The Bottom Line Archives
The Bottom Line - Week 8
By Chris Kelly
It played out just as it should have. The Cal Poly/Montana battle lived up to expectations as the two teams went back and forth all afternoon until a fourth and final turnover would be the nail in the coffin for the Cal Poly Mustangs, who fell 36-27. In a game where defense and low scoring was supposed to reign supreme, the two teams combined for 63 points and over 860 yards of offense.
No team led by more than seven points the entire game until Montana punched in a final touchdown following the last interception. The impressive part was that both teams entered the game in the top 25 in defending the run, but both offenses went for well over 200 yards on the ground. Lex Hilliard, the Grizzlies star back, ran wild going for 237 yards on 34 carries. James Noble had another strong game the Mustangs hitting the 100-yard mark again with 144 yards on 22 carries.
CK's Take: The game, although a bit sloppy, lived up to its billing. The teams combined for nine turnovers on the day, setting each other up with great field position and letting opportunities slip by. Cal Poly also committed 12 penalties, eight more than their average. But in the end, the Grizzlies won this game doing what they needed to do - running the ball. And not only did Hilliard run it, he set a career high in doing so. Surprising in the dominating fashion the Grizzlies controlled the line of scrimmage, but kudos to the Montana front five who won that battle against as talented Mustang defensive front.
The biggest loss may not have come in the score, but in the Mustangs quarterback Anthony Garnett. Garnett left the game with a knee injury that an MRI confirmed on Tuesday ended his season. Did that injury end the playoff hopes of the Mustangs? This team has to come together now and rely on the defense more than ever. With games against UCD, Idaho State, and Eastern Washington, the Mustangs have to 2-1 to get into the playoffs, I believe.
The Mustangs opponent this week the UC Davis Aggies moved over the .500 mark with an impressive win in Fargo against the Bison, 20-14. The Aggies used the strength of a tremendous defensive effort, a blocked punt, and a terrific 30-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jon Grant to come away victorious. Both teams ended up with just under 300 yards of offense, but North Dakota State managed just three yards total rushing. Jon Grant's 24-38 performance for 186 yards and no picks led the Aggies offense while Nevan Bergan's two picks paced the defense. Nolan DeGraaf, last week's defensive conference player of the week, blocked a punt setting the Aggies up the second score at the Bison one yard line. Joe Mays had a monster game for the Bison defense with 13 tackles, three for loss, including a quarterback sack.
CK's Take: A year ago the Bison rolled into Davis and physically dominated the Aggies like I haven't seen in years. Last Saturday, the Aggies returned the favor. The score can be misleading because the Aggies thoroughly owned this game throughout. The Bison Kyle Steffes was held to eight yards on 12 carries, while the entire team mustered just three yards rushing. UCD took NDSU completely out of their offense, forcing the Bison to throw 14 straight passes at one point in the second quarter. The Bison offense had only 144 yards through nearly three and a half quarters. The Aggies swarmed all day, and generally made life uncomfortable for Bison quarterback Steve Walker all day. Walker never looked right in the pocket and found life much tougher without a running game as he threw three picks and was rushed in his throws many times. John Faletoese, James Amos, and Dan Elbanna all had two tackles for loss.
As for the Aggies offense, Jon Grant continues to get the job done. The 30-yard touchdown run was something else, but his management of the game impressed. Grant's been knocked, some of it coming from me, but he's consistently proven how proficient he is at winning the big game. The UCD signal caller knows he may not have much of a run game all season yet he's still able to lead this team to wins. Can you name another QB that has wins @ Cal Poly (then a top ten team) @ #16 NDSU, and @ Stanford. Grant plays his best the bigger the game - and being clutch is something that can't be taught. If he can add one more big win to that resume this weekend it may be enough to give the Aggies a conference championship.
Finally, I need to give a shout out to the Bison athletic department for their work on gobison.com. They are web casting nearly all of their home games, which is something that hardly anyone does in I-AA. Montana does but their quality is not nearly as good as the Bison web cast because the feed is much slower. The service allows me, as well as other fans to watch games live form the Fargo Dome. It's good exposure for the Bison and great for their fans to have this available. It would be nice to see more schools have something like this set up - because the Bison are on the cutting edge. Nice work.
