Here we go with Week 3:
North Carolina Central (1-1) @ #2 Appalachian State (2-0, 1-0 1st)
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home advantage: 3.01 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 35½ points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Appalachian 55, NC Central 21, October 10, 2009
Last weekend’s game against Chattanooga, I mean, Jacksonville, was a tale of two halves, again. The Mountaineers used to be the team that shut opponents down in the first quarter while cruising to lopsided victories. This season, the Mountaineers are doing their best to keep fans in their seats a little longer and force them to buy an extra stadium cup or two of their favorite beverage. In all seriousness, it is a concern that could cost them a game if it is not corrected soon. Once again, for the second consecutive week, the Mountaineers scored four unanswered touchdowns in the second half, and this time it was a knock out blow for Jacksonville. NC Central is not the passing team that Jacksonville is, so the Mountaineers will have another week to correct their play action defense before visiting Samford, a team that lives on the play action passing game.
Running back Tim Shankle leads the offense for the NC Central Eagles. Shankle is in his senior year and could possibly eclipse the 2,000 yard career mark against Appalachian on Saturday. Shankle only needs 63 yards to reach that milestone, and has averaged 57 yards a game during his career. In the meeting last year against Appalachian, Shankle had 31 yards on 12 carries. His work will be cut out for him against an Appalachian defense that is ranked 27th in the country, giving up only 109 yards a game on the ground.
The starter at quarterback could be the biggest question for the Eagles. Junior Michael Johnson played the entire game last week in the loss to Winston Salem State. A transfer from Tulsa, Johnson threw for 193 yards and no touchdown passes while also throwing two interceptions. Against Johnson C Smith, Keon Williams threw four touchdown passes while also gaining 62 yards on the ground while dominating the Golden Bulls 59-0. Whoever starts at quarterback will be looking for Geovonie Irvine, who has 12 catches for 141 yards on the season. Irvine stands all of 5’7”, and rocks the scales at 150 pounds.
As the young season has progressed, the biggest question mark one month ago, has now become the most consistent player on either side of the ball for Appalachian. DeAndre Presley has done nothing but impress this season. The national leader in passing efficiency and total offense has completed 70% of his passes for 625 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. On top of that, his running game has also improved in less than a week. After eleven rushes for 25 yards in week one against Chattanooga, Presley found plenty of room to run against Jacksonville, gaining 101 yards on 16 carries. After all Presley has done on the field during games, Coach Moore praises his leadership more than anything this season and that is about as big a compliment you can receive and means more than any touchdown ever will.
Brian Quick was another star in the win over Jacksonville with his three touchdown receptions. Quick went over 100 yards again and now has eleven catches for 253 yards this season, averaging 23 yards per reception. What might be more important for Appalachian’s continued success is not the passes that Quick catches, but the passes he does not. There have not been many plays run this season where opposing defenses didn’t double team Quick with either a linebacker or another defensive back. As long as Quick remains healthy and forces defenses to pay attention, it just opens up more passing lanes for the likes of Matt Cline (10 catches, 98 yards) and Ben Jorden(6 catches, 88 yards). Throw in the return of CoCo Hillary this week and the receiving corps only becomes stronger. A return of the traditional running game will be needed before seasons end, but if DeAndre Presley and these pass catchers keep this pace up, good things will happen. There is not a defensive secondary in this division that can keep up with this group of players.
Last year, two early Mountaineer turnovers deep in their own territory, led to fourteen NC Central points. Last week, the Mountaineers fumbled six times, but were fortunate enough to only lose two of those fumbles. Ball security should have become a key priority this week at practice. Turning the ball over to the other team cannot happen in the game of football if you expect to win. Rarely will you lose the turnover battle and win, especially when conference play starts. I am looking for a cleaner game for the Mountaineers. Penalties will happen and are slightly more tolerable, but I am hoping the Mountaineers don’t put it on the turf this weekend. A nice performance by the defense will also be appreciated. The Eagles managed less than 200 yards of total offense last year against Appalachian. Despite having six new starters on defense, this number better remain in tact this weekend, or Appalachian is going to be forced to win a shootout every week in conference play. The pass defense must improve. There are way too many experienced players on that side of the ball to have teams throwing over their heads. Finally, I think many fans want to see the return of the traditional running game. It was nice to see Presley run over 100 yards and very surprising to see Jamal Jackson run for 49 yards in limited action. Devon Moore is the missing piece, and although he carried 11 times last weekend, 3.5 yards a carry is not what Mountaineer fans are used to seeing. Hopefully Devon will be close to 100% soon, but I don’t think the Mountaineers will need him this week.
The First Pick:
Red Beaks 13