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ND State defense facing dominant run game again

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ND State defense facing dominant run game again

FARGO, N.D. (AP) North Dakota State's Travis Beck didn't hesitate when asked how fellow linebacker Grant Olson could top last week's record-setting, 29-tackle effort in a playoff victory over Wofford.

``He'll probably break it again,'' Beck said.

A crazy notion, perhaps, but Olson should be the center of attention again Friday night in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal against visiting Georgia Southern, like Wofford a triple-option team that runs the ball almost all the time.

Olson, a 6-foot, 223-pound junior from Plymouth, Minn., cracked a wide smile when asked if he enjoys playing an option team.

``For me, yes. For other guys, not so much,'' Olson said. ``I know the defensive line doesn't exactly enjoy taking on blocks the entire time. For me, you get to play the run and tackle people. It's a lot of fun.''

Olson said he was hoping, for the sake of his defensive linemen, that the defending FCS champion Bison (12-1) would play Old Dominion, a passing team, so the players up front would have a chance to do what they enjoy the most - sack the quarterback.

``But unfortunately for them, they don't get to do it,'' he said.

Georgia Southern leads the country with a rushing average of 409 yards per game. The Southern Conference team has not thrown the ball more than 10 times in a single game and went one contest - against Wofford - without attempting a single pass.

The Eagles (10-3) have a former running back at quarterback in Jerick McKinnon, who leads the team in rushing with 1,736 yards, and ran for 316 yards in one game. They have a running back, Dominique Swope, who has piled up 1,169 yards and 16 touchdowns despite missing three starts with a concussion.

Some believe that the Bison, who rose to prominence in Division II with an option game, dumped that offense because it couldn't work in Division I. Three teams run it in the Southern Conference.

``It works at this level. Georgia Southern has proven that. A number of teams have proven that,'' NDSU defensive coordinator Chris Klieman said. ``It just goes to the old adage, if you can run the football and play defense, you're going to have the chance to win a lot of football games.''

The key to defending the Eagles? Olson said the Bison should have a ``guy on pitch, guy on quarterback, guy on dive.'' Klieman said the Bison linebackers need to get a clean shot at the ball carrier and finish their tackles.

``That QB has made a ton of people miss,'' Klieman said of McKinnon. ``And if you make the first guy miss it's a foot race. Not too many people are catching him right now.''

Like Wofford, Georgia Southern's offense neutralizes NDSU's most explosive defender, two-time All-American cornerback Marcus Williams. Even though most teams throw away from him, Williams has five interceptions, including one he returned 98 yards for a touchdown.

Olson said Williams has a difficult assignment trying to stay sharp for a surprise pass.

``He has to cover his man every single play. And 65 out of 70 snaps they're not even going to pass the ball so he's running downfield doing nothing,'' Olson said. ``But it's those five other snaps when they throw it deep, he has to be perfect.''

The game is a repeat of last year's semifinal in which the Bison defeated the Eagles 35-7 at the Fargodome. Bison head coach Craig Bohl said this year's edition of Georgia Southern is more athletic and explosive, especially at quarterback, than last year.

Conversely, Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken, whose team played Alabama last year, said NDSU is the closest thing to the Crimson Tide he's seen in his three years with the Eagles.

``They've got a great defense,'' Monken said of the Bison. ``They don't hold people to 11 points a game because they have one player. They've got a bunch of guys who play good and they are well-coached.''

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Follow Dave Kolpack on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/DaveKolpackAP

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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