Photo: Samuel Wallace (WCU Communications & Marketing)

Behind The Numbers: Week 2 FCS Football Review

The 2023 FCS football season begins to pick up steam after a weekend that saw the first two ranked matchups of the season. Two of the top three teams in the country faced off in one of the biggest games of the year and the first major FCS upset of the season shook up the FCS Top 25 this 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 2 FCS football action below.

No. 12 Weber State 34, No. 21 Northern Iowa 17

How did Weber State win?

Weber State picked up a huge road victory on Saturday in the UNI-Dome. The Wildcats won the game despite recording a 26.6% down-to-down offensive success rate, which is the lowest of any FCS team that has won a game this season. The Wildcats only had one touchdown drive that was longer than three plays. Northern Iowa even managed a 34.8% success rate (National Average: 41%). Weber State won this game through a few explosive plays and forcing six Northern Iowa turnovers. Northern Iowa quarterback Theo Day struggled again, throwing three interceptions and completing less than 57% of his passes. The Weber State defense played aggressively and playmakers consistently stepped up all over the field. Every time the Panthers tried to establish a rhythm offensively, Weber State forced another turnover. Weber State paired the turnovers with a few huge explosive plays, which became the difference this weekend.

Weber State quarterback Kylan Weisser completed a 77-yard pass to wide receiver Jacob Sharp to start the game for Weber State, but only totaled 102 yards across the rest of the game. Running back Damon Bankston had explosive touchdown runs of 26 and 58 yards while finishing the game with 144 rushing yards. Despite having an inconsistent offensive performance, Weber State found a way to win an important road matchup.

What’s next for Northern Iowa?

Northern Iowa takes on another Big Sky opponent when the Panthers travel to Idaho State next Saturday. A season that garnered a lot of hype has not lived up to the hype over the first two weeks. The Panthers played below expectations against Iowa State and Weber State. The defense has been the bright spot this season, while offensive struggles have been the real story. Quarterback Theo Day and the Northern Iowa offense will need to step up over the next few weeks if this team is going to compete in the Missouri Valley Conference. Six turnovers against a good team is an absolute death sentence. The offense has one week to turn it around before conference play begins with a tough matchup against No. 25 Youngstown State. 

What’s next for Weber State? 

Weber State travels to No. 12 Utah next Saturday before a huge conference matchup with No. 3 Montana State. Weber State’s defense has proven to be elite over the first two weeks of the season. The unit was dominant against Theo Day and company Saturday evening led by preseason FCS All-American cornerback Maxwell Anderson (1 INT) and linebacker Jack Kelly (2 sacks; 2 forced fumbles). The defense generated seven tackles for loss against the Panthers and has shown that this unit is still one of the very best in the nation. The offense must improve if they are going to compete at the top of the Big Sky.

Western Carolina 30, No. 8 Samford 7

How did Western Carolina win?

To put it simply, Western Carolina won this game with a dominant, efficient performance on offense. They averaged 6.5 yards per play and had a down-to-down success rate of 61.54% (National Average: 41%). In many upsets, the underdogs will hit a few big plays that change the course of the game, but that is not how it happened for the Catamounts and that is why this win is impressive. The Catamounts consistently beat Samford down the field, while running back Desmond Reid is a budding star at the FCS level. Reid totaled 170 yards on a whopping 27 carries (6.3 YPC), while Reid may only be 170 pounds but he consistently runs with ferocity. Quarterback Cole Gonzales may be the next to follow him to stardom. Gonzales completed 82% of his passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns with zero turnovers. Wide receiver AJ Colombo showed his game-breaking speed while racking up 79 receiving yards. Reid, Honzales, and Colombo are all just sophomores, which shows the recruiting success of Kerwin Bell is paying off on the field. 

