In between our look at all the conference championship previews today, Crystal Ball Run will look at this year's playoffs...the FCS playoffs that is.
Here is Part I of Matt Elder's preview, with Part II coming Saturday morning.
Sam Houston State v. Stony Brook
Sam Houston State enters this game as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time this season. This may be a bit of a weird feeling to them but they have earned this right through consistency and hard work. Stony Brook comes into this game after coming back last weekend v. Albany and will look to build on that success and pull off the upset.
Sam Houston State Offense
Not many tricks here when it comes to what Sam Houston State will do on offense. They are going to snap the ball and give it off to Tim Flanders who ranks 21st in the nation in rushing. Flanders has 1,133 yards on the season with 20 TD’s. He’s coming off back to back 100 yard games and may be peaking at the right time. Sam Houston is also deep at RB utilizing three other backs behind Flanders in Richard Sincere, Ryan Wilson, and Keyshawn Hill. Combined these three have ran for 1,322 yards and 14 TD’s. Sam Houston’s running game is prolific and it ranks 7th in the country averaging over 250 yards per game. Sam Houston will throw the ball but again it goes through their RB’s as Flanders and Sincere are two of the top three receivers on the team.
Stony Brook Defense
Stony Brook played well v. the run last week when they played Albany. They allowed only 82 rushing yards on 21 carries and on the season they rank 9th in Run Defense. The issue here is that in the Big South conference has only three teams (other than Stony Brook) who average over 150 rushing yards per game so that number could be a little off. That doesn’t mean that Stony Brook can’t stop the run and they will try and do it with two sophomores leading the way in LB Jawara Dudley and DL Junior Solice. Solice will need to get penetration into the backfield and disrupt Sam Houston’s attack before it gets started while Dudley simply needs to clean up whatever Solice can’t get to.
Stony Brook Offense
If we want to talk about how well Sam Houston runs the ball, then we have to talk about how Stony Brook runs it better. Coming into this game Stony Brook ranks 4th in Rushing, 2nd in Scoring, and 7th in Total Offense. They average over 447 yards per game with 277 of that coming on the ground. They have two 1,000 yard rushers in Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski. Together they ran for only 178 yards last week but could be due for a break out game this week. The entire offense starts and stops with these two backs.
Sam Houston State Defense
It’s probably a good thing when you’re facing a run heavy team and you come in with the No. 1 ranked Run Defense in the nation, right? Sam Houston is only allowing a paltry 59 rushing yards per game and only 259 total. DB Darnell Taylor has a lot to do with how stout this defense is as he leads the team in tackles with 89 and has forced three fumbles. Taylor is helped out by LB Kash David and his ability to get into the backfield and cause issues. David has eight tackles for loss on the year which leads the team and seems to constantly be in the backfield either making a play or re-directing it.
We’ll take Sam Houston State here to roll pretty easily, this win should set up a quarterfinal match-up of epic proportions.
Montana State v. New Hampshire
Big Sky v. CAA, this is what playoff football is all about. Normally these two teams would never see each other but they are come from two of the biggest conferences in college football and are two of the conferences best teams. This is what makes college football so great, not to mention the winner of this game could very well be our National Champion.
Montana State Offense
Led by sophomore Denarius McGhee Montana State is a juggernaut of an offense that is darn near impossible to stop. McGhee is 167 of 274 for 2,360 yards, 22 TD’s and 10 INT’s on the year and has also run the ball 72 times for 244 yards and three more scores. If UNH wants to stop Montana State it all has to start up front with containing McGhee. McGhee however has help in making this offense as explosive as it is and that starts with RB Cody Kirk who has ran for 1,233 yards and 14 TD’s this season and is aided by WR Elvis Akpla who has been McGhee favorite target hauling in 49 passes for 940 yards and 11 TD’s.
