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2016 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Predictions

James Madison’s only loss was to North Carolina (pictured above). Since then the Dukes have won 10 straight including their 65-7 demolition of Sam Houston State in the FCS Quarterfinals. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Predictions

Four teams remain in the hunt for the 2016 FCS National Championship. Three of the top four seeds, #1 North Dakota State, #2 Eastern Washington, and #4 James Madison, are alive along with unseeded Youngstown State. All four are worthy of reaching the National Championship for the right to play for the title.

The two semifinal games will be played over two days. The first game featuring the five time defending National Champions, North Dakota State, will be played on Friday, December 16. The second game featuring the #2 seed Eastern Washington will be played on Saturday, December 17. Through three rounds, our predictions have gone 18-2. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (7-1)

Second Round Predictions (7-1)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Below are the predictions for the FCS Semifinal games. We will begin with the Friday game of James Madison at North Dakota State.

#4 James Madison (12-1) at #1 North Dakota State (12-1)

Game Time: Friday, December 16 at 7 PM Eastern (ESPN2)

James Madison has played in two playoff games and they have both been blowouts. They dismantled New Hampshire in the second round 55-22 after a slow first quarter. Bryan Schor threw for 371 yards on 30 of 37 passing for 5 touchdowns and an interception.

Their Quarterfinal game against Sam Houston State was even more impressive. They held one of the best offenses in FCS to just 7 points in 65-7 thrashing of Sam Houston State. SHSU’s Jeremiah Briscoe went a horrid 13 of 44 for 143 yards passing and 2 picks. The running game got going for the Dukes with 144 yards and 2 touchdowns from Trai Sharp and 141 yards and 3 touchdowns from Khalid Abdullah. The special teams also had a punt return for a touchdown and blocked  another punt that they then returned for a touchdown.

North Dakota State opened with San Diego in the second round and they had little trouble with them in a 45-7 win. Easton Stick threw for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for another 99 yards. The team averaged 9.6 yards per carry with 299 yards total on the ground.

The Bison’s Quarterfinal matchup was against a familiar foe in South Dakota State. The Bison lost to them 19-17 in the regular season and they had a slow start to the Quarterfinal. SDSU took a 10-0 thanks to the hidden ball trick play.

After that, the Bison were in total control. They got a 49 yard touchdown run from Lance Dunn (after a 71 yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Williams was taken off the board). Their next drive was a soul crushing 20 play possession that took off 12:09 on the clock. Stick kept the ball for a 3 yard touchdown run and the Bison took a 14-10 lead they never relinquished. The Bison won 36-10 with Stick throwing for 188 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and rushing for another 83 yards and 2 scores. King Frazier had 101 yards rushing while Dunn finished with 91 yards and a score on the ground.

James Madison is full of playmakers on offense with Bryan Schor at quarterback and Khalid Abdullah running the ball. The emergence of Trai Sharp the last three weeks have really helped Dukes on offense. Sharp has 301 yards the last three games, which is more than half of his entire season total (593 yards). The Bison allow 99.2 yards rushing per game.

North Dakota State’s offense will probably be the key to this game. The Bison are averaging 290.6 rushing yards per game over their previous five contests. They want to use that run game to wear down the defense, salt the clock, and score touchdowns. They did that very well against South Dakota State and their key was going 10 for 13 on third down. If James Madison wants to have any chance, they need to stop the run, prevent long drives, and, most importantly, get off the field on third down. Easier said than done.

This game features two physical teams that prefer to run the ball, but can use the passing attack to beat their opponent if needed. James Madison has the better offense here, but the Bison have the better defense. Who will win that battle?

We like James Madison to win this game 31-28. To pick against the Bison, at home, as 5 time defending National Championships, and with a stellar run game, is very hard to do. They could easily make this pick look terrible, but we like the Dukes here.

Youngstown State (11-3) at #2 Eastern Washington (12-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 17 at 6:30 PM Eastern (ESPNU)

Youngstown State is the only team remaining to have played in the first round. They faced Samford in a game they controlled throughout and won 38-24. Their second round game was against Jacksonville State and they did exactly what they needed to do. They forced Eli Jenkins to throw the ball and he went 6 of 26 passing with 140 yards, a touchdown, and 2 interceptions. The defense gave up 317 yards rushing, but they forced a run first team into a deficit and forced them to pass. Jody Webb finished with 140 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns while Hunter Wells threw for 290 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 18 passing for Youngstown State.

