This regionalization crap should be put to bed. Fans want to see schools from other parts of the country, plus things should be based on the best teams play the lesser teams to make the work you did in the regular season more meaningful.
The Herd now gets the chance to square off with the East Tennessee State University Bucs, a team they have never played. A team that dropped football in the early 2000’s and brought it back in 2015. They went 2-9 with an independent schedule. In 2016 they joined the Southern Conference and went 2-6, but 6-5 overall. The Bucs repeated the 2-6 So Con record in 2017. In 2018 they went 6-2 in conference and 7-4 overall and made the playoffs, but lost in the 1st round to Jacksonville State in a close game 34-27. In 2019 they regressed to 1-7 in conference and overall to 3-9. They rebounded in the Covid spring schedule to 4-2. That set the stage for this fall where they were the masters of winning close games. They won five games by 3-7 points. They Come into the Fargo Dome at 11-1.
This culminated with a crazy playoff game last week where they scored 15 points in the last 1:26. This included an onside kick recovery and a two point conversion to vacate a Kennesaw State 31-17 lead to a 32-31 loss.
The Bison are familiar with the So. Con having met GA Southern twice in the playoffs and the same with Wofford and once against Furman. Sit back and grab your favorite beverage while I dissect the Herd’s next opponent. I’ve watched video of multiple games, so you don’t have to.
The Bucs are a well coached team with a run first but balanced attack. They have played average defense coming in at 67/123 in the FCS in total D, giving up 381.5 YPG. They were 49th in rushing D, yielding 143.5 YPG at a 4.1 YPC clip. They have benefitted greatly from a plus 13 turnover margin.
How can they overtake the Bison? What are their strengths? First their roster is loaded with good players. RB’s Holmes & Saylors have amassed 1518 and 985 yards rushing and a combined 46 receptions out of the backfield on wheel routes and check downs good for 442 yards. QB Riddell is 195-306-4 for 2372 yards and 19 TD’s. He reminds me of Schuster from UND. He’s smart, plays within the system and gets the ball to the open receivers. He extends plays with his legs, but isn’t dual threat (putting in a QB run game for a 5’11” 170 lb signal caller would be suicide). He holds on to the ball longer than UND, hence has been sacked 21 times this year.
They have a skilled TE, Nate Adkins, who has 32 catches for 357 yards. Their deep threat is Will Huzzie at 6’3” 185 lbs. He isn’t a blazer, but has good hands and plays well within their system. His totals for the year so far are 56 receptions for 789 yards (14.1 YPC) and 5 TD’s. The offensive line is MVFC big on the right side (RG & RT are 300 & 330 lbs). The left side and center are small. Each weighing in at 285 lbs. The center started his career for 1st two years with the Bison’s Rams, but got buried on depth chart and transferred to a JUCO before ending up at ETSU.
They aren’t “jelly bellies”. They pull the guards on toss sweeps to the two great RB’s who pick their running lanes. Code Green will have to play the gaps and get penetration. I think we can pressure the QB. Giving up 21 sacks is only average pass protection. Average isn’t going to be good enough against the best defense in the FCS.
I am not sold on their defensive units overall strength of personnel. Their 8th year LB (yes that’s right, he’s in his 8th year in college football) would be an average MVFC LB. The DL only has 21 sacks for the season, which is below average (79/123 in FCS) and is even smaller when you consider they come from the pass happy So Con, which should afford them more opportunities to sack the QB.
While the offensive personnel has done well in generating yards and points, the defense has been terrible in far too many games. I think there is some weak schedule inflation that pads their stats. This is something Sam Houston and Jacksonville State have faced in the playoffs. You look at their numbers and go, wow this will really be a tough game, only to have them get blown out one more time. Going into Saturday’s game the Herd is 48th Sagarin with strength of schedule at 148 (this is below the 150 mark which is where FCS playoff teams are ranked). ETSU is ranked 132 in Sagarin with strength of schedule at 187. That means the average team the Bucs played is 39 teams weaker than the Bison’s foes. Mercer, whom ETSU barely got by at home 38-35, is ranked 148 in Sagarin. 4-7 Towson is ranked 186. Herd obliterated Towson.
Now let’s dig into Ol Dober’s statistical analysis of who these two teams have really shown themselves to be. First let’s look at how they have performed against teams ranked under 150 Sagarin.
The Bucs have played four, FBS/SEC Vanderbilt (2-10 & 142 Sag), Chattanooga (6-5 with 2 of the losses close FBS losses & 138 Sag), Mercer (7-3 & 148 Sag) and Kennesaw State (11-2 & 127 Sag). They beat FBS Vanderbilt 23-3. Shutting down the 119/130 FBS school in total offense and 128th in scoring offense isn’t chest beating stuff. Any top 25 FCS school should beat these patsies!
