Photo: UAlbany Athletics

Behind The Numbers: Week 0 FCS Football Review

The 2023 FCS football season began on Saturday with three games on the Week 0 slate. 

We take a look behind the numbers from this weekend’s Week 0 FCS football action below.

UAlbany 34, Fordham 13

How did Albany Win?

UAlbany won Saturday night with a combination of brilliance from quarterback Reese Poffenbarger and hellacious play from the defensive line. Poffenbarger threw for 253 yards and four touchdowns. He looked supremely confident building off his freshman season. He played comfortably and showed the ability to make almost every throw at all levels. UAlbany converted 9-of-16 on third down attempts and Poffenbarger’s ability to make key throws kept drives alive.

On the other side of the ball, Anton Juncaj and AJ Simon were completely dominant. If you add linebacker Dylan Kelly, the three players combined for eight sacks and nine tackles for loss. UAlbany’s defensive front completely overwhelmed Fordham’s offensive line and did not allow Fordham’s talented skill players to get anything going.

What’s next for Fordham?

Fordham hosts Wagner this Saturday evening at 6 p.m. ET. The Rams will look to get back on track after a tough outing this past weekend. Offensively, Fordham will continue to search for what life after Tim DeMorat may look like. Quarterback CJ Montes did not play poorly as he finished the game with 198 passing yards and one touchdown. However, he did not have enough time to make any of the difference-making plays, which was a key factor for Fordham’s offense last season. Running backs Julius Loughridge and Ricky Parks had some decent runs but the running backs only carried the ball 16 times, averaging 5.01 yards per carry. The Rams need to get the offense back on track if they want to compete with Holy Cross for a conference championship this season.

What’s Next for UAlbany? 

UAlbany travels to Marshall next Saturday evening at 6 p.m. ET. While this team will certainly face tougher opponents throughout the CAA schedule, having a quarterback of Reese Poffenbarger’s talent and a dominating pass rush will give them a chance in most games. Poffenbarger will need to improve his accuracy and decision-making as the season goes along but showed promise on Saturday night. As he continues to develop, his ceiling could be one of the best quarterbacks in FCS football.

If running back Nate Larkins (12 carries for 76 yards) and wide receiver Roy Alexander (six catches for 58 yards and two TDs) can continue to contribute at a high level UAlbany should expect to challenge for a spot in the top six of the CAA this season. The pass rush and aggressive defense pairs nicely with an explosive offense and they will look to give that offense plenty of opportunities. The playoffs may be a step too far for 2023 but UAlbany is building an exciting team that is sure to be in the mix in the CAA this season.

No. 19 Mercer 17, North Alabama 7

How Did Mercer win?

Mercer won Saturday afternoon’s FCS kickoff classic through grit and tough defense. It was a lackluster offensive performance for both teams. Mercer started the game with a near-perfect drive that ended with, yet another Ty James touchdown catch, but after that, the offense never looked comfortable. Mercer methodically put a couple of scoring drives together and managed to score 17 points, despite fumbling on the one-yard line. 

It was really Mercer’s defense that stepped up in this win for the Bears. The Bears made two huge 4th down stops deep in their own territory that helped keep North Alabama out of the endzone, while the offense was struggling throughout the game. Linebackers Isaac Dowling and Ken Standley came up huge on both plays. Even with Mercer’s defense playing well, the Lions missed a 44-yard field goal and had a 25-yard field goal blocked. While Mercer’s defense had control of the rest of the game, North Alabama’s defense played well too. Both teams averaged 4.1 yards per play and on a different day, the outcome could have gone another way. Ultimately Mercer’s playmakers on defense and a few difference-making plays on offense by Ty James and company were enough to win the day in the blistering Montgomery heat.

What’s Next for North Alabama?

North Alabama faces another SoCon foe in Chattanooga this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. North Alabama can take a lot of positives out of Saturday’s game. The defense was competitive and the front seven played was particularly stout, holding Mercer to 3.2 yards per carry despite 53 attempts. Coach Brent Dearmon’s up-tempo, RPO offense showed a lot of creativity. The tempo and the play-calling gave an experienced Mercer defense some problems at points.

