Something New for the Semi’s: Bobcats
New blood for the semi-final game, we have had repeats with GA Southern (2011 & 12) and Sam Houston State (2014 & 17). Nice to see a new face, but before we look at the Bobcats I want to examine what happened with IL State. In my preview last week I thought the Bison would beat the spread mainly because the Redbirds offensively were reduced to a one trick pony (James Robinson). I felt this should lead to a significant time of possession advantage to the Bison.
The 1st half was filled with missed opportunities. The offense moved the ball (just under 200 yards of total offense), but couldn’t capitalize when in the Red Zone (hence 3 field goals). The 2nd half was bad news. The coaches didn’t have a well developed package to cover the adjustments IL State used. Coach Blazek said as much this week on one of the radio talk shows. IL State has a very good defense, so do we and it preserved the victory. If we played them again, we win by three scores. We beat Southern. IL in 2011 9 to 3 and went on to win the National Championship. The MVFC plays the best defense in the country. Just ask JMU. UNI had their only offensive threat (WR Westin) injured on the bench and with the ball all night long (+42 minutes), couldn’t manage more than 10 points. By the way, how bush league not to go to victory formation when they got the ball back with 2 minutes left on UNI’s 2 yard line, to run out the clock.
Let’s start the discussion of who Montana State is with that they are a well coached team with tough kids. The Bobcats, as a program got sucked into the Eastern Washington matrix of wingy-dingy offenses for a few years, instead of knowing that if you make the playoffs, you are going to play outdoor football when it is cold and windy. After not making the playoffs from 2015-17 (they made them 4 of 5 years 2010-14), the Bobcats resurfaced last year to beat Incarnate Word in the 1st round and then came to Fargo and were dispatched by the Herd 52-10. They have the substantial portion of that team back a year older and better.
The National pundits have relegated the last three games for the Rams & company into a trend that has the Herd sputtering on offense. I am not ready to crap can eleven other games as meaningless as to who the Bison are and what they are capable of doing on offense. Am I befuddled by last week’s 2nd half performance? Yes, but am not stuck on a panic button. Let’s analyze what the two teams bring as portfolios.
At first blush, the Bobcats are well balanced between run/pass, protect their QB, don’t frequently turn the ball over and score lots of points (34 PPG, 21st in FCS). They are the mirror opposite on defense. They are excellent in run defense (9th FCS, 107.1 YPG), very good in total defense (345.3 YPG, 28th FCS), top 25 in scoring defense (20.6 PPG, 19th FCS), they effectively harass opposing QB’s (41 sacks, tied with Bison) and create a lot of turnovers (23, plus 14).
We are categorically better across the board in overall offensive & defensive stats except run defense (we give up 26 more YPG), but this falls short of a big advantage when the fact that Big Sky teams aren’t run dominant and that Code Green wins total defense by 80 YPG and scoring defense by 9 PPG. As you should know by now, the differentiation between teams is best shown in subsets of stats against, better teams, good offenses and good defenses. We will also look at common opponents.
The Cats have played 8 top 25 FCS (my Sagarin Matrix) or playoff teams. Here we start to see the down turn in their stats. Scoring dips 5.6 PPG to 28.4. Conversely the defense gave up 1.2 PPG more (21.8 PPG). Combined this lowers the margin of victory from 13.4 PPG against all teams to 6.6 PPG versus the good teams. In these eight games they won five and lost three.
The Bison played nine top 25/playoff teams. Our total scoring dipped from 37.6 PPG to 31.9 (5.7 PPG), but our defensive points allowed improved from 11.6 PPG to 10.3 (-1.3 PPG). Our margin of victory against these teams was 21.6 PPG. Oh, by the way four of these games were against top 10 defenses. We also are 9-0 versus these teams. If you were Vegas, who would you bet on and how many points? Yes, it is that simple. Follow the money, not feelings.
