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The Bottom Line - Week 6

GWFC columnist Chris Kelly breaks down the action in week six of The Bottom Line

GWFC columnist Chris Kelly breaks down the action in week six of The Bottom Line

Oct. 11, 2006

The Bottom Line - Week 6
By Chris Kelly

Cal Poly trailed 10-3 at halftime but used a 20-0 run in the 2nd half to propel them to a victory over UC Davis, 23-17, Saturday night. The Mustangs were led by James Noble who went for 121 yards on the ground and a score. The Mustangs defense held the powerful Aggies offense to less than 300 total yards and picked Jon Grant once as well. Kyle Shotwell's 10 tackles, 3 for loss, and one sack led the defense. UC Davis was led offensively by Tony Kays whose 6 grabs went for 111 yards and a touchdown.

CK's Take: So Cal Poly barely gains over 200 yards, their quarterback completes 6 of 15 passes, and the Mustangs even throw a turnover in as well - how does this team keep winning? Everyone has known how good this defense is but I don't think until Saturday night did everyone realize that this team can beat good football teams without an offense. This defense is something else. I said heading into this game for Cal Poly to win Ramses Barden had to make some big plays and the Mustangs defense had to control the Aggies field position. Barden had three grabs for a 24 per catch average and the defense just dominated in the 2nd half.

That defense blocked a punt for a safety had three sacks, and eight tackles for loss. In terms of field position the Aggies started every drive in the 2nd half on their side with an average start from the 16. They had three drives start inside their own ten. Conversely, of the seven Mustangs drives in the 2nd half, four of them started in Aggie territory, including one at the 16 and one at the four yard line. This defense was so amazing controlling the field in the 2nd half of the game and never allowed the Aggies to get comfortable. In doing so they created excellent field position all evening for their offense.

This win was huge for the Mustangs as we get to the middle of the season and start talking playoffs. With some difficult games still on the schedule the Mustangs can probably afford to lose two more and should still get in the bracket of 16. This Mustangs team gets a bye then a surging SDSU team before San Diego State then a collision course with two of the best teams in the nation in Montana and North Dakota State.

Speaking of North Dakota State - they marched into Georgia and downed the Eagles rather impressively, 34-14. This game was tied at 14 at halftime before the Bison took over and outscored the Eagles 20-0 in the second half. The offensive output was highlighted by a Kole Heckendorf 38-yard touchdown pass. The defense was dominant in the 2nd half. They forced a fumble, picked a pass and took it the other way, and held GSU to just four first downs.

CK's Take: Yes, I incorrectly called the result of this game but remember I did go into this game feeling that the Bison were the better team. (see last week's column) I really felt that another road trip to face a very athletic group in Georgia Southern would be too much. In fact, tied at 14 the Bison could have faltered, but instead dominated. To play as well as the Bison did in the 2nd half shutting down GSU and moving the ball pretty much at will was very impressive. Each week NDSU looks more and more like one of the best teams in the nation. To be one of the top teams in the nation you typically need to run the ball well and stop the run. The Bison are adept at doing both. They absolutely shut down the GSU rush attack allowing them just 65 yards on the ground (avg was 240). Also Kyle Steffes, the 100-yard machine, had 128 yards on 28 carries. In total the Bison rushed for 178 yards at 4.1 per carry.

The Bison will likely win again this weekend (more on that game later) then potentially head undefeated into Minnesota - can they knock off the Big Ten Golden Gophers? Maybe it doesn't seem so far fetched these days. Either way, it will be one heck of a game and one I am looking forward to more and more as the Bison continue to impress. The frustrating part is that the Bison aren't going to lose more than two games this year, if that. With this schedule the Bison would be hosting a playoff game if they were eligible. This Bison team is that good - it's just too bad they wont' be able to show it in the playoffs.

Other Games

South Dakota State 20 Central Arkansas 7 Quick Hits: SDSU has to be one of the early feel good stories of the year considering the way they started. Left for dead after week three, they've rattled off three straight wins the last of which came against a quality Central Arkansas team that was pushing the top 25. The defensive line continues to be a big factor as this group has grown up quickly. They had five sacks and held the Bears to -16 yards rushing. Anthony Watson and Cory Koenig combined for 154 yards at an impressive 6.7 per carry. When those guys are churning out yards at a clip like that this team is going to be tough to stop.

