Photo: Bob Keroack (William & Mary Athletics)

Behind The Numbers: Week 1 FCS Football Review

The 2023 FCS football season is in full swing after a loaded Week 1 slate this past weekend. Each week we will go behind the numbers on some of the biggest games across the FCS landscape.

We take a look behind the numbers from this weekend’s biggest Week 1 FCS football action below.

No. 2 North Dakota State 35, Eastern Washington 10

How did the Bison win?

The Bison won much how they have won the last several years: Incredibly efficient offensive play and top-level defense. North Dakota State’s offense looked smooth and was never put under stress. The Bison offense churned out 7.7 yards per play- a feat only reached twice last regular season (Western Illinois and North Dakota). Running backs TaMerik Williams and TK Marshall combined with quarterbacks Cam Miller and Cole Payton to run for 317 yards on just 32 attempts. That’s an insane 9.9 yards per carry from those four players.

Of course, we have to mention the offensive line here as well. The unit moved Eastern Washington’s defensive line all day and had total control of the game. The Bison do not need to be concerned about losses such as Cody Mauch to the NFL, the Bison offensive line remains one of the best in the country. The run game was paired with some timely, if not spectacular passing. Cam Miller made throws when he needed to. Miller hit wide receiver Zach Mathis on two 20-yard completions on consecutive third downs.  The Bison offense looked sharp and ready to have another big season.

On the other side of the ball, the Bison bottled up an Eastern Washington attack that showed a lot of potential but just could not turn drives into points. Quarterback Kekoa Visperas showed dynamic athleticism and the ability to find receivers down the field. Efton Chism and other Eagle receivers were able to get open and generate separation, especially when Visperas was able to buy himself time.

The major problem for the Eagles was an inability to run the ball on a down-to-down basis. The Eagles were only able to rush for 2.6 yards per carry. This led to the offense struggling to convert on short-yardage opportunities, as the Eagles finished the game 5-for-17 on 3rd down attempts. Some standouts on the Bison defense include safety Cole Wisniewski and linebacker Logan Kopp. Wisniewski was all over the field and had one interception and could have had two if not for a drop. Kopp played really well for the Bison front seven, including showing excellent sideline-to-sideline ability against the outside zone.

What’s next for Eastern Washington?

Eastern Washington faces Fresno State next Saturday as they continue their brutal out-of-conference schedule. The Eagles will be disappointed that they could not make last Saturday’s game against the Bison more competitive. However, Eagles fans should be optimistic about the future of this team. Kekoa Visperas is a dynamic athlete and will grow to be a solid FCS quarterback. They have a lot of weapons on the outside. The Eagles will need to get the running game going in future matchups if they want to take a step up.

However, after less-than-impressive debuts from Montana and Weber State, the Eagles should have their sights set on competing for a top-five finish in the Big Sky. Can they get enough defense and running game to make some noise in the conference? The Eagles will certainly be tested enough going into conference play.

What’s next for North Dakota State?

North Dakota State welcomes Maine to Fargo next Saturday. They look to continue to answer the questions that have been asked of this team, but this team has all the makings of another championship contender. There are still questions about Cam Miller and Cole Payton’s ability to throw the ball at a high level. Both quarterbacks ran incredibly well. Cam Miller made some good throws but missed on a handful he should have had too. For those calling for Cole Payton to play more, he missed a pretty easy one over the middle in his limited time. However, few teams in all FCS will be able to exploit this weakness. In fact, South Dakota State may be the only one. The Bison have an incredibly dynamic run game. The amount of concepts and reads they can run behind that dominant offensive line will be so difficult to stop. North Dakota will be in the middle of the national title conversation, the only real question will be whether it is enough to end a three-game losing streak to the Jackrabbits?

Florida A&M 28, Jackson State 10

How did Florida A&M win?

Florida A&M built an early lead after Marcus Riley’s kickoff return to open the game and capitalized on multiple Jackson State mistakes. It was 21-0 before Jackson State could even take a breath. Jackson State made a small comeback late in the second half, but there was no doubt the Rattlers would do enough to leave Miami with a crucial victory.

Florida A&M may have got the big win, but they were far from dominant, especially offensively. Both defenses played well, which led to neither offense looking spectacular. Quarterback Jeremy Moussa had a couple of big throws but also overthrew several receivers in key moments. Running back Terrell Jennings was the most effective offensive player from either team gaining 79 yards on 11 carries. Fellow running back Jaquez Yant ran for another 72 yards on 11 carries as well.

