Sunday, September 1, 2013

Week 1 reactions and ramblings

Wow, what a first week in the college football world, particularly for the FCS and the MVFC in particular. A top-25 FBS team goes down, the Big XII goes 0-2 against the Valley, and a few surprises crop up in unlikely places. Let's break it down.

North Dakota State 24, Kansas State 21 
Jensen caps a nine-minute drive with a 1-yard TD run.

Bison QB Brock Jensen called it "the best win in program history" in his postgame interview. Some Bison fans would debate this but there's no doubt it's a monumental win in a very colorful history of this football team. The Bison got knocked around early in the third quarter and fell into a 21-7 hole before Jensen willed the team back into it. The final drive is one that will go down in NDSU history, as the team ran an absolutely soul-crushing 8:58 drive that left pretty much zero time on the clock. The defense gave up 280 yards through the air, which might seem concerning at first, but the Wildcats went pretty air-heavy later in the game and 13 catches and 225 of those yards came from a pair of preseason all-Big XII guys in Lockett and Thompson. The run defense was superb, and the offense looked like a machine at times for the Bison and there's little doubt this unit will return to its place at the top of the FCS world defensively. Right now the Bison are looking hard to stop and doubtless have to be in the forefront of everyone's minds as the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions.

David Johnson finished with 4 TDs vs. Iowa State Saturday.
Northern Iowa 28, Iowa State 20
Sawyer Kollmorgen and David Johnson are probably the least-talked-about-best-combo in the FCS right now. Johnson was key in the Panthers' upset of in-state big dog ISU with four touchdowns and 240 yards on 27 total touches. In particular, he looked fantastic on the game's final score early in the fourth quarter when he caught a pass, spun out of a two-man tackle, then fought off another defender before darting along the left sideline for the score. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a big fan of Kollmorgen, and after his effectiveness in his freshman year against FBS opponents Wisconsin and Iowa, it's good to see that he was able to bring that magic back and secure an FBS scalp for his team with a 21/28, 218-yard, two-touchdown performance. He mixed Johnson in for four of those throws, and the senior running back responded by scoring on two of them. What's crazy is that if not for a goal-line fumble, the Panthers could have won this one by two scores. I pegged the Panthers as a top-15 early on, and they've absolutely earned a top-5 ranking in my book.

Youngstown State 28, Dayton 10
It was a really, really ugly week for the Pioneer Football League, the non-scholarship conference that basically gives basketball schools a place to dump their unwanted football programs. How ugly? Well, two teams lost to sub-DI opponents, Mercer beat another 40-37, and the rest got beat in games with scores like 59-10 or 52-7 (that against a team who just started up their program). Not the greatest showing for a team that will receive an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs starting this year. Anyway, Dayton losing to #23 Youngstown State was probably the least embarrassing performance out of the bunch, and YSU is deservedly drawing a few raised eyebrows for only beating this team by 18 and committing a few blunders along the way.The Penguins did, though, pile up 367 rushing yards courtesy of Torrian Pace and Adaris Bellamy combining for 250 yards on 28 carries (Bellamy had 207). Kurt Hess went a pedestrian 9/19, 0 TD and 2 picks against a team that might be the recipient of the aforementioned autobid, but either way it's a game that both impressed and depressed fans of the Valley with the 'Guins' performance.

Ball State 51, Illinois State 28
This was one that I was sure was going to go in the FCS's favor, but alas, the much-heralded conditioning of the team with 22 extra scholarships won out. The Redbirds actually looked really good prior to halftime, but when BSU scored from 16 yards out with :04 to go in the second quarter it seemed to take something out of ISU's morale. The Cardinals rattled off five straight touchdowns after that, and it was over. From what I saw, QB Jared Barnett had an impressive first half and seemed to hit the dump-off pass and deep ball with equal vigor, totaling up 180 yards in the air in the first two quarters. He finished the day 20/29 with 2 TDs and pick to go with 282 yards, not bad against a MAC team that went 9-4 last season. Probably most alarming to ISU fans is the 340 yards passing the defense allowed, but considering that BSU QB Keith Wenning is a 2013 Dave O'Brien watch lister it's hard to look at that as a glaring weakness. Give it a few weeks and see how the Redbirds' defense shapes up.

