Just four teams and three games remain in the FCS playoffs before a national champion is crowned. The semifinals are Saturday, May 8, when No. 1 seed South Dakota State takes on Delaware at noon ET on ESPN, followed by No. 2 seed Sam Houston State versus No. 3 seed James Madison at 2:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Here are five essential numbers to know ahead of the FCS semifinals.
That's how many unanswered points Southern Illinois scored in the first half of its quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 seed South Dakota State. That was after South Dakota State won 44-3 at Southern Illinois in March and before the Jackrabbits stormed back to outscore the Salukis 24-6 the rest of the way. Despite facing a two-possession deficit late in the second quarter against an opponent it had already beaten by more than 40, South Dakota State remained composed and scored three touchdowns in the second half, each one as part of a drive that lasted six or fewer plays and less than three and a half minutes. Mark Gronowski's 67-yard touchdown run capped off a six-play, 99-yard drive that put South Dakota State ahead 24-20 after the PAT.
That's how many plays Delaware averaged during its four scoring drives during its 20-14 upset against No. 4 seed Jacksonville State in the quarterfinals. In the first quarter, the Blue Hens jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive to start the game, followed by an 11-play, 89-yard touchdown drive eight and a half minutes later. Both touchdown drives ended in rushing touchdowns from within two yards out. If Delaware is to pull off another upset of a nationally seeded team in the FCS playoffs, it could use another 60 minutes of long, methodical scoring drives. Delaware ranks sixth nationally in average time of possession and limiting the number of possessions could provide the Blue Hens with a shot at knocking off the top-seeded Jackrabbits.
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That's how many combined yards North Dakota State traveled in the span of two minutes in the third quarter, when Christian Watson returned a kickoff 94 yards, then Braylon Henderson ran back a punt 76 yards, the latter of which tied the game at 17 after Sam Houston State led North Dakota State 17-2 just moments earlier. The Bison's first points of the game were scored on a safety. The No. 2-seeded Bearkats were in control of the game for the first 36 and a half minutes or so, but North Dakota State's impressive special teams play nearly allowed the unseeded Bison to advance to the semifinals. Sam Houston State averages 39.2 points per game, which ranks seventh nationally, and the Bearkats' 17.5 points allowed per game is tied for 11th in the country. But porous special teams play was nearly the Achilles heel for the No. 2 seed with a great combination of offense and defense. Against No. 3 seed James Madison, Sam Houston State can't afford a repeat of its long return touchdowns allowed against North Dakota State.
That's the percent of Sam Houston State's completions against North Dakota State that were caught by Noah Smith, who finished with 10 receptions for 103 yards and a score. The Bearkats didn't have a great game on the ground, running the ball 30 times for just 101 yards with the team's leader in attempts, Ramon Jefferson, finishing with 28 yards on 13 attempts. So it was the connection between quarterback Eric Schmid and Smith was largely what propelled Sam Houston State's offense. No other Sam Houston State player had more than three receptions.
That's how many scoring drives of at least 80 yards that James Madison compiled against North Dakota in the quarterfinals. Percy Agyei-Obese capped off a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, then Antwane Wells scored on touchdown receptions of 19 and 63 yards to finish scoring drives of 87 and 90 yards in the second half, respectively. Sam Houston State ranks eighth nationally in total offense at 465 yards per game, which means that James Madison, which ranks fourth nationally in total defense (231 yards allowed per game), might have to keep pace with the Bearkats offensively. An offense that consistently scores when facing adverse field position would go a long way in that regard and that's what the Dukes accomplished in the quarterfinals.