The road to Frisco continues in prime time Friday night on ESPN2 as the No. 5 Sam Houston State Bearkats travel to Harrisonburg, VA to battle the No. 4 James Madison Dukes in the FCS Playoffs Quarterfinals.
After a nail-biting 41-36 victory over Chattanooga last weekend, the Kats are now preparing to face an even tougher test. The Dukes currently boast an 11-1 overall record, with their only loss coming to the North Carolina Tar Heels back in late September. The Dukes are riding the momentum of a nine game win streak, with their most recent outing being a dominant 55-22 performance over New Hampshire last weekend.
Since 2011, no team has won more FCS playoff road games than SHSU (6). Head coach K.C. Keeler and his staff realizes the laborious challenge ahead with handling a well-balanced JMU team.
“It’s almost like looking in a mirror offensively,” Keeler said. “I know I’ve said that before about a couple teams, but this is probably the best example of a team that runs a high level of RPOs [run-pass-options].” I think the kids will be excited for the challenge.”
The Bearkat defense will need to prepare their game plan around stopping senior running back Khalid Abdullah. The Duke running back averages the ninth most rushing yards per game in the country (115.6 rypg), has racked up the sixth most total rushing yards (1,387 rush yrds) and has 17 touchdowns on the ground this season.
Abdullah beat out SHSU junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe and was voted American Sports Network FCS Player of the Year by the people. Abdullah is the workhorse of the Duke offense and a good game from him could spell trouble for the Kats.
“We have to stop their run game because we know they’re going to complete some balls,” Keeler said. “If they can run the ball on us, it’s going to be a long afternoon. He’s [Abdullah] explosive. He’s really quick, runs hard and has low pad level. He’s everything you look for in a running back.”
Another player that the SHSU defense must zone in on is junior quarterback Bryan Schor. Although the general of the Duke offense ranks near the bottom-50 in total passing yards (2,397 pass yrds), he ranks second in passing efficiency (182.1 pass eff) only behind Briscoe.
However, Schor’s playmaking ability can’t be overlooked.
“Their running back and their quarterback really make their offense tick,” Keeler said. “Their quarterback [Schor] is just clever. He’s just going to make a lot of plays and he’s really crafty. He’s really good at improvising and getting himself out of trouble and he’s just a really good football player.”
One thing the Kats don’t have to worry about on defense is Schor’s designed run game. The quarterback went down in the second quarter with a shoulder injury during JMU’s battle against Villanova back on Nov. 12. Schor had a plate put into his shoulder due to the injury, which Keeler thinks will limit his attack on the ground.
“He was injured and had a plate put in his shoulder, so that will limit some of his designed run game,” Keeler said. “They obviously don’t want him taking to many hits and that limits him a little bit because that was another part of his game that I thought was really good. He’s a pretty good runner.”
Bearkat fans were holding their breath when they saw their own quarterback go down with an injury last weekend. Briscoe had to deal with the Mocs’ relentless pass rush all game. He was hurried, knocked down and sacked six times throughout the game, but one hit on his throwing arm in particular knocked the quarterback out of the game for three plays.
Fortunately, Briscoe underwent an MRI scan Monday afternoon and the scans came back negative, revealing no structural damage according to Keeler. Briscoe will be limited in practice this week, but is expected to be a full go for Friday’s game. He broke the FCS record for most passing touchdowns in a single season last weekend and is just one shy from tying the Division I record of 58, set by Colt Brennan of Hawaii in 2006.
“We got all the MRIs back and everything is good,” Keeler said. “We’ll definetly limit some reps because he took some hits. It was a physically game and he got banged up a couple times, but everything looks good and we’ll have him rocking and rolling.”
With Briscoe leading the charge of a potent offense that ranks first in scoring, the Kats must spark some kind of run game with junior running back Corey Avery or with sophomore running backs Remus Bulmer and Javin Webb. The Kats totaled only 48 rushing yards in their playoff win over UTC last weekend.
Keeler believes that being able to establish some type of offense on the ground will be a huge key to making the offense flow properly against an athletic Duke defense.
“It sounds crazy, but we’re going to have to be able to run the football on them,” Keeler said. “They give you some opportunities to run the ball and we need to take advantage of that. We really need to run the football, and if we can do that, I think our passing offense will be fine.”
The Bearkats will look to advance to the FCS Playoffs Semifinals for the fifth time in six years Friday with a win over the Dukes. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT.
Channel Guide Information:
Listed below are just some service providers and their corresponding ESPN2 channel number.
SuddenLink: 36 (SD), (236 HD)
DirectTV: 209 HD
Xfinity: 50 (SD), 850 (HD)
AT&T U-verse: 606 (SD), 1606 (HD)
Dish Network: 143 (HD)
Spectrum TV: 29 (SD), 301 (HD)