You know my foundational football analysis position is “defense wins championships”. Towson is going into playing the Herd on Saturday ranked 16th in the FCS in Total Defense, which is very good. Now is the time for Paul Harvey’s “the rest of the story”. Their high ranking came from playing Morgan State that ranks 243rd in Sagarin (that’s a blush away from Valparaiso at 252). They gave up 400 yards to last week’s opponent, New Hampshire, including 5 YPC in the run game. They especially were burned by two small, very quick NH RB’s (we don’t have any of those, do we?). The Wildcat’s were 24/32 (75%) with 261 yards in the passing game. They didn’t play good defense versus New Hampshire.
The Tigers have 43 transfers on their roster (23 FBS), so it’s not a developmental program. There is talent there, but do they play as a unit? After the 2013 National Championship, that ended in a loss at Frisco to the Bison, they have gone 4-8, 7-4 (no playoffs), 4-7, 5-6, 7-5 (with an embarrassing 1st round loss to Duquense 31-10 at home) and 7-5 (with no playoffs) in 2019. They did not do a spring season. So before these two fall games, it had been two years since they ventured out on the grid iron. Better than half their starters were not there for the last game in 2019.
They, like UND, play a three man DL. They have two nose guards at 305 (the starter is a transfer via UCF thru one year at JMU). He is 6’7”, but is no John Ridgeway from IL State. This guy couldn’t break into JMU’s starting lineup last spring and has zero tackles to his name (maybe that’s why he wasn’t playing much at JMU and lost favor at the University of Central Florida). He is big to move in the run game, but wasn’t very mobile in the pass rush part of the game. As stated above, the Wildcat’s QB wasn’t running for his life when completing 75% of his passes. The rest of the DL is in the 265-275 lb range, which is adequate size, but none stood out as real studs.
The LB corp weigh in at the 220-240 lb range (outside backers tend to be a little larger in the 3-4 defensive alignment). Maybe they are still blending together as a unit, but they didn’t flow well to the ball carrier and were nicked badly by cut back lanes.
The defensive backs looked serviceable, but not outstanding. They have yet to get an interception this fall. Giving up a pass completion rate of 75% isn’t a lock down secondary.
In summary on the defensive side of the ball, the unit looked very average against a good NH offense.
Now to the trenches on the offensive side of the ball, the OL is huge at 328 lbs/man, but not quick (the bulk of this is with a 360 lb RT and 355 lb RG, yes there is some roly poly stuff in the midriff area). When allowed to operate (when the Tiger QB’s weren’t throwing INT’s), they created some running lanes for their RB’s, especially the GA Tech transfer. Our DL is going to have to maintain gap integrity, not get pushed back and keep their pad level low. If NH could accomplish this with a smaller DL than the Herd and without the deep rotation we have, so should Code Green.
In the RB room, Jerry Howard the RB from GA Tech had 97 yards & 5.4 YPC (in the same mold as Mofor& Washington the last two weeks), a 6’0” 230 lb downhill runner. He is better than either Mofor or Washington. The backup back, Devin Matthews (5’9” 195 lbs), had 15 carries for 44 yards (2.9 YPC) which isn’t very good. The Tigers got 154 yards for the game (3.9 YPC). If our DL can stack the OL at line of scrimmage, we will contain their run game.
The WR’s are athletic and got deep at times (they had 6 passes completed for 15 or more yards). They were able to take advantage of play action when the offense wasn’t playing from behind the sticks. To date, no All-American candidates have raised their heads.
QB was supposed to be a strength with ex-Maine Black Bears QB, Chris Ferguson behind center (He led Maine to the semi-finals in 2018). After 2 INT’s, 6/16, 51 yards and three sacks, the reigns were handed to Jeff Miller who went 12/27, 147 yards and 2 INT’s. Both QB’s are not dual threats (they showed no QB run plays). Combined they went 18/43 (42%). NH’s DL was small, but still put LOTS of pressure on Towson’s QB’s.
Expectations: Towson ranks 164 in Sagarin (outside of normal FCS top 25 of under 150). All MVFC teams rank ahead of this other than Ind. St & W IL at 176 & 180. Rhode Island (172), William & Mary (189), Albany (192), Stony Brook (195), Maine (215) and Elon (220) all rank under Towson. There is a big myth out there that the CAA is the strongest conference top to bottom. Add to this, that they feed off of weak non-conference games from the Patriot, NEC, Pioneer, SWAC & MEAC schools. Also, their first round playoff opponents usually come from these same leagues, so they get to play the prettiest of the ugly to open post season (They have picked up some embarrassing losses here over the years). The MVFC is by far the toughest FCS conference top to bottom. Yes, I am pounding my Bison chest, but I can show you all the facts that my dad can beat your dad up (hint, look at playoff record against non-conference opponents, CAA barely 500, MVFC dominates). I see this game like playing YSU (156 Sagarin), Ind. State (176) or W IL (180) on the road. They have enough talent to hurt you, if you don’t show up to play or play sloppy with TO’s and penalties.
Towson wants to be like the Bison in establishing the run and working off play action. They also have been running deeper, longer developing routes. I don’t think they can do either against the Herd. As I said about Albany, I don’t think they can sit back there in the pocket and pick us apart. If we don’t get four or more sacks, I will be disappointed. I expect our DB’s to pick off some passes. I also expect either of the QB’s to be harassed all day.
On the offensive side of the ball we should be able to run the ball effectively. If NH got 5 YPC, we can and should do better. I also expect us to expand the play book, working in more passes (18-22) with our TE’s seeing more action and we might even see our first screen pass (maybe to Bussey). Vegas favors the Herd in a range of 14.89 to 16.23 points (a three score game). I am feeling 31-10. If they give up 4 TO’s like last week, it will be a blow out. Go Bison!