POCATELLO -- It’s a bounce-back week for Idaho State after the Bengals were humbled 59-20 at Montana last Saturday.
There’s no time to lick wounds — to the ego or otherwise — because a quality North Dakota team is coming to Holt Arena this week for ISU’s homecoming game.
The Fighting Hawks picked up a gigantic win last week, beating then-No. 12 UC Davis on a last-minute field goal, 38-36.
The win completed Davis’ fall from grace — once a top-five team, the Aggies were ranked 24th in this week’s FCS STATS media poll — and solidified North Dakota as a very dangerous team.
In their final year as a satellite member of the Big Sky Conference before they move to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020, the Fighting Hawks have hung tough against a very difficult schedule.
After a season-opening win over Drake, they’ve played four ranked teams in a row, going 2-2 in that stretch with wins over UC Davis and then-No. 24 Sam Houston State, and losses to No. 1 North Dakota State and then-No. 21 Eastern Washington.
“They’ve done quite well,” ISU head coach Rob Phenicie said Monday. “They are creating turnovers. Bubba Schweigert, their head coach, does a great job. He coaches it the right way, and they’ve had a lot of success. He coaches physical, tough defense.”
Before overcoming North Dakota, the Bengals have to bury any demons from a blowout loss to Montana in what was a game with a lot of hype going in.
In Phenicie’s return to Montana, where he was the offensive coordinator for nearly a decade in the mid-2000s, Idaho State gave up the most points it’s surrendered in a game since 2016, when Montana scored 62 on the Bengals.
Montana finished Saturday’s game on a 59-3 run.
"It was a little bit of a gut-check, obviously,” ISU cornerback Caleb Brown said. “When you get punched in the mouth, it’s about how you respond. ... So, obviously, we’re going to come out and we’re going to work hard this week, and we’re going to push it to give it everything we’ve got. We’re going to come out and we’re going to be better. We’re not going to show a performance that bad ever again, I believe.”
North Dakota, with senior quarterback and former Sacramento State starter Nate Ketteringham at the controls, has spread things out a little more this season.
After running for more yards than they threw for last year, the Fighting Hawks have 1,141 yards passing in 2019 to just 644 on the ground.
“They’re running (run-pass options), and they’re running some quick throws out to their receivers,” Phenicie said. “They’re doing what all the spread teams do, but they’ve done a really good job of getting it implemented within a year and going with it.”
Despite playing four ranked teams, North Dakota is 3-2 and has scored 139 points, exactly as many as it has allowed.
Idaho State’s advantage might be in the homecoming crowd. The Bengals are expecting a big one at Holt Arena.
That, plus the motivation from going down so easily last week, should have Idaho State fired up against North Dakota.
“Homecoming games are always fun, a lot of people come back,” tight end Austin Campbell said. “It’s always usually a good atmosphere, good crowd. I’m excited for that, and this is a big gut-check for us. I think we need to get back rolling again and respond to adversity from this last game. I think we need to make a statement in this game, so it’ll be big for us.”