In the FCS Huddle: Top defenses mean top teams

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – They played in a national quarterfinal
in Fargo, North Dakota, last December, and have been wrecking opponents this
season while not allowing a touchdown in three straight games.

It must be North Dakota State’s three-time reigning FCS champions, you say.

Nope. It’s Big South power Coastal Carolina, the No. 3-ranked team in the FCS.

Coastal surely learned a thing or two about playing defense when the
Chanticleers’ high-scoring offense was corralled by NDSU’s vaunted unit in the
playoffs.

Defense is in vogue this season among teams ranked in The Sports Network FCS
Top 25. Thirteen ranked teams are among the 25 best nationally in scoring
defense, including the first five. Among the 25 stingiest for total defense,
there are 10 ranked squads.

And give an A-plus to the defenses at NDSU, Albany, Chattanooga, Illinois
State, McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana and Tennessee State. Those seven
ranked teams are in both the top 25 for scoring defense and total defense.

Two of the defenses outside Fargo that have been at their best recently belong
to Coastal Carolina and Tennessee State.

Coastal Carolina (5-0) has allowed only a field goal in three straight games,
which has never happened before with a Big South team. Credit All-American
linebacker Quinn Backus for the continued high level of play.

At No. 21 Tennessee State (4-1), its balanced defense has forced 15 turnovers,
the second-most in the FCS to Albany. The Tigers, who rank first in total
defense at 207.4 yards per game, scored on both an interception and a fumble
return Saturday night against Florida A&M, giving the Ohio Valley Conference
program at least one of those kinds of defensive scores in three straight
games.

SECOND AND 10

While the smothering defenses stand out, there were many other observations
from Week 5. Here are 10 more:

– At least a Missouri Valley team had to lose a game on Saturday. That’s
because Southern Illinois beat Western Illinois, 34-17, in a conference
matchup. But outside conference play, Missouri Valley teams continue to roll as
they sport a 23-1 record against FCS opponents and a 5-1 mark versus ranked FCS
opponents. That dominance is particularly evident with Indiana State’s 3-1
start. The Sycamores didn’t beat a Division I opponent in coach Mike Sanford’s
first season last year and were picked last in the conference’s preseason poll
this year. But with quarterback Mike Perish continuing his excellent senior
season, the Sycamores added to a remarkable turnaround by doubling up No. 22
Liberty, 38-19, on Saturday. This followed a credible effort against Indiana, a
thrashing of Tennessee Tech and an upset of Ball State from the Mid-American
Conference.

– Is Jacksonville ready to wrap up the PFL title next Saturday? Not
mathematically, but perhaps realistically. The Dolphins’ three toughest league
games would appear to be their first three, and they already have beaten San
Diego, 35-18, on Sept. 13 and then Butler, 35-7, on Saturday behind quarterback
Kade Bell’s 401 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Next up for coach
Kerwin Bell’s 3-1 squad is Drake at home. After that, none of the remaining PFL
teams on Jacksonville’s schedule was selected higher than sixth in the league’s
preseason poll. The Dolphins were the third choice.

– Maybe they should play all of Yale’s games at home this season because
clearly something special is happening in this 100th anniversary campaign at
venerable Yale Bowl. A crowd of 34,412 watched Saturday as the Bulldogs stopped
Army, 49-43, in overtime in the first Ivy League game against an FBS program
since 1996 and the first win since 1986. Senior Tyler Varga rushed for 185
yards and five touchdowns, including a 3-yarder to cap overtime, to lead this
year’s seventh FCS win against the FBS. The Bulldogs (2-0) had already won
at home against Lehigh, 54-43, after falling behind by three touchdowns in the
first quarter. Four of their remaining eight games will be played at the Yale
Bowl.

– The leading rusher in the FCS just may have some legs left by the end of the
season. Saint Francis junior Khairi Dickson’s workhorse duties were on an
incredible pace with 126 carries in four games, but he was only called on 10
times while racking up 157 yards and three touchdowns in an 80-0 – yes, 80-0 –
rout of overmatched Lynchburg. Dickson, who has emerged from the shadow of All-
American running back Kyle Harbridge, has 916 rushing yards for the Red Flash
(2-3). After a bye next weekend, he hopes to surpass 1,000 yards in their
Northeast Conference opener at Wagner on Oct. 11.

– An “In The FCS Huddle” column in the offseason – http://tinyurl.com/nthnsaw –
suggested some teams could have too much of a good thing by playing a tough
non-conference schedule. Sure enough, Eastern Illinois’ 34-19 loss to Ohio
University on Saturday made the Panthers 0-4 outside the OVC. Southern Utah,
like EIU a playoff team last year, was 0-4 in non-conference games, while
Central Arkansas was 1-3.

– Chattanooga has made it a habit of leaving its fans to want more, but this
season the Mocs could be headed to the FCS playoffs for the first time since
1984. Running back Keon Williams is healthy again and providing a solid rushing
attack with quarterback Jacob Huesman, and the defensive line is one of the
better ones in the FCS. With a 38-24 victory over Samford and a Furman loss on
Saturday, coach Russ Huesman’s squad has a jump on the two teams they shared
the Southern Conference title with last year.