Southern Utah 20 Northern Colorado 17 (OT)
Quick Hits: Southern Utah picked up their first win of the season when Brandon Perkins drilled a 43-yard kick in overtime. Quarterback Zac Connors helped spark an offense that ranked last in the conference. Jerome Eason and Joey Hew Len combined for 13 catches. Andre Wilson had a huge game posting a career high 202 yards. SUU lost the turnover battle 3-0, yet still found a way to win. Key Stat: SUU converted 33% of its third down compared to just 14% for the Bears.
South Dakota State 64 Missouri-Rolla 28
Quick Hits: The Jacks ran over the Miners, literally. Three, yes three, backs went for over 100 yards as South Dakota State rushed for 567 yards. Cory Koenig, Trevor Hohn, and Anthony Watson rushed for 184, 161, and 117 respectively. The trio combined for five touchdowns. Andy Kardoes left the game after just one series and it appears that he is out for this weekend's game against Georgia Southern. Key Stat: SDSU led only 24-21 a couple minutes into the third quarter before the Jacks scored 34 unanswered points.
Week 8 Games
This week two non-conference games and two conference games make up the schedule. A D-II team visits UNC, while a ranked team travels to Brookings. The game of the week features two ranked teams with the winner taking a huge step toward winning the conference. Last week was a flat out ugly at 1-3, and this week will be just as challenging. The record now stands at 25-9 (.735)
Fort Lewis (5-3) at Northern Colorado (2-4, 0-2)
The Skyhawks and Bears meet for the ninth time, but only the first time since 1970. The Bears lead this series 5-3 as both teams battled as members of D-II. The Skyhawks have perennially been one of the doormats of one of the weaker conferences in D-II, the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. This season FLC is an improved unit in comparison to its fellow conference members holding a 4-2 league record. They opened the season losing to Montana 55-0, which doesn't bode well for the game this weekend. The key to containing the Skyhawks is all about stopping Matt Gutierrez, who leads the team in rushing and passing. He enters the game averaging 47 yards on the ground, and 275 yards through the air. FLC is not much of a running team and will look to take to the air more times than not. The Bear defense needs to key on Gutierrez, and make life miserable for him on Saturday. Unless Gutierrez gets the best protection of his life from his offensive line, it will be a long day for the Fort Lewis signal caller. Scoring won't be a problem for the Bears, facing an opponent that gives up nearly 29 points per game. Andre Wilson just set a career high last weekend and may surpass that mark this weekend. FLC will find the end zone a couple times, but Northern Colorado will ride Andre Wilson's legs all afternoon as they run all over the Skyhawks. Look for quarterback Nick Hager's return and he will air it out to Andy Birkel after Wilson's forced the defense to commit 8 or 9 to the run. Wilson reaches 200 yards again as the Bears run away in the 2nd half. Northern Colorado 41 Fort Lewis 14
North Dakota State (4-3, 0-2) at Southern Utah (1-5, 1-1)
The Bison travel to Cedar City to take on a Southern Utah squad fresh off its first win. Last week SUU was able to top UNC as they found some running room behind Jamar Lee (15-85), and used strong performance from their quarterback Zac Connors. Northern Colorado is one of the worst teams in the nation against the run, which means that running this week might come a little tougher. The Bison are a tough group against the run, which they proved last week even in their loss to the Aggies. The Aggies were able to exploit holes in the passing game underneath in the Bison defense, something that Zac Connors will need to do this weekend as well. The Aggies worked the short passing game in an efficient manner to put together a few key scoring drives. Can Connor sustain long drives against this defense? That may be a tough task against this Bison group, which is why the T-Birds have to stay committed to the run. They need to soften up that Bison front, as well as keep them honest. If this becomes a game that Zac Connors has to win on his own Southern Utah could be in trouble. However, if SUU can find some success on the ground, the Thunderbirds can put up some points against this Bison defense.
