Date: Saturday, December 9th
Time: 10:00 PM (ET)
The Quick Hits
Albany (10-3) is currently in the midst of arguably the best season in school history and are appearing in their first quarterfinals. The Great Danes have a dynamic offense paired with a stout defense and it's gotten them far. The CAA co-champions took down Richmond in resounding fashion last weekend and now hit the road to try their hand at one of the FCS' big boys in Idaho.
The Vandals (9-3) come in with confidence and perhaps a little luck on their side. After escaping a pesky Southern Illinois squad in overtime last weekend, Idaho gets another night game in front of its fans for a chance to play in the semis. Like their counterparts from the east, the Vandals got here on the back of a potent offense. A firework show feels like it's brewing in Moscow.
Greg Gattuso gives the calls from the Albany sideline and he's done so for nine seasons. Gattuso has won 49 games as the Great Danes head man and has led the program to two of its three postseason appearances. He has one conference title since joining the Division I coaching ranks but has eight at the DII level when he coached Duquesne from 1993 to 2004. Gattuso has guided Albany to two nine-win seasons.
On the other side is second-year Idaho man Jason Eck. Eck has done a wonderful job turning the Vandals back into a contender during his short stint. Compiling an overall record of 16-8 since taking over, he has led the Vandals to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. Eck has yet to win a Big Sky title but has only lost four league games in that two-year span which is no easy feat.
Albany Offense vs. Idaho Defense
Albany has found something special in sophomore signal-caller Reese Poffenbarger. Poffenbarger has thrown for over 3,000 yards this year and has a whopping 33 touchdowns to lead a Great Danes offense that is putting up 30.5 points and 235.5 passing yards per game this year. He has also rushed for 150 yards and five more scores. The kid knows how to make plays in both facets of the offense and if he isn’t contained he can be deadly.
When Poffenbarger throws he will likely look to either Brevin Easton or Julian Hicks. The receiver duo has put up big time numbers this year with Easton leading the team with 827 yards. Hicks has a team-best 11 touchdowns but both are going for well over 17 yards per reception. Both Easton and Hicks possess breakaway ability and can take it the distance whenever the ball is in their hands.
This is where Vandals DB Marcus Harris will come into play. Harris will have the difficult job of thwarting Poffenbarger and his big arm. The junior has three picks this year and nine defended throws. With him will be fellow DB Ormanie Arnold. As a redshirt freshman this season Ormanie has appeared in 10 games for Idaho and picked off opposing passers twice.
Freshman linebacker Xe’ree Alexander will shore up the middle. Alexander leads the squad with 70 tackles and has forced two fumbles this year. His big task will be slowing down Albany’s freshman running back stud Griffin Woodell. Woodell has 790 yards and seven touchdowns on 156 carries this season.
Idaho Offense vs Albany Defense
As is the case with Albany, Idaho too has an electric sophomore leading the charge on offense in QB Gevani McCoy. McCoy won last year’s Jerry Rice Award (finishing just ahead of Poffenbarger in the voting) and has put together another impressive season in Moscow. The sophomore has thrown for 2,593 yards and 14 touchdowns. McCoy’s real asset, though, comes in his ability to keep plays alive. He uses his legs to allow his receivers more time and it usually pays off.
Speaking of receivers, McCoy’s best one is senior Hayden Hatten. Hatten has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this year and has nine touchdowns. He averages over 91 yards per game this year. The McCoy-Hatten connection has been lethal for the Vandals for two years running now and Albany will need to have an answer for it.
Junior DB Amir Hall will need to have a big game. Hall leads the Great Danes with five interceptions and has 13 defended passes, tying him for fourth among FCS defenders in that category this season. He will play a major role on the back end and, if Hatten has a quiet night, look for #1 to be a big reason why.
On the ground Idaho will look to Anthony Woods to be the workhorse. Woods has run for 15 scores this season and hit 1,000 yards on the year during the win last week. He has five 100-yard showings this season and averages 5.5 yards per carry.
Woods’ ability to find space against the Great Danes tacklers will be a good matchup to keep an eye on. Albany has one of the best linebackers in the country in senior Dylan Kelly. Kelly, who has been announced as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, has a staggering 142 stops this year and 84 of them have been solo.
The Special Teams
Ricardo Chaves will handle kicks for the Vandals. He played the hero last week with a 27-yard field goal in overtime, his 16th made one of the season. Chavez is 16-of-18 on the year and has three makes from 50-yards or longer. He is also 38-of-39 on his extra points. Chavez also does punts of which he averages 48.1 yards per boot.
As far as returns go, Idaho will lean on the dangerous Jermaine Jackson for both punts and kickoffs. Jackson has taken two punts back for touchdowns this year and is also putting up nearly 25 yards per kick runback. Albany’s coverage team will need to be tight against Jackson or he can make them pay in a blink.
The Great Danes will have John Opalko for field goals and PATs. Opalko has missed four field goal tries this season (12-of-16) and has a season long of 46 yards. He has connected on 48 of his 50 extra point attempts, however it should be noted that his two misses have come in each of Albany’s last two games. Tyler Pastula will punt for the Great Danes. The senior has 2,195 total punt yards this year and has pinned his opposition inside the 20-yard line 15 times.
Levi Wentz is on return duty for both kickoffs and punts. Wentz does not have a touchdown yet this year but has taken back 11 kicks for 287 yards and six punts for 45 yards.
This will be a tightly contested battle wire to wire. Albany's offense is no joke and has the firepower to stay with the Vandals. Poffenbarger and McCoy will go toe to toe as will the two defenses in the run game. Last week Idaho had the late game fortunes swing in their favor during the late stages of the game via missed field goal by SIU. This time, though, no such fortunes will fall their way. In the stunner of the weekend, the Great Danes will connect on a field goal in the final minutes to steal a victory in the Kibbie Dome.
Score Prediction: Idaho: 27 - Albany: 28