I’m back with part two and the final four games of the second round of the FCS playoff bracket. The bottom half of this bracket is arguably tougher than the top half. It has former champions in Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State. It has upstart programs like Old Dominion and new comers to the post season in Towson, and Maine. There is no denying that this half of the bracket very well could yield our national champion.
(For Part I, please click here)
Georgia Southern v. Old Dominion
In a match-up of old school v. new school, Old Dominion will travel to Statesboro, Georgia to take on perennial FCS powerhouse Georgia Southern. Old Dominion comes in with a QB taken from GSU’s backyard but is still young and building while GSU is veteran laden strong team whose battle tested and looking at Frisco.
Georgia Southern Offense
Nobody runs the triple option attack like Georgia Southern runs it. Led by a senior QB Jaybo Shaw Georgia Southern is effective and efficient at keeping opposing defenses on their heels and not knowing what to expect next. They come into these playoffs averaging 318 yards per game on the ground and the Monarchs are going to need a titanic effort to slow them down. As we already mentioned Shaw is the maestro of the attack but their two big runners are sophomore RB Robert Brown and back-up QB/RB/WR Jerick McKinnon. Combined these two have run for 1,380 and 12 TD’s on the season. They are also both dangerous weapons in the open field and with McKinnon taking over for Shaw next year the future is still very bright at Southern.
Old Dominion Defense
ODU’s talented defense comes in battle tested having survived its first full year of CAA battles with only two losses. They also beat up Norfolk State pretty well last week winning the Battle for Norfolk in the 1st Round of the playoffs. ODU features the 16th rank rushing defense in the country, allowing only 115.92 ypg but they have yet to see an attack like what GSU will bring. Another reason to worry about how legitimate that low rush defense number is because every time ODU faced a big time back they got torched. Terrance West (Towson) ran for 148 yards, Jonathan Hernandez (UMass) ran for 121, and Jordan Grimes (William & Mary) ran for 227! These kind of performances leave me doubting the effectiveness of this ODU defense against a strong GSU rushing attack.
Old Dominion Offense
Now, while I think ODU’s defensive numbers are a bit misleading, their offense is actually underrated. ODU came into the season with potential All-Conference QB Thomas DiMarco leading the charge. Over the course of the season DiMarco got hurt and freshman Taylor Heinicke had to step in and show everybody that he could make it work. In the eight games that he has been in since DiMarco went down Heinicke is 186 of 263 (70.7%) he has thrown for 2,044 yards, and 20 TD’s with only 1 INT. He lit up Norfolk State last weekend and if GSU can’t find a way to put pressure on Heinicke and force him into mistakes then its going to put GSU in a potentially dangerous situation.
Georgia Southern Defense
Georgia Southern’s defense is led by their All-American caliber DT Brent Russell. Russell is only a junior but is considered by some analysts to be a top level prospect for the 2013 draft. Russell has a great first step that allows him to gain penetration into the backfield and disrupt the offensive flow. Russell leads the Eagles in both TFL (11.5) and sacks (5), and another big time playmaker for the Eagles, DB Laron Scott, leads the team in INT’s (3). GSU’s defense as a whole is slightly undersized but they are athletic and fly to the ball. This teams knows how good they are and they are brimming with confidence coming into this game.
Before really looking into the numbers it was easy to see a highly ranked ODU defense and think ‘well maybe they do have a shot…’ but after looking into it and seeing the holes in those rankings I’m not sure they do.
I’ll take the Eagles in this game.
Appalachian State v. Maine
Another classic CAA v. SOCON battle that pairs the old school power of Appalachian State v. the new school power of Maine. The Black Bears came out of nowhere this year to take the CAA by storm, finishing 6-2 in conference. Appalachian State went under a midseason QB change that re-energized an offense that had gone dormant and has Appalachian State aiming for a return to glory.
Appalachian State Offense
Coming into this year, the starting QB was DeAndre Pressley, he was an All-American and Walter Payton Trophy candidate and the Mountaineers had high hopes. However after only managing 28 total points in Weeks 4 and 5 v. Chattanooga and Wofford a change was needed and legendary HC Jerry Moore didn’t hesitate. Out was former QB DeAndre Pressley and in was sophomore Jamal Jackson. Jackson is a much better thrower than Pressley but is not quite as elusive. The reason they wanted Jackson in there over Pressley was so that they could utilize the most dangerous player in the FCS in WR Brian Quick. If you missed my article over on BBD about Quick’s down the field ability, check it out here. With Jackson and Quick together the difference has been incredible. Quick is over 1,000 yards and had double digit TD’s for the first time in his career. Since the change Quick has gone over 100 yards in five of six games and has at time looks unstoppable.
