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CSN Dowd's Den: Week Four – Game On!
By Bruce Dowd, CSN Dowd’s Den Columnist
This week it really starts to get interesting as we begin the first of many Top Ten head-to-head matchups. But before we get into that discussion, we need to review what happened last week as the elite teams seem to keep reinforcing their status and separating themselves from the rest of the pack.
LAST WEEK’S GAME DAY
Even though I wasn’t traveling this past weekend I was still able to get my fill of FCS games as I had my Tivo working overtime with many different games. We will start our review with a few of these games and then move on to other games that I said I was keeping an eye on last week.
Northern Iowa 35, Missouri State 7: Here was my quote from last week; “Northern Iowa is the clear favorite here and if they are as good as I think they are they should be able to take care of business on the road.” Well they are that good as it was a pretty impressive performance on the road. And in case you didn’t notice, that FBS team that they should have beat and lost to by one point just beat Penn State on the road and is now ranked fifth nationally in the FBS. I will give you an early prediction; I am expecting Northern Iowa to run the table and by season’s end have one of the top two seeds and be on their way to Chattanooga.
The only potential weakness I saw in the Panthers is if a team could match up physically with a great defensive line. If that could happen, like with Richmond last year as an example, and put some pressure on quarterback Pat Grace I think you might be able to get some turnovers. But if you have a team that can’t neutralize Northern Iowa’s offensive line, then the Panthers will just wear you down.
Villanova 56, Northeastern 7: I don’t have a quote from last week as this wasn’t a game I was keeping an eye on last week. I didn’t think Nova would have any trouble at home against Northeastern, but that game was a full blown demolition. Coach Talley was quoted as saying that he thought his team may have been a little flat and lost some focus against Penn the previous week and he wanted to make sure they corrected that this week. Well, mission accomplished. I am not so sure if Villanova is that good or Northeastern is that bad. The truth is probably somewhere in-between.
James Madison 24, Liberty 10: Second time I got to see JMU this year, both on television. This was a difficult game to evaluate as it was played in a driving rain the entire time. The field, which has great drainage, was close to a lake by the end of the game.
Here is Emily and a friend who braved the elements all day to cheer on their Dukes. You can see from the picture how wet they were. Emily had an interesting comment about the crowd from Liberty; “Was highly impressed with the crowd at Liberty, student section was incredibly pumped up – it’ll be good to see them continue improving and provide another good team in VA.” Well said Emily, as even the TV announcers talked about their following and crowds at Liberty.
Liberty is the real deal now and definitely a program headed in the right direction. While JMU did dominate some with their ground game, Liberty stayed competitive right up until the end and gave JMU a battle. Again it was a little hard with the elements to get a lot out of watching this game, but if you peeked between the rain drops you probably noticed an extremely talented James Madison team that will be still be battling at the end of the year for sure.
Montana State 25, N. Colorado 7: This one was not on my radar at all, but I thought I would take a quick look see as it was on TV. I was somewhat surprised and pretty impressed with Montana State. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think you could consider them Den Top Ten material in any way, but they are good enough that they have a chance at home of upsetting the Griz at the end of the year. At least Montana will have to be careful with that one.
Now for some commentary on the other games I was keeping an eye on last week. We will start with the SoCon.
Appalachian State 20, Samford 7: Some people who were at the game emailed me comments and it seems like App had this game under control as they were up 20-0 at half and then just put it on cruise control with the game being played in inclement weather. I was really expecting a more convincing win here but I’ll cut the Mountaineers a little slack due to the weather conditions. However, there are those that are starting to wonder how good this team is, so it is time to put the petal to the metal guys. If you haven’t already seen this, here is a clip that is vintage Armanti that you have got to see. Apparently it got a lot of play on ESPN too.
Elon 28, Georgia Southern 14: Here is my quote from last week; “. . . the winner will have an edge up on making a run at App State for the title.” As suspected, it looks like that is going to be Elon as they dominated this game a little more then the score indicated. Georgia Southern’s only score in the first half came from their defense on an 87 yard fumble return. Riddle passed for 338 yards as Elon had 423 total yards to just 153 for Georgia Southern.
Weber State 36, Portland 29: Here was last week’s quote; “Weber is clearly the favorite but they better be careful. Portland is upset by their performance last week against Montana and they are at home so this will be a good test for Weber State.” Well it looks like that comment was right on as Portland gave Weber a game. But it is still a conference road win and a win is a win as Weber State evens their record at 2-2 on the year.
William and Mary 30, Delaware 20: From what several people have told me who were at the game, William and Mary pretty much had this game under control and looked real solid especially on both lines as they dominated the line of scrimmage. A yearly classic CAA battle with the roles now reversed. This loss and the their one point loss to Richmond two weeks ago now have the Hens at 0-2 in the conference with games still remaining against JMU, UMass, Navy and Villanova. Delaware will struggle to have a winning season this year and the Blue Hen natives are getting restless.
