FCS Championship Preview: North Dakota State vs James Madison

FCS Championship
File Photo: The championship trophy pictured here will be awarded to the Division I FCS Football Champion. The game will be held at Toyota Stadium on January 11, 2020 in Frisco, Texas between the North Dakota State Bison and the James Madison Dukes. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

One team made it to the FCS championship game in 2018, beating Eastern Washington 38-24, while the other one was shocked by Colgate. 

Fans wondered what would happen with North Dakota State now that Chris Klieman was helping a Kansas State program turn around, and if Matt Entz can continue the winning streak.

The same would be said for coach Curt Cignetti who would succeed as Mike Houston departed for East Carolina.  Well as it turned out, both head coaches put these two teams back where they belonged, in the championship.

FCS Championship Preview

Both of these teams are known for their powerhouse offenses and defenses.  Combined, they have a record of 29-1 in the 2019-2020 season. 

The new year cannot start off any better than the FCS National Championship game between the North Dakota State Bison and the James Madison Dukes, the matchup that some compared to Alabama vs Clemson. 

With all the hype out of the way, it is time to preview both the offensive and defensive and sides of the ball.

North Dakota State Defense

The Bison are ranked second in total defense.  They have had 892 plays, 4048 yards and only given up 19 opponent touchdowns.  

Players to look out for are James Hendricks who has 65 total tackles and four interceptions, along with linebacker Beau Pauly with 14 total tackles. 

Key Defensive Players

Perhaps, the Bison’s biggest key player is linebacker Jabril Cox.  Cox is a junior and might declare for the NFL Draft after the championship, with the deadline being January 20th. 

According to Buchanan’s top prospects, Cox has great speed numbers but needs to improve on his consistency.  If he does that, then he will likely be a fourth-round pick.

If Cox plays his best game, he may be moved up in the mock drafts, possibly an early second to the late first round.

For the secondary, two players to watch are Marquis Bridges, Josh Hayes, and Michael Tutsie.  Tutsie has 98 total tackles and seven interceptions on the year and looks to have a big game Saturday. 

Not only is Tutsie smart with a sene to the ball on the field, but off of it, he is an Honor Roll student, putting his grades first.  He is majoring in physical education with a minor in psychology. Tutsie ranks seventh in interceptions per game

Bridges and Hayes meanwhile have had a good season themselves.  Marquise has two forced fumbles and 30 total tackles. Bridges reported to Kvrr that practicing in the early mornings just like camp helped their physicality and mentality.  

Josh Hayes meanwhile has 52 total tackles and two interceptions, 11 pass deflections and two forced fumbles.  Hayes came into the week questionable but is expected to play.

Some players who may get into the rotation are Jack Darnell with 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and Derrek Tuszka with 42 total tackles, five pass deflections, and a forced fumble. The defense will try their best, but they may be overpowered by a strong James Madison offense that ranks ninth in the country. 

North Dakota State Offense

With Easton Stick getting drafted, it was time to hand the ball over to Trey Lance who has not thrown an interception this season. 

On the year, Lance is 186/277 with 2,714 yards and 28 touchdowns.  For the running backs, it’s senior Ty Brooks who has 940 rushing yards on 140 attempts and five touchdowns. 

The offense ranks sixth with 7,159 yards and 75 touchdowns combined.  Look for the passing game to be a strong point, but the James Madison defense can play a big role and maybe pressure Lance all day. 

Other players to look out for are wide receiver Christian Watson (34 receptions 732 yards six touchdowns), Phoenix Sproles (32 receptions 528 yards and two touchdowns), and Jimmy Kepouros (30 receptions 394 yards, plus scored two touchdowns). Sproles was questionable as he has been battling injuries, but it seems he will be healthy to play. 

Finally, the offensive line needs to block and cover-up as many gaps as possible.  Their leader is right tackle Zack Johnson who is looking to lead this line and protect Lance against a tough Dukes defense. 

James Madison Defense 

In the regular season, the James Madison defense only gave up 188 points all season long.  As said before, their only loss was by seven in the season opener against West Virginia. The Dukes are first with 3970 yards and 27 opponent touchdowns.  

The Dukes defense is led by Dimitri Holloway who has 115 total tackles, two sacks for 11 yards, five pass deflections, one forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries.  Rashad Robinson with 47 total tackles, one and a half sacks, three interceptions, 14 pass deflections, and one fumble recovery.  

The last player to look out for if you are the Bison offense is defensive end Ron’Dell Carter.  The Rutgers transfer as of now in 2019 has 59 total tackles, 11.5 sacks, one pass deflection, and a forced fumble. 

Watch for James Madison to stop the run game through four quarters. Brooks is a very good running back, but this Dukes defense stops the run early, the Bisons are doomed.

James Madison Offense 

Not only do the Dukes have the strongest defense in college football, but their offense ranks in the top ten.  The offense ranks ninth overall with 7,087 and 74 offensive touchdowns.  

In two of the three playoff games, the offense put up 30 points or over.  They would beat Monmouth in the second round 66-21, Northern Iowa 17-0, and Weber State 30-14.  James Madison’s offense is led by quarterback Ben Dinucci who has thrown for 3,237 yards, 27 touchdowns, and five interceptions.  Dinucci also rushed for 560 yards on 114 carries and seven touchdowns. 

Watch for their running back too in Percy Agyei-Obese.  On the year, he has 1,143 yards on 241 attempts and 19 touchdowns.  He ranks 16th in rushing yards in the FCS.  

The Dukes have one of the best receivers in Brandon Polk who ranks ninth in receiving yards.  Polk has 72 receptions, 1153 yards, and 11 touchdowns. 

Another wide receiver who is one of the seniors is Riley Stapleton.  He ranks 96th which may not seem good, and has had controversy in the past, but is a big asset to the team in many ways.

Stapleton has 55 receptions for 688 yards and eight touchdowns.  He was part of the reason why James Madison made it to the semi-finals back in 2017 too.

The Return

According to Infourm, the Bison Notebook, Dana Mogck will be announcing the championship game after 29 years.  He was part of the announcers that stayed with the Bison when they were winning their division II championships. 

Time

Game time for the FCS Championship Toyota Stadium is 12:00 PM Saturday on ABC.  North Dakota State looks to win three and a row, while James Madison tries to win their third championship in program history.

FCS Championship Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

 

File Photo: The FCS Championship trophy pictured here will be awarded to the Division I FCS Football Champion. The game will be held at Toyota Stadium on January 11, 2020 in Frisco, Texas between the North Dakota State Bison and the James Madison Dukes. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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