With the FCS playoff bracket unveiled in just over three hours, we’ll have some Tribe-Richmond analysis and playoff predictions for you right now. Then check back later for complete coverage of the Tribe’s playoff draw, including a full analysis of the entire playoff bracket and expert picks.
What a heartbreaker
It doesn’t get much tougher than the College’s last-second loss yesterday. I know I, personally, thought there was no way that Richmond kicker Andrew Howard was going to make that final field goal, especially after he had struggled so much earlier in the game and in the season. But if you’re a Tribe fan, you’ve just got to tip your hat, I know Howard received my vote for the game MVP, although it went to QB Eric Ward, who impressed me as well.
So what can the College take from this game? Three main things.
The Tribe defense is truly something special. I don’t think anyone had any doubt about this fact before Saturday, but they merely reinforced the notion that they are most likely the greatest defense in the history of the College, and make a pretty good case for being the best in FCS.
They are now yielding a mere 55.5 yards rushing per game. That’s tops in the FCS, despite playing in the CAA, and facing great rushing attacks such as James Madison, Villanova, and Richmond. The unit gave up only 18 rushing yards to a Richmond team that averages 150.9 yards per game. In its last four games, the Tribe has yielded a total of 71 yards rushing. And at least half of that total came in the second half of a Towson game in which the College had already sewn up the win. The Tribe just gave up 18 and 27 yards, respectively, to Richmond and New Hampshire, the no. 4 and no. 7 teams in the country at kickoff. The bottom line is that you simply cannot run the ball on this team, and most squads have given up trying after halftime.
The College’s defensive stinginess is even more impressive considering that the squad has consistently lost the field position battle against good teams. It seems the defense is routinely given short fields to work with after kickoffs and punts.
While punter David Miller and kicker Brian Pate have been very good, the Tribe has had massive coverage problems on kickoffs and punts. Against New Hampshire, the Tribe punted or kicked off nine teams, and seven of those resulted in the Wildcats returning the ball to at least their own 35-yard line. The Tribe’s average field position on kickoffs and punts was its 25.
Saturday was a similar story. The Spiders enjoyed an average field position of their 36 yard-line off the Tribe’s 11 kickoffs and punts. For the College, that number was its own 21.5 yard-line.
These are things you can get away with against teams such as James Madison and Delaware, but not against top playoff teams like Richmond or Villanova. For the Tribe to advance deep into the playoffs, Jimmye Laycock absolutely has to make this area a priority. The defense has bailed out the Tribe countless times this season on short fields. But everything gets tougher in the playoffs, and that’s too much to risk frequently, without getting burned.
It’s well established that you can’t run on this Tribe defensive front. But what Richmond was able to do with moderate success, was keep the defense on their toes with short, high percentage passes over the middle of the field and into the flat. Eric Ward completed 24 passes, for only 221 yards. But a lot of those completions went for five or six yards and, while they were often bottled up by a defender quickly, they basically served as a substitute for a running game.
The Tribe blitzed on nearly every down Saturday, which opened up the middle. You can bet that whoever draws the College in the first round of the playoffs will take a keen interested in Mike London’s strategy.
On to the playoffs
We’re still a few hours from the bracket announcement at 3 o’clock on ESPNEWS. But I’ll offer my take here, and then we can all see how hopelessly off base I am later this afternoon.
Personally, I think the Tribe goes on the road to Appalachian State, and is drawn into Richmond’s group, meaning a win would bring the Tribe back to City Stadium in two weeks.
Geographically, South Carolina State is closest to Boone, NC, but I just don’t see the NCAA matching the two schools two years in a row, especially with the attendance draw of each. The NCAA wants to maximize their revenue, and they will do so by having the two schools with some of the largest attendance in FCS host home games in the first round.
There is a chance that the NCAA does put SC State and App. State together, which would almost certainly leave Elon to visit Richmond (I think that’s pretty much a done deal, regardless) and the College to be paired with a school from out west. Stephen F. Austin or McNeese State would be the most likely, and then it would be down to what each school bid.
I can tell you this. From talking to sources within the Athletic department, the College bid very aggressively for home playoff games this year. While there is no way that they could outbid Appalachian State, with its 20,000-plus attendance, they feel strongly that they would be at home if matched against a western team.
Chime in with your own thoughts below, and then we’ll see the results at 3 o’clock. Will it be App. State and then back to Richmond with a win? What do you think is the best scenario for the College? The worst?