By Myron Hosea
CSN So South Columnist
College Sporting News
A year ago, a young Georgia Southern football team came out of nowhere on a strong season-ending run into the D-I playoffs. The Eagles reached the semis, but their streak ended with a trip north to Delaware.
This year’s playoff run was expected, of course, but its overall success now rests – like last year – on a trip north for a semifinal game.
Georgia Southern (11-2), the third seed in the playoffs, will visit the Fargodome Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to take on second-seeded North Dakota State (12-1). This game sets up as a competitive showdown between two solid teams.
Both the Eagles and the Bison score more than 30 points a game. Both have solid defenses, though the Bison surrender nine fewer points a game (13.7 to 22.7). North Dakota State has done very well in takeaways, too, with a plus-15 mark in turnover margin.
The defenses will be forced to stop some good runners. Georgia Southern’s Robert Brown and Dominique Swope have rushed for 937 and 927 yards respectively, though Swope has done most of the running of late. Sam Ojuri (978 yards) and D. J. McNorton (887 yards) have the bulk of the ground yardage for the Bison.
Quarterback Brock Jensen has thrown for 2,267 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has been picked just three times in 291 attempts. His top target is Warren Holloway (70 receptions, seven touchdowns).
Jensen’s Georgia Southern counterpart, Jaybo Shaw, has thrown 10 touchdown passes and run for 14 more. He’s very dangerous inside the five.
One of the more interesting players on the field will be Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon has played backup quarterback. Against Wofford, I saw him make one of the better catches of the season. Last week, after now moving to defensive back he picked off two passes against Maine.
Then, there’s Marcus Williams of North Dakota State. He averaged 39 yards in returns on his seven interceptions, returning three for touchdowns. He also averaged 38 yards on nine kickoff returns, taking one 90 yards for a score.
The Eagle football program is no stranger to this level of the postseason. They are 8-3 in semifinal games, including 3-1 on the road. The Eagles certainly don’t want to make it two straight semifinal losses on the road. Will that motivation be enough to overcome the road trip and North Dakota State’s home-field advantage?