2019 FCS Football Championship Game Breakdown

2019 FCS National Championship
#1 North Dakota State vs. #2 James Madison
North Dakota State was tasked with facing a Montana State team who’d been running near its best all season. And overall, the Bobcats were standing toe-to-toe with the Bison. At least until the second quarter came around. After tying the score at 7-7, Bison wideout Christian Watson took a jet sweep and flew into the endzone, 75 yards out. The defense holds. The offense comes out and Trey Lance hits Watson with a pass that he takes 70 yards for another score. That is 145 yards of offense on consecutive plays. That’s video game like numbers right there. Quarterback Trey Lance finished the day 15 for 21, 223 yards and three touchdowns - still no interceptions on the season! Don’t ignore the fact he rushed 11 times for 64 yards and two more touchdowns.
If somehow Lance is not named the FCS Walter Payton Award winner, adding that to his Jerry Rice Award as the top FCS freshman, something is wrong. There’s plenty of talent to help also. Running backs Ty Brooks (940 yards), Adam Cofield (789) and Kobe Johnson (660) all join Lance (934) as having rushed for more than 50 yards per game. Watson has become the main pass catching option on the outside. However, the tight end triumvirate of Josh Babicz, Ben Ellefson and Noah Gindorff have combined for 17 touchdowns on 35 receptions! The offensive line? Yeah, they’re awesome too. Two of them, Zack Johnson and Dillon Radunz are both All-Americans, not that the others are dead weight.
The Bison defense is nothing to sneeze at, unless you’re an opposing offense. In which case, you might think you’re allergic to buffalo dander. The unit as a whole allows an FCS low 11.8 points per game, allow only 32.9% conversions on 3rd down and 2.80 sacks per game. They also rank #2 in total defense, giving up 269.9 yards per game. Defensive lineman Derrek Tuszka and lineback Jabril Cox are the main tormentors. Tuszka plays in the opponent’s backfield, with 12.5 sacks and 18 TFLs. Cox is a jack-of-all-trades, doing everything called of him, playing sideline to sideline with a great motor and instincts.
James Madison, like NDSU, had little trouble in the semifinals. In fact, they probably had less. Weber State didn’t dent the scoreboard until 1:23 left in the second quarter. At that point, it was 17-7 and the Dukes scored a touchdown as the half expired, to go ahead 24-7. Quarterback Ben DiNucci was very good, once again, throwing 19 of 26 for 266 yards and two scores. He also led the team in rushing, 13 times for 62 and a touchdown. Latrele Palmer, Jawon Hamilton and Percy Agyei-Obese ran for 53, 50 and 45 yards, respectively. This lead to the Dukes possessing the ball for just short of 39 minutes. As if they’re not a hard enough outfit to beat, they don’t let you have the ball either.
The senior DiNucci is now 27/5 in touchdown to interception ratio. And that only looks bad when compared to NDSU’ Lance’s 28/0. Brandon Polk has been the main receiver most of the season, but Riley Stapleton is more than capable of carrying the load if the focus shifts too much towards Polk’s direction. Hamilton and Agyei-Obese are a dangerous combination, especially when you throw DiNucci’s running ability into the mix. The offensive line is very good, led by All-American Liam Fornadel, opening holes and giving DiNucci ample time in a solid pocket to throw out of.
The Dukes defense might be even better than the Bison. Defensive ends Ron’Dell Carter and John Daka are possibly the two best defensive linemen in the country, at the FCS level. Linebacker Dmitri Holloway mans the middle of the defense and plays a huge role in most of what the Dukes look to accomplish. Adam Smith, and his six interceptions, is called upon to lead the defensive backs and his leadership will be vitally important in the championship covering the Bison tight end factory.
As far as expected outcomes for the FCS National Championship, this match-up was probably even more expected than the 2017 contest. This game will be an incredible test of wills and physical domination. Both will try to overpower the other. The offensive and defensive line battles in this game may be more entertaining than any game in FCS history. The Bison probably have a slight advantage on the offensive line, but the Dukes defensive line is probably a little stronger. Quarterback play is a virtual dead heat, as both Lance and DiNucci are great passers and established runners. The running backs are a carousel of high quality for both sides. The receivers seem like afterthoughts given the talent elsewhere, but are still very good players. The coaches maybe? Both are first year guys at their schools. Cignetti came to James Madison from conference rival, Elon, so he knew what he was stepping into, indirectly. Entz was handpicked as the successor of Chris Klieman, who was the successor to Craig Bohl.
Neither team figures to be rattled if the game is tight, even late into the fourth quarter. NDSU has a long history of wearing down opponents then ultimately imposing their will. The Dukes are probably the most senior-ladened team in FCS, maybe all Division I football. This game really looks like a Grade A slobberknocker, coming down to one or two big plays, maybe involving a turnover. Neither team is known as someone who coughs up possession or leads. This game might even be the first championship to go to overtime. This really is splitting hairs and I’m a guy losing his. The betting line has it as a Pick’em, go figure. I just can’t go against the old guard, until someone takes it from them.
Prediction: North Dakota State 20, James Madison 17 (in overtime)