Ravens

NDSU, Sam Houston coaches ready for FCS rematch

NDSU, Sam Houston coaches ready for FCS rematch

FARGO, N.D. (AP) Hang on before you chalk up the Football Championship Subdivision title game as a rematch.

The coaches at North Dakota State and Sam Houston State said Thursday their teams are not carbon copies from a year ago.

``It's two new teams that are playing each other this season,'' Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. ``A lot of the offense and defense and kicking game principles are the same, but there are a lot of differences that I can tell from watching the tape.''

The most obvious changes were made with assistant coaches, where NDSU needed to replace its defensive coordinator and the Bearkats brought in practically a new offensive staff. Both units are even better than a year ago.

The Bison, who won last year's game 17-6, will put their top-rated defense against Sam Houston State's No. 2 scoring offense in the Jan. 5 game in Frisco, Texas.

``They are very talented. They've got very good players,'' Fritz said. ``They're quick and fast. They play with great leverage. It's really tough to outflank them.''

Fritz has succeeded in improving his team's passing game, which worked as a surprise element last year, but struggled in obvious throwing situations. The result is a more balanced offense and a quarterback, Brian Bell, who ranks 11th in FCS in passing efficiency.

``It was a little bit bumpy at the beginning of the year like it always is when you implement something new,'' Fritz said. ``But we really took off about week four or five.''

Bison coach Craig Bohl said preparing for Sam Houston State's offense is more difficult this time around.

``They have a different play caller and their quarterback is throwing the ball significantly better,'' Bohl said. ``They've got a lot more threats. That's really going to stress our defense.''

NDSU's defense features an All-American cornerback in Marcus Williams, but is spearheaded by linebackers Grant Olson and Travis Beck. Olson had a school-record 29 tackles in a playoff win over Wofford. Beck came back the next week to make 15 tackles against Georgia Southern.

``We've got to get bodies on bodies,'' Fritz said, referring to his team's blocking.

Last year's game was a defensive struggle that saw NDSU escape with a 235-210 edge in total offense. The Bison broke the game open with their first fake punt of the year to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Fritz, asked about the fake punt, said it was an excellent call and the play was executed well. Then he added, ``Shoot, I was trying to forget that.''

Bohl has been known to pull off the occasional trick play in his tenure with NDSU. The key touchdown in this year's playoff win over South Dakota State was an end around that worked when 5-foot-7 wide receiver Ryan Smith basically hid behind his linemen.

``Having good players execute it is the most important thing. In every ballgame you always look at things to try and find an edge,'' Bohl said. ``Certainly last year that (fake punt) proved to be a good play in the game.''

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Hayden Hurst receives a Madden speed rating bump after hitting 20mph in Week 14

Hayden Hurst receives a Madden speed rating bump after hitting 20mph in Week 14

Hayden Hurst wasn’t known as a speedster coming out of college. As an older-than-usual tight end, high-level speed wasn’t one of his bigger selling points as a prospect.

Don’t tell that to him, though.

On a 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Bills in Week 14, Hurst reached a top speed of 20.5 mph, according to Next Gen Stats. That number is the highest reached by any Ravens offensive player this season.

That’s right. It’s not a typo. Faster than Lamar Jackson. Faster than Marquise Brown. 

So, of course, Hurst had to notify Madden, in case they felt the need to make any adjustments to his rating.

They did.

Hurst moved from a 83 speed rating to an 85. He’s still just 16th at his position, and behind many of his teammates. Jackson and Brown are in the mid-90s, and even fellow tight end Mark Andrews is still ahead of Hurst with an 86.

It’s nice to see Madden is willing to make changes when it’s deserved. Maybe a few more 60-yard touchdown receptions will help bump Hurst up to Andrews’ level.

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2019 NFL Playoff Picture: Who to root for in Week 15 if you are a Baltimore Ravens fan

2019 NFL Playoff Picture: Who to root for in Week 15 if you are a Baltimore Ravens fan

Beating the New York Jets in Week 15 put the Ravens in a favorable position for the final stretch of the NFL season. All the Baltimore Ravens need to do is win one of their final two games (at Browns and vs. Steelers) to clinch home field in the AFC. 

After Thursday night's contest to kick off the week, Baltimore remains at the top of the AFC playoff picture at 12-2. The AFC North is locked up, guaranteeing at least one home game. At worst they will finish with the No. 3 seed in the conference. 

Only two other teams can challenge Baltimore for the AFC's top spot: the New England Patriots (10-3) who the Ravens bested in Week 9, and the Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) who own the tiebreaker over Baltimore.

If both those teams happen to lose in Week 15, Baltimore can wrap up the coveted No. 1 seed by Sunday night. 

If one of those teams lose, then Baltimore will clinch a first-round bye. 

So this week is pretty simple for Ravens fans. Root against the Patriots and the Chiefs.

Ravens Week 15 Rooting Guide

Denver Broncos (5-8) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)
Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1:00 p.m. ET

Kansas City has an unchallenging schedule for the final three weeks of the season. Despite entering this matchup two and a half games back of the Ravens, they still hold the tiebreaker over Baltimore. The Broncos are hot, though, after winning back-to-back games over the Chargers and AFC South-leading Texans.

Ravens fans can hope Drew Lock keeps the Broncos surging. Root for the Broncos. 

A tie by the Chiefs and the Broncos would also ensure that the Ravens will place higher than the Chiefs in the standings. 

New England Patriots (10-3) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1-12)
Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1:00 p.m. ET

Rooting against the Patriots is never difficult. Given that they filmed the Ravens' divisional brethren to get a leg up over a 1-12 team makes it even easier. A tie doesn't get it done here. Root for the Bengals. 

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