How did Montana State do in stopping the good offenses from top 25/playoff teams (+400 YPG of total offense)? Here things really tightened up. Scoring dropped to 26 PPG, even though total offense stayed above 410 YPG and rushing was healthy at about 243 YPG. Scoring defense jumps to 24 PPG. Folks, that’s a 2 point margin of victory. Their defensive stats jumped to giving up 387.4 YPG. Dangerously close to the bad defense EWU line (+400 YPG in total defense). They were 3 wins-2 losses versus these high octane offenses.
NDSU faced five good teams with good offenses as well. How did Code Green fare? Teams that averaged almost 430 YPG versus all other teams and 31.2 PPG were shut down to 300 YPG and 12 PPG. Offensively we scored 31.6 PPG while rushing for 292 YPG. This is a 19.6 PPG scoring margin. Again we were 5-0 w/l. Code Green’s resume’ is definitely better than the Bobcats.
Mt. State faced only two good defenses all year. To get there I needed to allow Sac. State in, even though they were over my normal standard for good defenses (under 340 YPG total def). They allowed 356.9 YPG (37th FCS), but they did hit top 30 in scoring defense (28th FCS, 22.6 PPG) and 29th in rushing defense at 131.6 YPG. The much heralded Bobcat juggernaut offense scored 22.5 PPG. The margin of victory dropped to 1/2 PPG. That’s right, the vaunted Mt State defense gave up 22 PPG. win/loss record was 1-1.
What is Trey and companies record against good defenses? We played five, not one, top fifteen defenses. Overall we averaged 34.2 PPG and 270 YPG rushing. This was against teams who versus all other non-Bison foes held offenses to 300 YPG, 116.6 YPG rushing and 17.9 PPG. We held these opponents to 10.6 PPG and only 268.4 YPG, so our margin of victory was 23.6 PPG. That’s dominance, not weakness! Only a functional idiot would say the Bobcat offense is on an equal plane with the Bison. This is what the betting houses look at. Not tea leaves.
Finally, did we face any common opponents? Yes, three, UND, Western IL and U C Davis. The Bobcats margin of victory was 20.7 PPG to 15.7 (+5 points). All of these were close fought games with a loss to UND. The Herd’s margin of victory was 40.7 PPG to 14.7 (+26 points). We fought a close game with Davis, destroyed UND and obliterated WIU (they scored 14 points against literally our scout squad defense in the 4th quarter).
Not enough info to show why NDSU is the strong favorite? Offensively, the Cats are 78th to our 4th in FCS in converting 3rd downs, 52nd in pass completion percentage to our 7th, 92nd in yards/completion to our 14th and 64th in passing efficiency to our NUMBER ONE. Defensively, they are 36th in stopping 4th downs to Code Green’s 3rd in FCS, 84th in passing yards allowed to another #1 in FCS for CG, 60th in red zone defense to our 14th and finally the Cats are 32nd in defensive pass efficiency compared to another #1 ranking for Code Green. I guess all of this makes us more likely to be upset according to Hero Sports.
Putting all of this in a blender, where does it lead for Saturday? Latest Vegas line has Herd a 17.5 point favorite. Sagarin has the Herd a 15.6 to 18.2 point favorite with an 83% win chance. Eigen has the Bison the same as Vegas, 17.5 points with an 87% win factor. I am sticking with the money boys.
Does the Herd have something to prove Saturday? Not Code Green or special teams. The offense does, but I think they have the character and talent to get the job done. We are 32-1 since 2011 in playoff football. The only loss came when the Herd’s resume’ was the worst in this streak. Our margin of victory that year was 29.1 PPG to 16.6. That is the worst offensive and defensive stats during this streak. We ran into a very good and hot JMU squad. They had a great QB, their all time leading rusher and a peaking defense. ALSO, after the first quarter we were playing without our top two defensive tackles (Tanguay & Steidl) and an NFL grade LB, named Deluca. With all of that we were still tied 17-17 going into the fourth quarter. I don’t feel the Bobcats are a 2016 JMU caliber team and neither is the 2019 Bison resume” as suspect as the 2016 team. Bison fans, Code Green is still the foundation we rest on and it can be the tool that brings home another semi-final victory. Have faith, these are the Mighty Bison. That’s not hype, the facts and record shows it! Go Bison!