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James Madison vs. Sam Houston State Odds & Pick For Saturday’s FCS Playoffs Semifinal

James Madison vs. Sam Houston State Odds & Pick For Saturday’s FCS Playoffs Semifinal article feature image

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Solomon Vanhorse.

  • The FCS Playoffs roll on Saturday afternoon as the Sam Houston State Bearkats take on the James Madison Dukes in the second of two semifinal games.
  • The Dukes are the only team other than North Dakota State to win a national title in the past five years, but the Bearkats want to play spoiler in what should be a tightly contested game.
  • Check out our college football analyst Darin Gardner's full betting breakdown complete with odds and a pick based on his analysis below.

Sam Houston State vs. James Madison Odds

Sam Houston State Odds-0.5 (-108)
James Madison Odds+0.5 (-112)
Moneyline-108 / -111
Over/Under46.5 (-114 / -106)
TimeSaturday, 2:30 p.m. ET
Odds as of Friday afternoon and via FanDuel.

Two of the top three seeds will face off for a chance to go to the FCS Championship when No. 2 Sam Houston State takes on No. 3 James Madison on Saturday.

Sam Houston picked up a narrow victory over Monmouth in Round 1 and took down the FCS giant that is North Dakota State last week. For just the second time since 2011, we’ll get a national champion that isn’t NDSU.

The Bearkats’ upcoming opponent is the only team outside of the Bison to win a championship in that window, and it’ll be looking to add another one this year. James Madison has won rather comfortably in its two playoff games thus far, toppling VMI and North Dakota.

In the regular season, each team was beating their opponents by an average of over three touchdowns. Sam Houston State’s offense has stalled to some degree in the playoffs after dominating in the regular season, and the same can be said for James Madison’s defense.

It will be interesting to see which unit gets the job done on Saturday.

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Sam Houston State Bearkats

In the regular season, Sam Houston’s offense was deadly.

It averaged nearly 45 points per game behind an offense that ranked first in yards per play. There were studs all over the offense, starting with quarterback Eric Schmid, who finished fourth in yards per attempt and was named the Southland Conference’s Player of the Year.

Schmid has two major weapons at his disposal on offense with receiver Jequez Ezzard and running back Ramon Jefferson. Ezzard is one of the most explosive players in the country, averaging nearly 27 yards per catch. That’s by far the top mark in the country among players with at least 20 receptions. He also averages over 80 receiving yards per game to go along with six receiving touchdowns in eight games while ranking fourth in the nation in yards per punt return.

The Bearkats also have a running back in Jefferson who ranks ninth in the country in yards per carry. James Madison is going to have its hands full with those two.

Although the offense was a machine in the regular season, its performance in the playoffs has been concerning. It’s scored only 45 total points in its two games, which is disappointing considering it averaged double that in the regular season.

The Bearkats really struggled to get anything going on the ground last week against North Dakota State, managing only 2.9 yards per carry. While they did get it done through the air, the poor performance on the ground resulted in just 4.7 yards per play.

The defense, however, has been lights out in the playoffs.

It allowed only 3.8 yards per play to North Dakota State last week and held Monmouth to 4.3 the week before. It also limited Monmouth’s top-10 rushing attack to just 2.2 yards per carry. That’s no different than what Sam Houston did in the regular season either.

Sam Houston fielded a defense that ranked sixth in Points Per Play and 10th in Touchdown Rate in the regular season. The front was dominant, with a top-five ranking in yards per carry allowed and Sack Rate.

Defensive lineman Jahari Kay led the nation in forced fumbles and was fourth in tackles for loss. Fellow defensive lineman Markel Perry ranked just behind him in TFLs at fifth in the country, and linebacker Trevor Williams ranked 11th in tackles for loss.

This defense can give up some plays through the air, though. Although NDSU threw only 18 passes in the game last week, it averaged nearly 13 yards per pass on those attempts. Monmouth also exploited the Bearkats through the air, posting 10.2 yards per pass on 46 attempts. In the regular season, the defense ranked only 44th in yards per attempt allowed.

JMU likes to run the ball, but its path to victory here might be through the air.

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James Madison Dukes

At this point, James Madison’s 65 total points scored in the playoffs are the highest among any team remaining.

It hasn’t thrown the ball a lot in those games, but the efficiency numbers through the air have been incredible. Quarterback Cole Johnson averaged 17.9 yards per attempt against VMI and followed that up with 18.5 yards per attempt against North Dakota.

James Madison’s offense was very good throughout the regular season, so its performances in the playoffs shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. It came into the playoffs with a top-15 ranking in Touchdown Rate, yards per play, and points per game. The Dukes ranked 89th in pass rate, which was probably a result of playing in so many blowouts.

When they did throw the ball, it usually worked out. Johnson led the nation in yards per attempt this year. However, they had no problems leaning on a running game that ranked 11th in yards per carry.

No matter where you look, the offense has gotten it done all year long.

The one cause for concern is the ranking of 54th in Havoc rate allowed. Sam Houston’s front seven has shown it’s more than capable of creating negative plays, which could be a key factor in this matchup.

I noted how Sam Houston’s offense has disappointed after dominating throughout the regular season, and the James Madison defense is having the same experience.

Coming into the playoffs, this defense ranked second in all of the following categories: points per game, yards per play, Touchdown Rate, and First Down Rate. It ranked top-four in yards per pass attempt and yards per carry as well, along with a mark of seventh in Havoc rate.

With how the last two games have gone, those numbers may have said more about JMU’s opponents than the defense itself.

Where James Madison has particularly struggled on defense in these playoffs is in the secondary, which is not what you want to hear against this Sam Houston passing game.

JMU’s last opponent, North Dakota, had the worst passing offense out of all the teams in the playoffs. It ranked 58th at only 6.52 yards per attempt coming in but more than doubled that against James Madison with 13.3 yards per pass. It even averaged 6.4 yards per play on James Madison, which was higher than North Dakota’s season average. The week before, the Dukes allowed a mediocre VMI passing offense to throw for 9.5 per attempt on 50 passes.

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Betting Analysis & Pick

I think both offenses will find a good deal of success throughout the air in this one.

Sam Houston has struggled on the ground through the playoffs, but the passing game has been able to pick up the slack to compensate. It’s also facing a James Madison defense that has shown leaks in the secondary over the past two games.

On the other side, JMU leans on the run, but it’s going to need to go to the air for a victory here. Sam Houston has been utterly dominant when it comes to run defense, but it can be exploited through the air.

With how each defense stacks up, both offenses should be enticed to throw the ball. These are two of the best passing offenses in the country, and each secondary has shown that it can be exploited.

There are still 46s out there at the time of writing, and I think there’s value on the over if you can find it at 46 or 46.5.

Pick: Over 46 (Play to 46.5).

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