A 60-minute ball game is expected Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, for the FCS national championship game between James Madison and North Dakota State. Here are five players on both teams that are essential for their team to raise the trophy.
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5. WR/RS John Miller – With Miller and tight end Jonathan Kloosterman battling injuries during the playoffs, Riley Stapleton’s emergence has been huge in JMU making its way to Frisco. But having Miller back healthy and as close to full speed is key. His special teams return ability can completely flip a game and he adds a new dimension for the NDSU defense to stop.
[credit]John Miller is looking to get back onto the field for the FCS Championship. Jim Oxley/HERO Sports[/credit]
4. DL Simeyon Robinson – It’s no secret what NDSU is going to try and do offensively: run the football. A lot of those run plays are between the tackles to soften up a defense as the game wears on. Robinson has been plugging up the middle all year for the Dukes. If he can create havoc in Frisco, the Bison offense, ranked No. 4 in the FCS in rush yards per game with 282.1, is going to get out of its comfort zone.
3. CB Jimmy Moreland – Really, all of JMU’s cornerbacks are going to play key roles in locking down NDSU’s wide receivers 1-on-1 to allow their teammates to focus on the run. But Moreland is a game-changer if he can take away an entire half of the field and possibly pull down a ninth interception on the season.
2. RB Marcus Marshall – After just one game of over 100 yards rushing in the regular season, Marshall ran for 128 yards in the quarterfinals and 203 yards in the semis. He seems to be hitting a new gear late in the season and his success will be huge against an NDSU defense ranked No. 7 against the run.
How good was Marcus Marshall yesterday? 203 yards rushing and two touchdowns good.#FCSPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/Nqx16LWH3C
— FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) December 17, 2017
1. QB Bryan Schor – Running back Khalid Abdullah caused NDSU headaches in JMU’s semifinal win last season, but it was Schor who was the difference when the Bison mounted a comeback in the second half. His ability to improvise and make plays on the run will keep the offense on the field as the Bison have 37 sacks on the season.
North Dakota State
5. WR Darrius Shepherd – It’s going to be absolutely essential the Bison receivers win their 1-on-1 battles. While RJ Urzendowski is the most reliable NDSU pass catcher, Shepherd has the game-breaking ability. Whether it’s beating his man downfield, catching a swing pass and making a play or taking a jet sweep and making a few guys miss, the junior will have a big role.
4. LB Nick DeLuca – DeLuca’s absence was noticeable last season when JMU had two big plays in the second half that happened in the middle of the field – Schor throwing to a receiver across his body and Abdullah busting a long run. The NFL Draft prospect will need to prevent those big plays and stop JMU’s No. 19-ranked rushing offense.
[credit] Nick DeLuca is no stranger to the FCS Championship. (Photo: Sam Herder)[/credit]
3. RB Bruce Anderson – The Bison have two healthy running backs right now heading into Frisco with one questionable, two doubtful and one done for the season. Anderson has gotten better and better since the injury to Lance Dunn. He’ll be challenged against a Dukes rush defense ranked No. 6.
2. CB Marquise Bridges – We learned NDSU starting cornerbacks Jaylaan Wimbush and Jalen Allison don’t have season-ending knee injuries and have an outside shot of playing. Either way, Bridges is going to see a lot of reps. He’ll be tasked with locking down JMU’s Stapleton or Miller.
.@MarquiseBridges now has a ton on his plate. His performance last night cannot be understated. He was #NDSU’s top corner by the end of the night. pic.twitter.com/ePZHaCgkZT
— Ross Uglem (@RossUglem) December 16, 2017
1. QB Easton Stick – Last season against JMU, Stick was 19-38 for 216 yards. Granted some of his passes were in desperate times in the fourth quarter and his receivers had trouble getting separation, but the junior quarterback still needs to play better for the Bison to have a chance to win. Some of the throws he made against the first three playoff opponents won’t be there against a defense leading the FCS with 31 interceptions. Taking care of the ball and making plays with his feet will be crucial.
NEXT: 5 Unsung Heroes Who Could Make a Difference for JMU and NDSU
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