FCS Semifinals Preview – South Dakota State at James Madison

James Madison has been the best team in the FCS for two seasons now. The Dukes have won 25 games in a row following their thrilling victory over Weber State last week and are looking to win their second straight national championship.

However, the Dukes have looked vulnerable so far in the playoffs. They dominated in the regular season, but they couldn’t run the ball well in a 26-7 win over Stony Brook in the second round two weeks ago and had some trouble stopping Weber State last week. The Wildcats were the first team to take a lead on the Dukes all year and led heading into the fourth quarter before falling 31-28 after James Madison hit a last-second field goal to win it.

Meanwhile, South Dakota State has been one of the most impressive teams in the country over the last two months. The Jackrabbits have won seven straight games, including a 33-21 win over North Dakota State back in early November. They easily knocked off Northern Iowa in their first playoff game and then hammered New Hampshire in the quarterfinals last week.

FCS Semifinals Betting Odds
South Dakota State +3
James Madison -3
Total 54

Keep an Eye On…

Taryn Christion has been fantastic for the Jackrabbits this year. The dual-threat quarterback was the star of their upset over North Dakota State earlier in the season and was the key in helping South Dakota State outpace conference foes like South Dakota and Western Illinois.

Their two losses came in games in which Christion was not at his best. Against Youngstown State and Northern Iowa, South Dakota State mustered a total of 25 points as Christion completed under 50 percent of his passes in each one. Additionally, he was not able to have much success on the ground either. Christion is at his best when he can pick up yards with his legs, but he totaled just 26 rushing yards combined in those two games.

He hasn’t had to do much over South Dakota State’s first two playoff contests, but he will need to be the X-Factor in this one. The Dukes have the best defense in the country and their secondary is second to none. James Madison has been great at shutting down dual-threat quarterbacks and the only one to have success was Kyle Lauletta, the most pro-ready signal caller in the FCS.

Matchup to Watch

South Dakota State is going to need to score some points because this defense is not that good. The Jackrabbits are allowing 5.6 yards per play and that number is far worse than that of James Madison, which is giving up 3.8 yards per play.

The Jackrabbits may have only given up 22 points to Northern Iowa and 14 to New Hampshire, but they haven’t fixed the defensive issues. Northern Iowa was able to move the ball effectively and New Hampshire just hasn’t been that good offensively all year. For example, when the Dukes played New Hampshire in late October they shut out the Wildcats and held them to under 200 total yards.

That’s very good news for James Madison. The Dukes have had some hiccups on offense recently, but they have also faced some very tough defenses. This is still one of the better offenses in the country, too, as James Madison is averaging 5.9 yards per play. While that’s well behind the other three semifinalists, JMU was also playing in the conference with the best defenses in the country.

Prediction

There are going to be plenty of people calling for this to be the game in which James Madison falters. Ignore them. The Dukes may have only beat Weber State by three points last week, but they racked up almost 550 yards of offense against one of the best defenses in the nation.

James Madison is a great play in this situation. The Dukes have a phenomenal defense and they will force Christion into bad positions throughout the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if James Madison won this game by more than two scores in order to set up what we have been waiting for all year: a rematch with North Dakota State for all the marbles.

Pick: James Madison -3

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