OGDEN — If there’s one thing to know about Southeast Missouri State football in 2018, it’s this: The Redhawks are turnover machines.
In a good way.
SEMO (9-3) is Weber State’s second-round playoff opponent and eventually outdid WSU in a category the Wildcats (9-2) led nationally for much of the season.
The Redhawks have forced a whopping 35 turnovers in 12 games, comprised of 23 interceptions and 12 recovered fumbles. That’s easy math: it’s a defense that forces two interceptions and one fumble per game.
That’s Weber State’s No. 1 focus, but head coach Jay Hill isn’t too concerned in his team’s ability to meet the challenge.
“We always stress winning the turnover margin, we’ve been good at that this year. Our offense needs to go out there and take care of the ball and the defense has to look for turnovers,” he said.
That defense is anchored by junior linebacker Zach Hall. He only has 163 total tackles, 12 for loss, with four interceptions, four forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles this season. Beside him is Justin Swift with 14 TFLs, four more interceptions and four more forced fumbles.
“They’re talented on defense, they’re very opportunistic. They’ve got good front guys, good secondary guys. There’s a reason why they are where they’re at,” Hill said. “But we’ve been in this situation before with teams in our conference who are good in turnover margin. So we just need to do our job.”
Defensively, the Redhawks use their linebackers to morph between 4-3 and 3-4 looks.
SEMO enters the game on the high of a historical season. The Redhawks defeated Stony Brook 28-14 in first-round action for the program’s first-ever playoff win, scoring 28 points in the third quarter while shutting out the favored visitors in the second half.
Hill said he watched most of the contest.
“Stony Brook jumped to the lead and SEMO handled it like champs and came out in the third quarter and just dominated. That’s what we’re up against. We’re up against a team that can get hot, so we’ve got to find a way to get them down and keep them down,” he said.
Offensively, the Redhawks employ a spread shotgun formation in a mostly balanced attack, using a physical offensive line to do its work.
Running back Marquis Terry averages 102 rushing yards per game and quarterback Daniel Santacaterina throws for 227 per contest. He’s thrown 28 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
That’s the flip side of SEMO’s turnover machine: it has only lost eight turnovers all season with those seven interceptions and just one lost fumble in 12 games.
Kristian Wilkerson is Santacaterina’s big target, having caught 14 touchdowns on the season.
Those turnovers are important for the Redhawks because they give up an unimpressive 485 yards per game, so takeaways help limit opponents to 29.6 points per game — third-best in the Ohio Valley Conference, where SEMO finished second in the standings, but a mark that would be only sixth-best in the Big Sky.
In the midst of its own historic season, Weber State’s recent history hasn’t gone unnoticed by SEMO.
“When you look at Weber State, I love watching them because that’s what I want to be and try to be. They play really hard, they play physical, they play smart. Really good on defense, really good on special teams,” Redhawks head coach Tom Matukewicz said in a conference call.
“Offensively, they’ll just grind it out on you. They’ve got a freshman All-American type running back (Josh Davis) and a good O-line. Quarterbacks make great decisions. They’re good in turnover margin, so we have our work cut out for us.”
The weather forecast has forced some conversations for Weber State, who looks forward to playing in the cold. This year’s night game at Southern Utah and last year’s frigid quarterfinal at James Madison provide some experience. While it looks like snow might skip the area Saturday, it seems likely to snow Friday and Saturday’s high is only 35 degrees.
“Our team embraces it and I think they play well with it,” Hill said. “But each game is different. We’ve got to embrace it Saturday when the ball is kicked off and there’s hitting and pounding going on. That’s when we need to embrace it.”
SEMO is aware, too.
“I think the elevation is something we just don’t know — what does that mean. It’s going to be chillier, too. Those are more concerns than the actual travel or the kick time,” Matukewicz said. “So we’re going to get out there Friday and get a good workout in and … just prepare for it. We’re in good shape, we’ve played well in the fourth quarter in every game so I think we’ll be fine.”
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at Stewart Stadium. Tickets can be purchased at WeberStateTickets.com or at the Dee Events Center ticket office. Those with cable subscriptions can watch on WatchESPN (app or website).
The two teams have never played. This is also the first time Weber State has ever played a team from the Ohio Valley Conference.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Betting service 5Dimes has Weber State as an 11.5-point favorite after opening at 12.5. Combining that with the over/under of 46.5, that line expects a score of about 29-17.
Jeff Sagarin maintains a computer prediction and rating model for college football (once used in the BCS formula) that includes both FBS and FCS teams. Ratings can be used to mathematically provide a prediction for a given matchup.
Weber State rates at No. 110 (out of 255 Division-I teams) and Southeast Missouri State is No. 150 — the same ranking as Idaho State the week WSU played in Pocatello.
Using the associated ratings and values for home-field advantage, Sagarin’s formula favors WSU by 10.5 points.