If the Bison are to be successful they have to get back to running the football, something that has escaped this group in their last two games, both losses. Kyle Steffes was bottled up last week which put the onus completely on Steve Walker. Once the Bison became one-dimensional Walker really struggled, which is something we've also seen over the past couple games. There was a time it appeared Walker couldn't be stopped even when the run was silenced, but he's shown to be much more human of late. But while Walker has made some poor decisions, he's also been rushed numerous times. It's not just an issue of Walker having skittish feet, but his protection holding up as well. For this offense to get back on track they have to feed Steffes all game, and dominate the line of scrimmage. Walker is a talented player, going through a small blip on the radar. He'll respond in due time. But if the Bison are to bounce back this weekend it has to start with the run. Southern Utah, a group that just surrendered a 200-yard rusher, needs to bring everyone to the line of scrimmage and devote all resources to Steffes and the run. SUU has to use their aggressive style of blitzing to contain this ground game. They need to take the chance that Walker's confidence is down, and make him beat you. Southern Utah looked better last weekend, but I have my doubts that they can contain what is sure to be an angry Bison group. I expect Steffes to get back on track, which should help Walker find his form. This game will be close for a half, until the Bison separate in the final two quarters. North Dakota State 34 Southern Utah 14
Georgia Southern (5-3) at South Dakota State (4-3, 1-1)
Well the Jacks avenged one blowout loss when the beat UC Davis a couple weeks back, and now they have their chance to get redemption for the other. A year ago South Dakota State traveled to Georgia Southern and got slapped around 63-7 in Statesboro, Georgia. In that game they were out gained 616 - 242. Now here we are one year later and the two teams meet under different circumstances. The Jacks are 3-3, with an impressive win over UC Davis. But all three losses are to teams in the top ten. The only blowout loss is to the team I ranked #1 in this week's national poll, Texas State. GSU enters this week a more modest 4-3 rather than the 7-1 record of a year ago (only loss to I-A Georgia). Don't be fooled though, the Eagles have still been very tough this year and are currently ranked 19th in the nation.
That power really begins on the offensive side of the ball where the Eagles average an impressive 35 points per game along with over 436 yards of offense. The Eagles, who run a triple option offense, average 364 yards of rushing yardage a game. GSU is led by star running back Jermaine Austin, who along with quarterback Jayson Foster has combined for over 1900 yards rushing. Yes, I said 1900 - which is part of a group that is second in the nation in rushing offense. The scary part of this dangerous speed on offense is that it doesn't end with these two. Four other Eagles have gained at least 100 yards on the ground this season, and all but the backup quarterback Darius Smiley are averaging at least 4.6 per carry. When GSU isn't executing the option effectively, they'll try to open things up deep down the field. They only throw the ball 5-6 times a game, but expect them to take some shots behind the arm of Jayson Foster. Foster's thrown for 425 yards, and 4 touchdowns, while only averaging 53 yards per game however. Chaz Williams was a better passer, but anyone throwing the ball in this offense has an advantage in that teams are so geared up to stop the speed of the option that is opens things up down the field. This team is extremely talented at the skill position and run this option with precisions, so how do the Jacks stop it? Last year, the answer was pray for a miracle. This year, the solution is much more reasonable. Outscore them. Well, first the Jacks have to show some propensity to contain this group. They'll hold them to less than 63, but don't expect them to necessarily stop the run. South Dakota State is allowing over 120 per game, and has shown they can be run against. The Jacks will sellout against the run and hope Foster doesn't beat them for big gains over the top. Hank McCall is a huge weapon in that he should be able to lock down the Eagles top receiver. The rest of the defense can focus purely on shutting down this option. If the Jacks can get a stop in the first two series, they can gain some much needed confidence and stay in this game. If GSU scores right away, they'll run downhill all game en route to another blowout.
