Defending national champion North Dakota State slammed the door on Georgia Southern's triple-option offense in the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs a year ago.
The Bison beat the Eagles 35-7 in Fargo, N.D., and hosts Georgia Southern (10-3) there tonight. The No. 5 Eagles and top-seeded Bison (12-1) again meet in the raucous Fargodome with a trip to the FCS title game on the line.
"I know this, they are really tough to score on," Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said on Tuesday's Southern Conference media teleconference. "They're giving up 11 points a game, and that just blows my mind."
The Eagles' tremendous triple-option rushing attack was ineffective against NDSU last season. Georgia Southern, which was second in the FCS in 2011 with a 323.5 rushing yards per game average, ended up with 187 rushing yards and 147 passing against the Bison.
NDSU coach Craig Bohl said during his Monday news conference that the Eagles' offense is more explosive this season with Jerick McKinnon at quarterback. Jaybo Shaw ran the offense efficiently in 2010 and '11, but he wasn't the big-play threat that McKinnon is.
McKinnon rushed for 171 yards and four touchdowns in the Eagles' 49-35 win at Old Dominion last Saturday. He has 1,649 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns this season, with 1,056 yards and 14 TDs coming in the last six games.
"He can put his foot in the ground and take off and run 80 yards for a touchdown," Bohl said. "Last year it was more about defending the scheme, and we're certainly concerned about the scheme, but now you're looking at personnel."
Tonight's game will be the Bison's second taste of Southern Conference triple-option football in as many weeks. Last Saturday, the Bison held Eric Breitenstein and the Wofford Terriers in check in a 14-7 win.
Bohl said there are plenty of differences between GSU's and Wofford's offenses "that to say you're going to use the same game plan is really not accurate."
Since Monken took over the program in 2010 and reinstalled the triple-option, the Eagles have advanced to the semifinals of the playoffs each season. They lost at Delaware in 2010 and in the Fargodome last season, and tonight they will try to reach the title game for the first time since winning back-to-back titles at Finley Stadium in 2000-01.
The winner of tonight's game will play the winner of Saturday's Eastern Washington-Sam Houston State winner in the championship game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 5. Eastern Washington won the 2010 title, and Sam Houston State lost to NDSU in Frisco last season.