The FCS title game is less than a week away and it will feature a team who dominated most of their opponents all season and a team who crawled their way to the game from the first round play-in games. Second year head coach Bo Pelini has guided his Youngstown State Penguins through the gauntlet of the Missouri Valley to the championship game, including playing on opening weekend of the playoffs.
On the other side of the field is James Madison, who put together an impressive resume throughout the season. The Dukes’ only loss coming at the hands of North Carolina in the third game of the season. Dukes head coach Mike Houston has done a superb job of guiding this team after taking over from Everett Withers in this past offseason.
For the Penguins to reach the championship game they had to run through two of the top offenses in FCS, Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. The Penguins beat both of those offenses on the road. The Penguins also won two playoff games at home, against Samford and Wofford. The Penguins capped their playoff run with one of the wildest plays in college football this season. Kevin Rader was able to haul in a last second touchdown pass from Hunter Wells in the back of the end zone while holding the ball against an Eastern Washington defender. The call was upheld and the Penguins were dancing their way to Frisco, Texas.
James Madison, on the other hand, laid waste to their three playoff opponents. The Dukes won their first two games by a combined 120-29 against New Hampshire and Sam Houston State. The Dukes then had to hit the road to take on North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome, typically a death sentence for opposing playoff teams. The Dukes had a 17-7 lead at the half, and were tied at 17 at the end of the third quarter. However, the fourth quarter is where the Dukes took over and sealed the game with a touchdown pass from Bryan Schor to John Miller from 25 yards out to ice the game and a trip to Frisco.
The betting lines at the time of this writing has James Madison favored, currently at -6. The over/under is currently 63.5 points.
James Madison Dukes: 13-1 (8-0)
OL Mitch Kirsch FCS Stats 1st Team All-American, CAA 1st Team All-Conference
PR Rashard Davis FCS Stats 1st Team All-American, CAA 1st Team All-Conference, CAA Special Teams Player of the Year
RB Khalid Abdullah FCS Stats 2nd Team All-American, CAA 1st Team All-Conference
DB Taylor Reynolds FCS Stats 3rd Team All-American, CAA 1st Team All-Conference
QB Bryan Schor CAA Offensive Player of the Year, CAA 1st Team All-Conference
Head Coach Mike Houston CAA Coach of the Year
WR Brandon Ravenel CAA 1st Team All-Conference
OL Aaron Stinnie CAA 1st Team All-Conference
DL Andrew Ankrah CAA 1st Team All-Conference
S Raven Greene CAA 1st Team All-Conference
OL Matt Frank CAA 2nd Team All-Conference
LB Gage Steele CAA 2nd Team All-Conference
P Gunnar Kane CAA 2nd Team All-Conference
WR Terrence Alls CAA 3rd Team All-Conference
James Madison had a very good offense throughout the season. They scored more than 60 points four times, and more than 80 points twice. Their scoring offense was second in FCS, ranking only behind Sam Houston State, who the Dukes held to seven points. The Dukes led the Colonial Athletic Association in rushing yards per game with 284.6 yards. That effort was good enough for fourth nationally. Running back Khalid Abdullah was responsible for 1708 of those yards and 20 touchdowns. Cardon Johnson chipped in with 704 yards and eight touchdowns. Abdullah was the top rusher in the CAA and second best in FCS.
Quarterback Bryan Schor passed for 2890 yards and 27 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season. Schor’s passing yards were good enough for second in the CAA and 16th nationally. Schor was incredible effective in getting the ball to his receivers and minimizing mistakes throughout the season. One of Schor’s favorite targets, Brandon Ravenel finished the season with had 45 catches for 720 yards and five touchdowns. Terrence Alls had 35 receptions for 575 yards and five touchdowns.
The Dukes were first in the CAA in total offense with 525.6 yards per game, which ranked them third nationally behind Same Houston State and Eastern Washington. The Dukes hold the football for an average of 31:57 per game. The key to some of the Dukes success, however, is turnovers. As mentioned earlier, Schor was good at not turning the ball over. The Dukes finished +15 on the season. That was second in the CAA and ninth in FCS.
On the defensive side of the ball the Dukes are fifth in total defense in the CAA averaging 348 yards per game. The Dukes are led by defensive back Taylor Reynolds who was an FCS Stats All-American selection this season. He had 51 total tackles, two interceptions, and twelve pass break-ups in the Dukes secondary. Raven Green led the team with six interceptions of his own and 66 tackles. James Madison allowed an average of 21.7 points per game over the course of the season. Their rushing defense ranked fourth in the CAA giving up 137.8 per game. Their passing defense was ninth in CAA with 210.2 per game.
