- Both teams are closely grouped together in both national polls
- Hobart is ranked 7th and 9th in the AFCA and D3football.com polls
- Hopkins is rated 6th and 7th, respectively
- Both SR classes have nearly identical (40-4 & 41-4) career records
- Both teams have won their respective conference titles the last four seasons
- Both teams are making their fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs
- The Blue Jays had a close game with Wesley in the first round of the playoffs last season, just like Hobart did back in 2011
- Both teams have been to quarterfinals once before, Hopkins in 2009 and Hobart in 2012
- Both programs have been on the losing side of games to Saint John Fisher in the playoffs also
- Both Head Coaches Mike Cragg and Jim Margraff have led their teams for over 20 seasons
- Both offenses average over 30 PPG
- Both defenses allow only about 14 PPG
- The JHU OL has only allowed seven QB sacks in 11 games, Hobart has allowed eight
- The JHU D has sacked opposing QBs 31 times, Hobart has 36 sacks on the season
Both teams have also been criticized for their scheduling (or lack thereof) making this game a sort of “Rodney Dangerfield Bowl” as far as national perceptions and/or respect goes. Hopkins beat Randolph Macon (5-5) 42-3 in Week 1 before going into its nine game conference schedule. D3football.com insinuated both teams have “floated up” the rankings due to playing against weaker competition. The only like opponent the teams have had this season is Dickinson (3-7) which Hobart beat 33-21 in Week 1 and who the Blue Jays beat 42-7 in Week 7. I would not look to that game that much however given the final 14 points the Red Devils had against the Statesmen came with eight minutes remaining and with all the backups in the game. Hopkins defeated one of other playoff participant in Muhlenberg back in Wk 4, 42-26. The Mules (9-2) nearly upset MAC Champion Widener (11-0) until a last second 24 yard FG saved the Pride, 36-35.
From a historical perspective, Hobart and JHU haven’t played a football game against one another in nearly 50 years. The Statesmen went 2-0 against the Blue Jays, beating them 27-14 and 41-6, back in the 1965-66 seasons.
Scouting the Blue Jays:
#12 SR QB Braden Anderson – Anderson is the engine that drives the Blue Jays offense and is both a strong passer and mobile QB. He has thrown for 2,404 yards and 23 TDs with a very accurate 67.5% completion percentage (193 of 286). He has only been intercepted seven times in 11 games. On the ground Anderson leads Hopkins with nine rushing TDs and has carried 62 times for 405 yards (6.5 YPC average).
#88 SO WR Quinn Donaldson – Donaldson leads a corps of four WRs that spread the field on opposing defenses. He leads the team with eight receiving TDs and 749 receiving yards.
#1 SO WR Bradley Munday - The other top target for Anderson is Munday who leads the team with 74.1 receiving YPG and has a team high 56 receptions. His yardage totals are right behind Donaldson with 741 yards and six TDs.
#3 SO RB Stuart Walters & #20 JR RB Brandon Cherry – nearly identical number of carries for Walters (127 for 671 yards or 67.1 YPG and seven TDs) and Cherry (107 for 513 yards or 51.3 YPG and six TDs) means both are viable options in the run game, especially behind a big OL which includes #73 SR LT Kyle Flynn (6’ 3” 310), #57 JR LG Fernando Concepcion (5’11” 255), #71 SR C Martin Scheuring (6’2” 275), #64 JR RG Colin Egan (6’4” 300) and #75 RT Rowan Cade (6’9” 310).
#34 JR LB Keith Corliss – leads JHU with 76 total tackles.
#18 JR DB/SS Jack Toner – second on the team with 59 tackles and leads the Blue Jays defense with three interceptions and eight pass break ups. Probably plays like an OLB position similar to Hobart’s JR OLB Marcus Jemison.
#56 SR DL Michael Rocca – tall and athletic, Rocca is tough to move off the line of scrimmage. He has 42 tackles, including seven TFL and five sacks. His height (6’6”) has enabled Rocca to block four passes and one kick on the season.
#16 SR DL Michael Longo – leads the Blue Jays with 10 sacks and 13.5 TFL to go with 49 total tackles, third best on the team.
#85 FY PK Jamie Sullivan – attended Los Angeles prep powerhouse Oaks Christian (which was across the freeway from my old office) and has hit six of seven FGs, including two vs. Rowan last Saturday. His long is 39 yards, which also occurred in the first round playoff game. Sullivan also handles kickoffs and has averaged 55.9 per KO.
Keys to the Game:
1. Protect the Football – four turnovers plagued the Statesmen again digging them into a 12-0 halftime deficit, which could have been worse if the defense wasn’t so effective in forcing Ithaca (7-4) to settle for FGs instead of TDs in the red zone. The Statesmen have turned over the ball an incredible 13 times in the last 10 quarters of play. While they’ve made amends for these mistakes with timely plays and gritty comebacks, that only goes so far against Top 10 caliber competition like JHU. Hobart will need to piece together a full 60 minutes to beat a Blue Jays team that is in many ways a mirror image of Hobart both in statistics and overall talent.
2. Keep It Close (Early) and Get Points When You Can – JHU has outscored opponents 164-27 in the first quarter this season. Those big leads ballooned into Hopkins 38.7 PPG and has been protected by a stingy defense that has allowed only 14.5 PPG. Unlike the Statesmen, Hopkins really hasn’t played in a close game since Wk 2 vs. Susquehanna (2-8). Although it was 14-10 against Rowan at the half in Rd 1, JHU scored 10 points in the third quarter to take a 24-10 lead. Rowan’s final score came with under a minute to play, so the game wasn’t really as competitive as it may have appeared. The Blue Jays haven’t allowed more than 17 points in nine of their 11 games, so scoring for Hobart will be at a premium.
3. Pressure Anderson / Protect Conlan – Anderson has only been sacked seven times this season while JHU’s defense has racked up 31 sacks on opposing QBs. Keeping Conlan upright will mean the difference in his being able to make his reads, not telegraph and/or force the ball which is what got the Statesmen in hot water in the first half against Ithaca. Although I’d like to see more running plays (and it merits noting the Rowan's RB had 136 yards rushing against JHU), successfully moving the ball through the air will be important for Hobart. In Hopkins’ last two playoff losses, JHU gave up more passing yards than they completed. In similar fashion, both of Hobart’s two playoff losses since 2012 saw them complete 50% or lower and throw for under 154 yards in those games.
4. Bend Don’t Break – Both teams play similar defensive schemes but I’d give Hobart a slight edge on the DL / LB positions in both closing speed and athleticism. While our secondary is inexperienced and smaller in size, JHU’s WRs are not veterans nor very big / tall either. These WRs can get behind the defense if coverage is soft however (which we saw a few times last Saturday). Both Munday and Donaldson have had 60+ yard receptions and they average 13.2 and 16.6 YPC when open. The Statesmen will need a big play or two on defense or special teams to turn the tide in their favor, especially since the officiating at home doesn’t seem to help them at all. Also either Blue Jay OL/OTs Coleman lines up against will be taller and 50-60 lbs heavier, so blitzing and interior DL play will be crucial. The forecast for this weekend doesn’t look too bad actually (high of 40 and partly cloudy), and it is a good haul for Hopkins to get to Geneva from Baltimore.
I think a close game is in store with Hobart hanging on (or coming back yet again) to win it 21-17. I initially predicted 27-24 on ITH last Sunday but given both teams are so strong defensively I am backing down a bit, points scored-wise, so to speak.
Ultimately, I think it’ll come down to who controls the line of scrimmage and can take advantage of match ups in the passing game if/when the pass rush doesn’t force Conlan or Anderson into trouble.
While I expect Hobart to be viewed as the underdog, even as the higher seed and host, I’m hopeful they’ll make enough plays to beat the Blue Jays and earn an Elite 8 game with (most likely) top-seed Wesley College (11-0).
Thanks for reading and go ‘Bart!