SoCon Playoff Primer
By David England
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Georgia Southern has reached the semifinals for a third straight year, but must beat No. 1 North Dakota State in order to play for a championship.
#7 Georgia Southern (10-3) vs #1 NDSU (12-1) 8 PM, ESPN 2
There are not many times that a team gets a chance for immediate revenge, but that is exactly what Georgia Southern has a chance for on Friday night. For the Eagles, this is the same matchup that caused them to be eliminated from the playoffs last season.
We all saw this script playing out before the playoff football even kicked off. A rematch of last season's playoff game was in the making, and Georgia Southern has been waiting all year for another chance at the Bison.
The Eagles and Bison have only met twice in history, with North Dakota State leading the all-time series 2-0, including last season's blowout victory. The good news for Georgia Southern is that the SoCon is 12-6 this season against teams from the MVC, and the conference is 16-12 all time in the semifinal round of the playoffs. The bad news is that this has been the exiting point for the Eagles for the past two seasons.
What we have seen this season from Georgia Southern is the ability to run the ball at will against opponents. With Jerick McKinnon starting under center, the Eagles' offense has gone to another level, ranking number one in the nation in rushing offense and eighth in total offense. While McKinnon gets the majority of the press attention, B-back Dominique Swope is the work horse for Georgia Southern, averaging over 105 yards per game on the ground. When McKinnon and Swope are on their game, the Eagles are one of the toughest tests in the FCS.
Defending the option is always difficult, but it will become an even bigger challenge for the Bison this week as they must face Georgia Southern on a short week of preparation. North Dakota State will face a quick, cut blocking offensive line that forces you to play fundamental assignment football. The Bison will need to be sharp and quick on their feet to slow down the top rushing offense in the nation. There is no question that Georgia Southern will run on pure adrenaline for the first half, attempting to establish the tempo. If Georgia Southern can gain a two possession lead early in the contest, then the Eagles can play their style of football and control the clock.
The key for North Dakota State is to speed up the game and keep the Eagles defense off balance. Georgia Southern ranks 68th against the pass on defense, but played very well last week against the high flying offense of Old Dominion. For the Bison, quarterback Brock Jensen must keep pace with a team that can score its share of points. The Eagles are hungry for a championship and are eager to spoil the Bison's season.
Score Prediction: Georgia Southern 41, North Dakota State 34