Here we go with Week 9:
#1 Appalachian State (8-0, 6-0 1st) @ Georgia Southern (4-4, 2-3 T4th)
Stadium: Paulson Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home advantage: 3.03 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8 ½ points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 13-11-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 52, Georgia Southern 16, October 24, 2009
The road to rebuilding the Georgia Southern program took an odd U turn this past offseason. The Eagles decided the only way they could move forward, was to take three steps back, by bringing back the triple option offense. The glory days of Georgia Southern football was established by slot backs, fullbacks and athletic quarterbacks. During their run, Georgia Southern and their accomplishments were admired by the rest of what was then called I-AA football. In the last decade, the face of southern football has moved from the Georgia plains to the Appalachian Mountains. The Mountaineers are now the team that reloads and rarely finds time to rebuild. Georgia Southern is hoping that an outdated offense can take them back to the promised land.
Most critics knew that a return to the triple option for Georgia Southern could mean trouble for the rest of the Southern Conference, although it could take some time. Earlier this season, it appeared that the Eagles had caught on faster than many had hoped. The Eagles played Navy very tough before losing 13-7, and proceeded to knock off then #11 Elon in a dominating performance to move to 3-1 overall. That start was followed by tough losses to Wofford and Chattanooga. In both games, Southern had leads in the second half, but did not have enough defense to win. Since then, the Eagles have played two lackluster games offensively and have also been hurt by the injuries. The Citadel turned the ball over to Southern nine times, but the Eagles only managed a 20-0 win. Last weekend, the Eagles lost to Samford for the third straight season. Quarterback Jaybo Shaw was hurt in the Citadel game early, and played in relief in the Samford game.
The triple option is about as interesting as watching paint dry. The idea is to lull a defense to sleep, and then bust a big play for twenty or thirty yards. Just when you think you have it stopped, a pitch goes to the outside slot back that was in motion, while your linebackers are looking for the football in the fullbacks gut. It all starts with option one, which is the quarterback. Jaybo Shaw is a transfer from Georgia Tech, who conveniently played under former Southern coach Paul Johnson. Current Southern head coach Jeff Monken has been an assistant coach under Paul Johnson since 1997, at Georgia Southern, Navy, and then Georgia Tech. It does not take a genius to connect those dots. Regardless, Shaw is the key for Southern. In the past two games, Southern has been held well below their average in total offense, as Shaw recovers from injury. Despite missing the majority of two games, Shaw has more carries than any other Eagle player, with 88 for 141 yards and has scored seven touchdowns. Even though freshman quarterback Jerick McKinnon may be more exciting as a runner, his passing game leaves a lot to be desired. For that reason alone, Shaw is the key for Southern. His status for this weekend is uncertain, but was healthy enough to play against Samford in the second half, where he ran six times for negative four yards, and completed three of nine passes for thirty-five yards and an interception.
The Mountaineer offense continues to steamroll opponents. The third ranked scoring offense in the country at 39.1 points per game is led by DeAndre Presley, who is ranked eighth nationally in total offense per game at 288 yards. Presley has done it on the ground and in the air, averaging 80 yards on the ground with 10 rushing touchdowns, and 208 yards passing with 15 touchdowns. Presley threw his first interception of the season last week and completed his fewest passes (13) for the fewest yards (137) of the season since the North Carolina Central game, where passing the ball was not exactly necessary. Presley will need to be on his usual game this weekend to keep the Southern defense honest and keep the Paulson Stadium crowd out of the game.
Travaris Cadet had one of his best games of the season running the ball last week against Furman. Cadet has 72 carries on the season, and 24 of them came against Furman last week for 108 yards and three touchdowns. It was his third career 100 yard game, the previous two coming against North Carolina Central (149) this year, and Georgia Southern (131) last year. Cadet is the Mountaineers X-factor. Any time he has the ball, he is a threat to make special things happen. Cadet has 486 yards rushing, 154 receiving, and 580 punt and kick return yards and six touchdowns.
Traveling to Statesboro has never been an easy task for Appalachian football teams. Even in the most recent trips in 2006 and 2008, when Appalachian was the defending national champions, one game went to two overtimes, and the other was decided by a single point. It is a different kind of rivalry between these two schools. The Western Carolina series has the jug, the Furman series was known for close games, but the Southern rivalry is rooted in hate. It is the reason that Georgia Southern continues to schedule Appalachian for its homecoming, because they want to have as many fans attending as possible. In the modern era, this series has also included the 1987 playoff game that Appalachian won 19-0. Appalachian also defeated Southern in 1999 17-16 when the Eagles were #1. Southern got their playoff payback by sweeping the Mountaineers in 2001, once in Boone, and then in Statesboro. Southern scored its most points in the series in 2004 with a 54-7 victory, and Appalachian returned the beating last year in Boone, with a 52-16 win. Each game in this series, the other has been trying to get revenge from a previous outcome it seems. This year will be no different. Appalachian will look to extend its conference winning streak, and no other team would love to spoil that more than Georgia Southern. The Eagles will need to do what they do best. They must control the football, and sustain drives. Last weekend, Southern had 11 drives end in less than six plays, and they only gained 110 yards on those drives. There were three instances of three downs and a punt. The Eagles went 11 drives between scores. That will not cut it against Appalachian, who have scored at least five times in some fashion in every game this season. The Mountaineer defense must be up to the task, by playing assignment football, and cannot afford to miss tackles. Southern is a team, when forced to pass, becomes very predictable, and has given up two sacks a game this season. If Appalachian can force the Eagles into long yardage situations on second down, they will be successful. Southern only converts about 40% of their third downs, which is fifth in the conference. On offense the Mountaineers must make the Eagles chase them. I think Presley will have opportunities in the secondary and make the Eagles pay. I expect a hard fought game, but ending in favor of the Mountaineers as the game wears on.
The First Pick:
Gumroot Gus 27