(6) Georgia Southern (10-3) at (1) North Dakota State (12-1)
The Sports Network
By Tim McDonnell, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Friday, December 14, 8:05 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: Gate City Bank Field/Fargodome (18,700) -- Fargo, N.D. Surface: AstroTurf's GameDay Grass. Television: ESPN2. Announcers: Dave Neal, Andre Ware and Cara Capuano. Home Record: Georgia Southern 6-1; North Dakota State 7-1. Away Record: Georgia Southern 4-2; North Dakota State 4-0. Neutral Record: Georgia Southern 0-0; North Dakota State 1-0. Series Record: North Dakota State (2-0). Last Meeting: Dec. 17, 2011 (North Dakota State won, 35-7, at North Dakota State). Series Streak: North Dakota State has won both meetings. Nicknames: Georgia Southern Eagles; North Dakota State Bison. Conferences: Georgia Southern - Southern; North Dakota State - Missouri Valley. Sports Network Ranking: Georgia Southern (6); North Dakota State (1). NCAA FCS Playoffs Seedings: Georgia Southern (5); North Dakota State (1). Coaches: Jeff Monken (3rd season, 31-11 at Georgia Southern and overall); North Dakota State - Craig Bohl (10th season, 87-32 at North Dakota State at overall). FCS Playoff Records: Georgia Southern (6 National Championships - 1985-86, 89-90, 99-2000 - 45-12; North Dakota State 8-1. Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Georgia Southern 18 (1985-90, 1993, 1995, 1997-2002, 2004-05, 10-11); North Dakota State 2 (2010-11). Current Playoff Streak: Georgia Southern has won seven of its last nine playoff games; North Dakota State has won its last six playoff games.
GAME NOTES: For the second straight season, Georgia Southern travels to North Dakota State for a matchup in the FCS semifinals. It's also the team's third straight trip to the semifinals under third-year coach Jeff Monken.
There's no question, the Eagles' faithful in Statesboro, Ga., have to be excited with the direction of the program in the last couple years. After all, GSU has won six FCS national titles with an all-time playoff record of 45-12. But let's face it, another season coming up just short of a title would be disappointing.
Of course, this year's team is entirely different than the last two playoff squads, but in the last two trips to the semifinals, the offense has struggled. In 2010, versus Delaware, Georgia Southern managed just 10 points and 310 total yards and turned the ball over five times. Last year versus NDSU, the Eagles scored just one touchdown, fumbled the ball three times and only rushed for 186 yards.
This season, the offense has improved under its new leader, quarterback Jerick McKinnon. He's rushed for 1,649 yards and 19 touchdowns in 13 games. The junior scored four rushing touchdowns last Saturday in an impressive quarterfinal-round win over Old Dominion and makes other players around him more dangerous because opponents have to account for multiple threats.
B-Back Dominique Swope is the second-hand man, rushing for 1,169 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. There's even more depth with Jonathan Brown (500 yards, two touchdowns, 9.4 yards per carry) and Darreion Robinson (483 yards, four touchdowns). The Eagles rank first in the FCS in rushing with 409 yards per game.
For North Dakota State, the key will be trying to slow down, not shut down, the triple option offense, like it did versus fellow Southern Conference member Wofford last Saturday.
The Bison escaped with a 14-7 victory, although they allowed 362 yards of offense and 262 rushing yards - unheard of for a defense which gives up 78 rushing yards per game. However, two enormous second-half defensive red zone stops, and a ridiculous performance by linebacker Grant Olson - in which he set a school record with 29 tackles - helped the Bison advance to the semifinals for the second straight year.
NDSU's top-ranked defense certainly has its work cut for it this week. The unit still leads the FCS in scoring (10.8 points per game), total defense (207 yards per game), defensive third down efficiency (26.1 percent) and first downs allowed (11.3 per game). In 13 games, teams have scored just three rushing touchdowns, and in two playoff games, no opponent has scored an offensive touchdown.
NDSU leads the FCS in time of possession (35 minutes, 14 seconds) and GSU ranks sixth (33:30).
Georgia Southern's defense is much-improved and plays well against the run, allowing 130 yards per game. That's important because the Bison look to quarterback Brock Jensen to control the offense, not make a lot of throws with his arm. In the last two games, Jensen has thrown for only 205 yards.
Considering both teams run the ball with success, the receivers don't get much attention. NDSU's Zach Vraa and Ryan Smith only average 50.5 and 49 yards per game, but when called upon, they can make the most of an opportunity.
Watch out for GSU's Zach Walker and Kentrellis Showers as well. Both are phenomenal blocking receivers who only have eight receptions each this season, but can sneak past the secondary for big plays.
First and foremost, Monken's squad needs to forget about what happened in the past and hold onto the football. Expect North Dakota State to use the combination of running backs John Crockett (896 yards, eight touchdowns) and Sam Oujuri (884 yards, nine touchdowns) to wear down the Eagles with long, sustained drives.
The storyline heading into this Friday night prime time matchup is all about Georgia Southern's offense versus the Bison defense. It might end up being the other way around because the Eagles defense could give NDSU plenty of problems.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota State 31, Georgia Southern 26.
12/12 21:19:36 ET