2023 Gulf South Conference Football

NCAA Div. II Playoffs: Lenoir-Rhyne, Valdosta State Quarterfinal Collision

NCAA Div. II Playoffs: Lenoir-Rhyne, Valdosta State Quarterfinal Collision

Two of the strongest teams throughout the 2023 season, Lenoir-Rhyne and Valdosta State, collide in a NCAA Div. II Playoffs quarterfinal showdown.

Nov 30, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
WATCH: Lenoir-Rhyne Bears' Offense Is Strong

At a combined mark of 24-2, Lenoir-Rhyne and Valdosta State arrive in their NCAA Div. II Playoffs quarterfinal showdown with two of the strongest resumes in all of college football. 

The Bears and Blazers, both 12-1, advanced to Saturday's showdown at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium with road wins in the Round of 16. Each put up more than 60 points in their opening-round romps. 

However, each team's formula for success in 2023 has its own unique characteristics when stacked up with its quarterfinal adversary. As a consistent birthplace for offensive innovation throughout the last 30 years, Valdosta State continued that tradition this season with a potent attack. 

Lenoir-Rhyne, meanwhile, paved its way to the South Atlantic Conference championship on a stifling defense that overwhelmed opponents, setting the scene for a multifaceted offense to capitalize. 

This clash of styles makes for perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the Div. II Playoffs to date, as SAC and Gulf South Conference heavyweights face off with a spot in the semifinals at stake. 

Trying to Ground The Passing Game 

Valdosta State famously helped give rise to the air-raid offense around college football. Generations later under head coach Tremaine Jackson and offensive coordinator Rick Bowie, the current Blazers attack still uses elements of the scheme VSU helped popularize, but with far more balance between pass and run. 

Last year, Valdosta State was the only offense in Div. II to finish in the top 25 both in passing and rushing yards per game. This season, the Blazers' run-game numbers are far more modest than the 213.5 the 2022 squad produced, running for 130 per game, but VSU ball-carriers have combined for 31 rushing touchdowns. 

That's among the best outputs in the nation. 

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The passing attack, meanwhile, ranks No. 5 at 325.2 a contest. Sammy Edwards is second in the country with 4,080 yards on 312 completions. His 33 passing touchdowns rank seventh among all Div. II quarterbacks, and he's effectively spread the ball among a variety of receivers. 

Rodney Bullard, who has 43 total receptions, matches Council Allen (61 total catches) with seven touchdown grabs each. B.K. Smith, Valdosta State's top overall receiver with 66 grabs for 973 yards, has six scores. Ted Hurst has brought in four touchdowns among his 38 total catches. 

The variety in the Blazers passing game puts stress on a defense that has to determine whether it's better served putting multiple defensive backs on the field, which is when VSU mixes in a rushing look with four primary ball-carriers; or tries to match up with linebackers on receivers. 

A potential difference-maker for Lenoir-Rhyne in that regard is Percy King. The linebacker King's versatility allows the Bears to play the pass effectively without sacrificing from its outstanding run defense. 

On the flip side, Valdosta State will try to break off big plays; in L-R's lone defeat this season, Wingate successfully moved the ball with long gains. 

Pounding The Rock 

 In much the same way that the long ball and explosive plays factored into Lenoir-Rhyne's lone defeat, the only setback Valdosta State endured this season is an element of the game the Bears are equipped to exploit. Against Delta State in the regular season, the Blazers gave up 417 rushing yards at a 7.7 per-carry clip. 

Coming off a 63-17 rout of Shepherd in which quarterback Sean White set a multitude of program passing records, L-R successfully flipped the script against a Benedict defense that was tops in the nation across a variety of statistical categories ahead of last week's matchup. Benedict had been especially good against the run, but Lenoir-Rhyne went right at the Tigers for 250 yards. 

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Dwayne McGee's 216 yards and Zavyion Turner-Knox's two rushing touchdowns demonstrated just how multi-dimensional and effective the Bears can be on the ground. White, for his part, didn't miss a beat after a landmark game in the 1st Round. He went 27-of-35 for 310 yards, his ability to distribute the ball through the air forcing Benedict to remain honest without committing too aggressively to stopping the run. 

Delta State went for far fewer yards last week against VSU than the week prior with 236, but did manage six yards per carry. The Statesmen's offensive scheme is much more run-reliant than Lenoir-Rhyne's, and DSU only attempted 16 passes in the 2nd Round matchup. 

The Bears are sure to go to the air much more frequently, but still have the option — and assuredly will — look to establish the run.