Montana 41, Northern Arizona 34: Easily the game of the week as the Griz squeaked one, or as some others have put it, lucked one out in overtime. I wish I could have seen the whole game as it sounds like it was very exciting. There was some serious controversy over a spot by a referee, but I don’t want to go there. I didn’t see it. I hate to see games decided by bad calls, but there is nothing you can do about it. Northern Arizona had plenty of other chances during the game that they let slip away. While this was not a very convincing win, just like with Weber, a conference road win is still a win and Montana is still undefeated heading for that big showdown on Halloween with Weber.
Tulane 42, McNeese 32: I know this was a FBS contest for McNeese but I was expecting them to beat Tulane and was disappointed. Statistically, the Cowboys held their own, but Tulane got them on three big plays, two in the pivotal third quarter on a 40 yard pass and then a 63 yard run. McNeese should not have too many problems the next five games, but their true test will come at the end of the season when they close against Texas State and then return home for the season finale against Central Arkansas.
Richmond 38, VMI 28: While this one wasn’t on my watch list, it still surprised me as well as many others around the country that the Spiders struggled here. The real reason for the struggle was turnovers as the Spiders turned it over three times to zero for VMI. The story in this game though was Eric Ward as he had a career day completing 28 or 39 passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns. The folks in the Richmond athletic department were kind enough to alert me to a highlight video of the game which is pretty much “The Eric Ward Show”.
THIS WEEK’S RANT
First of all, thanks to all of you who emailed me on the Norfolk State piece last week and specifically my rant. I appreciate all your kind words. And now we move into This Week’s Rant; Offensive Lineman and their lack of respect. As we have discussed before at times, these guys don’t get any of the glory and yet they may be one of the most important parts of a team.
We all pay a lot of attention to the skill players, and that is easy to do as they are toting the pigskin and with that comes all the statistics, touchdowns, yards, etc. Even the defensive linemen have known statistics like tackles, sacks, hurries, tackles for loss, etc. It is a shame that there are no published statistics that we as fans can measure the offensive lineman by. The coaches obviously grade them out but we don’t get to see those results. This is the main reason why they live in obscurity. Without the stats there is no glamour. And without the glamour, we don’t really seem to care.
You might argue that there are some stats you can attribute to the offensive line like sacks allowed or yards per rush. While these are some valid statistics to measure to a degree the overall performance of an offensive line, it is more as a unit then as individuals. One other thing I have noticed is that when those statistics are bad, like six sacks allowed in one game, or 1.2 yards a rush then the offensive line is mentioned as a problem. But, if there were no sacks, it usually goes unnoticed and unmentioned. Plus if a team had six yards per rush, we usually look at the running back and credit him.
I have been paying a lot more attention this year to the offensive lines of different teams, either in the games I see in person or on TV, and I have notice four lines that really seem to stand out over the others as dominating lines. Those four are Richmond, Villanova, and Northern Iowa and William and Mary. Those four teams just happen to be ranked 1, 2, 3, and 5 in your national polls. Coincidence or perhaps more the reason why?
You notice I didn’t mention No. 4 Montana’s offensive line and that is only because I haven’t seen them play a full game yet this year. But I do remember pointing out that I thought it was the strength of their team last year, and oh by the way they played in Chattanooga last year in case you didn’t remember.
So it is pretty obvious to me that it is hard to compete at the top in football unless you have a good or even great offensive line. They just really make the whole team go.
Just some food for thought for you as you watch your team play this week. Don’t just stare at the skill players and follow the football, but occasionally look at those heroes on the offensive line and watch them perform and I bet you will start to notice that the success of your quarterback and running back hinge almost completely on the play of the offensive line. I have yet to see a quarterback or a running back that can consistently perform well when the other team is constantly in their backfield.
To all you grunts out there on the offensive lines that constantly battle in obscurity in the trenches each week, I salute you as you guys truly represent the ultimate team players.
Dowd’s Den Top Ten
As mentioned earlier there was no real movement in the Den Top Ten as there were no real surprises among the top teams last week. So, here they are:
(1) Richmond (4-0): Still cruising and still undefeated and reigning National Champions and as a result, still Number One!
(2) Villanova (4-0): Wow on that Northeastern pasting last week and we have a great CAA and Den Top Ten showdown this week as the Tribe come into town. I can’t wait to see it.
(3) Northern Iowa (3-1): As already mentioned above, this team is loaded and probably headed deep into the playoffs. They may find themselves in the top spot when the CAA teams start to knock each other off.
(4) William and Mary (4-0): Another team loaded with talent an on a roll. Look out Nova the Tribe is for real and they are ready.
(5) Montana (4-0): Last week’s performance didn’t help those critics who still think this team is overrated. They may be right, but I am not sure that I have seen enough from the other teams to move them ahead of the Griz just yet.
(6) James Madison (2-1): Again, so much talent here and we are finally getting to see them in action against some good FCS teams so we can evaluate them better.
(7) McNeese State (3-1): Still not sure here either, but JMU impressed me enough with that win over Liberty to flop these two teams.
