After a tough loss in Colonial Athletic Association competition last week to UAlbany, No. 18 Towson concludes the non-conference portion of its schedule back at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday.
Who: Bucknell (1-5) at No. 18 Towson (3-3)
When: Saturday, Oct. 19, 4 p.m. ET
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium; Towson; Maryland
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
The Tigers host Patriot League representative Bucknell, coming off its first win of the season. The Bison opened the campaign 0-5, including a 45-10 loss to CAA opponent Villanova. But their 32-14 win over Colgate came one week going to the wire with Holy Cross – a team that beat current CAA co-leading New Hampshire.
“If you look at them from Week 1 to now, they look like an entirely different team,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said of Bucknell. “They’ve gotten increasingly better week after week after week.”
As for Towson, the Tigers are looking to reverse their trajectory. Since starting 3-0, they dropped three straight. The losses aren’t unsightly: Towson fell in overtime to a top 10-ranked Villanova, on the road to top 10 FBS opponent Florida, with UAlbany being the one surprise.
The more noteworthy losses are the bevy of injuries at key spots the Tigers are filling.
Leading The Way
The injury list for Towson includes some of the team’s leaders – and not just in the stats. Certainly the void do-everything running back Shane Simpson leaves is wide, and the Tigers' run game has slowed without him. The secondary also lost a proven playmaker in Brandon Shuman.
But beyond what they provide in numbers, Towson loses vocal leaders.
“To have 10 starters [who] are massive contributors not play – we have quality young men to fill those shoes – but what we’re missing are the leadership voices of those 10 young men,” Ambrose said.
“The difference between having all those guys and those confident, leader voices [is] being aggressive and motivated to win instead of being tentative and thinking, and not wanting to lose,” he added.
That apprehension can be seen in a 5-of-13 third-down conversion rate against UAlbany, a byproduct of Towson facing long down-and-distance. The Tigers weren’t flagged abundantly – they took six penalties in total – but Ambrose noted that bad timing of penalties increased their degree of difficulty.
Jump-Starting The Offense
Towson led the CAA in scoring in 2018 behind the multi-dimensional Simpson and CAA Offensive Player of the Year Tom Flacco. The Tigers came out balling in 2019, too, when at full strength. After going scoreless against SEC juggernaut Florida, however, the offense came off a bye week to total just 231 yards against UAlbany.
Flacco faced heavy and routine pressure from the Great Danes defensive front, resulting in a 17-of-33 passing performance and much lower than usual 5.7 yards per attempt average. Bucknell’s likely to blitz often: The Bison come in with 14 sacks on the season, with Simeon Page accounting for five.
Getting the ball out quickly is one effective counter to pressure, and Flacco should have ample opportunity. Bucknell allows 301.3 passing yards per game and an 8.61-per attempt average.
Shane Leatherbury continues to be a reliable option for Flacco, while Darian Street is coming off a performance that included one of the most mind-blowing grabs made anywhere in college football this season.
#FCS Plays of the Week 🏈— FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) October 15, 2019
2️⃣ |DID YOU SEE THAT?!?👀 @Towson_FB’s Tom Flacco throws a 26-yard TD pass to Darian Street who catches it and manages to get a 🦶⬇️ in the end zone!! pic.twitter.com/Qr4YX8Qt9Q
Who Runs This?
Perhaps most surprising in Towson’s loss to UAlbany was its 93 rushing yards with an average of just 3.3 per carry. Yeedee Thaenrat, who has taken over the bulk of rushes in Simpson’s absence, played a great game as a pass-catcher but only rushed for 36 yards. Flacco was held to 2.5 yards per carry.
Countering a likely blitz-heavy defense requires an effective run game. On the flipside, Towson’s defense is coming off an outstanding effort against the run. UAlbany, with one of the most productive backs in the CAA, Karl Mofor, averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.
This week, the Towson defense sees a Bucknell offense that has been anemic with the run. To wit, two Bison receivers have tallied more yards through the air than leading rusher Chad Freshnock has totaled on the ground. As a team, Bucknell averages just 2.6 yards per carry.