Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. Maine FCS Playoffs 12/3/2011

Here we go with the 2nd Round:

 #13 Maine (8-3) @ #9 Appalachian State (8-3)

Time: 2:00pm

TV: ESPN Gameplan

Live Video: ESPN3.com       

Kidd Brewer Stadium         

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

ASU: 61.62

Maine: 60.85

Home: 2.37 points

Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3 points (rounded).

Series: Maine leads 1-0

Last Meeting: Maine 14, Appalachian 13, November 30, 2002, Boone, NC

WXAPP’s Boone Gameday Weather Trends:

8 AM: Clear Mid 30’s (ish)

Noon: Mostly Sunny Mid 40’s

Kickoff: Mostly Sunny Upper 40’s to Lower 50’s

End of Game: Mid 40’s 

            Nine years ago today, I witnessed my last Appalachian football game as a college student. At that point in time, I thought it was a significant occurrence. I had no idea where my life would take me, and when I was going to see my next Appalachian football game. I sat in the stands, listening to North Carolina’s Band of Distinction play their final notes of the season and reflected to the sounds of the Tennessee Waltz. It was tough walking out of Kidd Brewer Stadium that day with memories of Florida A&M and Stephen F. Austin dancing in my head. It was Appalachian’s fifth playoff loss at home in 16 years that included 12 appearances and 10 home games. In the nine years since, including seven straight playoffs appearances and 14 home games, Appalachian has only lost twice at home, each time in the quarterfinals, to CAA teams. One of those losses was avenged in the following postseason on the opponent’s home turf (Richmond 2008-09). We will have to wait for Villanova to make the playoffs again. The 2002 Maine team that won at Kidd Brewer was the third team ever, and the last, to win a first round playoff game in Boone. The first team to do it was Nicholls State in 1986 and the second was the aforementioned Florida A&M in 1999. Those games stand as the only meetings between the schools. So whether Maine fans like it or not, there are a lot of people that have tagged this game as a revenge game. Until recently with Richmond and South Carolina State, it was rare that such rematches occurred in the playoffs.  This one has been nine years in the making.

             The Maine Black Bears were projected to finish ninth out of eleven teams in the CAA this year. Four other CAA teams remain in the playoffs. James Madison was projected to finish second. New Hampshire was projected fourth. The other two teams, Old Dominion and Towson were projected to finish behind Maine at tenth and eleventh respectively. To say the CAA was flipped upside down is an understatement. Towson was the conference champion. Can you imagine the same thing happening in the Southern Conference? Exactly. You can not, because it would never happen. Projected CAA champion William & Mary finished 5-6. Every CAA team that was playoff eligible, meaning having seven Division I wins, made the playoffs. Wrap that around your brain for a few moments.

            This Maine team reminds me of James Madison teams of years past. They don’t do anything particularly great, but they do it just good enough to be successful. They like to throw the ball quite a bit and that has lead to some nice numbers, but nothing compared to Appalachian’s last opponent Elon. If there is a comparison in the SoCon, I would like to think of a team like Samford. The Bulldogs kind of came out of nowhere, with a senior quarterback who suddenly became a high frequency passer and a ground game that kept the defense honest. Samford was much more balanced by year end, where Maine clearly prefers to pass the ball more often.

            For Maine, it all starts with their quarterback Warren Smith. In his previous two seasons with the Black Bears, Smith threw more interceptions than touchdowns in both years. Smith has had a much better senior campaign, with 17 touchdown passes to only ten interceptions. However, Smith has somewhat reverted back to his old form in his last three games. Six of his ten interceptions were thrown during those three games, two of them being losses. Also, Smith only managed three touchdown passes in those three games as well, his fewest TD passes in any three game stretch of the season. Despite the declining numbers, Maine still scored 89 points in those final three games, good enough for 29.6 points per game, which is actually higher than their season average of 29.5 points per game.