The Penguins had a stiff test in the Quarterfinals as well with Wofford coming to town. Wofford took a 9-0 lead after the first quarter, but YSU responded with two touchdowns to make it a 13-9 lead. After that, the teams exchanged scores until late in the game when Youngstown State hit a 32 yard field goal to tie the game at 23. Wofford attempted a 53 yard field goal at the end of regulation, but it came up short and the game went to overtime.

Overtime was full of twists and turns. Wofford decided to go for it on fourth and one from the YSU 3, but the pitch hit off Lorenzo Long’s hands and went out of bounds. The Penguins had a chance to win it in the first overtime, but Zak Kennedy’s 37 yard field goal was wide right. YSU started the second overtime with a 2 yard touchdown run by Tevin McCaster and then forced an incompletion on fourth down against Wofford’s offense to seal the 30-23 win in double overtime.

Eastern Washington had a bye in the first round and then faced Central Arkansas in the second round. After giving up the first 14 points, the Eagles scored the final 31 points and held the Central Arkansas offense to 75 yards in the second half. Gage Gubrud went 47 of 64 passing with 449 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 31-14 win. He also rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown in a complete performance from him.

Eastern Washington used that strong second half defensive performance against Central Arkansas and parlayed that into a full game against Richmond. In their 38-0 shutout, they held Richmond to 205 yards of total offense including 48 yards on the ground and only 1.3 yards per carry. Gage Gubrud had a more pedestrian game going 21 of 32 for 287 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick. Cooper Kupp caught 6 passes for 128 yards and a score despite worries over his shoulder.

The weather for this game is expected to be bitterly cold in Cheney, Washington. That would seem to favor the running attacks, which Youngstown State has a distinct advantage in. The Penguins average 257.1 yards per game on the ground and their playoff average is at 244.7 yards per game. Jody Webb (1,200 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Martin Ruiz (1,153 and 12 touchdowns) are the leading rushers, but Ruiz may not play against an EWU defense that allows 188.4 yards rushing per game. Ruiz played little in the Wofford game after being arrested on firearm charges.

Eastern Washington only averages 131.3 yards per game on the ground. Will the weather completely shut down their pass attack? That is difficult to envision because the Eagles will still throw the ball around plenty. However, we saw cold weather shut down Sam Houston State’s offense at James Madison when the weather was cold. The difference here is that Eastern Washington is used to this weather, even if it is not ideal to play in. They know what to expect and should be prepared.

One thing to keep in my about this game is that Youngstown State may be without four or five players including Martin Ruiz. If that is the case, their work is going to be even more difficult.

Youngstown State has a good offense to play in the cold weather. That is to run the ball, but this Eastern Washington defense has been completely different the last 90 minutes of game time. Gage Gubrud will be able to complete enough passes to the trio of Kupp, Shaq Hill, and Kendrick Bourne. If needed, Gubrud can use his legs to run the ball as he is the leading rusher for the Eagles with 558 yards and 5 touchdowns. We will pick Eastern Washington to win this game 28-17.

Check back the first week of the new year for a preview of the FCS National Championship game.

2016 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Predictions

Cooper Kupp's health will be the focus coming into and during the game against Richmond. He is a top receiver in the FCS and a crucial part of the Eastern Washington pass offense. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images North America)
Cooper Kupp’s health will be the focus coming into and during the game against Richmond. He is a top receiver in the FCS and a crucial part of the Eastern Washington pass offense. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Predictions

The 2016 FCS Playoffs bracket has been cut down to 8 teams. There was some exciting action in the second round and some blowouts as well. The Quarterfinals will be played on both Friday, December 9 and Saturday, December 10. All four games can be found on various ESPN channels. An updated bracket can be found here.

After going 7-1 in the first round with our predictions, we matched that again in the second round to move our two round total to 14-2. We will make our predictions for the quarterfinals starting with the #1 seed North Dakota State and #8 South Dakota State.

#8 South Dakota State (9-3) at #1 North Dakota State (11-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 12 PM Eastern

South Dakota State started their playoffs with a 10-7 win at home against Villanova last week. It was an ugly game with the Jackrabbits rushing for just 7 yards. Taryn Christion threw for 190 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 33 passing. The defense allowed 321 yards of offense to Villanova, but allowed just that one score and were stingy once the Wildcats got inside their territory.

North Dakota State opened their 5 time title defense with a 45-7 walloping of San Diego at home. Easton Stick threw for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns, ran for another 99 yards on 4 carries, and the rushing attack was devastating. The Bison had 299 yards on 31 carries as a team (Lance Dunn had 93 yards and 1 TD while Bruce Anderson rushed for 61 yards and a TD) and they averaged 9.6 yards per carry.

