By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
PHILADELPHIA — Two weeks ago in a huge top-five CAA clash, James Madison defensive end D.J. Bryant barrelled towards Delaware QB Pat Devlin, a prized player and transfer from Penn State.
After Devlin had handed off the ball to running back Andrew Pierce, Bryant delivered what was described by CSN Executive Editor David Coulson as a "WWE-type body slam", which knocked Devlin out of the game with a concussion.
"What happened was he swung me around and I just hit the ground, and as soon as I hit the ground, it was like the world is turning," Devlin said. "It was like I was doing one of those relay races with the bat. What I should have done was I should have laid down on the ground. It was a whiplash kind of thing."
This event, which had the effect of knocking Devlin out of the game versus James Madison, is becoming an all too familiar theme in FCS games so far this year. Whether it's more physical play, campaigns of targeting star players by defenses, or simply coaches are being more extra-careful with head injuries than they have been, the truth is that offensive players are getting knocked out of football games at an alarming rate.
"To have your quarterback get knocked out on the second play of the game, who is also one of the best players in America, and to have your team rally and not lose its composure and not lose its poise and just rally around a young guy [backup Trevor Sasek] and come out in the second half and play the way we played and get a victory at a place I've never won before ... It wasn't a good win, it was even beyond a great win. It was just a fantastic win," Keeler gushed after the victory.
The win showed the importance of depth in any sort of FCS title run, especially at quarterback.
But holding Devlin out of the rest of the James Madison game and the Maine game after that show that head injuries have been a point of emphasis this season.
It was discovered after an autopsy of a Penn football player who committed suicide this offseaon, team captain Owen Thomas, had the early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease caused by repeated hard hits to the head that has been linked to cognitive problems with depression and impulse control later in life.
While the findings — or the Thomas suicide, for that matter — were not conclusively linked to repeated concussions, it's clear that serious coaches are no longer taking any chances whatsoever.
"If this is last year, he's probably playing," Keeler said. "I'm not going to argue with our doctors or trainers. They are phenomenal. We have guidelines we go by. There are different regulations now that doctors can't have overturned, certain standards we have, and he didn't meet the standards."
The standards were that he fell down when trying to get up off the bench.
"He definitely was dizzy coming off," Keeler added. "But there is no headache. He has clear vision. He felt fine. He wanted to go back in. We wouldn't let him go back in. It was a smart move because we have to protect the players."
The football community is definitely taking medical studies more seriously.
"With all the research out there with head injuries, we weren't going to chance it in this ballgame or any ball game," Keeler said.
Devlin, who was already suiting up with a broken non-throwing wrist, is not the only QB who has been held out due to a head injury.
Harvard quarterback Andrew Hatch, a transfer from LSU, was knocked out with a concussion in their second game of the year versus Brown and looks like he will not start for the second straight week versus Lehigh.
And Cal Poly quarterback Tony Smith left in the first half against Montana after a shot to the head that drew a personal foul flag. He took more punishment before leaving.
"We're not sure we should have kept him in the game after the first hit," said Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh.
Smith was later diagnosed with a neck injury in a 35-33 victory over Montana, and is still week-to-week.
Villanova's FCS championship quarterback Chris Whitney was in a similar position last year after sustaining a hit to the head against Penn. Whitney played for awhile, but seemed slow in his ability to make decisions.
"He just didn't seem right with some of his decision-making, after the hit," Villanova coach Andy Talley said.
Whitney was replaced in the third period by Antwon Young, who led the Wildcats to a 14-3 victory.
DeAndre Presley of Appalachian State got off easy when he took a questionable hit late in the Mountaineers' 34-31 win over Elon last Saturday. Linebacker Travis Greene clearly led with his helmet as he collided with Presley's head in the final moments of the game.
The type of hit that Greene delivered has been called a personal foul in a lot of stadiums this fall, as officials have emphasized policing heat shots. But it was not penalized in this game.
Presley was diagnosed with a mild concussion, but like Devlin didn't miss any practice time and is expected to start on Saturday against The Citadel.
But aside from head injuries specifically, there have been so many offensive injuries it's hard to catalogue them all.