New Hampshire Defense
Here is the issue however, with as good as McGhee is, New Hampshire doesn’t have a great defense. They haven’t been able to stop much of anybody all season long and have relied more on their offense to outpace their CAA opponents than their defense to come up with big stops. On the year they are allowing an average of 430 yards per game and 32 points to be scored. Against Montana State those numbers could prove to be the end of a very short playoff run. If they are going to come up with some stops then it all starts with DL Brian McNally and his ability to get after the QB. McNally came into this season with high hopes and has had a good but not great season. His 7.5 sacks lead the team but he’s only made 25 tackles on the year and has struggled to deal with the extra attention he’s seeing this season.
New Hampshire Offense
Now we are talking about something New Hampshire that New Hampshire can rely on. New Hampshire’s high powered and high flying offensive attack averaged 444 yards per game and scores over 33 points. QB Kevin Decker is the catalyst to this offense and depending on what kind of a day he is having it will determine what kind of day the team will have. Decker is 244 of 350 for 3,072 yards, 20 TD’ and 14 INT’s. He has two very good WR’s in RJ Harris and Joey Orlando. Both players are over 45 catches and 600 yards on the year, the only key difference is that Harris has found the end zone seven times to Orlando’s three.
Montana State Defense
Unlike New Hampshire, defense is a not a place where Montana State tends to struggle. They come in averaging only 189.55 yards per game allowed through the air and are seventh in the nation with 3.45 sacks per game. DL Brad Daly leads the sack attack with 10 but he can be a bit inconsistent as he’s only registered sacks in seven of eleven games. If even doesn’t appear to have it, look for Montana State to start sending some blitzes at UNH. They like to send junior DB Jody Owens on the blitz because of how good a tackler he is. Owens leads the team in tackles with 86 and will be all over the field on Saturday.
I think this one could get out of hand quickly as Montana State is a team that would have been the top seed had they not been beaten by Montana. We all want the Montana State v. Sam Houston State quarterfinal match-up and I think we get it.
Northern Iowa v. Wofford
Northern Iowa has been a dominant FCS team for a while now they’ve won six regional titles since 1985 and in 2005 lost the National Championship game to Appalachian State 21-16. Wofford comes in as a bit of a new face to the FCS Playoffs. They come in featuring a strong triple option attack and could present issues for the Panthers.
Northern Iowa Offense
Northern Iowa will go as far as QB Tirrell Rennie will take them. The do everything QB for the Panthers leads the team in both rushing and passing statistics having run for 739 yards, thrown for 1,642 and scored 20 total TD’s. Complimenting Rennie on the ground is RB David Johnson who has carried the ball more than Rennie (167 v 138) but had gained less yardage (730 v 739) and scored fewer touchdowns (8 v 9). Through the air Rennie loves to find WR Terrell Sinkfield deep down the field, Sinkfield averages over 16 yards per catch and has caught over half of Rennie’s 11 touchdown throws (6). A big part of UNI’s success is how good their OL is, they rank 38th in the country in sacks allowed, allowing just over a sack and a half per game. If it becomes a trenches battle that helps UNI.
Wofford features a strong defense that is led by its defensive line. DL Eric Ebehardt and Alex Goltry rank 2nd and 3rd in both sacks and TFL on the team and have combined on the year for 65 tackles, 18 TFL’s, and 11.5 sacks. That doesn’t even mention DL Ameet Pall who was a dominant force last year but has seen mostly double teams this season and had his numbers drop off. However one man’s loss is another’s gain as offenses have had to deal with sophomore LB Alvin Scioneaux coming out of nowhere and benefiting from all the extra attention Pall has gotten. Scioneaux has 78 tackles, 16 TFL, and 7.5 sacks on the year, he’s also forced four fumbles and picked off a pass. He should be in on nearly every play v. UNI.
