The old adage "where a rock meets a hard place" is a pretty good way to sum up the FCS Quarterfinals matchup between sixth-seeded Sam Houston State and upstart Kennesaw State Saturday in Huntsville, Texas.
That would be the Sam Houston State offense. Jeremiah Briscoe and co. are averaging a whopping 558.3 yards per game — 372.8 of it through the air — and scoring at a clip of 46.6 points per game.
The hard place?
That's the Kennesaw defense, which has been stellar this season to the tune of 14.1 points per game allowed and just 287.5 total yards allowed per game. They've allowed less than 100 rush yards per game and just under 200 pass yards per game.
Both units are sure to test their counterparts this weekend when the quarterfinal game kicks off.
Sam Houston State was a tale of two halves last week in the second round against South Dakota. The Bearkats exploded (literally) to a 41-14 lead at the break, but got bogged down in the second half as South Dakota scored 28 second-half points to make it a game.
SHSU prevailed, thanks in part to a composed effort from Briscoe, who led the Bearkats on three scoring drives in the fourth quarter — a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and two field goal drives of 60 and 58 yards to seal the victory.
That composed effort stems from Briscoe's outlook on the sport, according to SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler, who spoke to reporters via teleconference earlier this week and praised his quarterback's steady nature.
"The thing that makes him so unique is his demeanor and his personality. He doesn't really care about stats, he doesn't really care about awards. He just cares about winning, and that permeates through our locker room in such a unique way."
The team will need that guidance when they take on a defense that, as Keeler said, has been nothing but impressive this year.
"Their defense, I mean, 14 points a game? They're physical up front, they keep everything in front of them, they run to the ball, very twitchy at linebacker. Really impressed with their defense."
And Kennesaw's offensive philosophy — the triple option attack — squeezes the game and cuts the time of possession from their opponents.
"They do a great job staying on the field, they'll chip away at you."
One thing's for certain — the sixth-seeded Bearkats won't be taking Kennesaw lightly.
And they would be silly to do so — the Owls have been one of the most exciting stories in FCS football this year, earning a spot in the quarterfinals in just their third season of football, defeating Samford to open the playoffs and upsetting third-seeded Jacksonville State last week.
Chandler Burks and the triple-option offense — as Keeler noted — eat up the clock (over 33 minutes of possession on average this season) and will look to run past an SHSU team that allows nearly 200 rushing yards a game (Kennesaw averages over 300).
Owls head coach Brian Bohannon spoke glowingly about the athletes the Bearkats have on the offensive side of the ball in the teleconference earlier this week, and made special note of the Walter Payton Award nominee at quarterback.
Bohannon contrasted the high-flying SHSU offense with the style they saw last week against Jacksonville State.
"A little more explosive on the perimeter, with their skilled kids. The quarterback's different — I mean, he's exceptional. It's just really very different…Briscoe can beat you with his arm, he's got skilled kids who can make plays in space, and the thing they also do is they can run the ball."
The contrasting styles of offenses in the past few weeks doesn't worry Bohannon as they prepare for the matchup.
"We've faced all kinds of offenses all year, so I think defensively you've got to learn to prepare for whatever you have got on the docket that week. We played Jacksonville State who's a run-oriented, play-action offense last week, the week before we played Samford who threw the ball I think about 60 times in the game, so we've faced a lot of different stuff. I think it's just about preparing and getting ready to play and being able to execute in the moment."
While Kennesaw State held Jacksonville State to single digits — just a touchdown — Bohannon knows this week they face an offensive that is capable of, well, 42 points in a single half, like we saw last week. Bohannon said the key will be preventing the home-run plays.
"I think it's even going to be more challenging this Saturday. They'll get you in space — they're extremely athletic in space — and the big thing you want to do is prevent the big plays, which they're exceptional at. You want to try to prevent as many big plays as you can, and a lot of time that's getting guys on the ground and living for the next down."
Kennesaw State (12-1) and Sam Houston State (11-1) hit the field Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET, and we'll see if the hard place stays true to its name or if the rock smashes right through.