On the other side of the ball, Samford quarterback Michael Hiers still put up big numbers throwing for over 300 yards, but was sacked six times by the Catamounts defense. The Bulldogs could not convert on big opportunities to keep them in the game. Samford went 0-for-3 on 4th down attempts in Western Carolina territory. A major issue for the offensive attack was the inability to run the ball, which led to the Bulldogs only having the ball for 18 minutes of the game. Western Carolina’s defensive front controlled what Samford could do and kept the offensive attack one-dimensional.

What’s next for Samford?

After a season in which Samford won every single SoCon game, this is a very disappointing way to start the 2023 season. Many voters had Samford ranked in the top ten and they will be looking to bounce back from an opening conference loss in two weeks against Chattanooga. With both the Bulldogs and Mocs already dropping a game this season, this game could already have FCS Playoff implications for the loser. The loser of that matchup will have a tough time playing their way back into the playoff picture. Samford should be one of the best offenses in FCS football behind quarterback Michael Hiers and the multitude of weapons on the outside. This team desperately needs more from their offensive and defensive lines though, which struggled this weekend against Western Carolina.

What’s next for Western Carolina? 

Western Carolina will travel to face Eastern Kentucky in a huge out-of-conference matchup. Eastern Kentucky is 0-2 after facing back-t0-back FBS opponents to open the season and will be desperate for a win. The Catamounts will want to continue to prove that this team is a real contender for the SoCon championship with No. 7 Furman. The Catamounts showed all the tools Saturday, and their three most important offensive players are all underclassmen. The sky is the limit for this Catamount team if this program can establish consistency throughout this season.

No. 1 South Dakota State 20, No. 3 Montana State 16

How did South Dakota State win?

The Jackrabbits won Saturday night’s game in Brookings with some grit and championship mettle. The matchup gave us a fascinating back-and-forth between two of the absolute best teams in the nation. South Dakota State played tough on defense down the stretch, including holding Montana State to a field goal after the Bobcats blocked a punt and started a drive at the 2-yard line. The Jackrabbits also found their offensive rhythm in the second half, led by running backs Amar Johnson and Isaiah Davis running the ball more effectively with multiple explosive runs in the first two drives. Both drives led to touchdowns, which completely changed the momentum of the game after the Bobcats entered halftime with a 10-0 lead. Quarterback Mark Gronowski sealed the deal with some clutch throws down the stretch, including the 35-yard game-winner to Giffin Wilde. Wide receivers Grahm Goering and Griffin Wilde both made clutch plays for the Jackrabbits offense in the second half.

What’s next for Montana State?

Montana State hosts Stetson next week in Bozeman. The Bobcats played much better than many experts and fans expected in a rematch from last season in the semifinals. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for the first 3 quarters, while the defensive line looked much improved from a year ago. The same unit is back but they look stronger, led by defensive tackle Sebastian Valdez who controlled the interior of the line of scrimmage for the Bobcats. The questions that remain are about the passing game. The Bobcats only attempted seven passes before the final desperation drive, which saw more passing attempts than the entire first three-quarters of the game. The offense is missing some impact transfer receivers and quarterback Tommy Mellot missed much of the second half with an injury, but the Bobcats have to be more of a threat to throw the ball if this team wants to get to Frisco and challenge this South Dakota State team again.

What’s next for South Dakota State?

Next Saturday South Dakota State welcomes Drake to Brookings. This will be the final game before starting conference play against No. 14 North Dakota. The Jackrabbits should be excited after winning the biggest regular season game of the season. The offense should continue to improve as it finds its rhythm from week to week. The emergence of two more receiving threats in Goering and Wilde to add to the Janke twins could make the offense even more dangerous. South Dakota State did not get much production from any receivers outside of Jadon and Jaxon last season, so the offense may hit another dimension. The defensive line does not look as dominant as a season ago, but the secondary may be the absolute best in the country. We will have to wait and see if any team in the MVFC will be able to challenge South Dakota State’s quest for another national championship.

AUDIO: Week 2 FCS Football Recap

LATEST: FCS Top-25: Zach McKinnell’s Week 2 Ballot

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