FCS Playoffs: South Dakota State at James Madison

FCS Playoffs Semifinal

The Matchup – No. 5 seed South Dakota State (11-2) at No. 1 seed James Madison (13-0)

Kickoff – 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium (24,877) in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Coverage – ESPNU

Series – First meeting

Coaches – South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier, 148-96 in 21 seasons; James Madison: Mike Houston, 27-1 in two seasons (70-20 overall)

Players to Watch – South Dakota State: QB Taryn Christion (231 of 385, 3,281 yards, 33 TDs, 8 INTs; 515 rushing yards, 9 TDs), RB Brady Mengarelli (137 carries, 783 yards, 6 TDs), TE Dallas Goedert (67 receptions, 1,068 yards, 6 TDs), WR Jake Wieneke (58 receptions, 860 yards, 16 total TDs), DT Kellen Soulek (31 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 FF), LB Christian Rozeboom (118 TT, 7 TFL, 3 takeaways); James Madison: QB Bryan Schor (239 of 360, 2,871 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs; 291 rushing yards, 6 TDs), RB Trai Sharp (155 carries, 719 yards, 4 TDs), WR Terrence Alls (49 receptions, 652 yards, 2 TDs), DE Andrew Ankrah (51 TT, 14.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks), LB Kyrie Hawkins (98 TT, 13 TFL, 7 sacks, 8 PBU), S Raven Greene (69 TT, 4 INTs, 7 PBU)

The Skinny – James Madison, the defending FCS champ, had to rally late in its FCS quarterfinal against Weber State to reach a second consecutive semifinal. It might have been a sign of vulnerability or perhaps it was the scare the Dukes needed before finishing off what’s been a dominant season. The CAA Football champ’s 25 straight wins represent the second-longest streak in FCS history to North Dakota State’s 33 in a row from 2012-14. South Dakota State owns a win over North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference during its seven-game winning streak, but this is the Jackrabbits’ first venture into the semifinal round. During their win streak, the high-powered Jackrabbits have scored on 30 of their 31 possessions that have reached an opponent’s red zone (26 touchdowns, four field goals). They hope, and likely need, Goedert to be healthy and effective after suffering a lower leg injury and missing most of their quarterfinal-round rout of New Hampshire. In Goedert’s absence, Wieneke stepped up his play with 188 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Still, James Madison’s pass rushers will be active and the secondary is stacked with talent, including top CB Jimmy Moreland, who has five of the defense’s 25 interceptions. The Jackrabbits will try to mix in the running game against a defense that’s been among the nation’s best all season. The Dukes’ offense seeks ball control, with Sharp and Marcus Marshall (617, 8 TDs) forming a two-headed monster behind the Aaron Stinnie-led offensive line. The Dukes should be able to run the ball well against SDSU, which has allowed 164.2 rushing yards per game. If clutch kicks are needed, JMU’s Ethan Ratke (11 of 14 FGs) is coming off a game-winning 46-yard field goal against Weber State and SDSU’s Chase Vinatieri (12 of 13) has shown range up to 55 yards.

Up Next – The winner will play either No. 6 seed Sam Houston State (12-1) or No. 2 seed North Dakota State (12-1) in the FCS championship game Jan. 6 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Prediction – South Dakota State has the firepower to end James Madison’s title reign, but the Dukes hadn’t given up more than 14 points until the quarterfinals, so they can keep this matchup from developing an end-to-end tempo. James Madison, 27-21.