South Dakota State came close to winning its first national championship last season, only to fall short to Sam Houston State in the title game. With a win over the Bobcats in Montana in the FCS semifinals Saturday afternoon, the Jackrabbits will return to the title game this year to face the winner of Friday night’s semifinal.
South Dakota State is favored on oddsboards, offered at -5.5 at BetRivers and -6 at Caesars and DraftKings, but history has been kind to Montana State in home playoff games (8-3). There is a stray +6.5 or two around the betting market for Bobcats backers. The total is around 47.5 as of Thursday.
|South Dakota State vs. Montana State, Saturday, 12/18 @ 2 PM ET||Best SDSU Odds||Best MSU Odds|
|BetRivers||-5.5 (-108)||Spread||+6.0 (-110)||Caesars|
|BetRivers||Over 47.5 (-110)||Total||Under 47.5 (-110)||BetRivers|
Montana State Bobcats (11-2)
The Bobcats enter this weekend’s semifinal matchup against the Jackrabbits on a high after upsetting the defending FCS champions last week. They did not just beat Sam Houston State — Montana State dominated the Bearcats, 42-19.
The defense led the way with three interceptions and held the nation’s seventh-best rushing attack to just 79 yards. But the performance came at a price: DT Chase Benson and DB Ty Okada left the game in the first half and did not return. LB Troy Anderson got banged up but finished the game.
Head coach Brent Vigen addressed the status of his defense on Monday:
“We’re probably in wait-and-see mode with everybody that you’d suspect was a little banged up out of that game.”
Much like it has all season, the running game powered the offense. Isaiah Ifanse led the way with 105 yards and a touchdown off 24 carries. Quarterback Tommy Mellott added another 76 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, along with an efficient performance in the passing game (6-11 for 165 yards and two touchdowns; one catch for four yards and a touchdown).
Montana State needs another such performance from the defense against South Dakota State’s rushing attack. The secondary may need to step up its game, though. The Jackrabbits are a run-heavy team but could try to take advantage of a Bobcat secondary that gave up 354 yards last week to Sam Houston.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (11-3)
To get back to the FCS title game, SDSU has beat the team that took down the defending champions last week, Montana State.
The run game will likely factor into the plan, like it has all season. It led the way last week against Villanova. Isaiah Davis tallied 174 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, bringing his postseason totals to 499 yards and six touchdowns. Pierre Strong Jr. (226 carries for 1579 yards and 17 touchdowns this season) left the Villanova game early with a head injury but should play Saturday.
On the defensive side of the ball, stopping Montana State’s read-option-heavy offense will probably be the focus. However, Mellott may be the more significant challenge. The freshman is a relatively unknown commodity. He got his first start in the second-round playoff game against UT-Martin. While he was not impressive in that game, he played well against Sam Houston State.
Senior quarterback Chris Oladokun’s experience gives the Jackrabbits an advantage in the passing game, should they try to throw more. However, the South Dakota State passing game works best when it complements the run. But if the Montana State defense can shut down the Jackrabbits run game like it did Sam Houston’s, SDSU might not have a choice.
FCS Playoff Pick
Montana State must limit the South Dakota State run game. That’s possible, as the Bobcats were successful bottling up Sam Houston on the ground.
It’s hard to have confidence, however, in Mellott. He played well against Sam Houston State, but that’s one of only two starts under his belt.
Our Pick: South Dakota State -5.5