(New attempt at an article series: any advice or criticism welcome)
Two of the top three teams in the FCS meet up in this midseason showdown that is sure to set the tone for the rest of the season. General consensus is that these two teams -along with Illinois State- are the real contenders for the FCS championship. NDSU is coming off a rout of Montana in which QB Zach McAllister threw for 441 yards and 4 touchdowns. On the other hand the Blue Hens come off a big win over JMU in which their star RB Barack Holmes was stuffed for only 81 yards and a touchdown. The Bison have a bit more momentum coming into the game, however, the Blue Hens are coming off of a much tougher opponent. Who can get the upper hand in this matchup of FCS giants?
Keys to the Game
Zach McAllister- While an obvious choice Zach has been the leader of the NDSU offense and will probably need to put in a big performance in order for NDSU to come away with a positive result. McAllister has been almost unstoppable throwing for over 200 yards in every single game so far this season, exploding last week for over 400. If McAllister returns to where he left off this game may get out of hand.
Barack Holmes- As already mentioned, Holmes was almost shut down completely last week against JMU. This was the first time the whole season Holmes was held under 100 yards rushing. Despite this Holmes has never received less than 20 carries in a game for the Blue Hens. Holmes needs to rebound in order for Delaware to be successful.
Eric Jenkins- Assuming Holmes is at least somewhat slowed by the NDSU front seven Eric Jenkins will need to step up for the Blue Hens. Jenkins played extremely well last week ,when Holmes was shut down by JMU, and saved the day. If Jenkins plays well it could be a tough day for the NDSU secondary.
NDSU Secondary- This is a secondary that has given up a passing touchdown in every game, except for last week against Montana. At times there have been busted coverages and wide open receivers. If Delaware needs to fall back onto the passing game NDSU might get into a little trouble on the back ends.
The reigning champions of the FCS have gone through the first half of the season with very little resistance. To be honest this quite possibly could be the toughest opponent NDSU will face all year. They do not meet up with the other frontrunner in the division in Illinois State, and the toughest matchup they have otherwise is probably UC Davis. Knowing all of this you can expect coach SolutionA to have his players ready to play. McAllister was mentioned in the keys to the game, but he just overshadows the other beast who has been somewhat quiet the whole season. Week 3 against Yale was the coming out party for RB Daniel Taylor. Overshadowed by both his own teammates and other elite running backs, Taylor has quietly put up over 350 yards and 4 touchdowns over the past three games. Delaware will have a very tough time controlling the three headed monster with WR Joe Welch at X on the outside. Welch also put up 135 yards and a touchdown last week. It's almost a given that NDSU should be able to score on the average Delaware defense but can they outscore the high powered Blue Hen offense.
DE William Thompson has had a field day against opposing left tackles this year, and looks to put a lot of pressure on Jenkins this week. In the middle big freshman DT Laremy St. Oliver has been a force, allowing very few rushing yards inside. In fact, as a unit the NDSU front seven has been dominant. They have held opposing RBs such as Cameron Whaley (HAV) and Kenneth Love (NHU) to under 100 rushing yards. Hopefully for the Bison they will also be able to keep Barack Holmes in check. Past the front seven is where the issues may arise for the Bison. The secondary has been a little shaky at best to start this season. The pair of junior outside corners have struggled a bit with the better WR and QB combos they've faced this year. Regardless, Delaware doesn't really have the strongest receiving corp anyway. The most important member of the defense for NDSU tomorrow will be CB Miles Bush. Antonio Brown, the Blue Hens' best receiver, tends to line up in the slot occasionally. If Bush is lined up over Brown it could be a very long day for the true freshman and his confidence. There are only two other options. One option would be to let CB DeSean Gay shadow Brown all day around the field. This could work for Brown, but could still give Bush a tough matchup on the perimeter. The other option would be to send out one of the coverage linebackers, OLB Howard Andrews or ILB Brandon Delgado, to cover Brown when he's in the slot. The problem with this method will be taking a man out of the box. This makes Barack Holmes' life much easier. Overall figuring out how to cover Antonio Brown in the slot may be the most important key to the game for the Bison.
The Blue Hens have had a very surprising start to the season to say the least. Everybody knew that RB Barack Holmes was good, but he has shown he could very well be the premier back in the FCS. Both Holmes and QB Eric Jenkins are mentioned in the keys to the game, but who else makes that offense run? The answer to this question is the offensive line. Delaware's offensive line is a veteran group with three out of the five starting linemen being seniors. If the line can give Jenkins time and open up holes for Holmes like they have all season then there will be a lot of Blue Hen offense in this game. Some other unsung heroes for the offense are the tight ends. At 6'8 TE Daniel Padgett is one of the most un-coverable receivers in the FCS. Grad transfer TE Kingsley Webb helps shore up blocking even more in power sets when he's in the game. Junior receivers Glenn Lawrence and Zachary Anderson are ready to make a big impact in the game. We talked about him in the NDSU section, but WR Antonio Brown could be the biggest key to this football game. Brown's insane ability from the slot makes covering him all the more difficult for opposing secondaries. With both Brown and Padgett lined up inside NDSU will either have to start going dime, or allow them to be covered by linebackers. I don't think going dime is something NDSU would like to do with their already weak cornerbacks. Taking linebackers out of the box should allow for more Barack Holmes action. If NDSU doesn't adjust to Brown this may be his breakout game.
Defensively ILB Eddie Mills Jr. is going to have to plug up all of the gaps on the interior. Delaware has had some issues with the interior run defense over the course of this season, and that has led to Mills having to step up in terms of run defense. His counterpart on the outside, OLB Roger Odom, should have the slot receivers locked down all day. You don't see his name on the stat sheet much because opposing QB's don't throw at him. In the secondary the most important battle will be between NDSU's John Welch and true freshman CB Jermon Chester. Chester is very young and hasn't really covered anyone like Welch throughout his career. Welch should be shadowed by Chester throughout the entire game. This game will be the true litmus test to see if his coverage skills are for real.
At the end of the day there are two major components that will decide the winner in this football game. Will Barack Holmes, Eric Jenkins, and Antonio Brown be able to put up some points on a below average NDSU secondary? They should. It will be a pretty rough awakening if Delaware is not ready to put up points in this game. NDSU is a physical imposing defense up front, however, Barack Holmes are not the only offensive weapons on that team. To have any sort of chance the passing game needs to show up in a big way, and I believe they will. Will Delaware be able to keep up in a shootout with NDSU's offense? I doubt it. NDSU is the best team in the FCS for a reason, the combination of their elite running back, top end QB, and top receiving talent will just be too much for the Blue Hens. NDSU should be able to stop Delaware a few times especially after they understand what the Blue Hen's gameplan is. I don't believe that the Blue Hens are built for stopping NDSU multiple times, and for that reason I have North Dakota State in a shootout!
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