MVFC Postseason Week 3 Preview

MVFC LogoConsidering some of the discussion and analysis of playing schemes and stuff over on the game-related threads at, I kinda feel like these articles are a bit redundant this far into the playoffs. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you know I’m not really a guy who gets into things like which blocking schemes work better against which types of offenses. I’m a data guy…a numbers guy…you know…a nerd. If you want to really get into things like how SDSU’s defense is going to be able to handle Kennesaw State’s option offense, or how effective NDSU will be at running the ball against Colgate’s stout defense, I’ll throw in the links to the game discussion threads for the MVFC games so you can go discuss it with people who are much smarter than I am about such things.

Anyway, now that UNI has been eliminated from the playoffs, we’re down to the two XDSU schools left for MVFC representation in the FCS playoffs.

Couple of quick things:

  • I’ll be using full-season stats, 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. Here’s the list along with starting times and the “channel” that they’ll be available on.

Saturday, December 8th
11:00 AM – #8 Colgate at #1 North Dakota State, ESPN
1:00 PM – #5 South Dakota State at #4 Kennesaw State, ESPN3

For those that may not be aware, the other two games going on over on the other side of the bracket are #7 Maine (CAA) at #2 Weber State (Big Sky) at 7 PM on Friday night on ESPN2, and #6 UC Davis (Big Sky) at #3 Eastern Washington (Big Sky) at 3 PM on Saturday afternoon on ESPN3.

Colgate at North Dakota State

The Series: This will be the first ever meeting between the Raiders and the Bison. The last time NDSU faced off against any team from the Patriot League was in 2011, when they hosted Lafayette to open their season (and won 42-6) and then had then #6 Lehigh in the quarterfinals of the playoffs (winning 24-0) en route to FCS Championship #1. This year is Colgate’s first appearance in the FCS playoffs since 2015 when they went 2-1 postseason. The last time Colgate played a MVFC team was in 2012 when their second game of the season was a 31-21 loss at South Dakota.

‘Gate’s Record: The Raiders went 9-1 in the regular season and 6-0 against Patriot League teams. They started off the season with wins over Holy Cross and then #20 New Hampshire. They then had a game at Furman that was cancelled due to hurricane. After that, they beat Lafayette, William & Mary, Bucknell, Cornell, Georgetown, Fordham, Lehigh, and then had their lone loss of the season at FBS (and currently 9-2) Army (but with a pretty respectable score of 28-14). In the playoffs, they are the #8 seed, so they had the opening round off and then beat James Madison 23-20 to earn a trip to the Fargodome.

NDSU’s Record: In case you’ve been living under a rock, NDSU is undefeated this season, going 12-0 overall with an 8-0 conference record. They decimated Cal Poly, North Alabama, and Delaware to start their season. They then went through the MVFC portion of the season with a 4-point win over SDSU and wins over UNI, WIU, ILSU, USD, then a surprisingly close game against YSU before stomping all over MSU and SIU. As the #1 seed, they also had a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They hosted Montana State last weekend, winning by a score of 52-10.

About Colgate: Statistically, Colgate’s strength is their defense, which is #1 in the FCS in both yards allowed (219 ypg) and points allowed (7 per game), although against FCS teams, the points allowed drops to 4.9 ppg. The total number of TDs that the Raiders have given up this season to FCS teams…including in the playoffs…can be counted on one hand. They are 2nd in passing yards allowed (130 ypg) and 4th in their run defense (88 ypg). LB T.J. Holl is the “tackling machine” for Colgate’s defense, averaging 9.5 tackles per game and has 2 forced fumbles and was named the conference Defensive Player of the Year. DT Nick Wheeler picks up 4.36 tackles per game, but also leads the team in tackles for loss (16) and sacks (8), has 5 QB hurries and 2 fumble recoveries. Wheeler finished #8 in the Buchanan Award (FCS Defensive Player of the Year) voting this year. DB Tyler Castillo has 6 interceptions this season including 2 last weekend against James Madison, and 7 pass breakups. DB Alec Wisniewski had 6 tackles per game and 6 pass breakups. All the previously mentioned players were first-team All-Patriot League.

On the other side of the ball, the Raiders are 79th in total offense (361 ypg) and 47th in scoring (29.5 ppg). They don’t have much in the way of a passing game, picking up only 161 ypg through the air (104th), although they’ve only thrown 3 interceptions all season. On the ground, they are 33rd in the FCS, putting up essentially 200 ypg). Their QB is Grant Breneman, a first-team all-conference player, who throws for 171 ypg with 6 TDs and 3 interceptions and a 63.9% completion rate. Breneman is also the #2 rusher on the team, averaging 33 ypg with 7 rushing TDs. His primary receiving targets are WRs Owen Rockett (63 ypg w/ 3 TDs) and TB James Holland Jr.. Holland has 30 catches for 18 ypg and 2 TDs receiving, but is primarily the majority of the ground game, averaging 105 ypg with 12 TDs rushing. Holland was named the Patriot League’s Offensive Player of the Year and he finished 15th in the Walter Payton Award voting. PK Chris Puzzi is 15 of 17 on field goal attempts, perfect under 40 yards out and has a long of 47.

Colgate is good at both holding onto the ball, with 26 turnovers gained this season (9th in the FCS) and only 10 turnovers lost (8th) for an average margin of +1.45 turnovers per game (3rd).

About North Dakota State: The Bison also have an exceptionally strong defense, ranking 6th in total yardage allowed (289 ypg) and 2nd in points allowed (12). Against the run, they are 13th with 108 ypg) and they’re 14th against the pass at 181 ypg. LB Jabril Cox just missed out on making the top 3 for Buchanan Award voting (and is only a sophomore) and was the MVFC defensive player of the year. Cox leads the team with 6.5 tackles per game, has 4 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 5 QB hurries. In his 4 interceptions, he’s returned them 147 total yards including 2 for TDs. Safety Robbie Grimsley was 9th in Buchanan Award voting and has 6 tackles per game with 5 interceptions and 4 pass breakups. LB Dan Marlette also gets in on the action fairly often, with 6.17 tackles per game, 4 pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. DE Greg Menard and DT Cole Carcz lead the team in sacks with 7.5 each.

NDSU’s offense is also extremely good, putting up 461 ypg (18th in the FCS) and 42 ppg (6th). They have the 9th best run game (277 ypg) but their passing offense is statistically, only 87th in yardage with 181 ypg). The thing is, with the ground game that they have, they rarely need to pass the ball, but when they do, they are 10th yards per completion and QB Easton Stick is 3rd in the FCS in passing efficiency. Stick is the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year and is in the top 3 for Walter Payton Award voting. He has 22 passing TDs with 5 interceptions and runs for 34 ypg with 11 TDs. When he does pass, most of them are heading towards WR Darrius Shepherd who has 51 catches for 71 ypg and 6 TDs. TE Ben Ellefson doesn’t get a ton of yardage (15 ypg) but gets targeted for a lot of red zone/short down plays, picking up 7 receiving TDs from 12 total catches. The NDSU ground game is primarily a 2-headed monster, with RBs Lance Dunn and Bruce Anderson both averaging 72-73 ypg. Dunn has 12 rushing TDs and just under 6 yards per carry while Anderson has 6 TDs and a 7 yards per carry average. RBs Ty Brooks (54 ypg w/ 4 TDs) and Adam Cofield (40 ypg w/ 6 TDs) would honestly be the starting/top 2 RBs on nearly any other team in the FCS. On special teams, punter Garrett Wegner is 7th in the FCS with 43.7 yards per punt, and the previously mentioned WR Darrius Shepherd is 4th in the FCS at returning punts, averaging 17.4 yards per return.

