The 2019 FCS Playoffs are here and we are relatively dizzy now, staring ahead at the FCS semifinals next weekend. So how did things go on the first day of quarterfinal action with three games on Friday night?
Friday's summary of the first three FCS quarterfinal games is really pretty simple — three big-time defenses won. And in tomorrow's game (NDSU hosting Illinois State), another big-time defense will win again, because both teams possess them. Is it really that shocking that the two Big Sky Conference teams still standing — Montana State and Weber State — were the top two defenses in that wild, pass-happy conference? Or that James Madison is No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense and total defense, or that North Dakota State also is No. 1 and No. 2 in the FCS in those respective categories, or that Illinois State is No. 4 and No. 12?
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Folks, there are coach cliches and then there are facts. The fact is, tonight proved once again that Defense Wins Championships (TM). These are the teams that always rise to the top. The high-flying acts of some teams will work to a certain extent and can be successful, but there is a ceiling for its success. What gets you into the elite tier of this level is doing what was done today.
Today's three winners combined to hold their quarterfinal opponents to 20 total points. And remember, these opponents weren't bottom dwellers, they were a combined 31-13 this year. Northern Iowa, Austin Peay and Montana all won at least 10 games apiece in 2019. These are upper-crust programs this year. But today, they were held to 20 total points and even more shockingly … 17 total net yards rushing. Think about that … Northern Iowa and Austin Peay both finished with zero yards rushing today, and the Griz managed the 17 yards you see in the last sentence. That pressure led to countless sacks, other negative yardage plays and interceptions.
Yes, the weather was nasty at two of the games (in Ogden, Utah at Weber State and Harrisonburg, Va for James Madison), but really it was the defense that made it nastier.
BRACKET CONTEST: The Fan Leaderboard After The 3 Quarterfinal Game
Game by game thoughts:
- Weber State's Adam Rodriguez had four sacks, tying a school record. Oh, and by the way … the Wildcats also have never been to the FCS semifinals. In all, the Wildcats' had five interceptions and six sacks and held a team that scored 73 points last week to 10 points this week. The play on the D-line was incredible.
- You're going to claim Deja'Vu folks … because here we are talking about defensive line play once again. James Madison's starting defensive line of John Daka, Mike Greene, Adeeb Atariwa and Ron'Dell Carter combined for four sacks — but man did it feel like more. They harassed the Northern Iowa offense all night long and got the playoff shutout, a rarity this deep in the playoffs. The D-line also set up weakside linebacker Dimitri Holloway nicely to have a big day, which he did (JMU's leading tackler, plus 3.5 TFLs).
- And Montana State just spread the love around. Seven different players combined for 10 tackles for loss, with … sound familiar? … defensive lineman Derek Marks leading the charge with three of them, along with forcing an Austin Peay fumble.
There's one more game to go, folks. We do already know one semifinal matchup, as Weber State will travel to James Madison on Saturday in a rematch of what was an incredible playoff game in 2017. Also … Montana State will play the winner of NDSU/Illinois State.
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