Seven James Madison football players will not be playing in the championship game, however, due to suspensions. Two of the players include leading tackler Brandon Hereford and wide receiver Terrence Alls. James Madison, at the time of this writing, has not commented on who the other five suspended players are.
Youngstown State Penguins: 12-3 (6-2)
DL Derek Rivers FCS Stats 2nd Team All-American, MVFC 1st Team All-Conference
DB LeRoy Alexiander FCS Stats 3rd Team All-American, MVFC 1st Team All-Conference
RB Martin Ruiz MVFC 1st Team All-Conference
DL Avery Moss MVFC 1st Team All-Conference
OL Justin Spencer MVFC 2nd Team All-Conference
LB Armand Dellovade MVFC 2nd Team All-Conference
DB Jameel Smith MVFC 2nd Team All-Conference
P Mark Schuler MVFC 2nd Team All-Conference
RB Jody Webb MVFC Honorable Mention
OL Dylan Colucci MVFC Honorable Mention
DB Kenny Bishop, MVFC Honorable Mention
Bo Pelini’s Youngstown State Penguins didn’t blow anyone away with statistics like James Madison did, however, the Penguins were fairly consistent throughout the season. In their three losses only the North Dakota State loss were they completely dominated. The Penguins went into halftime tied with West Virginia and lost by three scores to close the second half. All three of those losses were road losses.
The Penguin offense was the top rushing attack in the Missouri Valley this season, averaging 257.5, which was good enough for seventh in FCS. The Penguins were led by running back Jody Webb who rushed for 1301 yards and six touchdowns. He ranked first in the MVFC and ninth nationally. His teammate, Martin Ruiz had 1153 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was second in the MVFC and 15th nationally. Tevin McCaster added 629 yards and eleven touchdowns for the Penguins as well.
Ruiz, however, will more than likely be sitting out the FCS championship game due to an arrest on a weapons charge. Other Penguins known to be sitting the game out are Darien Townsend, LeRoy Alexander, and Jameel Smith, who all failed drug tests. Alexander was an FCS Stats All-American. Smith was an All-MVFC selection.
Quarterback Hunter Wells was 107-169 for 1443 and nine touchdowns this weekend in eight games for the Penguins. He had four interceptions on the season as well. Wells isn’t a threat to run with the football. The Penguins averaged 174.1 yards per game passing, which was ninth in the MVFC this season.
The Penguins held the ball for 34:02 per game this season on average. The rushing attack is very talented and keeps defenses on the field longer than they’d like to be. Youngstown’s time of possession ranked third in FCS this past season, behind The Citadel and San Diego. The Penguins were fifth in the MVFC with a turnover margin of zero through the season.
On the defensive side of the ball the Penguins are led by defensive lineman Derek Rivers, an FCS Stats All-American, and LeRoy Alexander. As mentioned above, Alexander will not be available for the championship game. Rivers had 14 sacks on the season. Rivers had 52 tackles on the season, 17.5 of them were tackles for loss. He also recovered three fumbles for the Penguins. Avery Moss recorded 51 tackles on the season, 14.5 of those were tackles for loss. He had ten sacks on the season.
Youngstown State ranked second in the MVFC with 19.4 points per game given up. That was good enough for ninth in FCS. The Penguins were third in total defense with 324.5 yards per game. That Penguins ranked 19th in FCS in total defense. Their rushing defense gave up 128.1 yards per game, while their passing defense gave up 196.3 yards per game.
The FCS title game should be an entertaining game featuring two teams who are very talented running the football. The Dukes run a slightly faster paced offense than the Penguins do, the Dukes averaging four plays a game more than the Penguins. Both teams are going to be missing players, key players, that may affect them. The loss of LeRoy Alexander could be big for Youngstown State trying to slow down Bryan Schor.
The rushing offense productivity for both teams are very similar. With the Penguins missing Martin Ruiz they could see a slowdown. Tevin McCaster, however, ran the ball superbly against Eastern Washington in the semi-final game going for 154 yards and three scores. On paper James Madison looks like, by far, the more talented team. Bo Pelini’s team has the defense and rushing attack to beat James Madison, however. Perhaps we’ll get a surprise appearance from Bo Pelini’s cat to help tip the scales, or even Faux Pelini himself, but it’ll take more than that to beat the Dukes in Frisco.
The game will air on ESPN2 on Saturday January 7th. It will be a 12:00pm ET kickoff from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.