Around the Nation - Week Four Preview

September 22nd, 2022 8:00am

Around the Nation - Week Four Preview

With one quarter of the season now in the books, nearly every conference will be diving into league play this weekend. We have a handful of exciting matchups, headlined by what should be the biggest game of the year in PSAC East division and a huge GAC clash in Arkansas. Other highlights include a Friday night lights meeting between Northeast 10 leaders New Haven and Bentley and the first true tests for some Gulf South Conference foes.

If you missed the recap of week three, here are a couple of resources get caught up.

Week Three National Roundup

Inside D2 Football

  • Interview with Nebraska-Kearney QB TJ Davis (4:00)
  • Top 25 results (18:20)
  • Interview with Harding coach Paul Simmons  (37:10)
  • Week four picks (1:15:00)

Here are my top picks from the week four schedule. All times referenced are in eastern time zone. 

New Haven (2-1) at Bentley (2-1)  Friday, 7pm

Watch: NE10now digital streaming service

The D2 Weekend kicks off early with a Friday night tilt in Waltham, Massachusetts. These two were the class of the Northeast 10 a year ago, meeting in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. New Haven won both of those contests. We’re only three games in, but I’ve been a little underwhelmed by New Haven so far. I thought they had potential to be a Top 15 team but they didn’t have enough offense at Bowie State and struggled with Southern Connecticut. They pulled away from American International last week, but it took a special teams TD to create that separation. I’m still going with New Haven for the win, but they will have to play their best game to date. Bentley has a physical defensive front and that style of play doomed the Chargers at Bowie State. I’m picking the Chargers but this one should be closer than both of last year’s meetings which New Haven won by 17 and 25 points, respectively.

#5 Shepherd (3-0) at Kutztown (2-1) 12:00

Watch: Golden Bear Sports Network or the PSAC Digital Sports Network app.

I said in last week’s column that picking against Shepherd at home is bad business. That part of my breakdown was correct. The Rams trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter but rallied to beat California in overtime. At this point, drama and late heroics are just the norm for this Shepherd program. The opponent they faced in that game was the same California team that Kutztown rallied to beat the week before, also in dramatic fashion. So, what can we expect this week? Shepherd struggled in the middle stages of the game against Cal due to the Vulcans’ ability to contain the pocket and bring pressure from the middle. Kutztown’s defense is capable of replicating that and the Rams will have to account for KU linebacker Amani Justice on every play. Shepherd will get their points but it will be as hard as it was last week. The question to me is can the Kutztown offense do enough to win against a good Shepherd defense? The Bears’ offense is sluggish, but opportunistic. The unit averages under 300 yards per game, but scored 50 points to beat Mercyhurst last week because the defense and special teams set up short fields. The Bears did have a few sustained drives but four of six touchdown drives covered less than 35 yards. Shepherd will make things harder. The key to the game is field position. If Shepherd can make Kutztown drive the field to earn their points, I don't think they'll be able to put enough scoring drives together. I think Shepherd wins, but it will be a great matchup and likely will come down to the final play.

Concord (3-0) at Frostburg State (3-0) 1:00

Watch: MECTV

Only one team will be left undefeated in the Mountain East Conference after Saturday’s meeting of 3-0 Concord and 3-0 Frostburg State. The quarterback position will have a major influence in this game. Frostburg State may be without starter Graham Walker who left last week’s win over Charleston with a lower leg injury. Isaiah Lester played brilliantly off the bench, passing for 235 yards and 3 TD. But preparing in the QB1 role if called upon can be an entirely different situation. Look for Frostburg to rely on the running back duo of Sean Aaron and Josh Maxwell. Both rushed for more than 100 yards last week. Concord will have veteran starter Jack Mangle under center, a 64% passer with seven TDs to just one INT so far.  He’ll be looking for Jarod Bowie who’s average catch covers 18 yards. This has potential to be an offensive football game, but I like Frostburg’s defense to make the difference. The Bobcats play an attacking style of defense and give up just 14 points per game. Watch for redshirt freshman safety Wylan Harich who has four of the team’s six interceptions. I like the Bobcats to be last unbeaten in the MEC.

