Zero. That’s the number of touchdowns North Dakota State’s defense has allowed so far in the 2012 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
As a matter of fact, the Bison haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown in a playoff game since the second quarter on Dec. 17, 2011, when Georgia Southern’s Dominique Swope scored on a 23-yard run in a 35-7 semifinal decision against NDSU.
And yes, that includes the 2011 national title game, when NDSU beat Sam Houston State, 17-6.
The Eagles (10-3) face the No. 1 seed Bison (12-1) in Fargo, N.D., on Friday at 8 p.m., on ESPN2, for a shot at a semifinal rematch and a trip to the 2012 FCS national title game.
Touchdowns may be hard to come by against NDSU, but they weren’t a problem last Saturday when GSU came back from a 35-21, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Old Dominion, 49-35, in the quarterfinals.
It was the highlight of quarterback Jerick McKinnon’s career — so far.
“It has to be the best so far,” said McKinnon, who has rushed for eight touchdowns and passed for another in the last three games against Georgia, Central Arkansas and ODU. “Just the way our team fought back. When they got up on us by 14, a lot of people probably counted us out. We fought adversity, the defense made plays to get the momentum and the offense went down the field and scored. What a great game.”
Scoring won’t be the only hard part against the Bison.
“What I can tell you for sure is their quarterback, their o-line, their offense, they were able to do some things against us last year,” said GSU defensive tackle Brent Russell, who was named a Sports Network All-American on Monday. “This year, we’re going to have to play big. It’s going to be a battle for 60 minutes, and I don’t think anybody doubts that.”
Russell and the Eagles have come one game short of a national title appearance each of the last two years, and once again find themselves a win away.
“You can feel it in the air,” Russell said. “You can feel it around town. It’s close.”
Calling all kickers
The kicking game has been nothing short of awful for Georgia Southern this season.
The place-kicking job is still up in the air, and Alex Hanks (7 for 17 on field goals in 2012), Ryan Nowicki (1 for 3) and Luke Cherry (0 for 1) will all be watched closely throughout the practice week to see who gets the nod to dress on the 60-man playoff roster.
The Eagles are 1 for their last 8 attempts and haven’t made a field goal since Oct. 27.
“We’ve made one field goal since the Chattanooga game,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “Five football games, and we’ve made one field goal. We’ve got to do better than that.”
The closest thing to success has been on extra points, where Hanks is 45 of 47.
“There’s something happening between the extra points and the field goals,” Monken said.
“(Hanks has) really been doing a good job of kicking extra points and kicking them straight. His technique kind of falls apart a little bit on field goals. He can do it. He’s very capable. We’ve just got to get him right. Hopefully we can.”
Warming up in Fargo
North Dakota State beat Wofford, a team that runs a very similar offense to GSU’s triple option, 14-7 on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
Though Wofford out-gained the Bison, 326-262, the only WC points came from an interception returned for a touchdown.
While it helps NDSU facing a similar offense two weeks in a row, it could help the Eagles put together a game plan, too.
“I think it benefits us,” Monken said. “It sure benefits them having had a chance to defend an option team. And, we’ve got the film from last year. We’ve got every single film from this year and we’re going to look at every single play. We’ll be prepared for what we’ve seen from them, what they gave Wofford and what we may see.”
A short week
The semifinal matchup will be the first time Georgia Southern has played a game on a Friday in school history, and the fourth non-Saturday game for the program.
Several players will also be missing graduation the day of the game.
“It’s part of the game,” said linebacker John Stevenson, the team’s leading tackler and a senior scheduled to graduate Friday. “Duty calls.”
The Eagles will follow the same practice schedule as normal, with the exception of Thursday, when practice will be moved to morning so the team can catch an afternoon flight.
They’ll miss out on the usual Friday routine."
“We’ll get all of our practices in,” Monken said, “but we don’t get that full day of recovery and meeting time on Friday that we usually get.”