable force.

JMU nearly knocked off West Virginia in the season opener, and it’s rushing attack looks as good as it has since winning the national title in 2016-17. The Dukes are 6-1 with one of the best defensive lines in the country.

Both teams excel on both sides of the ball, and the national statistics make it impossible to ignore a possible JMU-NDSU postseason matchup.

National rank

3rd down conversion percentage

JMU 4th, NDSU 5th

3rd down conversion percentage defense

NDSU 6th, JMU 10th

Completion percentage

JMU 4th, NDSU 7th

Fewest penalties per game

NDSU 12th, JMU 19th

Rushing defense

JMU 2nd, NDSU 14th

Rushing offense

NDSU 5th, JMU 8th

Scoring defense

NDSU 3rd, JMU 8th

Scoring offense

NDSU 3rd, JMU 6th

Team passing efficiency

NDSU 2nd, JMU 8th

Team passing efficiency defense

NDSU 4th, JMU 32nd

Team sacks per game

NDSU 19th, JMU 23rd

Team tackles for loss per game

JMU 12th, NDSU 57th

Time of possession

NDSU 12th, JMU 18th

Kickoff returns

JMU 11th, NDSU 26th

Kickoff return defense

JMU 22, NDSU 59

Net punting

JMU 16th, NDSU 39th

Punt returns

NDSU 10th, JMU 103rd

Punt return defense

JMU 11th, NDSU 85th

In summary, both teams are really freakin’ good with a few interesting weaknesses. While NDSU appears to be the more dominant team, the Dukes have looked like one of the top FCS teams in the country through the halfway mark of the year.

Ben DiNucci remains one of the most efficient passers in the FCS, and the Dukes have five players with at least 248 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. It’s a loaded team with a talented defense and a quality special teams unit.

Neither team seems to be slowing down, and if we’re lucky, we could be in for another late postseason battle between and JMU-NDSU.

2 comments

  1. As a 1981 NDSU Bison fan, I attended the 2018 Championship game and I stood the whole time. It was a game that literally kept me on the toes to the very end. After the JMU fake punt, I was convinced that JMU had found the one weakness to exploit against NDSU. But out defense saved us again.

    After the game, I walked the tailgating lots for a few hours. Met some great JMU fans and even traded some NDSU clothing for a JMU Polo shirt and a few other items. I still wear the polo shirt once every other month or so. GREAT COLORS by the way.

    In any case, I briefly talked to a couple of the JMU Coaching staff and said we needed to do a home-and-home game just to bring the rivalry to another level.

    I’d love to see the Fargodome packed with 19K and then travel to check out your stadium and its almost 26K seating arrangement. Would be the game of the century for both schools, not to mention FCS. I would think that ESPN would do the Game Day at both stadiums in back-to-back years if we could pull it off.

    JUST A THOUGHT… Hopefully we will see both teams in Frisco again in 2020.

    GO BISON!!! Good Luck Dukes!

    Respectfully
    Bob S
    CSM (R)
    US Army

    Liked by 1 person

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