CSU-Pueblo (1-2) at #14 Colorado Mines (1-2) 2:00

Watch: RMAC Netwwork

On paper, a pairing of 1-2 teams may not be that inspiring. But this game could not possibly be more important to both teams. This is a pair of two-loss teams that have expectations of winning the RMAC and making it to the playoffs. The loser of this game is probably going to be eliminated from both races. Pueblo is in an especially precarious position as one of their losses is in-conference. While not impossible, its unlikely that they can remain a factor in the RMAC championship standings with a second loss.

Mines did exactly what was expected last week. They played like they were on a mission. The competition will be much different this week, but I expect the same intensity and focus from Mines. The offense that Pueblo displayed in the opener at Midwestern State was not the same in weeks two and three. The Thunderwolves scored just 10 points in each of those losses. The way to attack Mines seems to be with downfield speed (which Grand Valley displayed) or a patient and punishing run game (which Angelo State deployed). If Pueblo can regain the passing form we saw in the opener, they’ll have a chance. They have to get receiver Andrew Cook involved. He was a huge factor in the win at Midwestern State, but was fairly anonymous the last two weeks.  My other concern for Pueblo is the defense has been a little off-form allowing strong rushing performances from both Grand Valley and Western Colorado. All things considered, Mines is the more complete team right now. 

Minnesota Duluth (2-1) at Sioux Falls (3-0) 2:00

Watch:  NSIC Network

Sioux Falls hasn’t cracked the Top 25 yet, but this could be the week it happens. The Cougars haven’t been tested in the eyes of poll voters as their three opponents have a combined one victory. A slightly more battle tested Minnesota-Duluth team comes to town this weekend. I like the Cougars to win this one because I don’t believe Duluth has enough offense. The rushing attack has been solid but they’ve yet to show a passing threat and I think the Cougars can take advantage of that. It may be low-scoring as USF has not faced a defense as good as Duluth’s but I think USF will get it done. A win for the Coo could potentially set up a battle of 4-0 teams in the Key to City game next week against cross-town rival Augustana.

#8 West Georgia (2-0) at West Alabama (2-1) 3:00

Watch: Available on FloSports (subscription required)

This will be the first real test of the season for a West Georgia team currently ranked in the Top 10. The Wolves opened the season with lopsided wins over Carson-Newman and Morehouse before an idle Saturday in week three. West Alabama has faced three SIAC teams so far, winning two and falling at home to Tuskegee 13-10 last weekend. There is a common opponent with both teams having faced and defeated Morehouse. Every game is difficult in the GSC but I think West Georgia wins this by 10. Tuskegee completely shut down the Tigers’ rushing attack and forced them into uncomfortable passing situations. The West Georgia defense has not been tested yet, but I expect them to force West Alabama to throw to win. The West Alabama defense will have to keep this low scoring. They’re capable of that, but West Georgia has the offense to win this game.

Delta State (3-0) at #6 West Florida (2-0) 7:00

Watch: Available on FloSports (subscription required)

West Florida’s first on-campus conference game will happen Saturday night and it should be a good one. Unbeaten Delta State comes to town. The 3-0 Statesmen are enjoying the best start to a season since 2017 when they won the first five games. Delta State has yet to play at home this year and Saturday will be their fourth consecutive road game. It is difficult to get a read on this game. West Florida has faced two opponents that are not a match for their talent level and won both in the expected fashion. The same is mostly true for Delta State. I can’t discount beating a Division I opponent (Mississippi Valley State) but I also can’t say that it surprised me. What I am looking forward to most in this game is how West Florida’s offense responds to adversity. The unit has moved the ball well with new starting QB PeeWee Jarrett, but they have not faced anything close to a do or die situation. They’ve only faced third down thirteen times in two games. They may equal that number on Saturday night. For that matter, we haven’t seen the West Florida defense backed into a corner. Despite those unknowns, I think the Argos are right where they need to be right now. It should be very competitive but I think the Argos send Delta State home with their first loss.