This is a rematch of the game on October 15 that South Dakota State won 19-17 in this building. The Bison held a 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter, but SDSU chipped away at the lead. Christion hit Jake Wieneke from 2 yards out with 1 second left and the Jackrabbits pulled off the upset. The Jackrabbits put up 523 yards of offense that day, which was the second most against NDSU’s defense behind Eastern Washington’s 556 yards in the Bison’s second game.

So how will this game go? Probably pretty similar to the first one. The Jackrabbits have the better offense, but the Bison have the better defense. This game will come down to the Bison’s offense. If they can control the clock, shorten the game, and gave success running the ball, then they will probably win. The combination of Dunn, King Frazier, Stick using his legs to extend plays/drives, Chase Morlock, and Anderson will be tough to stop. The Bison had 161 yards rushing in the first game versus SDSU and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

In a close game, we like the North Dakota State Bison to win and move on to the semifinals. They will be tested by Taryn Christion, but will do enough to win 21-16. The winner of this game will play either Sam Houston State or James Madison in the semifinals.

#5 Sam Houston State (12-0) at #4 James Madison (11-1)

Game Time: Friday, December 9 at 7 PM PM Eastern

Sam Houston State was tested in their second round game at home versus Chattanooga. Despite leading the whole game, the Bearkats needed a late fourth down stop to win 41-36. Jeremiah Briscoe threw for 363 yards and 5 touchdowns with 1 pick on 20 of 40 passing. Yedidiah Louis had 8 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Bearkats put up 421 yards of offense, but it was Chattanooga’s offense who did better with 531 yards.

James Madison blew the doors off New Hampshire at home 55-22. After falling behind 7-0 midway through the first, they responded with 31 straight points to take a 31-7 halftime lead. The Dukes had 408 yards passing (Bryan Schor had 371 yards with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception) and 567 yards of total offense.

This game will be all about offense. SHSU averages 53.1 points and 570.4 yards per game. James Madison averages 48.3 points and 525.8 yards per game. The defenses are porous with SHSU allowing 26.8 points and 428.5 yards per game while JMU allows 23.3 points and 354.5 yards per game.

Sam Houston State and Jeremiah Briscoe can put up points, but can their defense stop the Dukes? They will be motivated going in the road after getting the #5 seed. We like a high scoring game and James Madison to come out on top 48-38. The winner of this game will play either South Dakota State or North Dakota State in the semifinals.

Wofford (10-3) at Youngstown State (10-3)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 2 PM Eastern

Wofford sure knows how to play in close games. They staved off Charleston Southern in round one with a 15-14 victory. In the second round, they went on the road and defeated The Citadel 17-3, but that score is far from how close the game was. The game was tied at 3 after three quarters, then the Terriers took a 10-3 lead after Joe Newman broke off a 36 yard touchdown run. Devin Watson picked off a Citadel pass and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown in the final minute to make it 17-3. The Citadel also missed three of their 4 field goal attempts.

Youngstown State dominated Samford 38-24 in the first round with that game’s score flattered by two late Samford touchdowns. The Penguins second round game was more impressive though. They went on the road to Jacksonville State and held them in check during the second half to win 40-24. They allowed 317 yards on the ground to Jacksonville State, but they built a lead that forced them to throw the ball. Eli Jenkins hit only 6 of his 26 pass attempts for 140 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. The Penguins finished with 520 yards of offense with 290 yards passing and one touchdown from Hunter Wells and 140 yards rushing and 2 big scores from Jody Webb.

Wofford will be running the ball pretty much non-stop in this game. They have averaged 182 yards per game rushing in the playoffs compared to only 38.5 yards passing per game. It will be a heavy dose of Lorenzo Long, who has 1,382 yards and 16 touchdowns on 274 carries this year. In the playoffs, he has 188 yards and 2 touchdowns on 41 carries. Youngstown State allows 117.8 yards rushing per game.

Youngstown State is similar to Wofford in that they like to run the ball a lot. However, they have a passing attack that can get the job done if needed. Martin Ruiz (1,149 yards and 12 TDs) and Jody Webb (987 yards and 6 TDs) are the main ball carriers. Hunter Wells had his best game against Jacksonville State with 290 yards passing. The Penguins are facing a Wofford defense that gives up 91.2 yards rushing and 186.4 yards passing per game.

If Wofford wants to win this game they will need to stop the run and for Wells to throw the ball. The problem is that since Wells became the starter, he has not had a bad game since the North Dakota State contest. He had 0 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first two starts, but has since thrown 4 touchdowns with no interceptions. Wofford will also want to keep this game very low scoring, which is possible if they can force a lot of three and outs.