(8) Massachusetts (3-1): Another impressive win with a 44-17 destruction of Stony Brook. I seem to be the only one nationally singing this team’s praises, but the rest of the nation will be eating their words as the season progresses, trust me.
(9) Weber State (2-2): While it was a road win at Portland State, still not that impressive and with UMass’s win over Stony that was enough for me to flop these two teams.
(10) (Tie) New Hampshire (3-0): A 44-14 victory over Dartmouth isn’t bad, but then again that is Dartmouth. Other than the win over FBS Ball State they haven’t been really challenged yet and this week they are at Towson so I am not sure how much they will be challenged there either. Still need to see more from UNH before I move them up.
(10) (Tie) Appalachian State (1-2): App finally put one in the win column but they have not really impressed yet so we are still on hold with this recent three time National Champion.
(Just Missed) Elon (3-1) and Southern Illinois (2-1): Both these teams won last week but they are both still on the outside looking in. Haven’t shown me enough yet to replace any of the teams I have ahead of them.
OTHER DEN TIDBITS
It is amazing to me how many great Den Top Ten match-ups are coming up for the rest of the season. I don’t remember this many Top Ten teams going head-to-head in one season before and a lot of it is due to so many ranked teams in the same conference.
I thought I would list them for you so you could see what I mean. I used the Den Top Ten ranking rather than the National ranking as my ranking is far more accurate. Now that wasn’t a snicker I just heard was it?
Wm Mary (4) at Villanova (2)
Villanova (2) at New Hampshire (10)
Richmond (1) at James Madison (6)
Villanova (2) at James Madison (6)
New Hampshire (10) at UMass (8)
Southern Illinois (NR) at N. Iowa (3)
James Madison (6) at Wm Mary (4)
UMass (8) at Richmond (1)
Weber (9) at Montana (4)
Villanova (2) at Richmond (1)
App State (10) at Elon (NR)
James Madison (6) at UMass (8)
New Hampshire (10) at Wm Mary (4)
Wm Mary (4) at Richmond (1)
Out of these 14 Den Top Team match-ups, 11 are CAA games. That means that those top six highly ranked CAA teams are guaranteed to have at least 11 losses split between them before season is over. That is not counting any other possible upsets from unranked CAA teams and there are always a few of those each year. Unfortunately, as this happens these teams will drop in the national rankings that is just the way it is. For the CAA, the playoffs start early and for Villanova and William and Mary it starts this weekend.
To all my new friends at Norfolk State, great win over Bethune-Cookman.
Chattanooga is now 3-1 with an impressive win over Wofford. Interesting to see how they do the rest of the year.
Remember last week we talked about Idaho State and their coach mentioned how he was concerned about his team’s emotional readiness against a highly ranked Div II school, Central Washington, well Central beat Idaho State 33-22. Sounds like his concerns were valid.
GAMES I AM KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON THIS WEEK
William and Mary (4-0) at Villanova (4-0): I really don’t want to miss this one as I have the Den Mobile gassed up and ready to go. Clearly the game of the week as it pits two top five teams going head-to-head. Weather permitting; I am looking forward to some nice tailgating as there is a large William and Mary contingency headed to Philly with grills in tow.
Appalachian State (1-2) at Citadel (2-1): The Citadel has a real good team this year that is perfectly capable of beating the Mountaineers if they are not ready. I am anxious to see how App answers this challenge.
Elon (3-1) at Furman (3-1): An interesting SoCon match-up as we start to sort out the contenders from the pretenders.
Cornell (2-0) at Colgate (4-0): Colgate is starting to make some noise this year in the Patriot league. I will be keeping an eye on this team as the season progresses.
E. Kentucky (2-1) at E. Illinois (4-0): A big early season match-up between perennial power E. Kentucky and a hot undefeated E. Illinois team. Even though we are early in the season, this game could very well determine the OVC champion.
Montana State (2-1) at Weber State (2-2): A huge early season Big Sky match-up between two teams I have already seen play this year. Again, time to separate the men from the boys.
THIS WEEKEND FOR THE DEN
Weather and good health permitting, and assuming no disasters on the home front, I plan to catch the first big Den Top Ten head-to-head matchup as the Tribe of William and Mary come into Villanova. Game time is 3:30 pm but I will be hitting the tailgates first, so Tom you better get that Chili ready.
In addition to trying to catch as many of those classic CAA battles coming soon, and as mentioned last week, there are two games in particular which are quite a distance from where I live that I really want to see. Those two games are Weber State at Montana on October 31st, and App State at Elon on November 14th. Several of you have already emailed me suggestions on travel, lodging, and the hot spots to visit the night before and the night of the game, but keep the suggestions coming please.
The photo of the Northern Iowa line was courtesy of Jamie Winston. The Montana offensive line picture was from a picture that Cathy Kushner took last year in the playoffs. The picture of the William and Mary line was taken last week by Mark Campbell. Thanks guys and gals!
DOWD”S DEN SIGNING OFF
That’s it for this week hope you enjoyed the column and weather permitting I’ll see some of you in Villanova this week. Please don’t forget to email me your thoughts and comments as I really value your opinions.