– The West Division has beaten the East in each of the last six SWAC
championship games, with all five schools winning titles (although Texas
Southern later vacated its 2010 crown). But the East’s top teams made a
statement Saturday with routs of West opponents. In a matchup of early division
leaders, Alabama State improved to 3-0 in conference play by defeating
previously unbeaten Texas Southern, 38-3. Also, Alcorn State handled defending
SWAC champion Southern, 56-16. It sets up a huge Alcorn visit to Alabama State
in an ESPNU game on Thursday.

– Second-ranked Eastern Washington seemingly waited too long in the fourth
quarter to remove junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. in a 37-14 victory at UC
Davis Saturday night. The Eagles should not want to risk injury to the Walter
Payton Award favorite, who passed for 303 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed
for one touchdown. He’s the FCS leader in passing yards (1,808), passing yards
per game (361.8), total offense (385.4 ypg) and points responsible for (128),
and ranks second in pass efficiency (176.0). He is up to 95 career TD passes,
just one away from the school record and three from the Big Sky mark, and is
171 total yards shy of 10,000 in his career.

– Productive quarterbacks are widespread across the FCS. Eleven of the 13
conferences have a signal caller who ranks in the top 15 nationally in passing
yards per game. The other two conferences also have a quarterback in the top
25, and, ironically, the last one to have its first qualifier is the OVC, which
has been home to some of the most productive FCS QBs (Jimmy Garoppolo at
Eastern Illinois, Derek Carr of UT Martin and Casey Brockman at Murray State)
in recent years. The national depth is great.

– Northern Iowa place-kicker Michael Schmadeke didn’t have any pressure going
into the season. Yeah, right. The redshirt junior was replacing Tyler
Sievertsen, last year’s first-team All-American. After Schmadeke kicked five
field goals and a school-record 20 points in a 50-6 win over Tennessee Tech,
he’s 12-for-12 on field goal attempts this season.

WEEK 5 SCOREBOARD

A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at
http://tinyurl.com/nbm4jet.

The full FCS scoreboard can be found at http://tinyurl.com/pmg6o2b.

STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING

Stock Rising – Top 25 teams held up their rankings in a big way, going 19-1
while five teams had byes Saturday. Only No. 22 Liberty lost, and the Flames
fell to the Indiana State squad trying to force its way into the Top 25.

Stock Falling – The Big Sky Conference had a national-best four playoff teams a
year ago, but if it has such fortune this year, the qualifiers might not
include what had been a promising Sacramento State squad. The veteran-laden
Hornets (3-2) had no defensive answers in a 44-24 loss at struggling Idaho
State, and with their schedule about to get tougher, they must upset Montana
State next weekend to get one back for first-year coach Jody Sears.

OTHERWORDLY

The Citadel racked up a school-record 10 sacks in drilling Gardner-Webb, 37-14,
for the first victory of the Mike Houston era. Mitchell Jeter led the way with
2.5 sacks, while Tevin Floyd, Mark Thomas and Justin Oxendine each had two.

PLAYOFF FIELD

Looking at where teams may stand in a projected playoff bracket on Nov. 23, and
not based on current records or conference standings:

Sacred Heart/Montana State winner at No. 1 seed North Dakota State

Tennessee State/South Dakota State winner at No. 8 seed Northern Iowa

Southern Illinois/McNeese State winner at No. 5 Jacksonville State

Richmond/Chattanooga winner at No. 4 seed New Hampshire

Jacksonville/North Carolina A&T winner at No. 6 seed Coastal Carolina

Fordham/Delaware winner at No. 3 seed Villanova

Bethune-Cookman/Montana winner at No. 7 seed Southeastern Louisiana

Eastern Kentucky/Illinois State winner at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington

On the at-large bubble: Central Arkansas, Liberty, Northern Arizona, Youngstown
State and William & Mary

A LOOK AHEAD

The upcoming Week 6 schedule across the FCS has plenty of pivotal conference
matchups.

Included are: Big Sky, Montana State at Sacramento State and Southern Utah at
Cal Poly; CAA, Villanova at Maine and James Madison at Albany; Ivy, Penn at
Dartmouth; MEAC, North Carolina A&T versus South Carolina State in the Atlanta
Classic at the Georgia Dome; Missouri Valley, South Dakota State at Illinois
State, Northern Iowa at Indiana State, Youngstown State at Missouri State and
No. 1 North Dakota State at Western Illinois; and OVC, Tennessee State at
Southeast Missouri and UT Martin at Jacksonville State.

Also: Patriot, Lafayette at Fordham (Friday night); Pioneer, Drake at
Jacksonville; Southern, Mercer at Samford; Southland, Northwestern State at
Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas at Stephen F. Austin; and SWAC,
Alabama State at Alcorn State (Thursday night) and Grambling State at Alabama
A&M.

Fordham’s game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. This week, the Patriot
League school is marking the 75th anniversary of the first-ever televised
college football game between Fordham and Waynesburg (Pa.) College – a Sept.
30, 1939 matchup that was broadcast in New York on W2XBS (now WNBC).

The non-conference schedule is strong, led by Bucknell at Bryant, Sacred Heart
at Delaware, Coastal Carolina at Furman and Richmond at Liberty.