We like Youngstown State to win this game 24-10. The Penguins will keep Lorenzo Long in check and the offense will score enough points at home to force Wofford into an uncomfortable position. The winner of this game will play either Richmond or Eastern Washington in the semifinals.

Richmond (10-3) at #2 Eastern Washington (11-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 4 PM Eastern

Richmond opened with an easy 39-10 win over North Carolina A&T in the first round. Their second round game was much more difficult and they needed to mount a fourth quarter comeback to win 27-24. They trailed 24-7 at halftime, but a touchdown pass and touchdown run from Kevin Johnson, along with 2 field goals from Griffin Trau, saw them win as time expired.

Eastern Washington had a bye in the first round and won over Central Arkansas in the second round 31-14. It was a different kind of win because they fell behind 14-0, but dominated the game after that. It was the defense that had a strong second half outing allowing just 75 yards in the final 30 minutes. Gage Gubrud threw for 449 yards and 2 touchdowns on 47 of 64 passing.

There were concerns about Eastern Washington’s defense going into the game last week, but they way they played after letting up 2 touchdowns was impressive. They are going to have to stop Kevin Johnson, who has 604 yards (66.7%) passing and 3 touchdowns with no picks. Johnson is also a threat to run the ball and keep plays alive, especially near the red zone. The Eagles will need to stop Brian Brown from catching too many passes, but good luck with that. Brown has 77 receptions for 1,441 yards and 11 touchdowns this year.

Eastern Washington fans will want to keep an eye on the health of star receiver Cooper Kupp. He started the game despite a shoulder injury and played well catching 10 passes for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did not play most of the second half due to the injury, and his loss for an entire game would be huge. Still, the Eagles can rely on Shaq Hill (72 catches for 1,077 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Kendrick Bourne (74 catches for 1,051 yards and 6 touchdowns) if Kupp cannot play or his action is limited.

Richmond is a resilient team and if they can keep this game close, they will not be deterred. It will help if Kupp cannot play for Eastern Washington that will help Richmond. We like Eastern Washington, even if Kupp does not play, to win this game 28-24. The winner of this game will play either Wofford or Youngstown State in the semifinals.

Check back next week for predictions for both of the semifinal games in the 2016 FCS Playoffs.

2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview

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2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview

The final game of the 2015-16 FCS Season will be the FCS National Championship game between the North Dakota State Bison and Jacksonville State Gamecocks. The game will be played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, January 9 at 12 PM Eastern Time. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and the Watch ESPN App.

We have predicted the results for each round of the playoffs. We went 4-4 in the first round, 5-3 in the second round, 3-1 in the Quarterfinals, and 2-0 in the Semifinals. That makes for a total of 14-8 through the first four rounds of the FCS Playoffs.

Below is 2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview along with a prediction.

North Dakota State Bison Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Montana 37-6 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Northern Iowa 23-13 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Richmond 33-7 at home

North Dakota State Bison (12-2) Preview

The biggest question surrounding the North Dakota State offense will be whether quarterback Carson Wentz will be the starter or if the Bison continue to use Easton Stick. At this point, it is not known which of the two will start and it probably will not be known until the first offensive series for the Bison. While Wentz has the big game experience, but Stick has performed admirably in his absence. Stick has thrown only 3 interceptions and can also run the ball. In his short time filling in, Stick has become the second leading rusher on the team with 498 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The main running back is King Frazier with 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns on 201 carries. Bruce Anderson is third on the team in rushing with 492 yards and 2 touchdowns while it is not out of the question for freshman Lance Dunn (457 yards and 3 touchdowns) to see some action. The Bison as a team rank sixth in the FCS in terms of total rushing yards on the season. This will be key for the Bison to control the clock and limit the number of possessions for the Jacksonville State offense.

The receiving group is led by RJ Urzendowski with 43 catches for 613 yards and 6 touchdowns. Darrius Shepherd is second on the team with 36 catches for 504 yards and 5 touchdowns in what has been a very good freshman season for him. Zach Vraa will also be a target after catching 37 passes for 478 yards and 5 touchdowns. This group will be vital to moving the chains on third down passing situations.

The defense will be led by linebacker Nick DeLuca who easily has the most tackles on the team. DeLuca has 126 total tackles on the season, which is nearly 40 more than MJ Stumpf in second (78). DeLuca has also recorded nine tackles for loss, but trails to several others in that category. Greg Menard has 13.5 tackles for loss while leading the team in sacks with nine. Brian Schaetz has 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. CJ Smith leads the team with 4 interceptions with one apiece coming in the Playoff games against Montana and Richmond.

