FCS Semifinals Preview – Sam Houston State at North Dakota State

Sam Houston State is looking to shake off a half-decade of frustration this week when it heads North to take on North Dakota State on Friday night. The Bearkats lost in the National Championship Game to the Bison by double digits in both 2011 and 2012 and got drilled 35-3 by NDSU in the 2014 FCS semifinals.

SHSU has won two shootouts to reach the semis this season, racing out to big leads against both South Dakota and Kennesaw State before holding on to win.

Meanwhile, the Bison have shifted into another gear now that we’re in the postseason. North Dakota State hammered San Diego 38-3 in the second round of the playoffs and then crushed Wofford 42-10 in the quarterfinals last week. The Bison are out to avenge last year’s surprising defeat at the hands of James Madison in the semifinals.

FCS Semifinals Betting Odds
Sam Houston State +21.5
North Dakota State -21.5
Total 64.5

Keep an Eye On…

Jeremiah Briscoe will be looking to shake off what was an abysmal performance the last time we saw him in the postseason. He led Sam Houston State to an undefeated season in 2016 and easily won the Walter Payton Award as the nation’s best player. He was fantastic in the Bearkats’ second round game against Chattanooga, tossing for 363 yards and five touchdowns in a shootout win, but he had the worst performance of his career in the quarterfinals.

Briscoe went 13-of-44 passing for 143 yards with two interceptions against James Madison and the Bearkats were routed 65-7 as a result. Head coach K.C. Keeler’s offense is based on spreading it out and throwing it all over the place, and the Bearkats couldn’t overcome Briscoe’s off night.

This season, he is the nation’s leading passer and is riding high heading into the FargoDome. However, North Dakota State has one of the best secondaries in the nation and will keep him from putting up his typically gaudy numbers. The Bison are holding quarterbacks to just 5.6 yards per pass attempt and only mobile quarterbacks like Chris Streveler and Taryn Christion had real success against this team.

In the second week of the season, North Dakota State faced another offense that likes to throw it all over the place in Eastern Washington. The Bison completely shut down the Eagles passing game, holding Gage Gubrud to eerily similar numbers to what Briscoe had against James Madison last year.

Matchup to Watch

Do the Bearkats stand a chance of stopping North Dakota State’s offense? Sam Houston State’s defense has not been good this season and has looked even worse in the playoffs. The Bearkats are allowing 439 yards per game and are outside of the top 100 in terms of total defense. They allowed 637 yards to South Dakota in the second round and gave up 472 yards against Kennesaw State. SHSU has not proven to be adept at stopping the run or the pass and it might not be able to stop North Dakota State.

All of a sudden, the Bison have re-discovered their running game. NDSU has proven me wrong in the playoffs so far by showing that it can run with power. The Bison ran for 261 yards and three scores against a very good Wofford front seven last week and topped 300 yards against San Diego the week prior.

That has made life easy for Easton Stick. He averaged over 10 yards per pass and threw for three touchdowns in each game and has been able to find open receivers off of play action. Both Wofford and San Diego had better defenses than Sam Houston State, so it could be a big day for Stick and the running game.

Prediction

It’s rare that you see a favorite this large in the FCS semifinals, but the Bison deserve to be this big of a favorite. Sam Houston State got a very favorable draw and is going to be very outmatched in this game. The Bison are going to be able to name the score and keep Briscoe in check in a blowout win.

Pick: North Dakota State -21.5

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