FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview: Kennesaw State at ETSU and Southern Illinois at North Dakota State
With late-game heroics, overtime, road upsets and three first-time winners, the FCS playoffs got off to a fast start with the first round last Saturday.
This week, the action will be even sweeter with the round of 16 continuing on the Road to Frisco (Texas).
Following are capsule previews of two of the eight second-round games, with the winners set to meet in the quarterfinals:
Kennesaw State (11-1) at No. 7 seed ETSU (10-1)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET Saturday at William B. Greene Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee (ESPN+)
Series – Tied 1-1
Coaches – Kennesaw State: Brian Bohannon (63-17, seven seasons); ETSU: Randy Sanders (25-16, four seasons)
3 Players to Watch – Kennesaw State: QB Xavier Shepherd (234 yards, 851 yards, 23 TDs; 73 of 118, 1,296 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Kyle Glover (121 carries, 590 yards, 1 TD), LB Evan Thompson (107 tackles, 10 TFL, 5 QB hurries); ETSU: RB Quay Holmes (238 carries, 1,431 yards, 16 TDs; 20 receptions, 204 yards, 1 TD), RB/KR Jacob Saylors (129 carries, 968 yards, 10 TDs; 155.2 all-purpose ypg), LB Donovan Manuel (104 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1 fumble recovery)
3 Key Factors – 1. Both teams are known for their rushing attacks. Kennesaw State, which has 150+ rushing yards in 79 of 80 all-time games, is averaging 275.5 yards to rank second in the FCS, and ETSU is churning out 239.9 per game to rank sixth. However, the visiting Owls have been stronger in defending the run (99.1 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry, 8 TDs) than the Buccaneers (130.8, 4.0, 14). 2. The Owls enter with a 10-game winning streak that is second-longest in the FCS. Shepherd has been red hot, rushing for 11 TDs in his last three games after throwing for 10 in his previous three games. His 15 TD passes are the seven-year program’s single-season record. 3. ETSU, which is tied for the best home record in the FCS (6-0), boasts the 1-2 duo of Holmes and Saylors. They have produced the most rushing yards (2,399) and all-purpose yards (3,342) between a pair of FCS teammates.
Up Next – The winner will play Southern Illinois (9-3) or No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.
Prediction – Kennesaw State 31, ETSU 29
Southern Illinois (9-3) at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1)
Kickoff – 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota (ESPN+)
Series – North Dakota State leads 9-4
Coaches – Southern Illinois: Nick Hill (31-36, six seasons); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (34-4, three seasons)
3 Players to Watch – Southern Illinois: QB Nic Baker (242 of 388, 3,026 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs), RB Javon Williams Jr. (92 carries, 522 yards, 9 TDs), DE Anthony Knighton (41 tackles, 11 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 blocked kicks); North Dakota State: QB Cam Miller (65 of 89, 942 yards, 11 TDs, 2 INTs; 149 rushing yards, 1 TD), WR/KR Christian Watson (39 receptions, 740 yards, 7 TDs), DE Brayden Thomas (21 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 7 sacks)
3 Key Factors – 1. While SIU has opened each of the last two postseasons with a road win (only seven months apart), NDSU has a 28-1 home record in the FCS playoffs since the first of its 12 straight appearances in 2010. The Bison are seeking revenge after the Salukis ended their FCS-record 39-game winning streak with a 38-14 stunner during the spring regular season. 2. The Bison usually ride the hot rusher behind their dominating offensive line, ranking third in the FCS in rushing yards per game (271.8) even without having a player above 500 yards. The Salukis’ split in rushing yards allowed per game is much stronger in wins (131) than in losses (223.8). 3. Baker will be pressured by an NDSU pass rush that ranks fourth nationally in sacks per game (3.64), but he locates productive receivers. Landon Lenoir and Avante Cox have a combined 356 receptions, 4,739 receiving yards and 33 TD catches in their SIU careers, making them arguably the most-dangerous duo in program history.
Up Next – The winner will play Kennesaw State (11-1) or No. 7 seed ETSU (10-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.
Prediction – North Dakota State 31, Southern Illinois 21