Indiana 73, Indiana State 35
Easily the biggest story out of this game is the injury to do-everything running back Shakir Bell, as fans saw their hero leave the field with his arm in a sling and his future uncertain. Early reports weer that the x-rays came back good but you have to wonder what the damage is and how that will impact Bell in a season where circumstances collide to basically spell out that he's going to touch the ball thirty times a game for the rest of the season. Needless to say that a suspect Indiana State defense was exposed and with Bell out, or at the least shaken, the season suddenly looks a lot more dire for ISU-b than it did a week ago.

South Dakota State 55, Butler 14
It was the tune-up game that everyone expected. Zach Zenner broke 116 yards on 17 carries and scored twice, Austin Sumner threw for 326 yards and three scores, the defense did some scoring, and the Jacks had a great opener against an overwhelmed opponent. SDSU is getting plenty of run as a top-ten team so far this season, and the polls on Monday will likely reflect that unless enough folks think that all the FBS-beaters deserve to be there instead. SDSU has a really fascinating matchup against Big Sky opponent North Dakota next weekend, and it'll be interesting to see how the Jacks' secondary fares against a very potent corps of receivers. A name that emerged from this game is Jason Schneider, a junior receiver for the Jacks who hauled in 10 catches for 167 yards and two TDs. If Sumner can establish some faith in a consistent receiving corps like in his freshman year, he could really have a dynamite season to complement what is expected to be known colloquially as "The Zach Zenner Show."

Western Illinois 42, Hampton 9
As we've detailed plenty on this blog, Western's offense last season was beyond bad. They responded in their opener by dropping 42 on helpless Hampton of the MEAC, yet did so with only 262 total yards in the game. Look no further than three defensive scores by WIU, two on interceptions and another on a fumble that turned a narrow 8-6 lead into a 28-6 lead. Ask yourself when the last time you saw a team commit 9 turnovers, because that's what the Leatherneck defense came up with. The offense still didn't seem exactly confident as WIU converted just 6-17 third downs and their quarterbacks combined for less than a hundred yards passing. The defense showed some chutzpah on Thursday, but the indication thus far seems to be that Western is in for a long season once conference play rolls around unless they can put the ball into the endzone on offense. Still, an intriguing look to see WIU's D play so well.

South Dakota 10, UC-Davis 7
A pretty pedestrian game that saw both offenses tally less than 300 yards of total offense, each committed one turnover, and neither converted more than a third of their third downs. The indications are that these are two bottom-feeder teams in their respective conferences, and South Dakota did just enough with the feet of Josh Vander Maten to eke out the win on home turf. If nothing else, it's a win that gives the MVFC some kind of moxie over the Big Sky, but not much beyond that. USD is likely to finish in the bottom three of the conference if the early indications are right.

Illinois 42, South Illinois 34
The Salukis found themselves in a 25-7 hole at halftime, but nearly pulled off the tying score and fell just short despite a furious 27-point second half that put some scare into the Illini. Illinois QBNathan Scheelhasse looked pretty snazzy as he threw for 416 yards against an overmatched Saluki D, but SIU fans can look to the performance of rising star Kory Faulkner as he threw for 312 and 3 on 63% completion against a Big Ten team. Not too shabby. SIU's MyCole Pruitt usually gets the nod as the best tight end in the conference, and his five catches for 86 yards and a score were the last points of the night. All in all, the biggest worry for SIU would be the 66 rushing yards they scraped together, but otherwise a respectable showing by a team that has struggled the past few seasons. SIU has been tagged as a team that could surprise some people this year, and they affirmed that in this game.

Northwestern State 23, Missouri State 17
We expected little and got as much, and Missouri State showed why they finished near the bottom of the Valley last year. Quarterback Kierra Harris showed some nice wheels as he scored twice on the ground but threw barely over 50% and didn't throw for a touchdown. The Bears' offense looked pretty bad, and against a team they probably should have beaten. I was entertaining the thought that MSU could be a snarky team in the Valley this season, particularly thinking back on how they were a pick away from a monster upset over NDSU last season, but the signs point downward when you're converting 5-16 third downs against one of the poorer teams in the Southland Conference, and at home no less.

All in all an exciting weekend. I'll have my Valley power rankings out tomorrow, and in the meantime feel free to tweet or comment with any insight or comments otherwise. Here's looking forward to Week 2!

1 comment:

  1. The new uni's that UNI has look really sharp.