The field goes down from eight to four as college football re-enters our Saturdays. The bowl games will stink, but don't worry...the real action is in the lower divisions.
Villanova and Delaware from the Colonial Athletic Association, Eastern Washington from the Big Sky Conference and Georgia Southern from the Southern Conference represent the final four. Here is a good look at the two upcoming semifinal games beginning with the Friday night game in Cheney, Washington.
Villanova (9-4) @ (5)Eastern Washington (11-2)
Friday 12/17 – 7:00pm CT, ESPN2
Notable National Rankings:
- Offense – VIL 35th, EWU 20th
- Defense – VIL 28th, EWU 93rd
- VIL: seventh in rushing and scoring defense, seventh in turnover margin, third in passing efficiency
- EWU: ninth in kickoff returns
Villanova is coming off of a shocking win against the No. 1 seed, Appalachian State, last week by the score of 42-24. Eastern Washington was able to hold off North Dakota State in overtime, 38-31.
Even if the seeds and records say different, Villanova is coming in with more experience and trying to repeat as champions from last year. Their wildcat formation is led by senior quarterback Chris Whitney, but wide receiver Matt Szczur ended up stealing the show in Boone, North Carolina with a breakout performance.
Szczur scored in all three phases of the game, rushing for three touchdowns while receiving and passing for two. He was injured earlier this season for two months, and while slowly becoming more apart of the offense each week, caught on fire when needed.
Whitney is eighth is pass efficiency this year and had another solid performance going 12 of 16 for 106 yards and a touchdown.
They were able to add balance to their team and hold on to the ball with their key players: senior running back Aaron Ball and junior wide receiver Norman White. Ball had seven carries for 95 yards and White had four receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown.
After scoring 28 points, Villanova’s offense sputtered early in the second quarter until they regained control late in the third quarter and ended up shutting down the Mountaineers. Villanova converted four of 10 third down opportunities while Appalachian State was just five of 19.
Villanova comes into this game with seventh best rushing and scoring defense, as well as seventh best turnover ratio. They are able to defend what they do best on offense. They run first and run often, which opens up the passing attack where they are third in the nation in efficiency.
While this team is hard to burn on passing plays, they will rarely blitz, instead sitting back in zone coverage to avoid big plays. They don’t make mistakes often, and usually force the opposing offense to not make any either, or it will haunt them. Special teams is decent, but punt returning hasn’t been a strong suit for them.
Eastern Washington tried to give the game to North Dakota State, but the Bison didn’t want any part of it. The Cougars held on after committing five turnovers and going three for 15 on third down.
Even with three touchdowns, junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was lackluster, going 13/32 with 141 yards and two interceptions. Junior running back Taiwan Jones was the savior getting big run plays and going 230 yards with 20 carries and a touchdown.
The Cougars use the spread offense that opens up the running and passing game for them. It’s a high scoring offense that gives them around 400 yards and 31 points a game. There are no star wide receivers as the pass attack is completely spread out for up to five or six different guys. Although it wasn’t shown last week, this team has a solid turnover ratio and usually doesn't make mistakes.
Over on defense, it blitzes a lot and tries to attack the quarterback. By doing this, they give up many big pass plays, and are in the bottom 10 in the rankings, giving up over 250 yards a game. The aggressive defense is able to get many tackles for loss, and one of those leaders is 10th ranked J.C. Sherritt.
This game is very interesting as both teams have wildly different offenses. The Cougars will have to play much better than they did last week, and be much more efficient and not make as many mistakes.
While they could get away with that against North Dakota State, they will not against the Wildcats. Villanova won’t have many possessions, and if they score on each one while dominating the clock, it could be a long night given the experience they have. For those of you that don’t follow Eastern Washington football (and most don’t), they have implemented a red-colored field into their stadium.
Georgia Southern (10-4) @ (3)Delaware (11-2)
Saturday, 12/18 – 11:00am CT, ESPNU
Notable National Rankings:
- Offense – GSU 61st, DEL 18th
- Defense – GSU seventh, DEL fifth
- GSU: fourth in rushing offense, eighth in scoring defense, first in net punting
- DEL: first in scoring defense, ninth in turnover ratio, ninth in rush defense and pass defense efficiency
In Georgia Southern’s last game, I predicted a ton of running and no passing. Well, Wofford was able to throw a bit on them and had a balanced offense to keep the Eagles on the ropes, but GSU was able to hold on to the victory after falling stale from scoring 20 points in the first half and three in the third quarter.
Junior quarterback Jaybo Shaw is a dual-threat and was able to move the ball on the ground and the air when needed, totalling for 138 yards and a touchdown. Outstanding freshman running back Robert Brown had 17 carries for 50 yards.
Delaware has a history of not letting anybody score on them, and while their defense faltered a little bit at the end of the regular season, this team has stepped up in a big way in the playoffs. New Hampshire did absolutely nothing, and senior quarterback Pat Devlin torched them going 27/38 for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
They had a balanced attack with running back Andrew Pierce going 90 yards with 23 carries and wide receiver Nihja White getting eight catches for 94 yards and one touchdown. UNH went two of 13 on third down.
Even though both teams are ranked around 35th in the nation in scoring offense, this is going to be a defensive struggle. The Eagles are 14th in pass defense, and 27th in pass defense efficiency. The Blue Hens also defend the pass well, but more importantly, they are eighth in rush defense.
The key for Georgia Southern is to take advantage of the special teams and get good field position. They won’t be able to march down the field against this defense, but short fields and pounding the rock against them constantly could wear them down.
For Delaware, the defense will need to be solid and if they can force turnovers they have the potential to blow this game wide open, as GSU isn’t built to come from behind. Again, experience is favored for the CAA team.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: It will be an all-CAA matchup as Villanova and Delaware will meet on January 7th.