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Montana State's high-powered offense, South Dakota State's stingy defense set on semifinal collision course

Tommy Mellott
Posted at 11:33 AM, Dec 16, 2022

BOZEMAN — Smashmouth football might be the best way to describe Saturday’s semifinal game between Montana State and South Dakota State.

With the nation’s top rushing offense in the Bobcats set to meet the best rushing defense, it's a collision course in the making that will end with one team punching their ticket to the FCS Championship.

Additionally, as luck would have it, this matchup also happens to be a rematch of last year’s semifinal. However, this time, the game is being played in Brookings, South Dakota.

“Going on the road is a challenge," Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen stated during Monday's presser. "Obviously, we haven’t had to do that in a few weeks now, but I think you just raise the bar and understand that South Dakota State – offense, defense, special teams – is a really good team, and we have to play whatever our best is. That’s what it’s going to have to be.”

“It’s one game at a time, one day at a time.”

That’s been both South Dakota State’s vision and mission through the course of this season, which has led them back to the semifinals for the fifth time since 2017, surviving last week’s battle with Holy Cross thanks to a fourth-quarter surge that ended with 21 unanswered points.

“The big difference from last year is the change at quarterback," Vigen explained. "[Chris] Oladokun is gone, and [Mark] Gronowski is back and he’s obviously a quarterback that is a young guy and led the team to a national championship, so they’re similar enough where their offense hasn’t changed because of him.”

Redshirt sophomore Mark Gronowski played a big part in their team’s fourth-quarter rally this past Saturday connecting on two touchdown passes with the Janke twins (Jadon and Jaxon), and he even found the endzone himself on an 18-yard keeper.

However, just like the Bobcats, South Dakota State also has an elite runner in No. 22 — Isaiah Davis.

“Isaiah Davis is a really good back," Vigen said. "I think this time of year they really want to lean on him more than anybody.”

While Davis didn’t make much noise in last year’s semifinal rushing for only 13 yards on nine carries, with the loss of Pierre Strong Jr. he’s stepped up in a big way this fall totaling 1190 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

“They’re a methodical offense, but they have the capability of making big plays, and it’s apparent they play off each other – offense, defense," Vigen explained. "They don’t put their defense in bad situations and vice versa. That’s kind of been their way of overcoming some challenges that they’ve had in the regular season to go undefeated through the Missouri Valley.”

However, it also helps that their defense has been a brick wall this season allowing an average of only 85.4 rushing yards per game.

For comparison, the Bobcats average nearly quadruple that (331.8), which means this Saturday it’s all boiling down to a battle of the trenches.

“It’s a team that stops the run," Vigen added. "It’s about the front seven, and that’s where it starts. I think up front they get off blocks really well. They play a lot of guys in their front, which keeps those guys fresh, but I think they’re relentless.”

With a berth to the national championship on the line, Montana State versus South Dakota State kicks off Saturday at 2 p.m. Mountain Time on ESPN2.