FCS Playoffs: Northern Iowa at James Madison
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By CRAIG HALEY
FCS Playoff Quarterfinal
The Matchup - Northern Iowa (10-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 2 seed James Madison (12-1, 8-0 CAA)
Kickoff - 7 p.m. ET Friday at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Coverage - ESPN2
Series - First meeting
Coaches - Northern Iowa: Mark Farley (159-82, 19 seasons); James Madison: Curt Cignetti (12-1, first season; 79-27 overall)
3 Players to Watch - Northern Iowa: QB Will McElvain (191 of 352, 2,664 yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs), RB Trevor Allen (168 carries, 626 yards, 6 TDs), DE Elerson Smith (60 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 14 sacks); James Madison: QB Ben DiNucci (2,825 passing yards, 71.5 completion percentage, 24 TDs, 4 INTs; 492 rush yards, 6 TDs), DE Ron'Dell Carter (56 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 10½ sacks), DE John Daka (55 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 14½ sacks)
The Skinny - Both teams allow under 300 yards per game with James Madison (276.9) ranked third in the FCS and Northern Iowa (294.3) seventh. Only one of UNI's last seven opponents has exceeded 10 points. The 6-foot-7 Smith has posted a breakout junior season and fellow DE Brawntae Wells has intercepted a pass in each of the MVFC runner-up's two playoff wins. LB Bryce Flater leads the team in tackles (121), while CB Omar Brown (six) and FS Christian Jegen (four) have combined for more than half of the defense's 18 interceptions. JMU's defense features Carter and Daka, the most productive pass-rushing duo in the FCS. LB Dmitiri Holloway is the tackle leader (103) for a second consecutive season and SS Adam Smith's six interceptions give the Dukes a defensive back with at least five for the fourth straight year. The difference between the teams is on offense. CAA champ JMU, behind conference offensive player of the year DiNucci, is averaging an FCS-high 44.1 points per game and coming off the program's playoff records for points (66) and total yards (623) against Monmouth. The offense boasts a 1,000-yard receiver in Brandon Polk (1,042, 10 TDs) and nearly a 1,000-yard rusher in Percy Agyei-Obese (974, 18), although Jawon Hamilton (777, 5) has been the leading rusher over the last three games. UNI's struggling run game has improved recently, but it's facing the FCS' top-rated rushing defense. McElvain has only one TD pass in the last four games, so UNI needs WR Isaiah Weston (1,053 receiving yards, 10 TDs) to rev up in his third game back from injury. The kickers are clutch: UNI freshman Matthew Cook has made 19 of 24 field goal attempts and JMU's Ethan Ratke is 52 of 62 (84 percent) in his career.
Up Next - The winner will play either No. 3 seed Weber State (10-3) or No. 6 seed Montana (10-3) in a national semifinal Dec. 21.
Prediction - This could be a defensive slugfest with owning field position a key factor. James Madison's offense will move the ball better than UNI as it adds to a 10-game home winning streak. James Madison, 20-10.
Updated December 11, 2019