Yes, as the headline makes clear, the FCS Championship game will have a lot to do with the lines. And I'm not talking about the Las Vegas garden variety "line." I'm talking about the lines that come up in coachspeak every time you ask the head ball coach what will matter most on Saturday.
Pro coaches, college coaches, high school coaches, PeeWee Coaches, Monday morning water-cooler coaches … they'll all say it, over and over and over again: It's all won up front. The "battle of the trenches." It's a cliche, but there's also a ton of truth to what they're saying. Sure, it's their way of paying homage to the yesteryear time of football not being a high-flying circus act.
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It's their way of giving credit to the big guys who work just as hard as the waterbug-like skill kids, mostly in obscurity. But ultimately, they're right: It does come down to what happens up front.
The unique thing about this year's FCS title game though is that everybody seems to understand that this one really will come down to the lines. Both teams are good on both sides of the line. Sure, having the two most efficient quarterbacks in the FCS has been a discussion topic, but a healthy dose of respect has also been given to the big dudes.
When you ask the big dudes about how highly publicized their battle up front has been, they can't help to grin — no matter how hard they try to hide it.
"That's going to be big for everybody," JMU's All-American defensive end Ron'Dell Carter told HERO Sports. "Our D-line has done a great job all year, and that's no secret. I know their coach (NDSU O-line coach A.J. Blazek) and it's no secret how good they are. They'll be well-coached, disciplined and physical. And we will also be well-coached, disciplined and physical."
Carter, who originally signed with Rutgers, was with the Scarlet Knights when Blazek was an assistant there.
The NDSU offensive line vs. JMU defensive line battle has been the marquee talked about brawl. There are several All-Americans involved, and there are several future pro ball players involved. When the movie about the NDSU juggernaut is put together, page one of the script will be about the big dudes up front on offense. That's where this program starts, there's no question.
Young men from the Midwest are willing to wait years for their shot to become a starter with this group. This coaching staff routinely takes walk-on "boys" and makes them into all-conference "men" when it comes to the O-line.
"I think it'll be fun, and I'm excited to get out there and play on Saturday," NDSU All-American O-lineman Zack Johnson told HERO Sports. "Our offensive line takes a lot of pride in our work and our physical play. When it comes down to this game, it'll be nothing special or different from us, just us doing our work as usual. I'd definitely say that's the culture of this program and NDSU."
Obviously, on the flip side, you have a JMU offensive line with two All-Americans (Mac Patrick and Liam Fornadel) and an NDSU D-line with a monster All-American of its own, Derrick Tuszka. This is also a key matchup. Patrick said a little bit of recognition was welcome, though it isn't what fuels him and his cohorts up front.
"The offensive line doesn't get a lot of recognition, so for us, if you're not talking about us, usually that's a pretty good thing," Patrick told HERO Sports. "If we're in the news? It's giving up sacks or not being efficient in the running game. But we pride ourselves in protecting our QB and getting more yards for our running backs."
So this may be one of those rare instances where the line inadvertently soaks up a lot of the attention from the ABC broadcast team. With potential draft picks and a potential low-scoring affair with an overtone of grind, one would expect the big dudes to get their cred.
Just ask every coach since football was born.
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