Maine comes in with the 29th ranked pass defense in the country but much like with ODU those numbers look to be a little deceiving. They have no had to go up against a WR the caliber of Quick this year the CAA is a run dominant conference. However one number that doesn’t like is that Maine ranks 18th in sacks this year averaging 2.73 sacks per game. That effort is led by DL Michael Cole who has 10 sacks on the year. His ability to get after Jackson could be key in helping to prevent the down field passes than Quick and Jackson seem to have a great feel for. The other part of that equation will be the play of DB’s Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston. Both safeties will need to be able to provide over the top coverage on Quick all game long. Coston leads the Black Bears in INT’s this year with six.
Maine is going to test Appalachian State with an aerial assault that will utilize five different WR’s and test the depth of Appalachian State’s defensive backfield. Maine has five WR’s with 25 of more catches this season. QB Warren Smith has been effective at spreading the ball around and utilizing short passes to keep the chains moving. Maine will attack the LB’s of Appalachian State with their passing game and will challenge them to make plays or be burned. Finally Appalachian State cannot forget about RB Pushaun Brown who is only 56 yards of 1,000 for the season has scored 10 TD’s on the year.
Appalachian State Defense
Appalachian State is not a pressure based defense so don’t expect Warren Smith to be under a ton of pressure on Saturday. They are more adapt to sit back read and react before making plays. The top playmakers for Appalachian State are LB’s Jeremy Kimbrough and John Rizor. These two will charged with trying to limit Brown’s production on the day. Much of the onus will be on the defensive backfield who will get stretched by Maine’s multiple WR sets. Former starting QB DeAndre Pressley will need to continue play well as a newly converted DB if Appalachian State is going to limit Maine’s big plays.
Maine is a great story but they are new player in the post-season and could be in for a big shock when they come into the atmosphere in Boone, NC. Look for App State to get up early and put the game away late.
Towson v. Lehigh
Talk about a changing of the guard in the CAA, out are power players like Villanova, Delaware, and Richmond. Enter teams like Maine, Towson, and New Hampshire. This Towson team may be the most dangerous of any CAA team in these playoffs so Lehigh better be very careful as they prepare for a team that went from 1-10 last to 9-2 this year.
If I had a vote for the Jerry Rice award (Most Outstanding Freshman) this year Id cast my vote for RB Terrance West of Towson. West ranks 10th nationally in rushing with over 1,200 yards this season and a ridiculous 27 touchdowns. He is also averaging 6.7 ypc and has been a one man army this season. West’s ability to pick up yards and get his team into good positions is only further magnified by fellow freshman and one of the top kickoff return men in the country this season in Derrick Joseph. Joseph has returned 35 kickoffs this year for 978 yards and had one TD. He is averaging 27.9 yards per return and has become a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Lehigh will have to be on point in its kick off coverage.
The Mountain Hawks feature the seventh ranked rushing defense in the country allowing only 90 yards per game and led by LB Mike Groome. Groome leads the team in tackles with 94, he’s also made 6.5 TFL, and has a sack in a half. He’s also picked up four passes as well which tells you a lot about his playmaking ability. Helping Groome out is pass rushing specialist DL Ben Flizack. Flizack leads the team in sacks with 6.5 and has also force three fumbles. The pressure that Flizack and his fellow defenders have been able to bring is a big part of why Lehigh averages 3.09 sacks per game. Towson will use quick hitting runs to neutralize that pass rush. Finally DB’ Bryan Andrews and Jonathan Littlejohn will be patrolling the skies for Lehigh looking to add to their combined total of seven INT’s.