The Eagles will run the ball with success this weekend, but this season the Jacks appear to have an answer in Cory Koenig. The sophomore is the integral piece that of an offense that is 11th in the nation in rushing averaging 249 yards. Ever since Koenig has stepped into a starting role he's done nothing but impress having gained 100 plus in all four starts. Behind Koenig is Anthony Watson, who averages another 76 per game. All he's done is rush for 2000 yards over his past two seasons, and now he's 2nd on the depth chart. Both backs tote the rock for at least 6.5 yards each time they touch it. These two backs have to run the ball well this weekend for the Jacks to have a chance. Georgia Southern ranks 88th in rushing defense (188 per game), a number that bodes well for the Jacks heading into play this weekend. The Eagles had to overhaul their defensive line this spring, and the effects are showing on their ability to stop the run. Linebacker John Mohring is the big playmaker for GSU, who seems to be in on every play having racked up 72 tackles already. What doesn't bode well for South Dakota State is the status of quarterback Andy Kardoes, who is out this weekend. His status for the rest of the season is also uncertain, which would be a big blow to the Jacks. Even though he's struggled at times, he is the leader of this offensive group, who gutted out a nagging ankle injury the past few weeks. In his stead red-shirt freshman Ryan Berry will get the call. The youngster has only thrown 18 passes this season, which is concerning heading into a tough game this weekend. He'll need to be efficient this weekend, working the short routes, and minimizing mistakes for the Jacks to win. Berry needs to not lose the game, rather than go out and win it. SDSU must run the ball to win this game, period
Georgia Southern runs their triple option superbly, and has the speed to run circles around teams. The Jacks saw it last year firsthand. I don't expect SDSU to make a high percentage of stops, meaning that GSU will find the end-zone as Austin runs for a big game. But Georgia Southern isn't the team they were a year ago. Plus, South Dakota State is improved, while Coach Stiegelmeier has seen this team and will be better prepared to handle the Eagles on the his home turf. Cory Koenig is the key to this game, and his ability to run behind a tough offensive line will make a big difference in this rematch. The Jacks will need to control the clock in a game that may take only two hours to play. There won't be a lot of stops, but SDSU's last four games (Montana, Cal Poly, Texas State, and UC Davis) have prepared them well for this weekend. The caliber of play doesn't get much better than that foursome which is a big reason that South Dakota State, even with a green quarterback, will pull off a big upset this weekend. The Jacks will exploit a soft rush defense and use a long blast from one of the best field goal kickers in the nation, Parker Douglass, to stun the Eagles. South Dakota State 33 Georgia Southern 31
Game of the Week
#10 Cal Poly (5-2, 3-0) at UC Davis (4-3, 2-1)
Cal Poly's offense vs. Aggies defense. The Mustangs have been featured more times than not in this game of the week section, so their offense isn't much if a secret. What will be a secret is just what the coaches ask of Matt Brennan, Cal Poly's freshman quarterback, in his first collegiate start this weekend. Brennan takes over at the helm of the Mustangs offense following an ACL tear in Anthony Garnett's left knee at the end of the game against Montana. Garnett had done a terrific job (8th in the nation in passing efficiency) this season running the Mustangs option offense, so his loss is huge. One thing we know for sure is that Brennan will spend a lot of his time on Saturday handing the ball off to James Noble, the Mustangs slotback. Noble has been nothing short of amazing this season. He comes into play this week ranked 10th in the nation in rushing at 120 yards per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he is the only freshman among the top 10, and is also the only player averaging over seven yards per carry. If the Mustangs wanted to pound the ball with him before, without their starting quarterback, he will become almost the entire focus of the offense. That may play right into the hands of the UC Davis defense, which has been tremendous against the run this season. After last's week dominant effort at North Dakota State holding Kyle Steffes to .6 yards per carry, the Aggies moved up to 5th in total rushing defense (85 yds per game). That number is accompanied by a 2.9 per rush average, which includes facing four backs ranked in the top 30 in rushing. The Aggies front four last week spent their afternoon in the Bison backfield, something the offensive line of the Mustangs can't afford to let happen again. Cal Poly have done an excellent job this season in opening holes for their backs, and getting to that second level, allowing Noble to turn small gains into big plays. Beau Finato, Brett Gauld, and co. has to dominate this game for this offense to be successful this weekend. The Mustangs can't depend that their new quarterback can win this game, so the reliance on the run is magnified this week. If Cal Poly can run the ball, and keep things simple for Brennan, the Mustangs will win this game. If the Aggies stuff the run and are allowed to pin their ears back and come after Brennan it could be a long afternoon for the Mustang offense.