#22 West Texas A&M (2-1) at  #4 Angelo State (3-0)  7:00

Watch: LSC Digital Network (PPV or subscription required)

West Texas A&M surprised me last week, falling to Texas A&M-Kingsville at home. The Buffaloes never led in that game. They couldn’t run the ball effectively and turned the ball over six times. Five of those turnovers were on their own side of the field and directly contributed to Kingsville’s first ten points of the game. It doesn’t take an expert to know you can’t beat good teams when you make that many mistakes. Now they’re hitting the road to face a team that is very good at forcing opponents into mistakes. Angelo State is a team with a good combination of speed, finesse, and old-school physicality. They beat Colorado Mines on the road by outlasting them. That’s not easy to do. They will have to minimize mistakes though. Angelo lost at West Texas last year despite outgaining the Buffs in total offense by 140 yards. The reason? 14 penalties. If they don’t allow that to happen again, I think they’ll beat the Buffs by patiently going at them with the thunder and lightning rushing duo of Nate Omayebu and Alfred Greer.

Game of the Week

#7 Harding (3-0) at #9 Ouachita Baptist (3-0) 8:00

Watch: Ouachita Sports Digital Network

The game of the week will be in Arkadelphia, Arkansas as Harding makes the trip south from Searcy for what will probably be the game of the year in GAC. The top two rushing offenses in the nation will be on display. Ouachita leads all 164 Division II teams, averaging 358 yards per game and Harding is right behind with 351 yards per game. There are no secrets about what either team wants to do. Ideally, Harding will have fewer than six pass attempts and execute the flex bone offense with a cast of characters carrying the ball. Will Fitzhugh has taken over the bruising inside runner role that Cole Chancy was known for and Jhalen Spicer adds the speed and explosiveness. Spicer may need play a bigger part this week. When these teams last meant, Ouachita held up well against the power rush but the speedy back Omar Sinclair (who will not be in action this week) rushed for 182 yards. With  Spicer taking on that piece of the offense this year, look for him to be a big part of the game plan. Ouachita will counter with their own duo of TJ Cole and Kendel Givens. The Tigers will also add a little more balance with a passing game that is giving them 186 yards per game.

The defenses are similarly matched as well but this a game where stats don’t tell you much. How either team defends the pass won’t mean as much in this game as it does when they play Henderson State or Oklahoma Baptist. The game between these two is almost its own season. They know how to play each other and I it will come down to which defense executes better. I’m having a hard time distinguishing which team I think is better, but I really like what I’ve seen from Ouachita and believe the Tigers win at home.

Off the grid game

Adams State (0-3) at Fort Lewis (0-2)

Each week I attempt to shine a spotlight on a game that may not impact national rankings or playoff positioning, but has some element of intrigue. This game won't impact anything but will be a very big deal to the players involved. Adams State has just one victory in its last 20 games dating back to 2020. That win was over Fort Lewis. The game was held November 6, 2021 and was the only win in last year’s 1-10 campaign. While that sounds bad, The Grizzlies were considerably more competitive from week to week than Fort Lewis. The Skyhawks endured a brutal season, losing every game and finishing among the nations’ worst in scoring offense and scoring defense. I think Adams will have a few shots at victory this season. They have a lot of transfer talent and on any given day, if it all comes together, they have the potential to pull upsets. Through two games Fort Lewis has looked more competitive this year but this will be their best opportunity for a win.  I would love to see the Skyhawks end a losing streak that now stands at 20 games, but Adams State is the more talented roster and should win this one.

Questions, suggestion, comments, complaints? Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter @D2Chuck.

Also remember to catch Inside D2 Football Sunday night at 8pm, eastern.