This past Saturday, college football fans saw three Sun Belt teams take down Blue Bloods, two of them ranked in the Top 10. But at least the Sun Belt schools have the same number of scholarships as the elite programs.
FCS schools have fewer scholarships and less revenue than their FBS counterparts, yet still typically play at least one game a year against them.
Even with those disadvantages, six FCS teams have beaten FBS teams this season. How did they do it?
Delaware over Navy
Delaware did nothing crazy to win this game. Offensively the Blue Hens created little aside from 14 points from Navy’s first fumble and a blown coverage.
On the other side of the ball the Blue Hens stuck to a three-down look against the Midshipmen, the most common way to defend the option.
Last season, the Navy offense saw three down linemen for 612 plays, which ranked 12th in the FBS. Fellow option teams Army and Air Force ranked 4th and 14th as well. Convention worked for the Blue Hens, allowing only seven points, recovering three fumbles in the first 20 minutes, such as this one forced by Johnny Buchanan:
And stopping the Midshipmen on fourth down three times, including this one to seal the victory:
William & Mary over Charlotte
Though Charlotte had a four-point lead heading into the final quarter, William & Mary dominated the line of scrimmage from the beginning. The 49ers gave the Tribe some help with alignment issues present from the first play:
But William & Mary also took every inch it could with the offensive line imposing its will on both gap runs:
And zone schemes:
The dominance of the first three quarters finally came to a head with three touchdowns in five minutes, including this final touchdown run for by Malachi Imoh:
Eastern Kentucky over Bowling Green
In a game with long periods of ineptitude, Eastern Kentucky made fewer mistakes than Bowling Green and took what Bowling Green gave it. On one scoring drive in the third quarter, the Colonels threw a loosely guarded swing pass:
Scrambled against the Falcons’ man coverage for an easy first down:
And threw the post of the scissors concept against what was most likely match-quarters coverage but definitely a miscommunication:
Eastern Kentucky even went back to the swing pass a few more times, most notably for the game-winning score:
Bowling Green tried to bully Eastern Kentucky into submission, playing with two tight ends for 60 snaps. But the Colonels capitalized on enough errors, such as a bad snap into the end zone, to prevent the Falcon’s physicality from taking over the game.
Playing the slightly cleaner game, Eastern Kentucky finally won in the seventh overtime.
Incarnate Word over Nevada
When Mike Leach first hit Division I with the Air Raid, his Texas Tech teams would often go down a few scores in the beginning, only to win by double digits. This game had that feel, and while Incarnate Word is no longer coached by Air Raid disciple Eric Morris, it put up 55 points against Nevada under new head coach G.J. Kinne.
Despite going down two scores in the first quarter, the Cardinals used simple scheme to isolate favorable matchups to turn a 14-point deficit into a 21-point lead. These include a tunnel screen, an Air Raid favorite, with jet motion away and counter blocking:
A slant to the backside of trips and RB motion, which draws away the middle linebacker and free safety:
And a rollout away from trips that puts Nevada’s defensive backs in space trying to cover two switched stems:
Though Nevada would get within a touchdown, Incarnate Word’s offense continued its onslaught to hold on to the victory.
Holy Cross over Buffalo
The Holy Cross struggled defending Buffalo’s offense throughout the first half. Between allowing 5 yards per carry due to poor alignment:
And mismatches in the middle of the field:
The Crusaders found themselves down seven in the third quarter. But by diversifying their defensive look by mixing in a more traditional three down look:
And by pushing one-on-one matchups to the outside:
Holy Cross settled in to allow only three points in the final 22 minutes. Between the tightened defense and a Hail Mary, the Crusaders got their second straight win against an FBS opponent.
Weber State over Utah State
Without surrendering a kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter, Weber State would have pitched a shutout. The Wildcats stifled the Aggie offense by playing a variety of fronts backed almost exclusively by man coverage. At different junctures they blitzed three
with man coverage playing behind the line. In total, the Wildcats played 17 out of 22 pass attempts in man coverage before taking a three-score lead.
Weber State also benefitted from two tipped passes turned interceptions, and when it did make a mistake the one high safety Desmond Williams jumped the uncovered route for an easy pick-six:
With these turnovers Weber State turned a potentially tight game into a blowout for the sixth FCS defeat of an FBS opponent this season.