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Anthony Chiusano | | October 27, 2016

FCS games to watch: Montana vs. EWU headlines Week 9

  Eastern Washington rolls into the weekend on a five-game winning streak.

Following Week 7’s surprising South Dakota State upset over then-unanimous No. 1 North Dakota State, the dust settled this past weekend in FCS play with little movement among the new top 10.

But these teams shouldn’t get too comfortable with their current positions heading into a Week 9 filled with some more high-stakes matchups that should help clear up the postseason picture that’s now only about a month away.

WATCH: Top FCS plays of Week 8

Make sure to tune into these four top matchups in Week 9:

Jacksonville State vs. Eastern Illinois – Saturday at 3 p.m.

  No. 2 Jacksonville State has the fifth-best turnover margin in the nation this year.
It’s a bit more of a fight for the top poll position now that the Bison lost and dropped down to No. 4. While Sam Houston State has the steady advantage as the No. 1 team for the second-straight week, Jacksonville State isn’t far behind.

The Gamecocks remain undefeated in FCS play and have already picked up quality wins over Coastal Carolina and Liberty. But their toughest test of the season may be in their homecoming game this weekend against No. 22 Eastern Illinois.

The Panthers come off a 40-38 loss to Murray State despite a 156-yard, two-touchdown performance from running back Devin Church. It was turnovers that doomed Eastern Illinois in its homecoming loss, as the Panthers lost three fumbles on the day.

Jacksonville State’s defense will look to take advantage of any similar Panthers miscues with the Gamecocks boasting the fifth-best turnover margin in the FCS (nine). Eli Jenkins’ efficient play under center helps this cause, as he has accounted for 13 total touchdowns to only three interceptions.

Jacksonville State can continue to make its case that last year’s FCS championship game wasn’t a fluke with a win this week over a ranked opponent and an Ohio Valley Conference rival.

Western Illinois vs. South Dakota – Saturday at 3 p.m.

  Western Illinois scored a season-low 13 points last week against NDSU.
This matinee matchup is a case of two middle-of-the-pack Missouri Valley teams looking to move up a peg in the competitive conference and pick up a win over a ranked opponent.

Western Illinois dropped to 1-2 against top 25 teams but hung in there with a hungry North Dakota State team looking to avenge its previous week’s loss. The Fighting Leathernecks scored a season-low 13 points in a 21-13 defeat.

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Western Illinois has to be happy with its defensive performance against a solid Bison unit but its offensive showing was a disappointment following consecutive 36-plus point outings.

Meanwhile, South Dakota moved up to No. 25 with a 27-24 victory over Illinois State in Week 8. South Dakota only managed three points in the second half but held on for the in-conference victory.

Both teams struggled in second half play last week, so it will be interesting to see if each offense stumbles out of the halftime gates again this weekend.

Offense may be at a premium in this matchup and it may end up coming down to one big play late in the game.

Montana vs. Eastern Washington – Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

  Montana quarterback Brady Gustafson is sixth in the FBS with 2,195 passing yards.
You know Eastern Washington is going to put up points at will behind its No. 1 passing offense and No. 2 scoring offense (46.6 points per game) in the nation.

But Montana, despite taking a hit last week against Northern Arizona, will likely be up to the task of matching the Eagles’ high-flying attack to create a fast-pace, competitive battle.

Montana ranks right behind Eastern Washington in points per game with 44.9. Before falling to Northern Arizona 45-34, the Grizzlies had back-to-back games scoring 67 and 68 points.

Both teams are led by the arms of their great quarterbacks, who aren’t afraid to sling the ball downfield but continue to play mistake-free football. Eagles quarterback Gage Gubrud leads the FBS in passing yards by almost 400 yards to go along with 27 touchdown passes. Montana’s Brady Gustafson isn’t far behind with his 22 touchdowns.

So the ball will be in the air plenty Saturday afternoon in Cheney, Washington and it will be up to the defensive secondary and pass rush to determine who will outlast the other in this high-scoring affair.

North Dakota State vs. Northern Iowa – Saturday at 7 p.m.

  Northern Iowa topped Missouri State 61-7 last week.
It’s been tough sledding for UNI (3-4), a preseason top five team expected to compete for the FCS title.

All four losses by the Panthers have come at the hands of some of the top teams across the nation, so there’s no shame in that. But if UNI wants to regain its form as a legitimate postseason contender, it must begin pulling out these tough matchups.

The Panthers get another shot at this with its night game against the No. 4 Bison in Iowa. And this may be the most opportune time of the season to play NDSU, who is coming off that aforementioned Week 7 loss and a lackluster offensive performance in the win over Western Illinois.

The Bison have now failed to reach 20 points in consecutive games and have struggled in the passing game with Easton Stick falling below the 200-yard passing mark in each of the past three games.

NDSU’s defense continues to excel and hasn’t given up more than 21 points in all but one game, but its offensive struggles have opened doors for its tough opponents to take advantage.

Enter the Panthers, who scored 61 points last week against Missouri State, and NDSU may be in trouble again if it cannot regain its form on offense.

UNI hasn’t lived up to its expectations so far this season but knocking off the Bison would be quite a way to jumpstart a late-season turnaround.

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