FCS Second Round Playoff Matchup: Albany (Colonial) at Montana State (Big Sky)
When: Saturday, December 7th, 3:00 PM
Where: Bobcat Stadium, Bozeman, Montana
Streaming: ESPN3 (subscription req’d)
Albany Great Danes (9-4), Head Coach: Greg Gattuso
Colonial Athletic Association
Albany, New York
Albany proved its eight win regular season was no fluke as they cruised to a 42-14 win over Central Connecticut State behind a huge second half where they score three times in the opening seven and a half minutes of the third quarter. At the beginning of the game, you could see the nerves getting to freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler. He started slow, struggling to find any rhythm in the pass game. He also threw a poor interception in his own territory. Despite the offensive struggles, the Great Danes were never out of the game thanks to their underrated defense. While Central Connecticut seemed to take all of their early drives into Albany territory, they only came away with seven points. Albany was aided by a missed 20 yard field goal by the Blue Devils as well. Eventually, Undercuffler got into rhythm, and was unstoppable from there on. The Great Danes scored late in the first half to send the game into the break tied. That’s when the onslaught started. All of a sudden, the Great Danes had scored 42 unanswered points before Central Connecticut picked up a garbage time touchdown to provide the final margin.
Albany never really got a strong rushing attack going against the Blue Devils who were ranked third in the country against the run, running for just 100 yards. Their top rusher, Karl Mofor never got going. Albany will look to get him more touches this week at Montana State. The Bobcats are 17th in the nation against the run, so there may not be much room to run. But balancing Mofor and the run game will be important for the Great Danes.
The Great Danes are decent against the rush, ranking 47th in the nation. They’ll be tested this week against a Montana state team that is 6th in rushing at 270 yards per game. This could be the key matchup for Albany.
Key Player: It was apparent last week that as Jeff Undercuffler went, so went Albany. When he struggled early, the Great Danes struggled to move the ball. Once Undercuffler settled in, there was no stopping him. The freshman gunslinger finished the game 19/30 for 304 yards and six touchdowns. While Albany will look to get their run game more involved this week; and they need to, Montana State gives up nearly 240 yards per game through the air. Undercuffler should have some success through the air, although he probably wont throw for six touchdowns again. A good game from Undercuffler will assure that Albany stays in this game and has a chance to win.
Montana State Bobcats (9-3), Head Coach: Jeff Choate
Big Sky Conference
Entering the final week of the season, Montana State was clearly on the outside of the seeds looking in. All that was left was the Brawl of the Wild. Despite the Bobcats having won the last three games in the heated rivalry, most of the money was on Montana, a win that would have given the Grizzlies the third or fourth seed. But, the Bobcats not only beat their hated rivals, they blew them out, 48-14. The game was never close with the Bobcats scoring the first 24 points of the game. That big win vaulted Montana State up to the fifth seed in the playoffs, guaranteeing them a home game. While most people always talk about the intimidation factor at Washington-Grizzly in Missoula, Bobcat Stadium is no slouch in the intimidation department. Montana State ranked fourth in attendance this season and should have more in attendance than Albany has seen all year.
The Big Sky conference is usually known as a conference that airs it out and plays high scoring, loose games. If you believe that, then you just casually look at Big Sky box scores. Much like Weber State, another national seed, Montana State is winning with the ground game and the defense. The Bobcats have five players who have run for at least 336 yards and scored at least five touchdowns each. Montana State doesn’t get a ton of production out of the passing game, but they don’t hurt themselves either, having thrown just four interceptions all year.
On Defense, the Bobcats rank 40th overall and 17th against the run. Where they can be beaten is in the pass game where they average allowing 238 yards per game, 85th in the nation. With a team like Albany who features a 1200 yard running back and 3000 yard passer, the Bobcats have a challenge in front of them.
Key Player: One way to disrupt a strong pass game is to get after the quarterback. Montana State boasts just the player for that, DL Bryce Sterk. A finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, Sterk leads the Bobcats with 16.5 tackles for loss and is tied for second in the nation with 13.5 sacks. Undercuffler has shown that he can be rattled, so if Sterk can create constant pressure and make him throw before he wants, the Bobcats can have success against the pass.
Fearless Prediction: This game will come down to which team can use their strength to better exploit the other team’s weakness – Montana States run game versus Albany’s run defense and Albany’s pass game versus Montana State’s pass defense. It’s safer to take the home team and a strong run game. Look for an exciting matchup, but the seeded Bobcats move on. Montana State 33, Albany 28
Jamie is a proud 2002 graduate of James Madison University. He’s witnessed the growth of the program from no one in the stands in 1998, to the hiring of Mickey Matthews, to the 2004 National Championship, to the 2008 team, to the struggles in the early 2010s, and finally the rebuild under Mike Houston. He also allegedly really enjoys Washington, DC-based Stanley Cup winners.
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I think this assessment understimates who the Bobcats just beat in the 4th seeded Montana Grizzlies, but its playoff season so anything can happen. The 4,300 feet f altitude may take some wind out of Albany’s sails by the second half.