FCS Playoff Preview: #5 South Dakota State at #4 Kennesaw State
In football. like in life, there is more than one way to become successful.
Just look at South Dakota State and Kennesaw State, who meet Saturday (December 8) in the quarterfinals of the 2018 FCS Playoffs.
Between them, the fifth-seeded Jackrabbits and fourth-seeded Owls have gone a combined 20-3 this season and are two of the three highest scoring teams in all of the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision.
But how they get into the end zone is a completely different story.
The Jackrabbits (9-2) use a quick strike attack that mixes the run in with a passing game that's in the top 20 in the nation. SDSU's 511 yards per game in total offense is fifth-best in FCS.
The Owls (11-1), out of the Big South Conference, do a majority of their damage on the ground. KSU boasts the second-best running team in the nation, a triple-option attack that yields 374 yards per game.
The offense runs thru senior quarterback Chandler Burks, who has single-handedly accounted for 238 points this season - third best in the nation. His 29 rushing touchdowns are eight more than any other player in FCS.
When Burks pitches the ball, he got great options in running backs Darnell Holland (12 yards per carry) and Shaquil Terry (eight yards per carry), who have a combined for 14 touchdowns.
The Owls' powerful running game was held in check in last week's 13-10 win over Wofford in round two. Kennesaw State managed just 163 yards rushing against a team that runs the triple option itself, giving its defense a chance to practice against it on a regular basis.
South Dakota State, meanwhile, hasn't lined up against a true triple option team since 2016 when Cal Poly came to Brookings and racked up 440 yards on the ground in a 38-31 Mustang win.
Kennesaw State's defense is just as good as its offense.
The Owls are third in FCS in total defense and in the top ten against the pass and on third down.
They recorded 13 tackles for loss in the Wofford game.
Linebackers Anthony Gore Jr. and Bryson Armstrong lead the way. Gore Jr. is the Big South's Defensive Player of the Year with 73 tackles (including 15 for losses) and six sacks.
Seven different Owl defenders have intercepted passes this season.
KSU is also strong in special teams with both kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns this season. They lead FCS with 39 yards per kickoff return.
Kickoff is 1:00 PM, Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia, in suburban Atlanta.
Kennesaw State has won 11 straight and has the third-longest current home win streak in FCS (15 games).
The Owls are in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year in just their fourth year as a football program. South Dakota State is in the postseason for the seventh straight year and in the quarterfinals for the third straight season.
The winner plays the North Dakota State - Colgate winner in the semifinals next weekend.
Last Saturday (December 1), SDSU ran their all-time home playoff record to 5-0 with a 51-6 win over Duquesne in Brookings.
On a day where an impending winter storm put a premium on early points, the Jackrabbits accounted for all 24 of the first half scoring, outgaining the Dukes 261 yards to 68 in the first two quarters.
On the afternoon, wide receiver Isiah Hill made the most of his first two rushing attempts of the season, scoring on a pair of reverses, while running back Mikey Daniel ran for 100 yards for the first time in his career and added a touchdown.
The Jackrabbit defense shut down the nation's third-best running back, holding A.J. Hines to just 21 yards. SDSU had three sacks and forced a trio of turnovers, including a Zy Mosely interception return for a touchdown the second half.
I talked with SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier about the Duquesne win and Saturday's match-up with Kennesaw State: