South Dakota State's Zach Zenner is one typical game away from setting the all-time Football Championship Subdivision record for rushing. He also has some unfinished business against rival North Dakota State.
The senior from Eagan, Minnesota, has averaged 6 yards per run in his career and is 145 yards away from breaking the 6,559 yard record set by Adrian Peterson of Georgia Southern — not the one who plays for the Minnesota Vikings — from 1998-2001.
But against NDSU, he has averaged less than 4 yards per run and the Jackrabbits have yet to beat the Bison in that span.
Zenner has one last chance Saturday when SDSU faces the three-time defending FCS national champion in a second-round playoff game at the Fargodome.
"We're certainly aware of it, but that's not really the focus," Zenner said of his winless mark against the Bison. "The focus is to win this time."
The Bison defense has made life difficult for most running backs, Zenner said, not just him. NDSU is allowing just 11.6 points per game and has the stingiest scoring defense in the FCS for the fourth straight season.
During the regular-season 37-17 loss to NDSU in Fargo, Zenner ran for 96 yards on 17 attempts, topping his previous best against the Bison by 50 yards. Before that, he averaged 11 carries for 32 yards against NDSU; the worst showing was 2013 with eight carries for four yards.
Bison end Kyle Emanuel, the defensive player of the year in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, said Zenner can break tackles and make defenders pay if they're out of position.
"I've said it 10 times. He'll beat you if you're not where you need to be. It can be as simple that," Emanuel said. "He's a great player and if you're where you need to be, if you hit your gap and you make a tackle, which is easier said than done, you'll be fine."
Zenner has rushed the ball a whopping 1,063 times in his career for a total of 6,415 yards. He has 31 games of at least 100 yards and eight games of at least 200. Plus, he has 8,075 multi-purpose yards, nearly 2,500 yards more than the previous conference record.
Zenner said he was surprised to learn he was close to an FCS rushing record.
"It's kind of like, that's cool ... but that's not why I do what I do," Zenner said." That's not why I work hard on the field and off. It's for my teammates, and trying to get wins and trying to go farther in the playoffs."
Bison linebacker Carlton Littlejohn, who also grew up in the Minneapolis area, said he's followed Zenner's career for a long time.
"Coming out of high school I knew him and knew he was a good athlete and a good kid," Littlejohn said. "I just have a lot of respect for him for what he's done throughout his college career."
Zenner would like to play pro football but calls medicine his true passion. He has a 3.86 grade point average in biology and has interviewed with three medical schools.
"The pro scouts have told us that he's got a chance and he wants to pursue that," SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said. "But he'll be a doctor someday, either way you slice it. If he plays 15 years in the NFL, I guarantee you he'll go on because that's the type of guy he is."