In what’s become the Coaching Storylines Bowl to add all the more intrigue to one of the weekend’s top FCS quarterfinal matchups, G.J. Kinne leads Incarnate Word into the capital of California to face Troy Taylor and Sacramento State. Kinne has accepted the job and has been introduced as FBS Texas State’s head coach; Taylor is a top-2 finalist for the FBS Stanford head coaching vacancy, per Stewart Mandel of The Athletic.
UIW, as strange as it is to say, now has some experience playing playoff ball under Kinne in which a loss would be his last with The Word. Texas State announced Kinne’s hiring prior to UIW’s second-round win over Furman, from which time it was known Kinne would string out the season with the Cardinals.
As for Sacramento State, the Hornets are catching media reports of Taylor’s future potentially being tied to Stanford the day before Friday’s 10:30 PM eastern kickoff with Incarnate Word on ESPN+.
Which team will better manage the external noise that now descends on both locker rooms, albeit in different ways? The pressure seems to be turned up on Sac State’s end, where the head coach’s long-term commitment is in question, in contrast to the solidified outgoing situation of Kinne — just as the Hornets attempt to break through for an FCS semifinals appearance after a couple of years of falling short as a high seed during Taylor’s impressive run of Big Sky championships.
Sac State’s Offense vs. UIW’s Defense
Sac State and Big Sky Offensive MVP RB Cameron Skattebo trailed Richmond by as many as 14 before prevailing in the second round. The Hornets outscored the Spiders 21-10 in the second half to claw out their first-ever FCS playoff win.
Skattebo has 1,272 rushing yards this year and averages 106 YPG to rank ninth in the FCS and lead the Big Sky in total rushing. It’s the 15th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history to stamp a season including TDs scored in four straight games into the Sac State record book.
Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year LB Kelechi Anyalebechi leads the UIW defense primed to concentrate on reducing Skattebo’s impact. Anyalebechi concluded the regular season with 88 total tackles (45 solo), 7.5 for loss. He holds UIW’s career marks in total tackles (310), unassisted tackles (168), fumbles forced (7), and QB hurries (12).
Anyalebechi and fellow first-team All-Southland member DL Chris Whittaker, who set Incarnate Word’s single-game sack record with four at FBS Nevada, have their talented hands full with the Sac State QB tandem of Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara. Each passer has the benefit of senior wideout Pierre Williams, who recorded the tenth 100-yard game of his career with his four receptions for 107 yards and one TD against Richmond.
UIW’s Offense vs. Sac State’s Defense
UIW’s offense is must-see TV with Lindsey Scott Jr. quarterbacking a prolific attack. Scott has had a monster 2022, continuing his Walter Payton Award push with 518 yards of total offense and five touchdowns last week. Helping him make this splash are WRs Darion Chafin and Taylor Grimes, both of whom had over 100 yards receiving in the second-round victory.
In its win over UR, Sac State held the Spiders’ Reece Udinski to a .538 completion percentage to make it the 15th consecutive game in which the Hornets have held their opponent to a sub-.600 completion percentage. That streak’s continuation pitted against Scott produces a fascinating “something-has-to-give” item to watch for.
Recognizing Sacramento State’s sturdy pass defense, it is still a bear to stop Scott, who doesn’t go down until a Cards skill player has a chance at the football.
A major turning point in Sac State’s turnaround versus Richmond came in the form of Elijah Tau-Tolliver’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half, the Hornets’ third KO-return TD this season. Oddly enough, the other two explosive returns came on onside-kick recoveries by Sac State (vs. Utah Tech and Portland State).
Incarnate Word’s 51.9 PPG ensures that K Carson Mohr gets a workout from PAT distance more gamedays than not. Mohr generated 64 total points in the fall of 2021 while breaking his own UIW single-season record with 49 extra points. Every such point will matter in the collision of UIW and Sac State’s strong offenses for the quarterfinal nightcap.