FCS Playoff First Round: Southern Illinois at Weber State
By CRAIG HALEY
FCS Playoff First Round
Southern Illinois (5-3, 3-3 Missouri Valley) at Weber State (5-0 Big Sky)
Site: Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah
Kickoff - 4 p.m. ET Saturday
TV Coverage - ESPN3
Series - First meeting
Coaches - Southern Illinois: Nick Hill (22-31, fifth season); Weber State: Jay Hill (52-30, seventh season)
3 Players to Watch - Southern Illinois: RB Javon Williams Jr. (112 carries, 507 yards, 7 TDs; 3 TD passes), WR Avante Cox (55 receptions, 660 yards, 4 TDs), CB Qua Brown (31 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 pass breakups); Weber State: RB Josh Davis (66 carries, 386 yards, 1 TD), LB Connor Mortensen (44 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 pass breakups), DE George Tarlas (21 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
The Skinny - Weber State is seeking to build on its three deepest runs in the FCS playoffs (quarterfinals in 2017 and '18, and semifinals in 2019). While the Wildcats have too often inched by with victories this spring - the last four by five or fewer points - they've won 11 straight home games (the school record) and 20 or 21. Freshman quarterback Bronson Barron has thrown for six TDs without an interception in four games, but the Wildcats first think run (205.4 ypg) with Davis and Dontae McMillan (308 yards, 5 TDs). Still, Southern Illinois will have to account for wide receiver/returner Rashid Shaheed, who has 3,924 all-purpose yards and 21 TDs in his career. The visiting Salukis, who are 4-1 against ranked opponents - including their 38-14 blowout of North Dakota State to end the Bison's FCS-record 39-game winning streak - are coming off a school-record 807 yards of total offense in a 55-48 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, which vaulted them to their first playoff bid since 2009. They've gone through three quarterbacks because of injuries, and are back to Stone Labanowitz, who's completed over 78 percent of his passes (64 of 82). They rank fourth in FCS in third-down conversion percentage (52.7). Senior defensive end Anthony Knighton has 38.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks in his career.
Up Next - The winner will play either Holy Cross or No. 1 seed South Dakota State in the second round on May 1 or 2.
Prediction - Southern Illinois 30, Weber State 28
Updated April 22, 2021