Sam Houston State: Semifinals Primer


An undefeated regular season and earning the number one ranking in college football are pretty special. For an FCS team to go undefeated when an FBS team is included in the schedule (New Mexico) is even more impressive. Following up eleven straight wins with two playoff wins (over Stony Brook and Montana State) to reach the semifinal round is spectacular.

Welcome to Sam Houston State’s football season.

This Friday, the Bearkats’ season continues as they host an FCS playoffs-regular, the Montana Grizzlies. Montana comes into the game with nine regular season wins topped by playoff wins over Central Arkansas and Northern Iowa. After the break, we’ll review the Grizzlies’ opponent and identify what SHSU must do to win Friday.

A brief review of Sam Houston State’s statistics shows a team that outscores its opponents by an average score of almost 40-14. Excluding its 48-45 overtime win over New Mexico, the Bearkats gave up no more than 17 points in any regular season game. (Stony Brook did score 27 points two weeks ago in the playoffs.) Following such a dominating regular season, four Bearkats were named to the First Team All-Southland Conference’s team; another four were named to the Second Team.

As dominating as the defense was for SHSU, the offense was just as productive. The lowest point total it scored all season was 20 in the opener against Western Illinois. The offense certainly hit high gear after the first few weeks this season, averaging 45 points the last seven games of the regular season. Four Bearkats on offense were named to the First-Team All-Southland team, and another two were named to the Second Team.

Such productivity is indicative of multiple fantastic individual players. While the names below are most likely to impact the game for SHSU, several others not listed could play huge factors.

Brian Bell, quarterback. The sophomore started and played in all games except against UT – San Antonio this year. Spearheading a variation of the option, Bell completed 61% of his passes for 1,841 yards with 18 touchdowns in his twelve games. Bell also ran for five touchdowns this season, including a 54-yarder against Montana State last weekend.

Tim Flanders, running back. The Southland Player of the Year averaged 103 rushing yards per game and scored 22 total touchdowns in eleven regular season games. Flanders was held in check last week when Montana State focused on him, as he gained only 38 yards on ten rushes. In a testament to SHSU’s strength as a team, the Bearkats still scored 49 points despite a limited Flanders. But it is expected that coaches will find ways to get him more involved in the offense against Montana.

Darnell Taylor, defensive back. Taylor won the Southland Conference’s Defensive POY award after finishing with 95 tackles, three sacks, and interception and a forced fumble. In last weekend’s win over MSU, Taylor posted eleven total tackles, which included one tackle-for-loss.

David Kash, Linebacker. The senior linebacker has started all 13 games in the middle of the Bearkats’ defense. Although Kash is only fourth on the team in total tackles (65), he leads the team with twelve TFL’s.

For Sam Houston State to defeat Montana, they must control the following three aspects of the game.

Rushing offense. Led by Flanders and Richard Sincere, the Bearkats average almost 260 rushing yards per game on offense. While Flanders was contained last week, Sincere gained 160 yards on only eleven rushes. Montana itself allows only 118 rushing yards per game.  Sam Houston State must take advantage of its team speed to run effectively against the Grizzlies.

Rushing defense. On the other side of the ball, Sam Houston State allows only 67 rushing yards per game on an average of 2.5 yards per attempt. Part of this dominance is that opponents play catch-up early in games: the Bearkats have outscored their opponents 234 to 67 in the first half of games to date. This has forced teams to throw more to score more quickly rather than establishing their running game. Conversely, Montana averages 219 yards per game on 4.9 yards per rush. Can SHSU’s offense score quickly enough to make the Grizzlies pass more than they want?

Turnovers. In 13 games, the Bearkats intercepted 21 passes and recovered 18 fumbles; against these 39 takeaways, SHSU allowed only eleven turnovers. This plus-28 turnover margin has had a huge impact on their success. The Bearkats must continue to dominate the turnover margin against a team as talented as Montana.

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