Only one MVFC team played last weekend but now that the seeded teams are in on the action…we have three games involving MVFC teams.
Couple of quick things:
- I’ll be using full-season stats now, because most of the games will not be in-conference matchups.
- Rankings of stat categories will be ranking within the entire FCS (out of 124 teams)
- I will usually round to the nearest yard for things like yards per game
All times are listed as Central time zone and the rank numbers are now going to be based on the seed numbers as assigned by the playoff committee (as opposed to using the AGS Poll, which is what I did during the regular season). Here’s the list along with starting times…all playoff games are available on ESPN3.
Saturday, December 1st
2:00 PM – Montana State at #1 North Dakota State
2:00 PM – Duquesne at #5 South Dakota State
6:00 PM – Northern Iowa at #6 UC Davis
Montana State at North Dakota State
The Series: MSU and NDSU have a somewhat long history as compared to most non-conference playoff matchups. The two teams have faced off 34 times with the Bobcats holding a 21-13 advantage in the series. The first game was back in 1914, then they played a few times in the ‘20s-’50s and then nearly every year from ‘57-’80. Since 1980 though, they’ve only played twice (both at Montana State) with MSU winning 20-17 in 2005 and NDSU winning 42-17 in the 2010 playoffs. They were actually supposed to play back in 2007, but that was rescheduled for a game in 2013…which Montana State backed out of.
MSU’s Record: Montana State was 7-4 in the regular season, with a 5-3 Big Sky record. They opened with a 3-point home win over Western Illinois, then a 31-point loss at South Dakota State, and then a 23-point win over Wagner. In the Big Sky, they beat Portland State, Idaho, Cal Poly, Northern Colorado, and Montana, and they had losses to Eastern Washington, Weber State, and Idaho State. In the first round of the FCS playoffs, they beat Incarnate Word (Southland) 35-14 in Bozeman.
NDSU’s Record: North Dakota State went through the regular season without a loss, going 11-0 overall and 8-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They started the season with big home wins over Cal Poly, North Alabama, and Delaware, then kicked off their conference schedule with the Dakota Marker game, narrowly beating South Dakota State. They also have wins over Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, Illinois State, South Dakota, a close one against Youngstown State, then finishing with Southern Illinois. As the #1 seed in the playoffs, they took the first weekend off with a first-round bye.
About Montana State: The Montana State offense is fairly strong in the run game, putting up 236 ypg on the ground (17th in the FCS), but they’ve struggled at gaining yards through the air (114th w/ 141.8 ypg). Overall the offense is 64th yardage and 45th in scoring. First Team All-Big Sky QB Troy Anderson is the key to the Bobcat offense despite the fact that he’s only averaging 89 yards per game passing with 3 TDs and 6 interceptions…because he happens to lead the team (4th in the Big Sky) in rushing yards with 107 ypg and has 20 rushing TDs (#2 in the entire FCS). RB Isaiah Ifanse is the other main ground threat with 82 ypg and 7 TDs. When Anderson does throw the ball, his primary receiving target is WR Kevin Kassis who has hauled in 51 catches for 48 ypg with 3 TDs. PK Tristan Bailey is 13 out of 18 on field goals this season with a long of 50 and is perfect when closer than 40 yards, but is only 2 of 7 in the 40-49 range.
On the other side of the ball, the MSU defense allows 402 ypg (72nd) and 26.5 ppg (52nd). They’re 65th against the run and 79th against the pass, so that’s something of a weak point, particularly in the red zone, where they’re allowing opposing teams to score 91.5% of the time (119th in the FCS). LB Brayden Konkol leads the team with 83 tackles (53 solo), 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 3 fumble recoveries. DE Bryce Sterk is decent with pressure behind the line, with 17 tackles for loss including 8.5 sacks, and Safety Jahque Alleyne leads the conference with 5 interceptions this season.
About North Dakota State: North Dakota State, meanwhile, does a lot of things right. Their offense is 20th in the FCS in total yardage (458 ypg) and 7th in scoring (41.2 ppg), with a 10th ranked run game (265 ypg). Their ranking for passing offense is a bit misleading, as they’re only 83rd in that category, but are 4th in passing efficiency (so…they don’t throw the ball much, but when they do, they don’t often miss and are rarely intercepted). In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or two, NDSU QB Easton Stick is the MVFC offensive player of the year, puts up 190 ypg with 22 TDs through the air and 4 INTs and runs for 37 ypg with 11 TDs. As mentioned, it’s the run game that really makes things go, with RBs Lance Dunne and Bruce Anderson both running for 67-68 ypg and having 8 and 5 rushing TDs respectively. WR Darrius Shepherd is the primary receiver, with 50 catches, averaging 76 ypg with 6 TDs and handles punt returns to the tune of conference-leading 18 yards per return. They have a strong O-line that’s only allowed 10 sacks in 11 games. The few times NDSU doesn’t score, punter Garret Wegner is 8th in the FCS, averaging 43.7 yards per punt.
As for the Bison defense…3rd in the FCS in scoring (12.2 ppg) with 288 ypg allowed. They’re 11th against the run, 22nd against the pass….but #1 in the FCS in the red zone, allowing opposing teams to score a measly 45% of the time. Safety Robbie Grimsley and LB Jabril Cox lead the team in tackles with 68. Grimsley has 5 interceptions and 4 pass breakups, while Cox has 4 interceptions, 4 sacks, 5 QB hurries, and 1 MVFC Defensive Player of the Year award. DE Greg Menard seems to spend just as much time on the opposing side of the line of scrimmage as he does on his own, with 7.5 sacks and 7 QB hurries.
My Take: Montana State is a good team with one of the most impressive running QBs in the FCS. However, I feel like there’s only a couple of teams who are good enough and have the right combination of skills to be able to defeat NDSU, and I don’t think the Bobcats are one of them. To beat NDSU, you’d need a very good passing offense and a defense that is good at stopping the run and getting pressure on QBs…things that MSU doesn’t really have. MSU’s only wins over teams with winning records this season were against 6-5 Montana to end the regular season and a win over now 6-5 Incarnate Word in the first round of the playoffs. Both NDSU and MSU played Western Illinois…NDSU won by 27 while MSU won by 3. Both teams played #5 seed South Dakota State…NDSU won that one by 4 and MSU lost by 31. Both teams also played Cal Poly, and put up the same number of points on them (49)…but MSU allowed 42 points while NDSU allowed 3. Overall, I don’t really see this one going the Bobcats’ way. I’m thinking we’re probably going to see something in the range of a 38-10 win for the Bison for this game.
Duquesne at South Dakota State
The Series: The Jackrabbits and Dukes have played twice in their histories. Once back in 1932, when Duquesne won at home, 34-12, and then (and probably much more relevant to this weekend’s game) in August of last year, when SDSU won 51-13 in Brookings.
DUQ’s Record: The Dukes finished their regular season at 8-3 with a 5-1 conference record and winning the NEC auto-bid. They opened their season with a 63-15 loss at FBS UMass, then a 45-0 shutout of DII Lock Haven. They then hosted two Pioneer League teams, beating Valpo by 2 and Dayton by 5. They followed this up with a loss at FBS Hawai’i, 42-21, then were back home for a 1-point loss to Bryant. Since then, they’ve rifled off 6 straight wins, beating Robert Morris, fellow NEC conference leader St. Francis (PA), Wagner, Sacred Heart, and Central Connecticut, before heading into the playoffs and stunning Towson 31-10 in a first-round upset.
SDSU’s Record: The Jackrabbits went 8.2 overall with a 6-2 conference record. Their opener at FBS Iowa State was cancelled due to weather. They then hosted Montana State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, winning both games handily, by 31 and 84 points, respectively. In the MVFC, they lost at NDSU by 4, beat Indiana State by 3 in OT and then defeated Youngstown State before dropping a defensive battle to UNI. They followed that up with wins over Illinois State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, and South Dakota. As a seeded team, they had the first round of the playoffs off last weekend.
About Duquesne: Duquesne averages 383 ypg and 31.2 ppg offensively. They’re a bit stronger in the run game (45th with 186 ypg) than they are in the passing game (77th with 197 ypg). A big part of that is the performance of the NEC Offensive Player of the Year, RB AJ Hines, who averaged 136 ypg with 15 rushing TDs and catches 21 ypg with 2 TDs. Hines ran for 175 yards and 1 TD with 71 receiving yards and 1 TD in their game against Towson last weekend. QB Daniel Parr has a 191 ypg average with 20 TDs through the air (plus 6 rushing TDs). Roughly half of that passing output (85 ypg and 10 TDs) has gone to All-NEC first-team WR Nehari Crawford. They also have a couple of all-conference first-team O-Linemen with Alex Conley and Matt Fitzpatrick.
On defense, the Dukes are again, roughly in the middle of most FCS rankings, giving up 26 ppg and 373 ypg with 203 ypg allowed to opponents’ passing games and 170 ypg on the ground. LB Brett Zanotto leads the team with 86 tackles (53 solo) with 6 for loss. DB Jonathant Istache has 41 tackles and a conference-high 14 pass breakups and 4 interceptions and was another All-NEC first-teamer. LB Jalen Booker picked up 8.5 tackles for loss including 4.5 sacks and 4 QB hurries.
