FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview: Holy Cross at Villanova and South Dakota State at Sacramento State
FCS

FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview: Holy Cross at Villanova and South Dakota State at Sacramento State

With late-game heroics, overtime, road upsets and three first-time winners, the FCS playoffs got off to a fast start with the first round last Saturday.

This week, the action will be even sweeter with the round of 16 continuing on the Road to Frisco (Texas).

Following are capsule previews of two of the eight second-round games, with the winners set to meet in the quarterfinals:

Holy Cross (10-2) at No. 5 seed Villanova (9-2)

Kickoff – 7 p.m. ET Friday at Villanova Stadium in Villanova, Pennsylvania (ESPN+)

Series – Villanova leads 13-9

Coaches – Holy Cross: Bob Chesney (25-15, five seasons; 92-40 overall); Villanova: Mark Ferrante (30-20, five seasons)

3 Players to Watch – Holy Cross: QB Matthew Sluka (97 of 173, 1,343 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs; 762 rushing yards, 13 TDs), RB Peter Oliver (140 carries, 741 yards, 4 TDs), LB Jacob Dobbs (130 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks); Villanova: QB Daniel Smith (159 of 284, 2,163 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs; 203 rushing yards, 7 TDs), LB Forrest Rhyne (110 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4 QB hits), CB Christian Benford (36 tackles, 7 INTs, 16 pass breakups)

3 Key Factors – 1. Both offenses will seek balance and efficiency given the defenses rank first (Holy Cross, 253.4) and second (Villanova, 254.9) in the FCS, respectively, in fewest yards allowed per game. 2. The visiting Crusaders have not been fazed by road games, going 6-0 to tie for the best mark in the FCS (also Eastern Washington). It includes wins at UConn, Yale, Monmouth and Fordham. 3. Perhaps it’s overlooked because he spent two seasons at Campbell, but Villanova third-year quarterback Daniel Smith Jr. is tied for the most total touchdowns among active FCS players (138 via passing, rushing and receiving). He produced five in his only career playoff game in 2019.

Up Next – The winner will play South Dakota State (9-3) or No. 4 seed Sacramento State (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction – Villanova 24, Holy Cross 13

South Dakota State (9-3) at No. 4 seed Sacramento State (9-2)

Kickoff – 9 p.m. ET Saturday at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California (ESPN+)

Series – First meeting

Coaches – South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (182-110, 25 seasons); Sacramento State: Troy Taylor (18-6, two seasons)

3 Players to Watch – South Dakota State: RB Pierre Strong Jr. (209 carries, 1,502 yards, 16 TDs; 21 receptions, 144 yards), RB Isaiah Davis (42 carries, 406 yards, 2 TDs), LB Adam Bock (106 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 TDs, 5 pass breakups); Sacramento State: QB Jake Dunniway (156 of 245, 2,245 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs), LB Marcus Hawkins (74 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 forced fumbles), PK Kyle Sentkowski (19 of 23 FGs, 10 of 12 40+, 95 points)

3 Key Factors – 1. SDSU is coming off a season-high 446 rushing yards (Davis and Strong combined for 402) while eliminating UC Davis in the first round. Sac State has kept five of its last seven opponents and six overall to under 100 rushing yards. 2. The Hornets rotate two QBs: Jake Dunniway is the chief passer with 2,245 yards and 11 TD passes, and Asher O’Hara leads the team in rushing yards (655) and TDs (nine). 3. Two of the FCS’ more productive tight ends seek to be difference makers – SDSU’s Tucker Kraft (53 receptions, 612 yards, 6 TDs) and Sac State’s Marshel Martin (47, 590, 6).

Up Next – The winner will play Holy Cross (10-2) or No. 5 seed Villanova (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction – South Dakota State 35, Sacramento State 24