FCS First-Round Playoff Preview: VMI at James Madison and Missouri State at North Dakota
The 16-team FCS spring playoffs begin with the first round on Saturday.
VMI (6-1 Southern) at No. 3 seed James Madison (5-0 CAA)
Site: Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET
TV Coverage – ESPN3
Series – James Madison leads, 10-3 (last meeting: JMU won 44-16 at home on Sept. 19, 2009)
Coaches – VM: Scott Wachenheim (17-46, sixth season); James Madison: Curt Cignetti (19-2, second season; 86-28 overall)
3 Players to Watch – VMI: Seth Morgan (92 of 121, 1,088 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT), WR Jakob Herres (67 receptions, 807 yards, 7 TDs), LB Stone Snyder (76 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 4 QB hurries); James Madison: RB Percy Agyei-Obese (69 carries, 381 yards, 5 TD)s, DT Mike Greene (15 tackles, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks), SS Wayne Davis (24 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)
The Skinny – VMI has been perhaps the most surprising team of the FCS season, earning its first SoCon title since 1977 as well as its first playoff bid since moving to the FCS in 1982. Morgan, a redshirt freshman, stepping in for an injured Reece Udinski, has averaged 388.3 yards of total offense in three starts. The 6-foot-4 Herres has been on a tear, compiling 48 catches, 597 receiving yards and six TD catches in his last four games. James Madison has run the ball more than 67 percent of the time, and VMI has limited its last four opponents, including two that run the triple option, to 100.8 rushing yards per game. The Dukes have won 15 straight home games. After a shaky start to the season, QB Cole Johnson is 32 of 47 (68.1 percent) for 455 yards over the last two games, and the Dukes’ leading receiver is VMI transfer Kris Thornton (17 receptions, 311 yards, 2 TDs). The defense has allowed only 10 points in the second half and kept opponents to a 49.2 completion percentage and 130.2 passing yards per game. Ethan Ratke is 67 of 80 (83.2 percent) on career field goal attempts, kicking at least one in 18 straight games.
Up Next – The winner will play either Missouri State or North Dakota in the second round on May 1 or 2.
Prediction – James Madison 30, VMI 19
Missouri State (5-4, 5-1 Missouri Valley) at North Dakota (4-1 Missouri Valley)
Site: Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota
Kickoff – 4 p.m. ET
TV Coverage – ESPN3
Series – Tied, 1-1 (last meeting: North Dakota won 34-0 at home on Sept. 9, 2017)
Coaches – Missouri State: Bobby Petrino (5-4, first season; 124-60 overall); North Dakota: Bubba Schweigert (41-33, seventh season; 62-54 overall)
3 Players to Watch – Missouri State: WR Damoriea Vick (40 receptions, 544 yards, 2 TDs), ILB Tyler Wiltz (75 receptions, 6 TFL), CB Jeremy Webb (34 tackles, 3 INTs, 6 PBUs); North Dakota: QB Tommy Schuster (100 of 153, 992 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Otis Weah (76 carries, 570 yards, 7 TDs), LB Devon Krzanowski (19 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 takeaways)
The Skinny – A scheduled conference matchup between these programs on April 3 was not played due to COVID-19 protocols at North Dakota. Both teams were surprising tri-champions in the MVFC, and North Dakota is the only school to hand a loss to the other champ, South Dakota State, which is the No. 1 playoff seed. Missouri State is making its first playoff appearance since 1990. Petrino can utilize two transfer QBs, Jared Johnson and Matt Stuck, who have both made three spring starts. Their receiving corps offers terrific size and depth. Both defenses like to go after the signal caller, with the visiting Bears already setting the school record with 27 sacks. UND, a first-year MVFC member, will be playing for the first time since March 20, but it owns a 10-game home winning streak. Weah and Luke Skokna form a superb 1-2 tandem on an offense that averages 206.4 rushing yards per game. Despite playing only five games, the Fighting Hawks have 16 players with 10 or more tackles.
Up Next – The winner will play either VMI or No. 3 seed James Madison in the second round on May 1 or 2.
Prediction – North Dakota 24, Missouri State 17