They went on the road to Chattanooga and lost to the Mocs 21-16. The keys to the game were the Mocs ran the ball for 235 yards (6.4 YPC, very good), generated 5 sacks and were +1 in TO’s. Chattanooga is 17th in the FCS in rushing at 205.5 YPG (5.2 YPC). The Ram led Herd is 2nd in FCS rushing at 281.6 YPG (6.34 YPC, #1 in FCS).
ETSU also didn’t slow down either the Citadel or Kennesaw State. These triple option clubs are 3rd & 4th in FCS rushing at 278.6 and 268.3 YPG. Against the Bucs they ran for 287 (5.1 YPC) and 276 (5.5 YPC). In other words no slowing these run games down. The Owls lost a 1 in 5,000 game scenario on Saturday by giving up 15 points, an onside kick and a 2 point conversion in the last 1:26 of playing time. They outgained ETSU 457 to 308 and held the Bucs to 70 yards rushing. Code Green ranks ahead of Kennesaw St. in total D, Scoring D and rushing D. We are also playing at the Dome, the owls blew it on the road.
In summary, these four sub 150 Sagarin teams slowed ETSU’s offense to 347.5 yards total offense, 142.5 yards rushing and 27.3 PPG. All well below their yearly averages of 429.5 TO, 225.8 rushing and 35.2 PPG. On defense teams gained an average of 418.8 YPG, ran for 187.5 YPG, but only scored 22.5 PPG. A 9 to 5 TO ratio did these teams in, except Chattanooga.
The Herd played eight teams under 150 in Sagarin. All MVFC teams! Don’t tell me the MVFC isn’t by far the most dominant conference top to bottom. How did we do? On offense we performed well above what these teams did against all other foes. We gained 412.3 YPG in TO, ran for 252.8 YPG and scored 31.9 PPG. All other foes got 354.4 YPG, 135.9 YPG rushing and scored 23.2 PPG against these defenses (ETSU gives up 22.3 PPG, just saying).
Code Green held these offenses that averaged gaining 379.5 YPG, rushed for 166.4 YPG and scored on average 28.2 PPG to 287.6 YPG, shut the rushing down to 96.6 YPG and only allowed 15.6 PPG.
In summary, we slowed twice as many (eight versus four) higher ranked teams (average Sag is 114 to 139 for ETSU) to lower offensive and defensive totals. On the other hand the Bucs were outgained and out rushed by their four ranked opponents. Because of 9 TO’s they outscored these foes. So they will have to come to the Dome and double us up on TO’s to win.
We could stop right here, but I am not. There is much more great data to be examined. How did NDSU/ETSU fare against good defenses (under 325 YPG)? The Bucs only averaged 130 YPG rushing versus Mercer, KSU and Chattanooga. The Herd gained 210.3 YPG in the trenches versus UNI, SDSU and USD. We scored 35 PPG against the best defenses, the Bucs 28.6.
How did the Herd versus the Bucs slow down the good offenses (+400 YPG)? ETSU was an embarrassment here. They didn’t slow the five good offenses they faced AT ALL. These five were W Carolina, Samford, VMI, Mercer and Kennesaw St. These teams averaged 536.6 YPG, ran for 162.8 YPG, passed for (are you sitting down?) 361.4 YPG and scoring a scorching 33.8 PPG.. They beat Samford 55-48 (OT), Mercer 38-35, KSU in the miracle ending 32-31 and VMI in a low scoring affair 27-20.
Remember early in the year when the SIU Salukis were winning all the close ones? I was telling my brother they were dancing on thin ice. If defending good offenses is winning shoot outs, that streak will come to an end by a good defense!
How did Code Green do versus good offenses? We played four, UND, Mo. State, SDSU and SIU. They average 428.2 YPG TO, 170.3 rushing and score 32.2 PPG. The Code Green boys held them to 310 YPG, 108.5 YPG rushing and cut in half the scoring to 16 PPG.
Folks it’s these numbers that have Vegas at 23 point favorites for the Herd (when you score points by 3’s and 7’s, they see it as a four score game advantage to the Herd). Ol Dober sees it the same way. We are trending up by playing our best football the last five games. We are scoring 40.4 PPG, gaining492.8 total yards and rushing for 313 YPG. On defense we are shutting down the other teams to 297.2 YPG TO, giving up 96.6 yards rushing and only allowing 15.4 PPG.
To lose we have to play bad ball. Turning it over frequently, giving up sacks and not being able to run the ball. The Herd hasn’t been prone to any of those football maladies. ETSU has had big breaks in the turn over department (many I saw on video were the product of bad ball security versus great plays and hard hits). It’s time to go 1-0 this week. Bring on the Semis, Go Bison!