January 03, 2017

(STATS) - The way James Madison football coach Mike Houston describes his team's offense, it is evident the Dukes feature a little bit of everything.

"We are a spread offense that has a very physical, downhill run game," he said, "and a potent vertical and horizontal pass game."

How well Youngstown State can defend one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS or keep pace points-wise is one of the bigger factors for Saturday's NCAA Division I FCS Championship Game in Frisco, Texas (noon ET, ESPN2).

One of the more important answers for the Dukes' season occurred last winter after Houston was hired away from The Citadel. Despite having a background of running an option offense, he adjusted to his new team's skill set and kept its spread system in place, with the goal of making the Dukes more physical and dominant alongside offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick.

"They can hurt you in a number of different ways," Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini said.

James Madison (13-1), the CAA Football champion and No. 4 seed in the playoffs, ranks second to Sam Houston State in the FCS with a 48-point average. The Dukes have scored 55 or more points six times, including twice in the playoffs.

Perhaps equally as impressive was their 27-17 semifinal-round win at North Dakota State as their point total was the second-highest against the FCS dynasty this season. They pulled the upset with a strong mix of the run and pass - a microcosm of how they've kept defenses off-balance.

The Dukes rank fourth in the FCS in rushing yards per game (284.6) and third overall in yards per game (525.6).

"Well, I think we've got to do a great job as a coaching staff of making sure that we try to put them in situations to give us an advantage," Houston said. "And I think that with our offensive line, tight ends and our receivers, we've got to do a great job of matching Youngstown State's physicality in trying to play with great pad level and great technique, limit our mistakes and really try to sustain blocks to give our backs and quarterback and everybody else a chance to make plays with their feet and be who they are. So I think we are going to have to be really, really good at doing what we do."

That's go right through a defense - north-south style with size and power. Their offense boasts the triple threat of All-CAA first-team selections in quarterback Bryan Schor, running back Khalid Abdullah and wide receiver Brandon Ravenel. Schor, the conference's offensive player of the year, will extend plays with his legs and is the nation's most accurate passer at 73.7 percent.

"It's a guy that can do a lot of different things: he can run the ball, he can throw the ball," Houston said. "He's going to get everybody lined up and he's going to put the ball where it needs to go and he's not going to put the ball in jeopardy. So really, he's the perfect guy for this offense."

Matching up against JMU is a Youngstown State unit that ranks ninth in the FCS in scoring defense (19.4 ypg) and 19th in total defense (324.4 ypg). The Penguins (12-3), whose base is a 4-3 alignment, feature a pair of All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team defensive ends in Derek Rivers and Avery Moss. Rivers in the Penguins' all-time sacks leader, and Moss played under Pelini at Nebraska before he followed the coach to Youngstown State.

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