South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

FCS National Championship: Keys to the game

Evan Patzwald
Running back Isaiah Davis celebrates after scoring a touchdown in their win against UAlbany in the Semifinals.


The No. 1 South Dakota State Jackrabbits and the No. 2 Montana Grizzlies are set to take the field for the 2023 FCS National Championship.

This matchup is the first time in years that these teams have met on the gridiron and the first time meeting on the biggest stage in the FCS. Here are the Keys for the game.


Hold the run: There isn’t a defense in the FCS that doesn’t know the name Isaiah Davis. He is a key factor in this dominant South Dakota State offense. This season, SDSU has the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the FCS, rushing for 3,227 yards, 36 touchdowns and averaging over six yards per carry. However, Davis isn’t the only threat when the ball is in South Dakota State’s hands. Both Amar Johnson and quarterback Mark Gronowski have proven to be lethal ball carriers this season. Johnson has rushed for 751 yards and four scores this season while Gronowski has racked up seven touchdowns and 349 yards on the ground. Holding the Jacks to minimum yards from rushing is crucial for the Grizzlies.

Pressure the pass: Gronowski has been the most efficient quarterback in the nation this season with a 182.72 efficiency rating, which doesn’t pair well with the Grizz allowing the 58th least passing yards per game. Applying defensive pressure on passes has the chance to make Gronowski uncomfortable and force bad throws. Gronowski’s 68.53% completion percentage has been lethal this season but Montana has to be careful when forcing him out of the pocket. The Illinois native has shown he is just as dangerous on the ground as he is in the air.

Win on 3rd down: South Dakota State is the best third-down team in the FCS with a 54.8% conversion percentage (the highest in the FCS). Though high, the Grizz defense has also proven to be effective on third down, allowing the chains to move on 28.8% of 3rd downs. It is a must for the 17th-ranked defense to hold the Jackrabbits to fourth down. But similar to third down, South Dakota State has the highest conversion rate on 4th down as well (81.8%). The Grizz have allowed 17 fourth-down conversions but have held up against 24.


South Dakota State:

Feed Davis: As mentioned above, South Dakota State’s rushing attack makes the Jackrabbits one of the most dominant in the FCS (sixth in the nation in total offense). SDSU has averaged 230.5 yards each game this season with Davis averaging over 100 yards per game. But the Joplin, Mo native isn’t the sole reason for his success finding his footing on the ground. Lineman Mason McCormick, Garret Greenfield and the 2023 Remington Award winner Gus Miller are also to credit for his success. Their ability to create gaps within the defensive line for Davis has proved the rushing attack will be a pivotal play in this championship.

Boot away from Bergen: Tucker Large isn’t the only dangerous return man in Frisco, Texas this week with Montana’s Junior Bergen back for returns. This specialist threat has found himself in the endzone on returns four times this season with three of those coming off of punts. His elusiveness and ability to read blocks will make him a dangerous target for Hunter Dustman to punt and kick to. Bergen averages 15.67 yards per punt return and 28.85 yards per kick return with his longest coming off a 99-yard kickoff touchdown against Furman in the FCS quarterfinals.

Keep the defense balanced: Similar to South Dakota State, Montana is not one-sided on offense. They have shown their ability to both run and pass the ball and have done it well enough to not only take the No. 2 seed but make the National Championship as well. Draws and play-action passes will be utilized heavily from Montana and this dominant South Dakota defense cannot fall for it. Montana has similar stats in passing (196.79 yards per game) and rushing (186.1 yards per game) which shows how spread out their offense is and could pose a challenge to South Dakota State.

The FCS National Championship is at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas with a kickoff slated for 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 7. It can also be televised on ABC and streamed on ESPN+.

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About the Contributors
Marshall Minihan, Sports Editor
Sports Editor Marshall Minihan is a junior at South Dakota State University and is from Canton, South Dakota. He majors in journalism and minors in communication studies and recreation administration.
Evan Patzwald
Evan Patzwald, Design Editor
Design Editor Evan Patzwald is a senior advertising major from Sioux Falls. He has minors in journalism, graphic design and social media.

Comments (2)

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  • V

    Veronica FritzJan 5, 2024 at 4:23 pm

    Great article Marshall!

  • J

    Jonathan ThieJan 5, 2024 at 3:46 pm

    Did Jaxon Janke tear his acl against Albany?