No. 3 James Madison at No. 2 Sam Houston
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas
Broadcast: ABC, Watch ESPN, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku
The Matchup: It did not take long for Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler to get his team focused for the FCS semifinals after the Bearkats defeated the three-time defending national champion North Dakota State.
His players were focused as soon as they watched the tape of James Madison.
"We have great respect for them,” Keeler said. “When you watch them on tape, you see why they are the No. 1 ranked team in the country."
Keeler has been open about rebuilding his Kats to compete against North Dakota State and James Madison. This week, his players must feel like they are looking in the mirror.
Both teams possess a solid rushing attack and deep play threats at wide receiver on offense and a stifling defense that does not allow their opponents to run the football.
"They remind me of their team that won the national championship in 2004,” Keeler said. “They're big and physical, they have a quarterback that's a good football player and doesn't get as much credit as he deserves, and you won't find better running backs in the country.
"They have four tailbacks who could start for anyone in the country. They have a great offensive line that is big and physical, so we will see a really good football team that specializes in running the football and a quarterback who has gotten better week after week, and that makes them dangerous.”
JMU enters the nationally televised contest averaging 33.4 points and 243.9 rushing yards per game, but the Dukes also possess a potent passing attack.
"You watch the tape, and you wish they were one dimensional, but we watched the tape from the last couple of weeks, and they've hit big plays in the passing game, so that hope is gone now."
SHSU is averaging 39.2 points per game entering the semifinal matchup but has struggled at times in the playoffs scoring 35 total points in the Kats two playoff games.
"Our defense has been tested by the teams in our conference, but I don't think our offense was tested the same way until the playoff,” Keeler said. "The defenses in our conference aren't anything like the defenses we're seeing in the playoffs."
One change fans can expect to see this week is with the Bearkats special teams personnel after struggling against the Bison last week.
"We played great special teams all year long,” Keeler said. “We had taken some guys off kickoff return trying to save some guys going against a real physical North Dakota State team which was a miscalculation by the head coach."
Players to Watch:
JMU - Percy Agyei-Obese, RB, Sr, Frederick, Md. (Oakdale HS)
Antwane Wells Jr., WR, Fr, Richmond, Va. (Highland Springs HS)
Mike Greene, DL, Sr, Highland Springs, Va. (Highland Spring HS)
SHSU - Eric Schmid, QB, Jr., The Woodlands, Texas (The Woodlands HS)
Jequeez Ezzard, WR, College Park, Ga. (Howard)
Joseph Wallace, DL, Sr, Dallas, Texas (Texas Tech)
Key to Victory: Sam Houston’s defensive line saw one of the best offensive line units in the country last week. This week, the Bearkats front may see the best offensive line outside of the Power 5 conferences.
This matchup will be intriguing on Saturday afternoon because of the familiarity of SHSU coach K.C. Keeler with James Madison’s offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski.
Wroblewski was an offensive line coach under Keeler at Delaware.
"Dave is one of the best offensive line coaches I've ever been around,” Keeler said. "He does such a great job with the scheme. If we stop something, he will have a counter and make an adjustment during the game."
Keeler’s key focus during his team’s often discussed retooling has been along the defensive line. This is the Kats best defense in Keeler’s tenure and has a chance to prove they are an elite level defensive line this week.
Prediction: This is the toughest opponent Sam Houston has faced this season and may be the best team in the country. The Dukes are angry about being ranked No. 1 in the country and only receiving a No. 3 seed by the FCS committee.
SHSU has never lost a playoff game inside Bowers Stadium, and K.C. Keeler has never lost a home playoff game in his distinguished career.
JMU has dominated opponents this season, winning by an average of 20.6 points at home this spring. However, the Dukes have only played two road games and won those games by a combined 20 points.
Home field matters, and the Kats take advantage of the No. 2 seed with a trip to Frisco for the national championship.
Sam Houston by 2
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