About South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits, meanwhile, have one of the highest-scoring offenses in the FCS, coming in at 3rd on that with an average of 45.4 ppg and 511 ypg (5th). Now, some of that is thrown off a bit by their 90-6 decimation of Ark-Pine Bluff, but even excluding that they still averaged over 40 ppg…with many of those points coming against some pretty solid MVFC defenses. They average 233 ypg on the ground and 278 ypg through the air. QB Taryn Christion is a first-team All-MVFC player putting up 256 ypg and 28 TDs passing with 6 interceptions and is 3rd in the FCS in passing efficiency. He’s also run for 22 ypg with 5 TDs on the ground. In the first half of the season, RB Isaac Wallace was the big name for the ground game, but after a season-ending injury around midway through the season, true freshman Pierre Strong Jr. really stepped up, averaging 192 ypg with 8 TDs in the final 3 games of the season and despite playing a very limited role in the first half of the season, earned the MVFC Freshman of the Year award. RB Mikey Daniel is also a strong performer averaging 52 ypg with 8 TDs through the season. The main target for Christion’s passes is first-team all-conference WR Cade Johnson (only a sophomore) with 107 ypg and 15 TD catches. WR Adam Anderson also gets in on the action, averaging 67 ypg and 6 TDs. PK Chase Vinatieri (nephew of the other Vinatieri kicker…yes…that one) has struggled a little as compared to previous years, hitting 11 of 18 FGs, but has some serious leg distance, nailing a kick from 57 yards out in their game against Northern Iowa.
On the other side of the ball, SDSU gives up an average of 22.3 ppg and 375 ypg. ~213 ypg of that is given up through the air and ~161 ypg on the ground. LB Christian Rozeboom tops the tackling list for the Jackrabbits with 73 (38 solo), 4.5 for loss, with 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. DE Ryan Earith has 8.5 tackles for loss with 5 sacks and 8 QB hurries, while DB Jordan Brown has 3 interceptions, 10 pass breakups, and was named to the All-conference first-team.
My Take: SDSU isn’t quite as dominant as NDSU…they have actually lost two games…to the two other MVFC teams in the playoffs. The only games they lost were when they were held to under 20 points (actually they were the only two games they were held under 36 points, technically) and the opposing teams were able to essentially shut down their ground game. In Duquesne’s win over Towson, they held a very good QB (another relatively famous name…Flacco) to his lowest passing yardage total of the season and Towson’s ground game wasn’t able to make up the difference. This won’t be the case in this game though…as you can shut down SDSU’s passing game and they’ll still run all over most teams. For example, their game against Youngstown State…when their “star” RB was injured early in the game and SDSU had only 78 yards and 1 TD passing…they still ran for over 250 yards and beat the Penguins by 29 points. Anyway, while it was cool to see Duquesne get their first-ever playoff win in an upset, I think their “Cinderella story” ends in Brookings. I’m going with a 34-14 victory for the Jackrabbits.
Northern Iowa at UC Davis
The Series: This will be the first-ever meeting between the Panthers and the Aggies.
UNI’s Record: Northern Iowa is 6-5 in the regular season with a 5-3 conference record. They had a rough start to the season, losing at Montana by 3 and at FBS Iowa. They then headed home where they took out their aggression on Hampton, shutting them out…and then doing the same to Indiana State. UNI then hosted NDSU and fell in the final quarter (they were leading after 3), but rebounded with wins over both the South Dakota teams including a 24-9 defensive battle with the previously-described Jackrabbits. They then traveled to WIU but suffered a 20-point defeat, took down Illinois State by 10, lost at Youngstown State by 21 and then beat up on Missouri State to the tune of 37-0. Despite a somewhat disappointing regular season (for most Panther fans), they earned an at-large bid to the playoffs and hosted Lamar last weekend, where they won by 3 in a sloppy, low-scoring, mistake-filled game on both sides.
UCD’s Record: UC Davis finished the regular season at 9-2 with a 7-1 record in the Big Sky. They opened with a 6-point win over FBS San Jose State and a big win over San Diego. They then traveled to Stanford, falling by 20. The Aggies then started Big Sky play with wins over Idaho, Northern Colorado, Idaho State in OT, Cal Poly, Montana, and Northern Arizona, before dropping one to eventual #3 seed Eastern Washington. They then closed out their season with a big win over Sacramento State in a game that was moved to Reno, NV due to air quality issues in the region (from the recent forest fires). As the #6 seed in the playoffs, UC Davis was off last weekend.