UC Davis offense vs. Mustang defense. The Aggies offense comes into play averaging just 20 points per game, a number well below what fans have come to expect over the years from this wide open offense. Points may be hard to come by this weekend as the Ags face a tough Cal Poly group ranked 17th (299 yards per game) in total defense. As one looks at the speedy front seven of the Mustangs, the biggest task is containing national sack leader Chris Gocong, who is averaging 1.64 per game. The Aggies offensive line, which last week lost starter Jonathan Compas has to make sure Gocong is taken care of at all times, so he doesn't become a menace to quarterback Jon Grant. But if there is a potential weakness among this defensive unit it's defending the run. Last season the Mustangs were as dominant as any team in the country at stopping the run. This year, however, they've shown susceptibility to teams that run the ball well. Cal Poly has fallen to 35th against the run as two backs have gone over 100-yards, and one has even surpassed 200-yards. Don't expect the Aggies to necessarily exploit that however as this is a team only averaging 95 yards, which ranks at 110th in the nation. Freshman back Demario Warren has improved over the past couple weeks, but is probably not quite ready to break out against this defensive front. But what the Mustangs must protect again is the running of Jon Grant. Last season, the Aggies were in a similar predicament in terms of rushing the football. UCD ran quite a few designed runs with their quarterback attempting to keep the Mustangs defense honest. It worked as Grant rushed for 91 yards when sacks were subtracted. Don't be surprised to see more of that if Warren is stalled. As the Mustangs contain the run, UCD will ultimately have to win the game on the arm of Jon Grant. Grant will be throwing into a talented secondary that will make it a challenge. Cornerback Courtney Brown (4 picks, 6 passes defended) is as good as they come while Aaron Williams and Kenny Chicoine arguably make up the best safety duo in the league. When Brown and Tony Kays are matched up that should be a battle to watch. Grant, who has thrown for nearly 1800 yards and 10 touchdowns, has more than proven he can beat very good defenses, and he'll be pressured to come up with some big plays again this weekend against the complex defensive scheme the Mustangs feature. The Aggies will likely need to employ a similar attack as last week, focusing primarily on the short passing game. That means they limit the amount of shots they take downfield. One possible good piece of news which could open up things down the field is the potential return of Daniel Fells. The preseason All-American's ankle is better, and he returned to practice this week. From what I understand the chances of Fells being in game shape to play this weekend stands at about 40%. If he returns it would force the Mustangs to make a decision who they double, Fells or the GWFC's leading receiver Kays.
Key matchup: Ramses Barden, WR, Cal Poly vs. Nevan Bergan, CB, UC Davis. When the season started, fans had to be pleased with the talent the Mustangs returned at wide receivers, namely Jonah Russell, Jason Holmes, and Anthony Randolph. No one was mentioning Ramses Barden, however, and for good reason. The red-shirt freshman was stuck behind three talented, proven performers. Not anymore. Barden has emerged as a big play threat, and the main target of the Mustangs quarterbacks. Ramses leads the team in receiving yards (325), yards per catch (19.1) and receiving touchdowns (5). Oh, and I forgot to mention he's 6'6, which makes covering him a nightmare. That job will go to Aggies corner Nevan Bergan. Bergan, who only stands at 5'11, has played much bigger than that this season. He's tied for the national leads with six picks, or .86 per game. He also leads the conference in passes defended, and has 25 tackles, 7th on the team. Bergen, like Barden, has gone from a player no one knew at beginning of the season to breakout player by midseason. His role will not be to stop Barden from making plays, but stop Barden from making one type of play. Even with a young quarterback, if the Mustangs take a chance it will be to Barden on a deep route. Cal Poly loves to run Barden vertical and throw the ball up to him allowing him to use his size to get to the ball. The Mustangs will try this play at least a couple times as the Ags likely sit in man coverage on the outside. Bergan will have to stay in good position to keep Barden from making the big play that could eventually be the difference what is sure to be a game that goes down to the wire.
