YOUNGSTOWN - In his press conference at the beginning of the week, North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl was asked if the No. 3 Youngstown State Penguins was the best team his top-ranked Bison had faced this season.
"They are the best team we've seen," Bohl said "They've been impressive in all their wins. They opened up with a really impressive win over Pittsburgh, who has proven to be a pretty solid football program. They went in and decisively beat Pittsburgh. Then they won an impressive game against Northern Iowa at home where they had a lot of adversity. They are a really good football team."
And without a doubt, the Bison will be the hardest test the undefeated Penguins have and will face in the 2012 campaign.
"We are going into it like it's a regular game," defensive lineman Aronde Stanton said. "We can't play into the hype. It's just a regular game, just like we were playing Valparaiso. We prepare the same. Regardless of who we are playing."
But in reality, this isn't Valparaiso - this is the top ranked team in the FCS and defending national champions.
Bringing in an offense that averages 471.2 yards per game and has put up 43 points a game on opponents so far, the Youngstown State defense will have to play the game of its life on Saturday at the Fargodome.
"Watching them on film, they are a real good team, they are real disciplined and don't make too many mistakes," Stanton said. "Therefore, we can't make too many mistakes on our end. And if we want to be in the game at the end of the game, we have to limit our mistakes."
The Bison offense, led by junior quarterback Brock Jensen, has passed for 966 yards in four games, and combined that with a rushing attack that has put up 919 yards. The running game has an ample amount of weapons. John Crockett has carried the ball 55 times for 335 yards and four touchdowns - all that without starting a game for NDSU this season. Sam Ojeri, who has rushed for 229 yards on 52 carries, will not play this week against YSU as he was one of the 10 Bison players this week who pled guilty to misdemeanor election fraud this past week. He's the only player that will not play against the Penguins on Saturday.
Youngstown State has done a consistent job this year of limiting the oppositions' running games, allowing 102 yards per game and four touchdowns. However, the pass defense has been a weakness of the Penguins.
Going into Fargo, the Penguins have allowed 235.8 yards in the air and six touchdowns. The secondary did have a huge play at the end of the Northern Iowa game, batting down the would-be game-winning touchdown. But plays like that have been few and far between for the Youngstown defense.
Youngtown State coach Eric Wolford knows his defense has had some slips over the course of the first four games, but he said it's about what the team does as a whole that will lead to a victory.
"I don't know in this day and age if you can expect to go out there and get goose eggs," Wolford said. "Our philosophy has always been on offense, you have to score one more point then the defense allows. And on defense, hold them to one less than the offense scores. That's the recipe for success. That's how you win as a team."
With both Wolford and Bohl having the same philosophy of keeping their offenses on the field for as much of the game as possible, the game will come down to field position - and which defense holds up the longest.
"I think we have a good game plan on both sides of the ball," Wolford said. "It will come down to our execution and our ability to take advantage of the opportunity of the play call when the time is right."