Here we go with Week 4:
#2 Appalachian State (3-0, 1-0 1st) @ Samford (2-1, 0-0)
Stadium: Seibert Stadium
Surface: LSR Blade Synthetic
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home advantage: 3.01 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 6½ points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 3-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 20, Samford 7, September 26, 2009
The stretch run is upon us. For the next eight weeks, Appalachian will face nothing but conference opponents in its quest to become only the third team in Southern Conference history to win six straight conference championships. The next challenge is the Samford Bulldogs, a team that never impresses, but poses a threat of the unknown. This will be the third time that Appalachian and Samford meet on the gridiron as conference foes, and neither game has been easy for Appalachian. In 2008, Samford jumped to quick first quarter lead before the Apps scored three touchdowns in the second quarter and held on to win. Last year in Boone, Samford could stop the rain or Appalachian in a low scoring 20-7 loss. This game will be a test for both teams, as the Mountaineers will hit the road for the second time this season in conference play to face a Samford team that will be ready for one of the top teams in the country.
Seems like Samford has had the same players line up on offense for three straight years. The numbers may have changed up front, but Samford’s offensive line is consistently one of the largest in the conference. The blind side of right handed quarterback Dustin Taliaferro is protected by the 317-pound left tackle Thomas Gray and 307-pound left guard Charlie Sanford. The line averages 285 pounds across the board and ascends in size from the left side to the right side. Running back Chris Evans has been a perennial all conference performer since his stepped on campus. The senior has rushed for over a thousand yards in each his first three seasons. Evans is on pace for 960 yards this season, partly due to a poor performance against Florida State in which he only carried 12 times for 39 yards, but responded well, going for over 100 yards in back to back weeks. Samford is 12-4 all time when Evans eclipses the 100 yard mark. One of those losses came at the hands of Appalachian.
Dustin Taliaferro is not a guy who is going to impress you with his arm, nor is he an extremely mobile quarterback, but he gets the job done. He is very much in the mold of a game manager. His job is simple: control the ball, avoid mistakes and hand it off to Chris Evans. Taliaferro surprised the conference in 2008 with 13 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions. However, once the conference got some tape on him, they were able to game plan against him better. In 2009, Taliaferro only managed nine touchdowns, and threw nine interceptions. This season looks like a mirror image of 2009. Taliaferro has three touchdowns, and three interceptions. Some quarterbacks can throw several interceptions and get away with it, but not when your offense is only managing 21 points a game, like Samford is this season. In 2009, Samford averaged just over 19 points a game, and in 2008 averaged almost 25 points a game. Taliaferro is going to need to overcome those statistics this weekend to give his Bulldogs a chance. In two seasons, Taliaferro has thrown a touchdown pass against every school in the conference, except Appalachian.
The story of Travaris Cadet is an interesting one. Cadet came out of the high school as a very highly rated dual threat quarterback. After being bounced around by Toledo and Pearl River CC, Cadet has finally found a home at Appalachian State. Cadet has been moved around the field as a wide receiver, quarterback, back to receiver and now, might have found a home at running back. Usually when a player changes positions so frequently, it means that the coaches are trying to find a way to get him the ball. The new position may become permanent, as Cadet filled in nicely for Devon Moore, who has is still working to become healthy. Although only rushing eight times, Cadet found enough open spaces to rack up 149 yards on the ground, highlighted by a 52 yard second quarter touchdown run last week against NC Central. Consistency in the running game will be extremely crucial now that the bulk of the conference schedule has begun. Burning clock in the fourth quarter is a must for any team to have hopes of competing for a championship.
The Appalachian offense has been explosive as ever. Many believed the offense wouldn’t be as spectacular after the graduation of Armanti Edwards, but DeAndre Presley and company have surprised everyone. The Mountaineers are averaging over 43 points and have scored at least 40 points in every game, good enough for fourth nationally. Despite a running attack by committee, the Mountaineers are fifth in the nation with 255 yards a game. Three Mountaineers are averaging 40 yards a game or more on the ground, and neither of those names are Devon Moore. Appalachian leads the nation in total offense at 543 yards a game and is one of only five schools gaining more than 500 yards a game this season. The Samford defense will have its hands full stopping the Mountaineer attack as they rank 100th nationally against the pass and also have allowed over 33 points per game.
I am slightly confused by this Samford team. It seems they tend to play up or down to their competition. Despite a wet game last year, I thought the Bulldogs would struggle mightily, but they kept it close enough to make several Mountaineers fans uneasy. The same team last year, lost to Furman by two on the road, beat Georgia Southern by 21 at home, but also lost to The Citadel by 12 on the road. Their three games this year are also interesting results. Samford was spanked by a rebuilding Florida State team, struggled to beat Northwestern State who was 0-11 last year, and then had to come back from a 21-7 deficit to beat Division II Newberry. The tools are in place for Samford to make a run at the Apps, but they will need some help. They are going to have to find a away to keep Appalachian to 400 yards of offense or less. They will also have to lean heavily on Chris Evans and control the game. The Bulldogs have averaged 3.6 yards per carry as a team, and that will not be enough to keep the ball away from Appalachian. They will also have to take advantage of the big play. Appalachian showed some vulnerability allowing a kickoff return for touchdown last week against NC Central. Fabian Truss leads the conference with 27.5 yards per kick return. Samford also has the conference leader in interceptions in Thomas Broussard, although Appalachian has yet to throw an interception this year. I have a hard time seeing Samford staying in the game, and the Bulldogs will have to do some things that they have not done yet this season, like convert on third downs, sustain drives, and score in the red zone. I do not think Appalachian will have many problems with Samford, but this one will not be a huge blowout.
The First Pick:
Lil’ Bullpups 10