McNeese State 30 Southern Utah 27 Quick Hits: What a tough loss for Southern Utah in a game they should have won, and probably won by double digits. SUU goes for over 450 yards but turns the ball over five times, including three inside the Cowboys 10-yard line. This one will hurt for a while because it's a game that got away, and a win on the road against this McNeese team would have been big. Johnny Sanchez dropped 161 yards rushing on 11 carries, and is emerging as the big play guy in the T-Bird offense. His ability to run will keep this team in games all season long.

Top 25 Ballot

My top five changed a little with Furman losing: New Hampshire, App State, Montana, Cal Poly, and Illinois State. My 6th team is North Dakota State, who has been so impressive thus far and on the verge of cracking top five. I dropped UC Davis to 18th.

Sleepless in San Diego?

Maybe, based on some of the things I am read coming from non-scholarship University of San Diego out of the Pioneer league. San Diego has raced off to a fantastic start at 5-0 and is pounding teams. They've been so impressive, in fact, that they made their debut in the national rankings for the first time in school history climbing to #21 in the most recent Sports Network poll. Historically, non-scholarship teams have been an after thought when it came to the playoff selection process. These teams have never been able to stack up - part of the reason USD scheduled UC Davis in late November, the same weekend as the start of the playoffs. But now based on a terrific start there has been some talk that USD could make the playoffs (from their own administration/coaches) and opt out of their game with UC Davis.

Let me stop that train right now - it is an absolute joke if San Diego thinks they belong in the playoffs. Even if they do go 11-0 try counting the number of teams you've have actually heard of on their schedule....ever. Azusa Pacific. Huh? Dixie State. Who? As for the five teams USD has beat, they're combined record is 9-18. Here's a sample of some of the teams that make up those 18 losses: Albion, Robert Morris, Wingate, Humboldt State, Adams State, Whitworth, and Southern Oregon. And to boot, head coach Jim Harbaugh has been quoted saying their team is better than half the teams in the current top 25. Note to coach Harbaugh: schedule one of those teams and let everyone see. Until San Diego plays anyone, and I mean anyone, this team and its coaches have no right to expect a playoff birth. I'm passionate about this because of what happened to Cal Poly two seasons ago. Cal Poly beat three Big Sky teams, including a very good Montana State team in 2004. They also added impressive wins against a Barrack Nealy led Texas State squad, as well as North Dakota State to bolster their ranking. Yet, the Mustangs were left out of the playoffs at the end of the year based on their schedule even with just two losses to UC Davis and Eastern Washington. Ask the Mustangs fans how they would feel about San Diego even being considered for the playoffs! Until San Diego proves they can compete with that half of I-AA that Coach Harbaugh is so sure his team is better than, the Torreros stay home. They haven't proven they deserve to take a spot away from a team like Cal Poly, who may well be battling for a bid with three losses and a schedule 100x tougher than that USD.

Case closed.

Week 6 Games

It's been as rough a year I can remember with my picks dropping a 1-3 mark last weekend only correctly hitting the Jacks win. The season total is not pretty at 15-11 (.576) but I get a chance to right the ship with a small slate of three games this week. Southern Utah has an early week tilt, while UC Davis plays it first home game of the year and the Bison get a visit from the SWAC.

Southern Utah (3-3) at Florida Atlantic (1-4), Thursday UC Davis isn't the only team yet to play a home game this season as the Owls of Florida Atlantic are back in Fort Lauderdale for the team's first home game on Thursday. The I-A Owls have had a tough start to the season winning just one time in their first five games. Some of those losses, though, have come against teams such as Clemson, Kansas State, and South Carolina. Two weeks though FAU picked up their first win by knocking off La-Monroe 21-19. The offense is led by quarterback Sean Clayton who has thrown for 480 yards and played well in the recent win over La-Monroe. FAU runs a pro-set offense in which Charles Pierre handles most of the running duties. The Owls lean towards the run opting to go to the ground game about 60% of the time using it to set up the aerial attack. This week expect that it will be all about the run especially following the Thunderbirds most recent outing where they allowed 264 yards on the ground at 5.5 per carry. The T-Birds have to tighten up among the front seven and contain the run better or teams will continue to gash them for big gains. In many ways, this team is reminiscent of McNeese State. They like to run the ball and do it better than throwing it mainly because their quarterback has been pretty average to this point. Thus, SUU has to slow the run and force Clayton to throw the ball with accuracy all night. He hasn't consistently established that it can be done and the T-Birds would love to force him into some early mistakes. LaVar Porter and Levi Erickson need to have an impact along the SUU defensive line this weekend. If the T-Birds can keep the run mostly in check they can hang in with this D-IA opponent. If the Owls running game gets churning SUU will have to outscore FAU in a shootout.

