FCS First Round: It's EIU offense vs. SDSU defense
The Sports Network
FCS Playoff First Round
Saturday, Nov. 24
Nov. 25 Eastern Illinois (7-4) at No. 19 South Dakota State (8-3)
Date & Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, 3 p.m. ET
Facts & Stats: Site: Coughlin-Alumni Stadium (15,000) -- Brookings, S.D. Surface: Grass. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Eastern Illinois 5-0; South Dakota State 5-0. Away Record: Eastern Illinois 2-4; South Dakota State 3-3. Series Record: First meeting. Nicknames: Eastern Illinois Panthers; South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Conferences: Eastern Illinois - Ohio Valley; South Dakota State - Missouri Valley. Coaches: Eastern Illinois - Dino Babers (1st season, 7-4 at Eastern Illinois and overall); South Dakota State - John Stiegelmeier (16th season, 101-75 at South Dakota State and overall). FCS playoff records: Eastern Illinois 3-13; South Dakota State 0-1. Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Eastern Illinois 13 (1982-83, 86, 89, 95-96, 2000-02, 05-07, 09); South Dakota State 1 (2009). Sports Network Ranking: Eastern Illinois (25); South Dakota State (19).
Game Notes: Eastern Illinois and South Dakota State meet in a matchup between one team which sets the tone offensively through its passing game, the other through its grinding run attack, respectively.
Eastern Illinois enters the contest with nothing to lose. The Panthers pulled off a rare worst-to-first finish in the Ohio Valley Conference this season, while first-year coach Dino Babers has done a phenomenal job turning the team into an offensive power. EIU ranks sixth in the FCS in passing with 345 yards per game and sixth in total offense with 480 yards per game.
Receiver Erik Lora has set an FCS record for receptions in a season (124). He leads the FCS in receptions per game (11.3) and receiving yards per game (139). His quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, needs three touchdowns to tie the OVC single-season record of 34, held by former EIU standout and 2002 Walter Payton Award winner Tony Romo.
South Dakota State likes to dictate the game with running back Zach Zenner, who is the FCS' second-ranked rusher with 154 yards per game, and he has 10 touchdowns. Zenner gets all the attention because of his big play ability, but in the last five regular-season games he's only averaged 91 yards and scored two touchdowns. The key for SDSU will be quarterback Austin Sumner's decision-making ability. During that same five-game span, he's thrown for nine touchdowns versus one interception.
Few realize the strength of South Dakota State's defense, which ranks eighth in the FCS in allowing 297 yards per game and fourth in surrendering 15.9 points per game. Clearly, the secondary will be tested this week, but teams have only thrown for seven touchdowns in 11 games.
Both teams last made a trip to the playoffs in 2009. It's a lot worse of a memory for SDSU because the 'Jacks led Montana 48-21 late in the third quarter on the road before giving up 34 unanswered fourth-quarter points to lose, 61-48.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Dakota State 28, Eastern Illinois 24.
11/23 05:55:30 ET