Both Jackson State and Florida A&M threw for 6.8 yards per attempt. If you take out sack losses, Jackson State ran for 4.5 yards per carry while the Rattlers finished with 5.2 yards per carry. Neither team was able to assert their will on the opposing defense. While the special teams score and turnovers made the final score seem impressive, FAMU played Jackson State pretty even. Of course, at the end of the day, Rattler fans will not care about how they beat the Tigers, as Sunday’s win puts them in the driver’s seat to win the SWAC East division.

What’s next for Jackson State?

The Tigers will look to bounce back from a disappointing result when they travel to Southern. The biggest question heading into next week is who will be playing quarterback. Jason Brown looked great a week ago; only to have a very disappointing outing against this weekend against the Rattlers. Zy McDonald came in Sunday and sparked the Jackson State offense, including his deep strike to receiver Rico Powers for the only Jackson touchdown of the day. He also brings another dimension to the run game with his athleticism. The Tigers have to figure out the quarterback room soon if they want to give themselves a chance to get back into the SWAC East race.

What’s next for Florida A&M?

Florida A&M will take on South Florida next Saturday. The Rattlers checked off their first task of the 2023 season and have to be feeling great after finally beating Jackson State and putting themselves in the driver’s seat to get to the SWAC championship game. The defense looked dominant on Sunday and never really let Jackson State get close. The interior of the defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage all day. The offense was inconsistent, but it was only their first game and the Rattlers have plenty of weapons for Moussa. The running back duo of Jennings and Yant have great size and power, which makes the duo a handful to stop. Wide receiver Jah’Marae Sheread has elite speed and will always be a threat to create explosive plays. The Rattlers have all the pieces as they continue one of the most important seasons in recent history.

No. 4 William & Mary 34, Campbell 24

How did William & Mary win?

This was one of the most statistically interesting games of the weekend. Campbell was impressive on offense and kept the game much closer than many anticipated. Success rate is a stat that measures how successful an offense is on a play-to-play basis throughout the game. It gives a good indication of how well a team plays on the field. Over 80% of the time the team with a higher success rate will win the game, but this game was one of the exceptions. Campbell managed a success rate of 56.25% and William and Mary finished with a 55.56% success rate. For reference, the average success rate for a college football team is around 41%. Both offenses played really well and the success rate shows that the Camels played well enough to have a real shot to win this game.

The biggest difference of the game was two crucial Campbell turnovers, while the Tribe did not turn the ball over on Thursday night. Running back Bronson Yoder and the Tribe offensive line finished the game averaging almost 6.0 yards a carry. Hajj-Malik Williams was fantastic through the air for the Camels and finished the game with 226 yards. The Tribe won the game with their experience and lack of mistakes while taking advantage of every small mistake Campbell made.

What’s next for Campbell?

Campbell travels to The Citadel next Saturday. The Camels should enter this matchup with optimism from the performance in Week 1. Campbell has notably brought in great recruiting classes in the last couple of years but without much on-field success. The Camels went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the nation in No. 4 William & Mary. Can Campbell compete in the reshaped CAA? They might not be a top team but maybe the Camels can compete for a top-five spot in the CAA with teams like UAlbany and Villanova. Offensively, Campbell has plenty of offensive weapons and will look to get their first win of the season at The Citadel on Saturday.

What’s next for William & Mary?

The Tribe will host Wofford on Saturday. Week 1 against Campbell was a good test as William and Mary started their campaign for another CAA title. The offense played efficiently and one of the nation’s best rushing attacks picked up where they left off a season ago with 270 rushing yards. The offensive line dominated and routinely got to the second level. Quarterback Darius Wilson was effective and only missed a couple of throws. William & Mary used a lot of two-quarterback sets with Hollis Mathis in the game. It will be interesting to monitor how the Tribe uses that personnel group in the future.

The only real area of concern was the defensive backfield. The secondary had some trouble staying with the Campbell receivers and gave up multiple explosive plays. After a disappointing debut from Richmond, the Tribe will only have a couple of difficult games left on the schedule. It will be up to Coach Mike London to keep The Tribe playing sharp.

RELATED: FCS Football Recap: Week 1 Takeaways

LATEST: FCS Top-25: Zach McKinnell’s Week 1 Ballot

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