FCS Quarterfinal-Round Playoff Preview: Montana at James Madison
The heavyweight division is on full display in the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs this weekend.
Six of the eight programs have won FCS championships, and a seventh, South Dakota State, finished as the 2020 runner-up in a playoff that was contested last spring. ETSU is the exception in a group that has combined for 15 titles and 25 championship game appearances.
Friday night, James Madison will host Montana in a quarterfinal that matches a pair of two-time champions, with 11 title games appearances between them. JMU captured their first meeting in the 2004 championship game, but UM evened the series by advancing to the 2008 final with a semifinal-round win.
Following is capsule preview of the matchup:
No. 6 seed Montana (10-2) at No. 3 seed James Madison (11-1)
Kickoff – 7 p.m. ET Friday at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Virginia (ESPN2)
Series – Tied 1-1
Coaches – Montana: Bobby Hauck (108-28, 11 seasons; 123-77 overall); James Madison: Curt Cignetti (32-4, three seasons; 99-30 overall)
5 Players to Watch – Montana: QB Cam Humphrey (135 of 221, 1,701 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs), RB Xavier Harris (133 carries, 601 yards, 2 TDs), LB Patrick O’Connell (99 tackles, 21 TFL, 13 sacks, 4 forced fumbles), LB Jace Lewis (93 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), CB Justin Ford (37 tackles, 9 INTs, 10 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries); James Madison: QB Cole Johnson (245 of 364, 3,274 yards, 37 TDs, 2 INTs; 228 rushing yards, 6 TDs), WR Antwane Wells Jr. (73 receptions, 1,117 yards, 14 TDs), DE Bryce Carter (43 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles), LB Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey (94 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 INTs, 1 fumble recovery), PK Ethan Ratke (29 of 32 FGs with 47 long, 144 points)
5 Key Factors – 1. Both offenses must move the ball with the pass. UM is allowing under 2.2 yards per carry and 73 rushing yards per game, and JMU’s rushing attack has been set back by running back Percy Agyei-Obese’s season-ending injury. The host Dukes’ 162.6 rushing yards per game is their lowest average since 2001, yet it’s higher than the Grizzlies’ 137.9-yard average. The Dukes defense is allowing only 80.1 rushing yards per game, with eight opponents held under 100 yards. 2. In an equal number of games, JMU has been much better with ball protection, tying for the FCS low with eight turnovers compared to UM’s 19. 3. The Grizzlies’ 36 percent third-down conversion rate is average and JMU is second-best in the FCS defending third downs, allowing under 25 percent of opponents’ attempts to turn into first downs. 4. A second-round win over Eastern Washington highlighted UM’s ability to gain points from its defense and special teams. The Grizzlies have an FCS-high six defensive touchdowns as well as three on kickoff/punt returns. 5. JMU has won 12 consecutive home playoff games, all but two by 13 or more points.
Up Next – The winner will face either No. 2 seed North Dakota State (11-1) or No. 7 seed ETSU (11-1) in a national semifinal on Dec. 17 or 18.
Prediction – James Madison 27, Montana 20