About Northern Iowa: UNI is something of an odd case, ranking 89th in total offense (346 ypg) and 70th in scoring (26.4 ppg). The passing game is a bit higher than the run game, but neither aspect are blowing the doors off of anyone. QB Eli Dunne has thrown for 193 ypg with 18 TDs and 6 interceptions. They don’t have any receivers averaging over 50 ypg, but have a handful that are all about equal. The top receiver is TE Briley Moore with 44 ypg and 4 TDs, and WR Deion McShane is incredibly fast on kick returns and has caught for 36 ypg with 2 TDs. On the ground, RB Marcus Weymiller is the top ball carrier, picking up 77 ypg with 7 TDs. Something the Panthers do well on offense is hold onto the ball…they’re 12th in the FCS for lost turnovers this season. PK Austin Errthum has had some phenomenal games this season and was named the All-MVFC first-team kicker. He’s 21 of 24 with a long of 46 this season.
On defense, they generally do much better, giving up only 21.2 ppg and 359 ypg, with more of that coming through the air (225 ypg) than on the ground (134 ypg). The Panthers are actually 5th in the FCS for defensive TDs with 4 so far this season and have gained 25 turnovers (11th in FCS), which combined with that aspect on the offensive side of the ball, they are 7th in the FCS for overall turnover ratio, averaging just over +1 for them per game. LB Duncan Ferch is the top tackler on the team with 102 (31 solo) including 5.5 for loss, 4 interceptions, 8 pass breakups, and 5 QB hurries. DL Rickey Neal Jr. has 14.5 tackles for loss with 8.5 sacks and 7 QB hurries; had 3 forced fumbles and was named first-team all-conference this season. Their other big name on defense was DB Xavior Williams (had 4 interceptions), but has been out with injury since their game against YSU and I haven’t heard if he’s possible to return at some point during the playoffs or if his season is over. DB Korby Sander has done a solid job stepping up, with 86 tackles, 3 interceptions, and a forced fumble
About UC Davis: The Aggies have the 7th most productive offense in the FCS for yardage (496 ypg) and 6th most for scoring (42.2 ppg). That is, in large part due to their #3 passing offense (328 ypg). The ground game lags a bit behind, but isn’t a huge problem (56th). The largest pieces of this high-flying offense are the last two Big Sky Offensive Players of the Year, QB Jake Maier and WR Keelan Doss (Doss was a first-team all-Big Sky WR this year). Maier has thrown for 308 ypg with 31 TDs and 6 interceptions with a 65% completion rate, and Doss has 100 catches for an average of 96 ypg with 9 TDs. Other receivers getting in on the action include WR Jared Harrell (69 ypg w/ 5 TDs) and TE Wesley Preece (28 ypg w/ 8 TDs). The ground game is led by RB Ulonzo Gilliam who averages 72 ypg with 10 TDs. Overall, the Aggies are successful from the red zone 90.7% of the time, which is good for 7th in the FCS. All this is despite the fact that they’re 117th in time of possession, averaging just under 27 minutes with the ball…but that’s probably to be expected with an offense that can score quickly and score often.
The defense for UC Davis is kinda at the opposite end of the spectrum though, ranking 90th in yardage (433 ypg) and 57th for points allowed (27.8 ppg). They give up 242 ypg through the air and 191 ypg on the ground. They’re led by LB Moe Mason with 66 tackles (40 solo) including 16 for loss, 8.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 QB hurries, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. CB Vince White is very good at knocking down balls, with 16 pass breakups and 1 interception.
My Take: As is common in the Big Sky (or it seems like it is), UC Davis is a big-time offensive team, but gives up a lot on the defensive side of the ball. Only one team has held the Aggies to fewer than 200 passing yards (Eastern Washington), and UC Davis lost that game. Purely by statistical rankings, UNI has a similar defense against the pass and is a little better against the run than Eastern Washington. On the other hand, UNI has been a real “up and down” team this year…winning games nobody expected them to win (SDSU) and losing games that nobody expected them to lose (YSU). If the Panthers have healed up somewhat and are able to get back a player or two that had been out…and if they play up to their potential…then I like their chances in this game. If, however, they come out flat, have dropped passes (like they did against Lamar), then they could be in for a long day. I think the UNI defense will do a solid job of holding UCD to fewer yards and points than they usually put up, but it remains to be seen if the Panther offense can score enough to win. My best guess on this one is that it’s a close game, but the Aggies come away with a close, 27-24 win. Even so, an “upset” by UNI would not really surprise me.