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FCS/CAA Playoff Preview: “Dome on the Range” as JMU Travels to ND St.

By Ed Sheahin, Editor  Published: 28th November 2011

James Madison Dukes (8-4) @ North Dakota State Bison (10-1)

Fargo, ND – Fargo Dome (18,700 capacity)

Round 2 – FCS Playoffs

The Fargo Dome may be home to the Bison, but JMU's team speed is built for an indoor turf field.

Fresh off a road playoff victory over Eastern Kentucky (20-17), the Dukes travel to Fargo, North Dakota. The game will be played the Fargo Dome, an all-purpose facility with the capacity of a basketball arena.

The Dukes did exactly what they needed to do last week against EKU (see the CAAZone preview) to defeat an unfamiliar opponent.

The Bison from North Dakota St. are another unfamiliar opponent for JMU. One with a great deal of success in the FCS playoffs and a formidable opponent for the Dukes looking to be road warriors yet again.

NDSU finished with a 10-1 overall record and received a #2 FCS seed for the playoffs.

With victories over teams from BCS conferences the last two years (Minnesota and Kansas), the Bison will be a handful for JMU.

Preparing for the EKU game was a matter of devising a way to slow down RB Matt Denham, which the Dukes succeeded in doing.

But preparing for North Dakota State will be like a blind pig trying to find an acorn. There are so many options, but so difficult to do.

Like any fine-tuned west coast offense, the Bison have multiple weapons to lean on.

It all starts with QB Brock Jensen (171-245 for 1,994 yards 11 TDs and 2 Ints). Jensen completes 70% of his passes, but does so averaging 11.5 yards per completion. In other words, he doesn’t dink-and-dunk his passes.

When Jensen drops back to pass he looks for his two wide receivers, Warren Holloway (55 rec. for 746 yds. and 6 TDs) and Ryan Smith (40 rec. for 471 yds. 0 TDs), who have hauled in 54% of Jensen’s completed passes.

When opting to run the ball, the Bison lean on two RBs who share the load. Sam Ojuri (132 att. for 804 yds. and 8 TDs) and starter DJ McNorton (140 att. for 716 yds. and 11 TDs).

There are no eye-popping numbers when looking over the 2011 Bison stats. They prefer to slowly beat down opponents and capitalize on their mistakes.

There were two remarkable statistics that stood out watching tape and studying the Bison, they average fewer than one turnover per game and they scored 48 touchdowns compared to their opponent’s 20. Those are signs of an efficient and well-coached team.

Defensively, NDSU is led by FCS All-American candidate DE Coulter Boyer (7 sacks and 10 TFL) and CB Marcus Williams (7 Ints. returned for 3 TDs).

NDSU DE Coulter Boyer #92 (an FCS All-American candidate) can wreak havoc in the James Madison backfield if they don't pay close attention him.

Watching them on film, both have the ability to dominate a game.

Although the Bison’s defense is solid unit, by no means do they resemble an impenetrable wall. The Bison allowed nearly 200 yards passing per game. Mostly because opponents were forced to fight back in blowout games.

NDSU’s 4-3 defense struggled at times with option teams like JMU. When facing a running QB like the Dukes’ Justin Thorpe, they typically play the running backs.

Look for Thorpe to put up big numbers again in this match-up.

Only allowing 122 yards rushing per game this season, the Bison will limit the effectiveness of Dae’Quan Scott and Jordan Anderson. Thorpe will have to pass the ball efficiently as he did last week and pick the right time to take-off from the pocket.

Last week I felt JMU’s chances were really good going up against EKU. This week, flying three-quarters of the way across the country and taking on the #2 seed with 15 returning starters will be much different.

Let’s just say it will take a near perfect performance for the Dukes in all three phases to advance to the third round of the FCS playoffs.

The one major advantage the Dukes have in this match-up is team speed. Basically, they are playing in a large gymnasium on a fast surface. If they can overcome the crowd noise and use the playing facility/conditions to their advantage, they can upset the Bison.

This won’t be a high scoring affair. It will be a game similar to the EKU contest last week.

Keys to victory for the Dukes:

1 – Keep the turnovers to minimum (under 2).

2 – Do not get behind early. The Dukes don’t have to be ahead, just within striking distance come the fourth quarter.

3 – Improve Special Teams play! The Dukes can not allow long returns as they did last week in a tight game.

4 – Limit the yards after catch by the Bison. Time and time again watching them on film, Jensen does a great job of leading his receivers on slants and skinny posts. Ten yard completions turn into 30 yard pass plays. The JMU DBs must blanket the NDSU receivers and tackle them upon contact.

5 – The Dukes offensive line must provide room for Anderson and Scott. Anderson has the speed to completely run past the Bison defense in this ideal playing condition. But NDSU is very well-coached, it will take everyone on the OL to do their job for a play to break.


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