Both quarterbacks Noah Walters and TJ Smith looked dynamic at points, including an impressive rushing touchdown for Smith in the first half. The offense is only in its beginning stages and this season will be a good starting point for Coach Dearmon. Only counting wins and losses will not be a good measure of this team as North Alabama faces a brutal schedule that includes Mercer, Chattanooga, UT Martin, and Florida State all outside of their conference schedule. There was definitely enough to see Saturday to feel that Coach Dearmon and the Lions have a bright future ahead in years to come.

What’s Next for Mercer?

Mercer takes a huge step up in competition this Saturday against Ole Miss at 2 p.m. ET. The Mercer defense enters with a ton of experience, strength up front, and playmakers in the back end. There is no real concern on that side of the ball and this unit will be one of the best units in the country led by All-American and captain Lance Wise.

Despite having one of the best-receiving duos in the FCS, Mercer ran the ball 53 times in a close, competitive game. That was good for 76% of all their play calls, in which the Bears only managed 3.2 yards per carry on the ground. Many of the 17 passes quarterback Carter Peevy attempted were play-action looks. Several questions should be asked heading into this week. Does the staff not trust Peevy with the full offense yet? Did Mercer just not want to show any of the passing game and were content with squeaking out a win?

Whatever the answers are Mercer needs to answer them quickly before they start their brutal conference stretch. Peevy looked decent with some throws down the field, but he did miss a few throws over the middle and struggled to find his rhythm. The Bears threw it short to Devron Harper several times but had very limited success. Mercer will need to open up the playbook and allow Carter Peevy to expand his game if the Bears expect to compete for a SoCon championship or the FCS playoffs.

No. 21 Jackson State 37, South Carolina State 7

How did Jackson State win?

Jackson State pulled off this resounding win by dominating across the defensive front and creating explosive plays offensively throughout the game.

South Carolina State failed to generate any offensive momentum on Saturday night. The Bulldogs only averaged 3.5 yards per play. Jackson State’s defensive line was too physical and strong for the Bulldogs. The Bulldog’s offensive line struggled to move defensive tackles Devonta Davis and Jeremiah Williams. Linebackers Isaac Peppers and Khalil Arrington were free to fly around and make plays.

Through the air, it was even worse for the Bulldog offense. Quarterback Corey Fields looked very uncomfortable throughout the game. The Tigers finished the game with only one sack, but the Tiger’s defense continuously collapsed the pocket and never allowed Fields to find his rhythm. Fields finished a forgettable 7-for-20 with only 60 passing yards and one INT. When Fields did have time the receiving core had no success creating any kind of separation from the Jackson State defensive backs.

On the other side of the ball, the Jackson State offense blew the game open with explosive plays. Jackson State capitalized quickly on any defensive mistakes by the Bulldogs. The Tigers created seven plays of 20+ yards on the night; each of the first five scoring drives included at least one of those explosive plays. Jackson State quarterback Jason Brown made the Bulldog defense pay with over 350 passing yards and three touchdowns. Explosive plays led to scores for the Tigers and the Bulldogs had no answer on the offensive end, including an explosive 46-yard touchdown run by Irv Mulligan in the first quarter.

What’s next for South Carolina State?

This coming Saturday South Carolina State travels to play Charlotte at 6 p.m. ET. The Bulldogs need to generate more offensive production if they want to pull the upset. Quarterback Corey Fields will need some help from his receivers to create more explosive plays. The longest play from last Saturday’s game went only 18 yards. The defense looked decent in moments but was punished due to coverage breakdowns in certain moments. The offense will need to add creativity if South Carolina State wants to compete for a conference championship in Coach Pough’s last season. The good news is that South Carolina State has five games and almost two months before their first MEAC game to build some confidence on the offensive end.

What’s Next for Jackson State?

Jackson State enters an important divisional matchup against Florida A&M this Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. Florida A&M and quarterback Jeremy Moussa present an entirely bigger challenge that should offer new challenges to a talented Jackson State defense. Quarterback Jason Brown looked composed and very comfortable running the offense. The Tigers look to have a very solid group at running back with J.D. Martin and transfer Irv Mulligan. Both ran hard and Mulligan showed off his explosiveness once he got to the second level. The receivers played well and showed off a lot of speed. Rico Powers showcased his ability to be a major deep threat for the Tigers.

The question will be how Jackson State’s offense will respond if put under any pressure by Florida A&M, which South Carolina State was unable to do. The Tigers only averaged 4.2 yards per carry on the ground and were a quiet 3-for-9 on third down. This is only nitpicking though, and it appears Jackson State’s offense has all the pieces to become an elite unit.

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