FCS Semifinal-Round Playoff Preview: Delaware at South Dakota State

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – Call it May Madness in FCS college football, the Final Four is here.

The two spots in the spring national championship game will be determined in the semifinals on Saturday.

A preview capsule:

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Delaware (7-0) at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (7-1)

Site – Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, South Dakota

Kickoff – Noon ET

TV Coverage – ESPN

Series – Delaware leads 1-0 (previous meeting: Blue Hens won 26-3 at home on Sept. 11, 2010)

Coaches – Delaware: Danny Rocco (26-16, fourth season; 116-58 overall); South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (173-106, 24th season)

3 Players to Watch – Delaware: QB Nolan Henderson (117 of 170, 1,340 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs; 2 TD runs), S Noah Plack (39 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles), S Kedrick Whitehead (28 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble); South Dakota State: QB Mark Gronowski (97 of 168, 1,387 yards, 13 TDs, 3 INTs; 540 rush yards, 7 TDs), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (101 carries, 572 yards, 2 TDs; 16 receptions, 1 TD), LB Logan Backhaus (56 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1 INT)

The Skinny – Top-seeded South Dakota State is seeking to advance to the FCS championship game for the first time, while Delaware had made four appearances, winning in 2003. Delaware relies on its stronger defense, while SDSU is better offensively, particularly with running the ball. The two teams have arrived to the semifinals in different fashion: The visiting Blue Hens have trailed in only one game (Villanova), and that was for less than 3½ minutes; the Jackrabbits have trailed in the fourth quarter in four games and been tied in another one. One similar trait is an outstanding secondary: Delaware is ranked No. 1 in the FCS for fewest passing yards allowed per attempt (4.85), second in passing yards allowed per game (108.7) and tied for fourth in interceptions, while SDSU is third in interceptions (12) and fifth in passing yards per completion (9.68). Both teams also boast the offensive player of the year in their respective conference. However, Gronowski, a true freshman, has accounted for three TDs in each of his Missouri Valley Conference squad’s playoff wins, while Blue Hens RB Dejoun Lee, the CAA award recipient, has slumped recently, gaining just 105 yards and one TD on 51 carries over his last three games. Khory Spruill will have a share of carries, wise to run behind 6-foot-7 left tackle David Kroll. SDSU is the only FCS team with three players over 500 rushing yards (Gronowski, Strong and freshman Isaiah Davis).

Up Next – The winner will play either No. 2 seed Sam Houston (8-0) or No. 3 seed James Madison (7-0) in the national championship game on May 16 in Frisco, Texas.

Prediction – South Dakota State 20, Delaware 19

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