FCS Playoffs: Illinois State at Central Arkansas

NCAA Football

FCS Second-Round Playoff

The Matchup – Illinois State (9-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 8 seed Central Arkansas (9-3, 7-2 Southland)

Kickoff – 3 p.m. ET at Estes Stadium in Conway, Arkansas

Coverage – ESPN3

Series – Tied 1-1 (last meeting: UCA won 31-24 at home in the 2016 FCS first round)

Coaches – Illinois State: Brock Spack (73-49, 11 seasons); Central Arkansas: Nathan Brown (15-8, two seasons)

3 Players to Watch – Illinois State: RB James Robinson (303 carries, 1,613 yards, 16 TDs), FS Luther Kirk (79 tackles, 6 PBU), CB Devin Taylor (55 tackles, 4 INTs, 16 PBU); Central Arkansas: QB Breylin Smith (292 of 457, 3,506 yards, 31 TDs, 13 INTs), WR Tyler Hudson (52 receptions, 939 yards, 12 TDs), CB Robert Rochell (38 tackles, 5 INTs, 11 PBUs)

The Skinny – Last Saturday’s first-round win at Southeast Missouri was Illinois State’s first playoff game since falling to Central Arkansas in 2016. Robinson literally carried his Missouri Valley squad’s injury-ravaged offense a week ago with career highs in carries (41) and rushing yards (297) and scoring the game’s opening touchdown. He should get another big workload, although freshman QB Bryce Jefferson is settled in following a first career start, completing 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards and a TD with another score on the ground. The Redbirds have allowed more yards per game (311) than they’ve averaged offensively (307.3) yet have forced 29 turnovers and gotten to quarterbacks for 46 sacks, led by DEs Romeo McKnight (nine) and Tuvone Clark (6½). The Redbirds will need to get pressure on Smith, who’s set the Bears’ single-season passing yardage record and has three or more TD passes seven times this season. Senior RB Carlos Blackman is a long-time standout with 3,367 scrimmage yards and 37 TDs in his career plus three TD passes over the last two seasons. The Bears are coming off a season-high 52 points against UIW in their final regular-season game, but the Southland co-champ has allowed 30 or more points seven times. Both place-kickers have done well with Illinois State’s Sam Fenlason 15 of 19 on field goal attempts and UCA’s Hayden Ray 15 of 17.

Up Next – The winner will play either Nicholls (9-4) or No. 1 seed North Dakota State (12-0) in the quarterfinals Dec. 13 or 14.

Prediction – The Bears know what’s coming – Robinson. Can they stop him enough times? Central Arkansas, 28-24.

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