FCS Quarterfinals: Southern Illinois vs. South Dakota State

Via SDSU Athletics.

These two Missouri Valley Football Conference foes have survived a tough conference schedule and the first round of the playoffs. Southern Illinois will be looking for the upset of the playoffs and revenge against the Jackrabbits for their 44-3 loss earlier in the year. Meanwhile, this is just another week of playoff preparation for SDSU as they plan on staying the number one seed.

The Challengers

Via SIU Athletics.

Last week, Southern Illinois had a back-and-forth battle with the Big Sky Conference Champions Weber State. Despite starting the game behind by two scores the Saluki’s rallied, forced turnovers, and kept a consistent offense running long enough to eek out a victory in Utah. Stylistically, Southern Illinois matched up well with the Wildcats and took advantage of their weaknesses on defense.

The last time these two teams met it went horribly wrong for the Saluki’s. What makes this week any different? Momentum. These two teams are fundamentally the same teams, but SDSU coasted to an easy victory and SIU earned every point the hard way. The element of surprise is the one extra thing the Salukis need added with dedication and a solid gameplan.

Now that Southern Illinois is healthier than they were that game that should help too. Stone Labanowitz, Justin Strong, and Avante Cox will be the leaders the Salukis need to attempt the upset. They were instrumental in the win over the Wildcats. Now they will have to dig deeper to move onto the Semifinals.

The Champs (MVFC)

Via SDSU Athletics.

South Dakota State entered the playoffs the favorites and continue to hold that position. The Jackrabbits came into the playoffs as the number one seed and played like it this past week. Holy Cross was only able to score one field goal in the whole game last week due to the SDSU defense completely shutting down the Crusaders. Watching the Jackrabbit defense was like watching a big kid hold back the little kid by the head while he’s throwing punches that will never land.

South Dakota State played a similar game against the Salukis last time they met with a 44-3 win. Mark Gronowski took over the offensive attack with 100+ yards rushing and two touchdowns. Since then Gronowski has become a more proficient passer and even more dangerous towards opposing teams.

What does SDSU need to do to win? Be consistent. The MVFC Champs have been playing some of their best football in years. Despite a loss to North Dakota, the Jackrabbits have dominated in one of the toughest FCS conferences and what some say the best FCS conference this season.

Fearless Prediction

The Salukis had a great season with wins against North Dakota State and eliminating Weber State from the playoffs. The problem with being one of the last teams in is having one of the hardest roads to the championship. If Southern Illinois finds a way to win this would be the biggest upset of the weekend by far. It is just too hard to forget that the last time these two teams played South Dakota State won by a margin of 41 points. I think that margin can be decreased with the Saluki’s improvements, but I don’t see a way that the Jackrabbits lose this weekend.

South Dakota State 34 Southern Illinois 13

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