When you talk about high powered offensive attacks at the FCS level you have to include Lehigh in that discussion. The Patriot Conference champions come into this game with the 4th ranked Passing Offense and 3rd ranked Total Offense averaging over 475 yards per game. Led by Walter Payton Award finalist QB Chris Lum the Mountain Hawks have to be considered one of the most dangerous teams in these playoffs. Lum has put up huge numbers completing 297 of 443 passes for 3,739 yards, 31 TD’s and 15 INT’s. He ranks third nationally in passing efficiency. Of course you can’t talk about a QB that successful without mentioning his man target who has been catching the passes and that has been WR Ryan Spadola. Spadola who ranks 2nd nationally in yards has caught 83 balls on the year for 1,462 yards, and 10 TD’s. Towson will have to find a way to limit to Lum to Spadola connection as much as possible on Saturday.
The playmaker on this Tiger defense is DL Frank Beltre, the junior has 63 tackles, 11 TFL, 4 sacks and a FF on the season and has been the Tigers most consistent player when it comes to making big plays. Right behind him has been fellow line mate Romale Tucker who has made 69 tackles, 10.5 TFL, and 3.5 sacks this year. Many people expect these two guys to blow up next year but Towson is just hoping that it can happen sooner rather than later. Lehigh’s high powered vertical attack will have to account for DB Joran Dangerfield who leads the team in tackles with 82 and is only one INT behind the team lead with two. Dangerfield flows well to the ball and can deliver some big shots when the situation calls for it.
This is definitely the hardest game for me to pick of the entire weekend but I think Im going to have to go with Lehigh’s high flying offense over Towson’s exciting run game. Lehigh has the ability to get up early and make Towson stop running and I think that could be the difference in the end.
North Dakota State v. James Madison
North Dakota State comes into these playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs while JMU needed a last second FG to slide past EKU in the first round. ND State is the clear favorite heading into this match-up but could they be ripe for an early upset?
North Dakota State Offense
After running for over 1,500 yards last season the Bisons knew that RB DJ McNorton was going to need some help carrying the load. Well they got it this year in RB Sam Ojuri, and while the results haven’t quite as productive in terms of yards they have already scored more rushing TD’s than last year and look primed to make a deep run into these playoffs. QB Brock Jensen has very quietly had a very good season, his numbers won’t wow you but he’s been very good at taking what defenses give him and taking some of the pressure off the running game. Jensen in 171 of 245 this season for 1,994 yards, 11 TD’s and 2 INT’s. His favorite target has been WR Warren Holloway who has caught 55 passes this year for 746 yards and six TD’s.
James Madison Defense
The Bisons are going to need to make sure their rushing attack is on point because JMU is one of the stingiest run defenses in the country. Coming in ranked 10th JMU is only allowing an average of 97.42 yards per game on the ground. Against EKU last weekend they allowed only 119 total yards rushing and shut down every ball carrier not named Matt Denham. LB’s Stephon Robertson and Pat Williams each had big days as they combined for 16 tackles, 1.5 TFL’s, and a sack. When they are playing well and can combine their play with DL DJ Bryant (4 tackles and a sack v. EKU) there defense becomes extremely difficult to run on.
James Madison Offense
After some controversy earlier in the season revolving around the QB position it appears that Justin Thorpe has once again taken over the reigns and that means another dangerous threat to the already potent JMU rushing attack. EKU found that out first hand last week as Thorpe, RB Dae’Quan Scott, and RB Jordan Anderson combined for 241 rushing yards and two scores. Their ability to pick up multiple first downs and extend drives are a big reason why JMU doubled EKU’s time of possession 40:30 to 19:30. ND State will have to be sure to get their defense off the field on third down and the way to do that is to force Thorpe to throw. Thorpe has a completion percentage just over 60% but with only 84 attempts that number is a bit skewed. The Dukes become susceptible to turnovers and mistakes when they are forced out of the running game plan.
North Dakota State Defense
The 2nd ranked scoring defense in the country will welcome JMU’s vaunted rushing attack on Saturday. ND State allows an average of 122.55 yards per game on the ground. ND State features an extremely impressive front seven that features an attacking DL that excels at getting into the backfield and making plays. Coulter Boyer is the leader of the line but as a whole the DL has made 119 tackles with 29 going for loss, and 16 being sacks. Whatever they miss Chad Wilson and Colten Heagle clean up from their LB position, they are 1st and 2nd in tackles on the team with 65 and 62 each. If for some reason JMU decides to attack the air to try and loosen up the Bison defense they will have to contend with DB Marcus Williams who ranks third nationally in INT’s with seven.
I’ll take the Bisons to finish the job that EKU started last week setting up one of the most intriguing quarterfinals match-up.
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