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Sam Houston State, Kennesaw State FCS Playoffs Preview

Sam Houston State Kennesaw State FCS Football Playoffs

The Sam Houston State Bearkats and the Kennesaw State Owls are set to square off on Saturday. This FCS Football Playoffs quarterfinal matchup could be a dandy. It’s a tale of two different offenses that can put up a lot of yards and points. The Owls have relied on their high-powered rushing attack. The Bearkats have their championship hopes on the arm of Jeremiah Briscoe. He used that arm to throw over 500 yards last week against South Dakota. It’s going to be a fierce battle with whomever can hold the other on defense most likely coming out on top.

KSU has won twelve-straight games. The biggest contributor to that has been their FCS-leading rushing attack. They’re the only team in FCS football to average over 300 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Chandler Burks is one of the best athletes for the Owls. The junior has rushed and thrown for over 1,000 yards and accounts for 25 touchdowns this season. He’s a run-first quarterback, but he has the ability to make good throws at times. On the ground, Burks gets it done. Through the air, KSU has one big target in Justin Sumpter. As a junior, Sumpter has 534 yards on 29 catches. Five of them have been for scores. He’s athletic and can bring in tough catches.

The Owls have one of the best running back groups in FCS football. Actually, make that NCAA football in general. Five backs have rushed for over 300 yards this season with three of them over 600 yards each. Three of those guys also average over 9-yards per carry. Jake McKenzie gets the bulk of the carries and leads this group with 688 yards. McKenzie isn’t the fastest but he’s a powerful runner that hits the lanes hard. Shaquil Terry is right behind McKenzie with 686 yards and leads the team with 11.8 yards per carry. The redshirt freshman has speed for days. He’s agile enough to put a move on a defender and then he’s gone. Darnell Holland and T.J. Reed also have the speed to break for big gains.

Sam Houston State is more balanced with their offense which is dominating from top to bottom. The Bearkats lead FCS football with 558 total yards of offense and 372 passing yards per game. Briscoe is one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS and creates a lot of big plays. With a division leading 4,398 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes, he’s very dangerous. He can misfire though. Briscoe completes 57 percent of his passes and has thrown 12 interceptions this season. When he’s on though, watch out. He can hurt defenses in the blink of an eye.

The receivers for the Bearkats causes a lot of problems for opposing secondaries this season. They field three guys that have over 50 receptions each this season and all three are have big-time playmaking ability. Nathan Stewart has 1,485 receiving yards with Davion Davis also over the 1,000 yard barrier with 1,121 yards. Getting in the end zone hasn’t been an issue with the duo combining for 29 touchdowns. Don’t forget about Yedidiah Louis. In just nine games, the senior has 57 catches, 771 yards, and 5 touchdowns. All three of these guys can beat man coverage and will give and defensive coordinator nightmares.

Having a solid running game helps Briscoe in the passing game. The Bearkats aren’t one dimensional and they have a couple of backs that can do some damage. Corey Avery should break 1,000 yards on the ground with 939 yards currently. The senior is fast, shifty, and has great field vision. Avery averages 6.1 yards per carry and has 13 touchdowns for the season. Remus Bulmer averages 6.6 yards per carry and complements Avery very well. He’s a little guy that uses his speed and agility to weave around defenders. The running game keeps linebackers on their toes and causes them to stay home instead of dropping back into coverage. Another reason why the passing game is so dominant.

Both defenses have their work cut out for them, but Kennesaw State has the bigger issues. The Owls have one of the better defenses in FCS football, but there’s a lot to cover with Sam Houston State. Linebacker Bryson Armstrong is the key guy for this defense. The redshirt freshman has 109 tackles, 11 sacks, and 3 interceptions this season. Armstrong teams with Sam Izzy and Anthony Gore to create a very solid linebacker unit. Keon Roman, Akebren Ralls, and Taylor Henkle solidify the secondary. The Owls post a FCS fourth-best 14.1 points allowed per game this season. They also lead FCS football forcing 34 turnovers. KSU will need some key stops against the Bearkats and have the defense to do such.

Sam Houston State has their hands full in trying to stop the Kennesaw State rushing attack. It won’t be an easy task with the Bearkats ranking 75th in rushing defense. Chris Stewart is their biggest weapon on the defensive line. The junior has 11 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. He’ll contribute in a big way in stopping the inside running game. P.J. Hall is also to on this defensive front. Linebackers Justin Johnson and Hunter Brown have over 80 tackles each this season and are the stop gaps from keeping the Owls from breaking for big gains. The secondary shouldn’t have a lot of issues since KSU doesn’t throw a lot. Putting a couple of extra guys in the box may help.

How They’ll Win The Game:

Kennesaw State:

  • Establish the running game early:  The Owls do a great job at using their running game to eat time off the clock. This helps keep offenses on the sidelines and they’ll need this against the Bearkats.
  • Disguise Pressure: When playing a balanced team like Sam Houston, defenses need to mix up their coverage schemes and disguise their blitzes very well. The Owls will have to do this to keep Briscoe out of rhythm.
  • Create Turnovers: The Owls rank first in turnover margin and the Bearkats have turned the ball over 21 times (82nd FCS) this season. Bonus, not only does KSU need to create turnovers, but the also need to capitalize off those turnovers.

Sam Houston State:

  • Control the Pace of the Game: The KSU offense has been successful because they use their ground game to control the pace of the game. The Bearkat defense has to put the Owls in some three-and-out situations.
  • Watch the Occasional Pass: Defenses have to add guys into the box to aid in stopping the Owls on the ground. Stopping the running game is crucial, but the Bearkats can’t focus just on the run. Sumpter is a good receiver and creates mismatches in man coverage.
  • Mix it Up, Tear Em’ Up: Sam Houston put up 700 yards last week with 200 yards on the ground. Find that balance between passing and rushing to keep the defense off balance. With two backs averaging over 6 yards per carry, use them. Once they find that balance, they need to stay aggressive in their play calling. Don’t force the passing game, open it up.

Two very different offenses, but both are effective in their own way. It could make this game very exciting and very close. In the end, I look for Sam Houston State to advance to the semi-finals. Kennesaw State has the team to beat the Bearkats, but we’re getting down to the best teams in FCS football. I’m reluctant of one-dimensional offenses being able to overpower the better teams. Running teams are at a disadvantage in shootouts and that’s what I look for to happen. The Bearkats are explosive on offense. If KSU can force a few mistakes, count them in. ESPN3 will broadcast the game live at 7:30pm Saturday, Dec. 9 from Bowers Stadium in Hunstville, TX.