Wofford comes in with the nation’s No. 1 ranked rushing offense averaging over 350 yards per game on the ground. For Wofford everything is dependent upon their rushing attack being successful. If they can’t it going then they can’t win games. Wofford features one of the biggest stars in the FCS in Eric Breitenstein. He has run for over 1,300 yards this year and is one of the most powerful backs in the country. Breitenstein along with fellow back Donovan Johnson and QB Mitch Allen have run for a total of 2,940 yards this year and scored 35 TD’s. If the option attack can’t get going then passing the ball isn’t really an option, Allen has only attempted 80 passes on the year and has thrown 7 INT’s to only 4 TD’s. Wofford is going to live or die by the run.
Northern Iowa Defense
Defense is the strength of this UNI team and they have talent at all three levels. They rank fifth in the nation in turnover margin averaging a +1.36 per game and they rank fourth in scoring defense allowing only 16.18 points per game. DL Ben Boothby will lead the way in the trenches as his job will be to set the edge and hold contain against this very talented Wofford rushing attack. The main assignments will fall to LB’s LJ Fort and Jordan Smith who will have to play discipline based football as they try and swallow up this option offense. Boothby and Fort have been very effective in getting into the backfield and disrupting plays but the biggest key for this UNI defense may be DB James Conley. Conley is going to have to be effective coming up in run support and not biting on fakes. He has to read and react to Wofford’s option very quickly and get out in front of it.
Ill take the Panthers here, though it’s a tough draw. They aren’t used to the triple option and Wofford is one of the best teams in the country at running it. This game may come down to the final minutes, but I think Rennie finds way to get his team past.
Montana v. Central Arkansas
Montana has made its triumphant return to the FCS playoffs after missing out last year while UCA is hoping that Senior QB Nathan Dick can lead them beyond just a second round exit.
Coming into this season nobody really knew who was going to be taking the starting snaps under center for the Grizzlies. During the final practices of the fall sophomore Jordan Johnson emerged and he hasn’t looked back. Johnson has been effective this year with both his arms and legs as he led the Grizzlies to a 9-2 record. Johnson has been helped out by how deep this Montana offense is, they use three RB’s and three main WR’s in their offense and keep teams off balance with different looks and personnel packages. Montana’s trio of RB’s has been particularly effective at Peter Nguyen, Jordan Canada, and Dan Moore have combined for 301 carries for 1,589 yards and 13 TD’s. If these three can get going and create room in the passing game for Johnson then watch out.
Central Arkansas Defense
Central Arkansas’s defense is led by LB Seth Allison on the year he has 100 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT’s, 2 FF, and 2 PBU. He’s their best defender and has been absolute menace for offenses to try and block. This past weekend though it was another LB who was making plays all over the field and that was Frank Newsome. Newsome who is second on the team in tackles now with 70 had eight tackles on the day, two and a half for loss, and two sacks. When both Newsome and Allison are flying all over the field its very difficult for teams to establish any kind of a consistent attack.
Central Arkansas Offense
Led by transfer QB Nathan Dick this past Saturday, UCA wracked up 439 total yards against Tennessee Tech and were dominant in their win. Dick went 23 of 29 for 319 yards and two TD’s. He was distributing the ball very efficiently as he hit 10 different receivers with passes. The even more interesting part was that Dick’s two favorite targets, Jesse Grand and Dominique Croom, only accounted for six receptions, 65 yards, and a TD. It was there other options that were so dangerous on the day. I would expect UCA to once again try and establish their explosive passing game v. Montana.
Much like the way the offense works Montana’s defense is very much a team effort and that team effort is led by LB Caleb McSurdy. McSurdy has put some incredible numbers this year making 114 tackles with 7 going for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 2 FF, and an INT. McSurdy is the leader but he is assisted by playmakers at every level of this defense including DL Bryan Wald Hauser (5.5 sacks, 12 TFL), LB John Kanongata (8 TFL), and DB Mike McCord(3 INT). They key to this defense though is that when all of these units work together they are nearly impossible to beat.
This game could go either way in all honesty, Montana’s team oriented attack will be tough to stop but UCA’s offense is explosive and could score on any play. In the end I have to go with the team whose been here before and that’s Montana.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II of this preview!
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