If Southern Utah has to outscore Florida Atlantic, the prospects of doing so certainly seem much brighter based on recent offensive output. The T-Birds are averaging over 376 yards of offense this season and they couldn't be more balanced. Currently, SUU is averaging 188 per game through the air with Wes Marshall, while running for 188.5 on the ground with Johnny Sanchez. This team's ability to run this season has been a big reason for the drastic turnaround offensively. Sure, Wes Marshall is playing with much more confidence but Sanchez' big play ability (averaging 6.9 per carry) has really helped to make this offense much more potent. The only thing to pick on is Marshall's interceptions, which are at eight. But honestly, he's been so much better than a year ago, it's hard to dwell on that much. He's completing 60% of his passes and running for key first downs as well. His thirteen touchdowns helps him rank 9th in "points responsible for" in I-AA. The other area of this offense I haven't touched on is the offensive line, which continues to do a standup job protecting their quarterback and opening up holes for not only Sanchez, but also Kyle Coop. This group was young and struggled last season within an offense that didn't put many points on the board. But that group, led by Matt Roan, has showed marked improvement. This week SUU has to be able to maintain that balance they've shown most of the year. I do believe that Florida Atlantic is going to find the end zone a few times this week, so it will be up to SUU to match them. The two keys to the game: successfully the run ball, and avoid costly turnovers, which doomed them last week. If they can do both of those, they'll have a better than average shot to be the 7th team to knock of a I-A opponent. I think SUU will hang in this Thursday night until the end but ultimately the Florida Atlantic's depth will make it a long road trip as they slip by Southern Utah. Florida Atlantic 31 Southern Utah 23

Central Arkansas (4-2) at #18 UC Davis (2-3) I spent much of last week breaking down Central Arkansas so I will keep this preview to the game analysis. Most interesting is that these teams are facing what appears to be a mirror image of each others offense. Both teams don't run the ball well averaging 3.3 yards per carry or less and less than 108 yards per game. But both offenses have very solid passing games, with the Aggies being a little stronger at 279 per game. Both teams have a star wide receiver that will likely find himself in a NFL camp next fall as well. So how do these defenses go about stopping the other? For UC Davis, the focus will stay on the run, as well as blitzing frequently to make sure the UCA passing game doesn't find it's rhythm behind the arm of Nathan Brown. Central Arkansas may have only scored seven points last week but not for the lack of a passing game. Brown was 26-38 for 290 yards. The key was the Jackrabbits completely stifling the run, which the Ags will look to employ the same game plan. Stuff the run, then a bend but don't break approach against the pass. Brown and his star wide receiver Aaron Fairooz are going to get theirs - the key being to force the Bears to go on long drives, not give up the big play and take away the run. Eventually this Aggie defense, which played very well in last week's loss, will make a stop. If this Aggies team can stop the run, they'll be in good shape to keep UCA at bay offensively. Fairooz's battles against corner Nevan Bergan this weekend should provide a solid match up this Saturday for fans.

On the other side of the ball, it's encouraging that UCA gave up 338 yards to SDSU, and even more promising that they are allowing 175 passing yards per game having not faced a passing team near the quality of UC Davis yet this season. I do expect that UC Davis can have more success on the ground than they did against Cal Poly because the matchups up front should provide for that. The key will be Jon Grant's ability to make plays. This defense for the Bears is solid, but when the Aggies offense is clicking there isn't a defense in the nation that can completely contain this passing attack. But Grant has had a couple of rough outings since he shredded the Montana State secondary a few weeks back. He's getting time from his offensive line, and his wide receivers are as talented as any trio in the nation -it's up to Grant to put the ball on his guys and for those wide receivers to bring it in. I'd love to see Coach Biggs get a ball to Brandon Rice on the Aggies first series. Rice is the forgotten man in the receiving core, but certainly not lacking talent. Grant fails to look at him often and then tends to miss him the two or three times he throws his way. The Aggies need to establish Rice and get him involved in the game this Saturday. Another key piece of this weekend's game: it's the Aggies first home game. This team has to be so happy to be playing in front of a home crowd this weekend, and I think the fans should be treated to an offensive show. Kays has another big game as the Aggies right the ship this weekend behind Grant and a big all-purpose day from running back Alex Garfio. UC Davis 30 Central Arkansas 14

