FCS Playoffs: Austin Peay at Montana State
By CRAIG HALEY
FCS Playoff Quarterfinal
The Matchup - Austin Peay (11-3, 7-1 Ohio Valley) at No. 5 seed Montana State (10-3, 6-2 Big Sky)
Kickoff - 8 p.m. ET Friday at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana
Coverage - ESPN3
Series - First meeting
Coaches - Austin Peay: Mark Hudspeth (11-3, first season; 105-62 overall); Montana State: Jeff Choate (27-21, four seasons)
3 Players to Watch - Austin Peay: QB JaVaughn Craig (3,766 yards of total offense, 36 total TDs), WR DeAngelo Wilson (83 receptions, 1,446 yards, 14 TDs), NB Kordell Jackson (43 tackles, 7 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries); Montana State: QB Tucker Rovig (146 of 237, 1,705 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs), OT Mitch Brott (All-Big Sky first team), DE Bryce Sterk (59 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 15 sacks)
The Skinny - Austin Peay, the OVC co-champ, showcased speed and physicality in rolling past Sacramento State in the second round, but a second straight week with long travel to the Big Sky Conference is a factor (it worked against Maine in last year's playoffs). Craig, who's coming off a career-high 164 rushing yards, is a dual-threat with terrific mobility, and he has weapons in the versatile Kentel Williams (4,823 career all-purpose yards), Baniko Harley (11 TDs) and Wilson, who makes the big catches. The pass game sets up well because the Governors' offensive line has allowed only nine sacks. DT Josephus Smith (19½ tackles for loss, 7½ sacks) anchors the defensive front, which has been stout against the run and is tasked with slowing down a Montana State run game that is averaging 264.9 rushing yards per game - eighth-best in the FCS. The Bobcats spread around the carries, with Logan Jones (807 yards, 8 TDs), Isaiah Ifanse (557, 5) and the versatile Travis Jonsen (517 rush yards, 520 receiving yards) leading the way. Rovig is coming off a season-high 279 passing yards and three TD passes against UAlbany. There's usually little keeping Sterk out of an opponent's backfield, and LBs Troy Andersen (who's been sidelined for two straight games) and Josh Hill and S Brayden Konkol made the All-Big Sky first team. Both teams protect the ball well: Montana State is plus-11 in turnover margin and Austin Peay is plus-seven.
Up Next - The winner will play either No. 1 seed North Dakota State (13-0) or Illinois State (10-4) in a national semifinal Dec. 21.
Prediction - Fittingly, both teams are peaking at the right time of the season. Montana State, which handled the other OVC co-champ, Southeast Missouri, in September, will benefit from a raucous home crowd. Montana State, 28-27.
Updated December 11, 2019