X-Factor: Matt Brennan, QB, Cal Poly. Fans can try to play out this weekend's scenario from many different angles, but the fact is this - Freshman Matt Brennan makes his first start of his career this weekend. Brennan has thrown 11 passes in his collegiate career, completing six with an interception. Now he's starting on the road, in front of a potential sellout. This game was once just another game, but for both schools is quickly turning into a big rivalry. To boot, both schools have the conference championship in their sights making this weekends game even more exciting. As is the situation with the young quarterback from SDSU, Ryan Berry, I can't imagine that Coach Rich Ellerson will ask his Brennan to go out and initially make a ton of big plays. The Mustangs will look to pound the ball early, rely on their defense, and keep Brennan throwing mostly underneath routes, making simple reads. The Aggies defense has made life troublesome for many quarterbacks this fall, and the Mustangs have to be careful what they ask of their newbie at quarterback. There's no need for Brennan to win the game, just manage it, and make smart decisions with the football. If the Mustangs get out to a lead, Brennan's role should be minimized. But if UC Davis can get ahead, how will Brennan handle the pressure with a potential playoff spot hanging in the balance?
The Roundtable says:
Kent Schmidt (4-2): "This game has a lot riding on it with the winner likely being this
year's Great West champion. Even though the Mustangs lost their quarterback Anthony
Garnett, I think the Mustang defense will dominate this game and win a low scoring game
in Davis. I will take Cal Poly by seven. Cal Poly 20 UC Davis 13"
Jeff Kolpack (2-5): "After seeing both of these teams play recently, they seem about as equal as identical twins. Both have speed on both sides of the ball. I like Poly's receivers and running back but the fact Garnett is out at quarterback throws a wrench into this prediction. I have no idea on the quality of the backup and for that reason alone, I'm going with Davis. Davis 12, Poly 7."
Chris Solari (3-3): "UC Davis at Cal Poly: This is it, the battle for the Great West title.
Without Anthony Garnett, can the Mustangs' defense carry them? Can Jon Grant keep
things moving after the big upset of NDSU? The Aggies win a nailbiter.
UC DAVIS 17, CAL POLY 13."
Mike Mirer (3-4): "Earlier in the season, UCD might have found a way to lose that game at North Dakota State. Not so much late, when the Bison made actually did make it close, but early, when it was 0-0 for an extended period of time. The Week-1-and-2 Aggies would have gotten frustrated and made some ill-advised decisions with the ball. Since Stanford, UCD has grown comfortable as a team that uses defense and clock management to grind its way to wins. Cal Poly's been doing that for about three years now. Anthony Garnett steadied the Mustangs when he took over last fall. His absence will hurt. Two good defenses mean this one will likely be resolved late. Take the under.
UCD 6, Cal Poly 5, or something like that."
The Bottom Line: These two teams couldn't ask for more this weekend. In a game between budding rivals, the conference championship is on the line, a sellout is expected at Toomey Field, and the game will be televised. Plus, Cal Poly needs to keep winning to make sure they head to the playoffs. This game should live up to its hype too - in the last four meetings three of the games have been decided by four points or less, the road team winning each time. This year, the game will go down to the wire as two talented defenses slug it out for sixty minutes. The Aggies defense will be successful in slowing down Noble, as this defensive front seven continues to perform at a high level. That should make both teams one-dimensional offenses that will be reliant on the pass to win this game. Thus it will come down to quarterback play - Jon Grant and Matt Brennan. Can Brennan make enough play to win this game? And can Jon Grant avoid the mistakes that Cal Poly always seems to force opponents into? This is a big game, which always seems to bring out the best in Grant. Just see his 440 yards of total offense against last year's Poly D, which is proving to be a slightly better unit as the season moves along. In these games it's not about Jon Grant throwing for 300 yards, but rather avoiding mistakes. This weekend two touchdown passes should be sufficient. UC Davis 20 Cal Poly 14.