The Sports Network
By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 17th, 2:35 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fargodome (18,700) - Fargo, North Dakota. Surface: AstroTurf. Television: ESPNU. Announcers: Mike Gleason and John Congemi. Home Record: Georgia Southern 8-0; North Dakota State 7-1. Away Record: Georgia Southern 3-2; North Dakota State 6-0. Series Record: North Dakota State (1-0). Last Meeting: October 7, 2006 (North Dakota State def. Georgia Southern, 34-14 at Georgia Southern). Conference: Georgia Southern - Southern; North Dakota State - Missouri Valley. Nicknames: Georgia Southern Eagles; North Dakota State Bison. Sports Network/Fathead.com Ranking: Georgia Southern (3); North Dakota State (4). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Georgia Southern (3); North Dakota State (2). Head Coaches: Georgia Southern - Jeff Monken (2nd season, 21-7 at Georgia Southern and Overall); North Dakota State - Craig Bohl (9th season 73-31 at North Dakota State and Overall). All-Time Record: Georgia Southern (277-106-1); North Dakota State (625-364-34). FCS Playoff Records: Georgia Southern (6 National Championships - 1985-86, 89-90, 99-2000 - 43-11); North Dakota State (4-1). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Georgia Southern 17 (1985-90, 1993, 1995, 1997-2002, 2004-05, 2010); North Dakota State 1 (2010).
GAME NOTES: Both teams spent time as the top-ranked team in the nation, and since the loss that knocked them out of the top spot, neither has lost to FCS competition. Last week, Georgia Southern dominated time of possession in defeating Maine, 35-23. North Dakota State posted its first shutout as an FCS program, knocking out Patriot League champion Lehigh, 24-0.
Georgia Southern and North Dakota State were originally scheduled to play this season, but the Eagles opted out of the game, making this semifinal match-up fitting. The teams have met once before, back in 2006, a 34-14 North Dakota State victory in Statesboro, Ga.; however, that was before Georgia Southern went back to the triple option.
Jeff Monken took over the program after the 2009 season, reinstating the triple option and guiding Georgia Southern to back-to-back semifinal appearances. This season, the Eagles attack has baffled opponents all season, rushing for 334.1 yards per game and holding the ball on average for 33 minutes, 49 seconds.
Against Maine, the Eagles held the ball for 42:24, battering the defense and keeping the opposing offense from running its quick-strike offense. Quarterback Jaybo Shaw runs the option with precision, leading the team with 14 touchdowns, while Robert Brown (72.1 ypg), Dominique Swope (77.2 ypg) and J.J. Wilcox (seven TDs) are all dangerous ball carriers.
North Dakota State is also a run-first team, but relies more on a power- running attack with running backs Sam Ojuri (75.2 ypg) and D.J. McNorton (73.9 ypg), who have combined to score 22 touchdowns. Quarterback Brock Jensen manages the offense, and isn't asked to throw often but still completes 68 percent of his passes and has 12 touchdowns to three interceptions.
For North Dakota State's defense, this week is all about preparing for the triple option. However, the Bison are a big, physical team that might be able to slow down the Eagles. The secondary, led by cornerback Marcus Williams, will be relied on heavily to come up in run support, but can't caught cheating since Shaw has a strong arm and can complete long passes.
For Georgia Southern, the defense needs to limit the big plays that it allowed last week against Maine. While the Black Bears weren't on the field long, many of their yards came on big pass plays, something North Dakota State could try and take advantage of using play action.
Like most teams that reach the semifinals, Georgia Southern and North Dakota State both have exceptional special teams. The Eagles have a dangerous returner in Laron Scott (32 yards per return) and consistent kicker in Adrian Mora (12-of-14 FGs). North Dakota State has a consistent kicker as well in Ryan Jastram (15-of-17 FGs). Both should be spot-on inside the FargoDome.
While the dome will provide exceptional conditions for the kickers, it could disrupt the Eagles offense, as Shaw could have trouble communicating audibles and shifts to his teammates.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Georgia Southern 26, North Dakota State 24.
12/14 14:19:07 ET