            Pushaun Brown is the main running threat for Maine. The senior is only 56 yards away from his first 1,000 yard rushing season. Brown is very similar in statistics to Samford’s Fabian Truss, and Furman’s Jerodis Williams. Brown and Williams both finished in the top thirty-five in the nation in rushing, but Pushaun Brown did it in only ten games. The difference between Pushaun Brown and most running backs in the Southern Conference is their size. The top running backs in the SoCon include Williams, Truss, Georgia Southern’s Robert Brown, The Citadel’s Darien Robinson, and Wofford’s Eric Breitenstein. Williams and Truss are both only about 180-185 pounds. The triple option backs are very noticeable in Robert Brown, Robinson, and Breitenstein, and are all at least 5’10” and over 200 pounds. Pushaun Brown is 5’10 and 210 pounds. It is tough to compare what is basically a triple option sized back in a spread offense. Imagine a running back that is roughly twenty pounds heavier than Kevin Richardson, and that is what you get in Pushaun Brown. It will definitely be a tough matchup for Appalachian. Pushaun Brown has been dealing with a nagging thigh injury in the second half of the season and it has certainly shown in box scores. Before his injury, Brown gained 67% (639) of his rushing yards in 60% of the games he played. After his injury, Brown managed 32% (305) of his yards in 40% of the games played. Let’s dig deeper. In those first 6 games of the season, Brown was facing stiffer rushing defenses than the final four games he played. The average rank of the rushing defenses he played in the first six games was 49th. The last four team’s average defensive rushing rank was 82nd. It is a given that teams will focus more on a player as the season goes on if he is being successful, but the injury to Brown has obviously hampered his play. If the week off has helped his thigh heal, than we could expect numbers similar to what he put up after not playing against Towson: 26 carries, 144 yards, one touchdown.

            Hopefully, for Appalachian, the week off will be as successful as their week off before The Citadel game earlier this season. The Appalachian offense came out on fire, racking up 49 points and well over 500 yards of offense before eventually holding off the pesky Bulldogs. Appalachian has played well in the second half of the season besides the Furman game, where nothing went right. It has been a totally different team since starting the season 3-2. Jamal Jackson has averaged 267 yards a game passing in his six starts. He is 5-0 as a starter when he has thrown at least one touchdown pass and one interception or fewer. He has completed 64% of his passes in the last six games as well. Jackson also leads the team in rushing touchdowns with seven, which is not uncommon in Appalachian’s spread attack. This is Jackson’s first playoff start and first game with any real playoff action. If he can overcome the moment, play consistently in the running and passing game and take care of the football, the Mountaineers should be in good shape.

            The Mountaineer receivers will have to help Jackson. It has been evident all season that the running has not been as potent as in years past. Travaris Cadet averages just shy of sixty yards a game, but does have 30 receptions on the season. Twenty-two of those receptions have been in the last six games, when Jamal Jackson was starting. Along with Cadet, Appalachian needs steady games from Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington as well. These guys are responsible for moving the chains, especially Peacock. Twenty-nine of Peacock’s 42 receptions are in the last six games. Twenty-four of Washington’s 31 receptions have come in the same six game stretch. Brian Quick is the only Mountaineer receiver that is the exception to the “last six games” rule. Quick is a matchup problem for any secondary in the FCS. Maine is no exception. Every player in the Black Bear defensive backfield is listed 6’0” or shorter. Getting the ball to Quick is necessary. Appalachian is 18-2 when Quick scores a touchdown. The two losses were to Virginia Tech and Villanova

             Obviously there is a lot at stake in the playoffs. For the seniors on both rosters, it could be their final game as a collegiate athlete. Appalachian is accustomed to the postseason, this being their seventh consecutive year in the playoffs. For Maine, their last playoff appearance was in 2008. The experience factor is heavily in Appalachian’s corner. Appalachian has also won 61 of its last 65 home games, but two of those losses have come in the playoffs to CAA opponents, and three came to non-conference foes. Both teams seem fairly even when it comes to offenses and defenses, so the intangibles will certainly come into play. Maine kicker Brian Harvey has converted seven of his twelve field goal attempts, but four of his five misses have occurred in Maine’s last three games. Appalachian placekicker Drew Stewart has eight of his ten attempts, and has been the placekicker in the second half of the season. Sam Martin has connected on three of nine attempts and is probably considered the long distance kicker. Martin has hit two 51 yard attempts earlier in the season, and would have hit another one from 50 yards if it were not for a penalty last week against Elon. In all seriousness, I think game comes down to one possession, which may or may not be a field goal. Colder weather is generally not good for the kicking game. If Appalachian plays to its potential, it can beat this Maine team. I am expecting a great college football game, and hopefully another Brian Quick touchdown.

The First Pick:

Bananas?                     28                   

Mountaineers              35

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