The FCS playoffs reach a fever pitch Saturday afternoon when the hottest team in the land, Montana State, meets top-seeded South Dakota State in a semifinal rematch. The Bobcats bested the Jackrabbits in Bozeman last December to deny SDSU a second straight Frisco appearance. Making matters worse for the Jacks, the loss prevented a date with rival North Dakota State in the title game.
This year’s edition of ’Cats-Jacks profiles as another marquee game for the subdivision with a national championship berth once again on the line. Montana State humiliated William & Mary 55-7 to advance, while South Dakota State staved off Holy Cross, pulling away in a 42-21 final to close quarterfinal weekend.
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SDSU’s third and final home playoff game of 2022 will be broadcast on ESPN2 with a 3 p.m. CT start. Its chance to flip the script from its last semis showing, albeit against a rolling MSU, begins with…
SDSU’s Offense vs. Montana State’s Defense
The Jackrabbits have to know and relish that, at some point each postseason, RB Isaiah Davis makes a run that sends waves on social media. After the HC win, we can state he’s done it again.
Davis definitely isn’t out of tricks carrying the football, but he will encounter a Montana State defense that practices against the nation’s most feared running attack. Additionally, the Bobcats have recovered 15 fumbles to tie for the FCS high, putting emphasis on ball security for Davis and the rest of SDSU’s ball carriers.
Speaking of which, the Jacks have a bevy of names to turn to there. QB Mark Gronowski spreads the wealth among Jaxon Janke, Jadon Janke, and the TE duo of Zach Heins and Tucker Kraft. Literal twins, in the case of the Janke brothers, and tight-end twins Heins and Kraft combine to give defenses quandaries about whom to defend with help over the top.
Mason McCormick and Garret Greenfield headline the SDSU offensive line that enables all the above to excel. Each weighs in at over 300 pounds and is, make no mistake, an athletic force when in the trenches or pulled outside in blocking in the open field.
MSU poses a challenge to SDSU up front not offered by previous playoff opponents Delaware and Holy Cross, however: The ’Cats’ loss to FBS Oregon State remains their only outing without a sack this season.
Montana State’s Offense vs. SDSU’s Defense
In the main course in this feast of a game, Montana State throws its top-rated rushing game (331.8 YPG) at South Dakota State’s FCS No. 1 rush defense (85.4).
The Jackrabbits allow just 2.8 YPR, a figure that is in some jeopardy to increase if the host Saturday doesn’t sort out its coverage of the QB run game. Crusaders QB Matthew Sluka scrambled all over SDSU, powering the majority of the offense and three scoring drives for HC. Montana State brings its tandem of athletic QBs, Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers, to Brookings to test whether SDSU has solidified that aspect of its defense.
Beyond the Mellott and Chambers threat, MSU is bolstered by the return of RB Isaiah Ifanse. Ifanse was his old self again against the Tribe, blistering it for 162 yards. His 68-yard touchdown run on W&M moved him into first place on the Bobcat career rushing list (3,714 yards).
In a similarly impactful return from injury, South Dakota State’s defense becomes that much more daunting with LB Adam Bock in the fold. Fellow LB Jason Freeman leads SDSU in tackles (68 total).
Bock and Freeman pursuing Ifanse, the pair of ’Cats QBs, and MSU’s deep supporting skilled-position cast will be a major tale of the tape Saturday.
In a reflection of Montana State’s excellent offense, P Bryce Leighton has not been called on to punt in three of the team’s 13 games. He’s punted twice or fewer in six games.
In what you can consider, partially, another feather in the MSU O’s cap, K Blake Glessner’s 22 field goals tie for the single-season school record.
In this matchup of high-end offenses, there’s only one ball to go around: With average time of possession a plus for each team, special teams making a big play either way, scoring or in setting up a short field, could make the difference. The Jacks (14th) and Bobcats (4th) both crack the FCS top 15 in TOP.