* Montana QB Aaron Selle's career ended versus Sacramento State thanks to a severe shoulder separation. Fortunately, the Grizzlies had former Colorado signal-caller Josh Roper to step in.
* Richmond quarterback and USC transfer Aaron Corp suffered a knee injury requiring surgery, as one of his passes was intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the 17-0 loss at New Hampshire and was lost for the season.
The Spiders were already without sophomore backup John Laub, due to an injury, and had to use third-stringer Nick Hicks on Saturday. Hicks will start Saturday at Massachusetts and will be backed up by true freshman Montell White.
* Brown QB Kyle Newhall-Caballero, who had led his team to overtime in his first start against Rhode Island, had his wrist broken in the overtime and is out for the season.
* Furman QB Chris Forcier, a transfter from UCLA, had a bone broken in his shoulder during a loss to FBS South Carolina and is out for the year.
* Montana State QB Denarius McGhee insists he will play this weekend versus Northern Arizona, despite sustaining a foot injury after "coming down on it awkwardly" last weekend versus Portland State in a 44-31 victory.
* Northern Arizona QB Michael Herrick was held out during the entire second half of their 21-14 loss to Eastern Washington, reportedly due to a nagging injury to his left elbow.
* A shoulder injury againt Maine put William & Mary QB Mike Callahan out of commission for the last two games.
* Charleston Southern QB A.J. Toscano tore an ACL after a hit by a Liberty defender last weekend, and is out for the season.
If you add to the list offensive players that are finalists for the Payton Award this weekend, the number of dings and more serious injuries are even more concerning.
* Villanova all-purpose player Matt Szczur sustained a high ankle sprain in Villanova's 22-10 victory over Penn and has yet to return to the lineup.
* Eastern Washington RB Taiwan Jones has been a game time decision all year, and recently missed a start vs. Weber State.
* William & Mary RB Jonathan Grimes was held out of their 24-21 game against Maine since he was "banged up".
"There's all kinds of guys," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said this week, whose Tribe have a bye week to recover from the physical tool of the first half of the season. "There's guys out there that are playing that are banged up like crazy, but they're playing, because they want to play and they feel like they can push themselves through. We've got a lot of guys like that. I'm sure everybody does."
With just 63 scholarships at the FCS level, every coach knows that depth issues can be just one injury away.
"You can never have too much depth, so you want to get guys some reps who may not have gotten as many up to this point," Laycock added. "You want to try to bring them up to speed as much as you can, and then maybe look at a couple of little different things that have shown up with you offensively or defensively or special teams-wise at this stage of the season."
This season, the difference between championships and being also-rans can hang in the balance. It's telling that Delaware, William & Mary, and Cal Poly have largely rode the backup QBs to the brink of another playoff run — not the guys who looked like the big dogs in August.
This weeks picks:
Grambling State 28, Alcorn State 13
Southeast Louisiana 44, Sam Houston State 28
Dayton 28, Butler 24
Robert Morris 27, Albany 24
Bucknell 16, Georgetown 13
Picking the Top 25
No. 25 Penn 16, Columbia 6
No. 10 South Carolina State 26, No. 23 Bethune-Cookman 10
No. 22 Northern Iowa 27, South Dakota 23
No. 21 Georgia Southern 32, Chattanooga 27
No. 8 UMass 24, No. 20 Richmond 10
No. 19 Liberty 50, VMI 3
No. 18 Southeast Missouri State 28, Austin Peay 10
No. 17 Southern Illinois 21, South Dakota State 19
No. 16 New Hampshire 28, No. 7 James Madison 16
No. 15 North Dakota State 20, Illinois State 13
No. 14 Wofford 40, Western Carolina 9
No. 13 Cal Poly 28, Southern Utah 27
No. 12 Eastern Washington 20, Northern Colorado 12
No. 11 Montana 38, Portland State 35
Northern Arizona 31, No. 9 Montana State 28
No. 6 Villanova 24, Maine 3
No. 5 Stephen F. Austin 44, Central Arkansas 42
No. 3 Jacksonville State 31, Tennessee State 13
No. 2 Delaware 27, Rhode Island 13
No. 1 Appalachian State 55, The Citadel 13