My Take: Colgate is an excellent defensive team. A lot of their numbers were put up against teams that maybe aren’t quite as strong as what NDSU usually faces off against in the MVFC, but they also did really well in their loss to Army and taking down James Madison last weekend, forcing 5 interceptions while not turning over the ball once. That being said, I don’t think they’ve taken on a team with the particular set of skills that the Bison have. NDSU can move the ball much more effectively than JMU does, both on the ground and in the air, and are not anywhere near as prone to turnovers, so I don’t think the Raiders can count on that to keep them in this game. This will also likely be the best defense that Colgate has faced this year. Because of the strength of the two defenses, I feel like both teams will probably end up with fewer than their average points, but I think that NDSU can just keep grinding away on offense much better than Colgate can. My prediction is a 31-12 NDSU victory.

For more discussion and analysis, here’s the thread on for this game:

South Dakota State at Kennesaw State

The Series: This is also the first ever meeting between the Jackrabbits and Owls. This is much less surprising than the NDSU vs Colgate game being their first ever meeting because while NDSU, SDSU, and Colgate have all been playing football since the late 1800’s, this is only the fourth season of football for Kennesaw State. This weekend will actually be the first time KSU has played any MVFC team. It’s also, as near as I can tell, the first time SDSU has played against any of the current members of the Big South conference.

SDSU’s Record: The Jackrabbits went 8-2 overall with a 6-2 conference record in the regular season. 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 and then “snow-plowed” Duquesne 51-6 last weekend in a snowstorm.

KSU’s Record: The Owls had a 11-1 record through the regular season and went 5-0 in Big South games. They opened with a 4-point loss at FBS Georgia State, and since then have done nothing but win. They blew out Tennessee Tech, Alabama State, and DII Clark Atlanta. They had a closer game against Samford (14-point win), but then hit 56 points twice in wins against Presbyterian and Gardner-Webb. KSU then won handily over Charleston Southern, Campbell and Monmouth before finishing up their regular season with a barn-burner against Jacksonville State at the Braves’ Suntrust Park where the Owls won 60-52. KSU went into the playoffs as the #4 seed with a first-round bye. In the second round, they hosted Wofford and beat them in a defensive battle, 13-10, that was tied until a FG with less than 2 minutes left in the game gave the Owls the win.

About SDSU: South Dakota State is 5th in the FCS in total offense (508 ypg) and 2nd in scoring offense (45.9 ppg). Those numbers are slightly skewed by a 90-6 win early in the season, but by now, they’ve shown that high-scoring games are not a fluke. They have a fairly balanced offense that puts up an average of 266 ypg through the air (25th) and 241 ypg on the ground (15th). QB Taryn Christion finished 7th in the voting for the Walter Payton Award this season, throwing for 245 ypg with 29 TDs (5th in the FCS) and 6 interceptions. Christion is also 5th in the FCS for passing efficiency with a rating of 163.8 and runs for an average of 24 ypg with 5 TDs. WR Cade Johnson is the primary target, with 60 catches for 16 TDs and an average of 107 ypg with WR Adam Anderson next on the list with 45 catches for 6 TDs and 63 ypg. Since taking over as one of the primary RBs after a couple of injuries to starters, RB Pierre Strong Jr. has averaged 167 ypg with 9 TDs (that’s in the last 3 regular season games and the second-round playoff game). RB Mikey Daniel is in a similar situation, having been moved up the depth chart midseason due to injuries and is averaging 67 ypg with 7 TDs (removing his limited involvement in the first three games of the season) and had 100 rushing yards with 2 TDs in last weekend’s playoff game (in a snowstorm). PK Chase Vinatieri is 12 for 19 on FGs this season, but has the leg strength to have made a 57-yarder earlier this season, and Punter Brady Hale is 16th in the FCS, averaging 42.7 yards per punt.

When the Jackrabbits are on defense, LB Christian Rozeboom picks up most of the tackles, averaging 7.3 per game (80 total, 40 solo) with 6.5 for loss and 2 interceptions. DE Ryan Earith leads the team with 9 tackles for loss including 5.5 sacks and 9 QB hurries. CBs Jordan Brown and Zy Mosley do a solid job in the backfield, with Brown having 10 pass breakups and 3 interceptions and Mosely having 4 interceptions. In terms of total defense, SDSU gives up 363 ypg (43rd) and 20.8 ppg (13th). They are 49th against the pass (209 ypg) and 45th against the run (154.2 ypg).

About KSU: Kennesaw State frequently runs a triple-option offense, which can be tricky for defenses to handle if they aren’t disciplined about paying attention to a play and handling their assignments. It also ends up skewing the stats somewhat towards their running game since it involves lots of handoffs, QB runs, and short lateral tosses to players running out to the edges. The Owls are 20th in total offense (457 ypg) and 3rd in scoring offense (45.7 ppg), with a heavy emphasis on the run game, averaging 356 ypg on the ground (2nd in the FCS) but only 101 ypg through the air (119th out of 124 teams). QB Chandler Burks averages 86 ypg passing with 10 TDs, but also leads the team in rushing with 73 ypg and 29 TDs (that’s #1 in the FCS) and is a finalist (top 3) for the Walter Payton Award. RB Darnell Holland gets nearly as many yards on the ground as Burks does, picking up 71 ypg and 9 TDs while RB Shaquil Terry gets 46 ypg with 5 TDs. RB Jake McKenzie is a bit of a bigger back who, it looks like, often goes in for short-down situations, due to his high number of attempts (97) but only a 38 ypg average. The few times that KSU does pass, it’s frequently to WR Justin Sumpter who leads the team with a 32 ypg average and 4 TDs receiving. PK Justin Thompson is 8 for 10 on FGs this season with a long of 44.

On defense, the Owls give up only 260 ypg (3rd in the FCS) and 14.4 ppg (6th). Their pass defense is 7th, giving up 152 ypg and their run defense is 12th allowing 108 ypg. LB Anthony Gore leads the team in tackles with 73 (~6 per game) with 15 tackles for loss including 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Gore also finished 10th in Buchanan Award voting this year. LB Bryson Armstrong is just behind Gore for tackles with 70 (5.83 per game) with 8.5 for loss and 3 QB hurries. DBs Dorian Walker and Cincere Mason each have 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Walker also has 4 pass breakups while Mason has 3. DL Andrew Butcher is another man to watch for pressuring the QB with 4 QB hurries, 7 tackles for loss, and 3 fumble recoveries this season.

My Take: I would say that this game should be much closer than the NDSU/Colgate game will likely be. KSU has more impressive numbers and is obviously a really good team, but you also have to take into account who they’ve played. Strength of schedule ratings for the FCS are somewhat sparse, but according to Massey Ratings, SDSU has had the 11th toughest schedule in the FCS, while Sagarin says 148th in all of DI. KSU’s numbers for the same ratings systems are 74th toughest FCS schedule and 214th in DI. I think that SDSU’s defense is pretty solid and should be able to do ok against KSU, assuming they remain focused and stick to their assignments. KSU’s defense meanwhile, is excellent, but I don’t know if they’ve faced an offense that’s as good at all facets as the Jackrabbits. I think we’ll probably see both teams get fewer than their average points in this one. In the past, I would say that weather would have made a bigger difference to SDSU, because in the past they were very much a pass-oriented team. This year though, that has evened out quite a bit with the emergence of a couple of young RBs and graduation of two of the best receivers SDSU has ever had. It’s supposed to be in the low 40s and rainy during much of this game, but considering SDSU put up over 50 points in a snowstorm…that may not be that much of an issue. My guess is something around a 38-32 SDSU win in this one.

For more discussion and analysis, here’s the thread on for this game:

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Father, runner, drum corps alumnus. Former member of the Western Illinois Marching Leathernecks. Following Leatherneck football and I-AA/FCS football since 1996.

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