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Bison players taking 'Friday Night Lights' theme for Leathernecks game

North Dakota State senior Aaron Steidl (63) helps make a stop on Northern Iowa's Marcus Weymiller during last Saturday's game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — About the only thing missing in Saturday's North Dakota State at Western Illinois Missouri Valley Football Conference game will be a natural grass field. One that can create mud on a rainy day.

That would add emphasis to an already old-school football feeling Bison defensive tackle Aaron Steidl has heading into it. NDSU's first outdoor game of the season will be played on the artificial turf at Hanson Field in Macomb, Ill.

"It's been a little hot in the Fargodome, nice and sunny and 70 every day," Steidl said. "It's going to be a switch and a good changeup for us when we go outside. We're going to practice in the rain and get a tough standard. It doesn't change our game plan or focus, we're going to be ready to play no matter what the conditions."

The weather in Macomb was in the 80s earlier in the week, but began taking a colder turn on Wednesday. The high for Saturday is expected to be in the 50s, but the forecast calls for it to drop into the 40s after the 6 p.m. kickoff.

Count Bison head coach Chris Klieman is not a fan of night games.

"Every kid wants to play in the afternoon when college football is meant to be played," he said.

As a means of visualization, NDSU players like Steidl and fellow defensive lineman Greg Menard are going back to their high school days. They're taking a "Friday Night Lights" theme to it.

"That's how we're trying to view it," Menard said. "Like high school and playing the game for pure fun."

Bison looking for better start

The Bison have struggled with their starts the last two games against South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. The Jackrabbits dominated the first quarter. UNI took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

But in both instances, the Bison regained control in the second half to improved to 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Steidl said the first quarters have been a topic of discussion this week in practice.

"Just coming out with some juice and some energy," he said. "Lately we've been trying to feel the offenses out ... seeing what's going to happen instead of attacking. Instead of waiting back in the shadows when we come out, we want to be the first to land a punch in the face and get a three-and-out right away."

Klieman said he's not putting too much emphasis on the past two games. The Bison were powerful in the first quarter three weeks ago against the University of Delaware.

"A fast start doesn't mean you need a pick-six or an 80-yard touchdown," Klieman said. "Sometimes it's just doing your job and being assignment-sound. One thing I'll take away from it, our guys didn't panic either."

Around the Valley

• NDSU's 56 points against Northern Iowa last week was the most UNI has given up at home since the UNI-Dome opened in 1976. The previous high was 52 by Southern Illinois in 1983. It was the most points allowed by UNI against an FCS opponent since a 59-14 loss at Idaho in 1981.

• Illinois State is glad safety Luther Kirk is back after missing all of last season. He returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown with 4:28 left in the game to give the Redbirds a 10-point lead over Western Illinois. WIU won 33-16. The pick was Kirk's second in two Valley games and his third of the season.

• The Redbirds are taking care of the ball on offense better than anybody else in the league. They've committed just one turnover in five games while forcing 11 takeaways, a turnover margin that is No. 2 in the FCS. NDSU is tied for 15th with nine takeaways against four turnovers.

• Indiana State is figuring out how to score this season when it gets inside an opponent's 20-yard line. The Sycamores have been successful 20 of 21 times with 15 touchdowns and five field goals. ISU got inside the 20-yard line just 19 times all of last season.

• South Dakota State went over 500 total yards for the third time this season in a 54-51 overtime win over Indiana State. The Jackrabbits did it without a 100-yard rusher, with three running backs gaining at least 70 yards.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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