The defense will be keen on stopping the Jacksonville State running game and they rank 20th in the FCS against the run in terms of total yards allowed. They rank much lower against the pass (71st), but that could be attributed to the fact their run defense is as good as it is. The defense also ranks fifth in points allowed at 15.7 per game while they only allow 276 yards per game (4th best in the FCS). If they can hold Jacksonville State to those averages, they will have a great chance to win their fifth straight FCS Championship.

The special teams unit for North Dakota State is a mixed bag. Eric Perkins averages 11.6 yards per punt return and has a touchdown as well. Bruce Anderson is the man to watch on kickoffs as he averages 38 yards per return and has returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns. He has the chance to flip the field without the offense touching the ball. The worry for the Bison is Cam Pedersen kicking field goals. He has gone a terrible 9 of 18 on field goals attempts with the Playoffs bring out the worst in him. He has converted only 1 of his 7 field goal tries in the last 3 games.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Chattanooga 41-35 in One Overtime at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Charleston Southern 58-38 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Sam Houston State 62-10 at home

Jacksonville State Gamecocks (13-1) Preview

The Jacksonville State offense will run through two players: quarterback Eli Jenkins and running back Troymaine Pope. The rushing offense is one of the best in the nation with 4,364 yards rushing this year, which translates to 312 yards per game. Pope averages 126 yards a game while Jenkins runs for 77 yards per contest. Pope has 1,757 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season while Jenkins has 1,073 yards and 14 touchdowns for the year. While those 2 will be the main workhorses, Miles Jones can also come in and make an impact. Jones has 689 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground this year. Expect a lot of zone read plays from Eli Jenkins.

While the rushing attack is a huge part of the Jacksonville State offense, Jenkins can also throw the ball around the field if need be. He has 2,731 yards with 21 touchdowns and 6 interceptions through the air. There is one clear target for Jenkins when he is passing and that is Josh Barge. Barge has 90 catches for 1,113 and 11 touchdowns while the second leading receiver is Ruben Gonzalez with 43 catches for 649 yards and 4 touchdowns. Dalton Screws (33 catches for 374 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Markis Merrill (26 catches for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns) could also have a minor impact on the passing game.

The Jacksonville State defense is similar to North Dakota State’s in the sense that they are better against the run than they are against the pass. The Gamecocks allow about 117 rushing yards per contest compared to 178 through the air. They allow just 18.7 points and 295 yards per game.

The defense has quite a few playmakers led by Brandon Bender, who has amassed 96 tackles including 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Dawson Wells has 91 tackles on the season with 10.5 coming for a loss while Joel McCandless has 73 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Chris Landrum leads the team in sack with 8.5 while close in second is Darius Jackson with 7. Unsurprisingly, those two are the leaders on the team in tackles for loss with Landrum at 17.5 and Jackson at 18.5. Jaylen Hill is the co-leader on the team in picks with 3 along with Wells, however, Wells has returned 2 of his interceptions for touchdowns.

Josh Barge is the punt returner with an average of 10 yards per return. Lawon Debardelaben will be returning kickoffs with an average of 23 yards per return. Like North Dakota State, the kicker has accuracy issues. Connor Rouleau has gone 16 of 26 this year, but made all five of his field goal attempts in the Charleston Southern and Sam Houston State contests.

Prediction

This game is a great contrast in styles with the run based offense of Jacksonville State going up against the stingy run defense of North Dakota State. That will be fun and intriguing to watch, but it will probably come down to the other match up of the North Dakota State offense against the Jacksonville State defense. If North Dakota State can control the ball and keep the Jacksonville State offense off the field, they will have a great chance to win this game. The one thing about Jacksonville State is they do not need a lot of time to score points.

This game also features the four time defending FCS Champions in North Dakota State. They have the experience of playing in this game including last year’s contest where they had to rally to score a late touchdown. For the Gamecocks, they can play fast and loose as the underdog (North Dakota State is a 3 point favorite as of this writing). In addition to the fact they do not know the feeling of playing a game of this magnitude, which can be both positive and negative.

The lower scoring this game is, the more it favors North Dakota State and their style of play. If this game comes down to the kickers, it is hard to see either team having a big advantage though the Gamecocks’ recent success gives them the slightest of edges.

We are going to take North Dakota State to do enough to stop the Jacksonville State run game and win their fifth FCS National Championship 28-24.