Friday’s FCS semifinal game is not the first postseason meeting for the James Madison Dukes and North Dakota State Bison. The two have met four times, all in the playoffs — twice in the championship game. North Dakota State won both title tilts, including two seasons ago with Trey Lance at quarterback.
James Madison Dukes (12-1)
James Madison has been winning games with a strong rushing attack complemented by an efficient passing game all season long, and last week’s quarterfinals against Montana was no different.
Cole Johnson picked apart the Montana secondary, completing 71 percent of his passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns. Latrele Palmer picked the perfect time to have his first 100-yard game of the season, running for 167 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. But the offense did not do it alone.
The defense lived up to its rankings, holding the Grizzlies to just 302 total yards of offense and six points. Neither interception led to points, but the second did close out the game. The defense kept the Grizzlies from capitalizing on three James Madison turnovers (two fumbles and a turnover on downs), holding them to a single field goal.
It was a strong showing on both sides of the ball for the Dukes. But it was the third time in their last four games that the defense gave up 100+ yards on the ground (the Grizzlies ran for 159 on 46 total carries), which is not encouraging with the second-best rushing team in the FCS ranks on deck.
North Dakota State Bison (12-1)
North Dakota State dominated ETSU last week, much like the Bison have dominated many of their opponents this season. The defense stifled the Buccaneers offense, and the offense ran the ball with ease, amassing 278 yards on the ground.
TaMerik Williams led the way on the ground with 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hunter Luepke recorded a season-high 69 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Cam Miller chipped in a rushing touchdown to go with an efficient passing performance (10-17 for 123 yards).
Against a prolific passing team like James Madison, the defense needs to have another day like it did against ETSU. The Buccaneers quarterbacks combined to go 17 of 33 for 99 yards and an interception. The longest reception of the day was just a 13-yard catch.
There was no downfield passing game and a few yards after the catch for ETSU, something James Madison thrives on. Devin Ravenel’s 82-yard touchdown reception last week came on a short crossing route that he turned up and took all the way.
However, the pass defense will get tested by Cole Johnson this week. It has performed well all season, but Johnson has been on a tear in recent weeks. He’s had 300+ yards in four of his last six games and multiple touchdown passes in all but one.
The Bison defense has given up two-plus touchdown passes twice this season.
James Madison Vs. North Dakota State Betting Analysis And Pick
While both teams have a wealth of big-game experience, North Dakota State has a slight edge. The Bison have been in the semifinals in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and they are 30-1 in playoff games at home (the lone loss coming against James Madison in 2016).
The Bison run game faces a serious challenge in the James Madison rush defense. At the same time, the Dukes will find it just as hard to move the ball against the North Dakota State defense.
Look for home-field advantage to factor in as the Bison run their way into the FCS championship game for the ninth time in 11 years.
Our Pick: North Dakota State -4.5