(5) Towson (11-2) at (2) Eastern Illinois (12-1)
The Sports Network
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Friday, December 13, 8 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: O'Brien Field (10,000) -- Charleston, Illinois. Surface: Matrix Turf. Television: ESPN 2. Announcers: Anish Shroff, Kelly Stouffer, Brooke Weisbrod. Home Record: Towson 4-2; Eastern Illinois 6-0. Away Record: Towson 7-0; Eastern Illinois 6-1. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: Towson - Colonial Athletic Association; Eastern Illinois - Ohio Valley. Nicknames: Towson Tigers; Eastern Illinois Panthers. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Towson (5); Eastern Illinois (2). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Towson (7); Eastern Illinois (2). Head Coaches: Towson - Rob Ambrose (fifth season, 30-28 at Towson and overall); Eastern Illinois - Dino Babers (second season, 19-6 at Eastern Illinois and overall). Playoff Records: Towson (1-1); Eastern Illinois (4-14). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Towson 1 (2011); Eastern Illinois 14 (1982-83, 1986, 1989, 1995-96, 2000-02, 2005-07, 2009, 2012). Current Playoff Streak: Towson has split its two playoff appearances; Eastern Illinois has lost 11 of its last 12 playoff games.
GAME NOTES: Like Towson's matchup with Fordham a week ago, this battle between the Tigers and the Ohio Valley Conference champion Panthers will likely set off a fireworks display of offense.
It's also an opportunity to see two Walter Payton Award finalists meet head- to-head prior to the announcement of the outstanding FCS player winner Monday night.
Towson running back Terrance West finished his day against Fordham with 76 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. Not West's usual production in terms of yards gained, but the Tigers offense managed to total 189 yards on the ground thanks to 105 yards from freshman back Darius Victor.
West is currently second in the FCS in rushing yards behind South Dakota State's Zach Zenner, who totaled 2,015 yards this season. However, Zenner's season is over after his Jackrabbits lost to Eastern Washington. So West can overtake the SDSU junior with 64 rushing yards Friday. West is also the nation leader's with 34 touchdowns, including 33 on the ground.
It will be a mountainous task for West alone to match the production of the Eastern Illinois offense - something West has been able to do by himself with some opponents this season. But with Jimmy Garoppolo, who has now thrown for an FCS-high 51 touchdown passes this season, and the slew of weapons he has on the Eastern Illinois offense, West will have his work cut out for him.
Garoppolo is currently third on the single-season passing yardage list with 4,729 yards and chasing Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion, who set the record last season with 5,076. Steve McNair is second in single-season passing yards with 4,863.
Eastern Illinois' defense is ranked 44th in the FCS in rushing yards allowed per game, giving up an average of 146.8. Towson's offense is 17th in the nation in averaging 232.4 rush yards per game.
Going up against the nation's best scoring offense (48.9 points per game) is like sitting at the top of a tall roller coaster. It's inevitable the decent is coming, and you know you'll survive one way or the other. But, boy, is it scary looking down. Towson's defense is talented with playmakers like Telvion Clark and Jordan Love constantly stepping up each week, but is it enough to handle the Panthers' best-in-the-nation offense?
The Tigers rank 21st in the country and third in the Colonial Athletic Association this season in total defense, allowing 341.3 yards per game to opponents.
Despite the talented defense Towson boasts, EIU skill position players like Garoppolo, receivers Erik Lora, Adam Drake, Keiondre Gober, tight end Jeff LePak and running backs Shepard Little and Taylor Duncan are just too talented and too numerous to contain.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eastern Illinois 43, Towson 33.
12/10 13:47:15 ET