Mississippi Valley St. (3-3) at #8 North Dakota St. (5-0) The Bison return home after three consecutive road games to face an unknown Mississippi Valley State from the SWAC. These two teams will be meeting for the first time as the Bison play a Southwestern Athletic conference foe for only the 2nd time (1965, Grambling). MVSU is 3-3 on the season coming off a three point loss to Grambling just a week ago. This week the Delta Devils face their toughest game to date in a road trip to the FargoDome to take on the Bison. Mississippi Valley State is an athletic team that is fairly balanced in their attack, leaning only slightly more on the run. They average 141 on the ground and 165 through the air. The rushing attack is led by Johey Hargrett, who comes into play averaging 92 yards per game at 4.8 per carry. The third leading rusher is Aries Nelson, who is the MVSU quarterback. Nelson is an adequate passer but known more for his athletic ability. To date, the senior signal caller has thrown for 662 yards and three touchdowns. However, he's thrown for five interceptions and is completing just 42% of his passes. He has a couple of very good targets in Clarence Cotton (18 catches, 303 yards, 2 td's) and pre-season honorable mention All-American Tyrone Timmons. (17, 260, 2) But Nelson has to find a way to get his talented wide receivers the ball, especially against the one area of the Bison defense that has shown to be a little susceptible this season, the secondary. Nelson is like a few of the other quarterbacks GWFC teams have faced recently that are average passers and better playmakers. Thus the Bison have to do two things: stop the run, and then stop Nelson from running. If they do those two things, MVSU will be in 3rd and long situations and Nelson hasn't proven he can win a game with his arm in those situations. Mississippi Valley has to run the ball to have a shot in this game. And that will be a huge challenge against a defense that has been dominant against the run continuing to rank #1 in the nation at 36 yards per carry. Coach Craig Bohl commented in his press conference this week that Georgia Southern's running in the first half was the first time the Bison defensive front had been smacked in the mouth with any success. Man, those are high standards in Bison-land. GSU ran for 62 yards on 20 carries in that half and 11 of those 20 carries were for two yards or less. That should tell you how good this defense has been against the run if that effort was the best a team has had against the Bison. Good luck to MSVU - you have to find a way to run the ball against this group.

As for the Bison offense, when it becomes time to start debating the best players at the quarterback position Steve Walker has to be in that conversation. Walker continues to deliver big plays whenever his team needs it and has quietly racked up some impressive stats this season. Walker has thrown for nearly 1000 yards, (242 yards per game) with six touchdowns, and a disgusting 70% completion rate. His efficiency of 160 ranks him 8th in I-AA rankings. His growth within this Bison offense has been so critical to their success. The Bison may want to play power football with Kyle Steffes, but as was proven in the upset win at Ball State they can go to the air very effectively. The ability to run and pass has made this offense so explosive which creates some major problems for the Delta Devils this weekend. MVSU hasn't faced an offense this powerful all season and they'll need some big plays from their All-American linebacker Tyler Knight. Knight has had a strong start to his '06 season with 44 tackles 5.5 for loss, a sack, and an interception. Along with defensive lineman Ronald Green (29 tackles, 6.0 for loss. 3.5 sacks) they pose a strong duo among the front seven. The Bison will need to be aware of them at all times. It helps that center Zach Harrington is expected back to strengthen the line. Expect that the Delta Devils will take some chances this weekend. Typically this is a group that will send an extra defender or two to try to get pressure on Walker, but in the process leave some things open in certain areas of the field. The Bison will focus in on that and exploit those areas via the short passing game: screens, quick slants, etc. Those short passes can turn into big gains especially with holes in the defense. It's hard to find a way that MVSU can stop the Bison especially playing in Fargo unless Walker just unravels, which is entirely hard to believe. Steffes should have another nice game, but I expect Walker find the end zone three times via the air. The Bison should roll once again this weekend heading into Minnesota unblemished. North Dakota State 35 Mississippi Valley State 10

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