A crushing 56-0 victory over Minot State was the exclamation point that completed an undefeated regular season for UMD. The win gave them the fifth undefeated season in program history, their 19th overall NSIC title, and a spot in the 24-team playoff for the seventh consecutive year. Despite their No. 2 ranking in the national coach’s poll, UMD received the fourth seed in the Super Regional ranking and will host the 2013 national champion, Northwest Missouri State (10-1), in the first round of the playoffs Saturday at Malosky Stadium.
Northwest Missouri State won 45-21 when the teams met in the second round of the playoffs last season. The Bulldogs will play with a chip on their shoulder Saturday, but for a different reason.
“It’s in the back of people’s minds, but I think there are a lot of people who think that we aren’t as good as our ranking,” senior Aaron Roth said. “Right now we are just trying to play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Northwest Missouri State’s only loss this season was to Pittsburg State (10-1), the team that took over the No. 3 spot in the rankings above UMD. With a new starting quarterback in 2014, the Northwest Missouri State offense averaged 214 passing yards per game. Like the Bulldogs, they are an offense that can spread the football around and exploit their opponent’s weaknesses on defense.
“If you look at just our two teams on paper, we are very similar,” head coach Curt Wiese said. “We both have extremely talented defenses that are tough to run the football against, and offensively we certainly can put points on the board.”
Turnovers will be a key statistic in Saturday’s playoff contest. UMD owns one of the better margins in the nation at 13, while Northwest Missouri State is just positive at 4. Since turning the ball over just three times over their first seven games, the Bulldog offense has doubled that total over their final four games. Keeping the turnover margin positive will be important for UMD.
“I think whenever you get into the playoffs and face quality football teams, field position and turnovers become an extremely critical factor,” Wiese said. “We have to do a good job hanging on to the football and make some plays down the field.”
The Bulldog offense will need to capitalize on every opportunity they have — especially in the rushing game. Facing the No. 2 rushing defense in the country with 58.1 rushing yards per game, UMD needs to recreate the consistent success they’ve had on the ground in the regular season.
This year’s playoff matchup with Northwest Missouri State will feature far colder temperatures than last year’s meeting, and the Bulldogs are confident on their home turf.
“It is a huge difference playing Northwestern at home than it was last year playing them on the road,” Roth said. “I wouldn’t mind if the temperatures dipped down (and if) the wind picked up a little bit.”
The winner of Saturday’s playoff will face No. 1 seed Ouachita Baptist (11-0) in the second round, who received a first round bye along with No. 2 seed Minnesota State-Mankato (11-0).
BY NICOLE BRODZIK