Here we go with Week 11:
#9 Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2 T2) @ Elon (5-5, 3-4 T6)
TV: SoCon Sports Network
Live Video: ESPN3.com
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home: 2.41 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8 ½ points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 29-9-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 34, Elon 31, October 9, 2010, Boone, NC
WXAPP’s Elon(e) Gameday Weather Trends:
A few clouds. Dry.
10 AM: Mid 40’s
1 PM: Mid 50’s
End of Game: Lower 50’s
We all knew the chances were very slim that Appalachian would win its seventh consecutive conference title. It was a feat that will remain unprecedented for a few more years to come. If there is any consolation in not bringing home the trophy for the first time since 2005, was that the team that did win, their only conference loss came to Appalachian. Georgia Southern held the record, Appalachian tied it, and Georgia Southern was there in the end to ensure one of their many records was not broken at the hands of their biggest rival. All is not lost for the 2011 season. The Old Mountain Jug was returned to its cozy shelf on the fourth floor of the Appalachian Athletics Complex and there is a playoff home game possibly on the line. What we do know, is that a win over Elon puts Appalachian in the playoffs. There has never been a Jerry Moore coached team that finished the regular season at 8-3 that did not make the playoffs, and most of those years it was when there were only 16 teams invited. We also know that one home game in the playoffs is just that – its one game. What happens throughout the rest of the country on that day will determine if there are more games to be played at Kidd Brewer Stadium. In 2007, Appalachian was guaranteed one playoff game, yet hosted three before eventually lifting the national championship trophy for the third straight time. Anything can happen in college football and that is why we must all stick behind our beloved Mountaineers in Burlington this Saturday and not allow the Phoenix to spoil our season any further.
Most knew that Elon was going to be in a transition year after losing record setting quarterback Scott Riddle. What they didn’t know was that head coach Pete Lembo was going to run out of the south as fast as he could and grab the first Division I-A job that came available. Lembo is now with Ball State. Insert first time head coach Jason Swepson, the former running backs coach at NC State and Boston College graduate. He has the Phoenix’ record all even at 5-5 and would love nothing more than to finish his first season as a head coach with a winning record, and victory over Appalachian. Swepson has been quite vocal about what his goals were coming into the Southern Conference. To paraphrase, Swepson said that he wants his team to brush their teeth better, dress better, study in classroom better and practice harder than Appalachian State.
I don’t know what kind of toothpaste Elon junior quarterback Thomas Wilson uses, but whatever the brand, it has allowed him to step in to the starting role quite nicely at Elon. Wilson has amassed 2,713 passing yards on the season. Last week against Furman he threw a career high four touchdown passes in Phoenix’ 41-34 win. He has thrown for at least 200 yards in every game this season, but has thrown an interception in nine games this season while averaging an interception every nineteen passing attempts. Only Brad Attaway of Stephen F Austin has thrown more interceptions on the season (21) than Wilson (19). To compare, Jamal Jackson has thrown an interception every 35 attempts.
Without a doubt, Wilson’s favorite receiver is Aaron Mellette. Upon the graduation of Terrell Hudgins, another holder of several Elon records, Mellette has posted back to back 1,000 yard seasons and has also eclipsed double digit touchdowns for the second straight year. Mellette leads the country in receiving yards per game at 140 and is second in catches per game at 9.9 per contest and also has scored eleven touchdowns, good enough for second in the country. He is responsible for 51% of Elon’s receiving yards and 39% of their receptions.
It was a great day for records this past Saturday at The Rock. DeAndre Presley ceremoniously threw a screen pass to Brian Quick that he turned into a 33 yard catch and run and surpassed a record that stood for thirty one years. Quick now has 53 catches for 905 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Quick has never had a season with 1,000 yards receiving or double digit touchdowns, but is well within reach of that this Saturday. In three career games against Elon, Quick has 20 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
The other record that was broken was one that a lot of fans felt pretty indifferent about. Freshman kicker Drew Stewart drilled six field goals and added three extra points for a 21 point performance. As much as Appalachian likes to see field goals going through the uprights, the fans have not come to expect points in the kicking game in that fashion. Maybe six extra points and a couple field goals would be more like it. Regardless, field goal kicking problems may have cost Appalachian at least once conference game this year, whether it be Wofford or Furman. One conference game is going to be the difference between home field advantage throughout the playoffs and one home playoff game. That is, of course, if Appalachian can beat Elon.
When it comes to the Elon road game, it always makes Mountaineer fans a little wary. For reasons that I cannot determine, besides being the closest Southern Conference school to their campus that has a football team, Elon fans really want to beat Appalachian. It is the one game all season where they pack their stadium. Elon has averaged 9,021 fans this season per game at home. In the four games Appalachian has played at Rhodes Stadium, an average 11,029 fans were in attendance. The last time I checked, about 1,000 grass seats had been sold in a stadium that seats 11,250. Add in stadium personnel and participants in the game, we shall see close to 13,000 this weekend. I understand that we played Elon regularly from 1937-1971 before the Southern Conference so graciously invited them into the conference for the 2003-2004 athletic calendar. I just don’t understand the fascination. Anyway, back to the game. What will Appalachian have to do to guarantee its seventh straight playoff berth? First off, it is all about scoring touchdowns. When Appalachian beat Elon in 2009, they raced out to a 21-0 lead fueled by interceptions by Scott Riddle. We touched on interceptions earlier, but Elon has also lost more fumbles this season than all but 15 schools in the country. Statistically, they are the worst in the nation in turnover margin. Not only are they giving it up, but they are not forcing the turnovers either. When Appalachian ends those Elon possessions, they must make them pay. Field goals are great and all, as long as they all go in, but nothing hurts an opposing defense more than a touchdown. That’s why they are worth twice as much on the scoreboard. Appalachian cannot sleep on the running game either. Even though the Phoenix only average 108 yards a game on the ground, they burned Furman for 163 rushing yards last week. Appalachian only mustered 87 rushing yards on Furman a few weeks ago. Appalachian is only 1-3 on the road this season, a true testament to the youth on this team. Elon is 2-2 at home, but have only scored 50 points at home against SoCon competition in three games. I think this Appalachian team will find a way to win. Elon just turns the ball over way too much for my liking. Mountaineer corners Rodger Walker and Demetrius McCray are tied for the SoCon leading in interceptions on the year, and at least one of them will add to their total.
The First Pick: