North Dakota 2016 FCS Football Playoff Capsule

North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Big Sky
North Dakota just missed out on a playoff appearance last season. But this year the Fighting Hawks left no doubt. Following losses to Stony Brook and Bowling Green to open the season, Coach Kyle Schweigert’s team reeled off nine wins in a row, including a perfect 8-0 mark in Big Sky play.
2016 Record: 9-2, 8-0
Coach: Kyle Schweigert
Big Wins: 10/1 Cal Poly (31-24), 10/29 Weber State (27-19)
Bad Losses: 9/1 Stony Brook (9-13), 9/10 Bowling Green (26-27)
When the ball is on the ground, it looks like North Dakota can beat anybody. The rush defense allowed a mere 91.5 yards per game during the regular season. Linebacker Dylan Bakker, who tallied a team high 85 tackles, leads a front seven that has plenty of quality depth. On the other side of the ball, the Fighting Hawks have a very potent one-two punch in the backfield. John Santiago is the regular starter and rushed for 924 yards and seven touchdowns, but fellow sophomore Brady Oliveria has been nearly as productive, rushing for 837 yards and nine scores. When North Dakota can get the ground game ticking, and it usually is, this is a team that can grind out wins against anybody.
The potent ground game also paves the way for quarterback Keaton Studsrud. He is not a prolific passer and threw for just 1,816 yards this season, but Studsrud will at least keep the turnovers down and run the offense efficiently. Eventually North Dakota will find themselves behind in the playoffs though and that is when Studsrud really needs to step up and prove that he can be more than a game manager. The other issue is the pass defense. The unit ranked 106th in the FCS in pass defense. While players like Deion Harris, Cole Reyes, Zach Arnell and Torrey Hunt will make plenty of big plays, they give up a lot of big plays too. For North Dakota, a key for advancing in the playoffs will be the amount of turnovers the secondary can create compared to the amount of big touchdown plays they give up. If they can make more big plays than they give up, this is a team that can make a deep run in the playoffs.
Statistical Leaders:
Rushing: John Santiago, RB, 924 yards
Passing: Keaton Studsrud, QB, 1,816 yards
Receiving: De’mun Mercer, WR, 431 yards
Tackles: Dylan Bakker, LB, 85
Sacks: Drew Greely, DL, 4.0
Interceptions: Deion Harris, DB, 5
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 217.1 (17th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 174.7 (92, 11)
Total Offense: 391.8 (43, 7)
Scoring Offense: 30.1 (36, 7)
Rushing Defense: 91.5 (8, 1)
Pass Defense: 261.6 (106, 11)
Total Defense: 353.2 (38, 2)
Scoring Defense: 21.5 (25, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.55 (2, 1)
Sacks: 2.18 (46, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (64, 9)
Recent Playoff Appearances:
No Recent Playoff History
*all team stats through 11/12