Here we go with Week 7:
#1 Appalachian State (6-0, 4-0 1st) @ Western Carolina (2-5, 1-3 8th)
Stadium: EJ Whitmire Stadium
Surface: Desso Challenge Pro 2 (Artificial)
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home advantage: 3.50 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 16 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 55-18-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 19, Western Carolina 14, November 21, 2009
There was a time, long ago, when Appalachian and Western Carolina would play football, and there really was no clear favorite. There was a time that this game meant something, and that there was something to play for. Well, the “Old Mountain Jug” is about all there is left to play for if you are Catamount football fan. The feeling of a rivalry between these two mountain schools is no longer mutual. Appalachian has won 23 of the last 25 times in the series. Both wins that came for the Catamounts in the modern era, occurred in Cullowhee. The last Catamount victory came in 2004. Since then, and perhaps even before, these two programs have gone in opposite directions. Appalachian has won every Southern Conference championship since the loss in 2004, and the Catamounts have only won seven conference games in the same amount of time. Western Carolina lost their home opener earlier this season, to Division II Tusculum. Appalachian is 6-0 this season and has won 24 straight conference games. In the Battle for the Old Mountain Jug, some things never change.
Western Carolina seemed like a team on the rise in their last game against Appalachian. The Mountaineer offense struggled, and game was not decided until the fourth quarter. The Appalachian nation got their first glimpse of life without Armanti Edwards. It was not pretty. The Catamounts were suddenly back. However, before the Catamount season could get on track, it crashed and burned at home to a team they had no business losing to in Tusculum. The game was not close. Tusculum ran up 54 points on the Catamounts and won going away. The next week, the Cats had to travel to Gardner Webb, who had just defeated Akron in overtime. Western pulled out a win in Boiling Springs but lost a closely contested game against Chattanooga, whose only losses are to Appalachian and Jacksonville St. A win over The Citadel followed and the Catamounts season appeared to be turning the season around, after playing three good games in a row. Then, reality set in again. The Cats were manhandled by Samford on Homecoming and then took another lopsided loss to Wofford last weekend.
Neither the Catamount offense nor defense is performing well when compared to their peers. Out of 117 FCS teams, the Catamounts ranked 102nd in total offense and pass defense, 108th in total defense, and 103rd in scoring defense. The Cats can not move the ball, and they can not stop anyone else from moving it either. Comparing some of the Cats defensive stats to the Mountaineers offensive numbers is almost laughable. Appalachian is third in the country in total offense and scoring offense, seventh in rushing offense, and sixteenth in passing offense.
Western Carolina is unsure of their starting quarterback for this weekend. When asked on the weekly teleconference, head coach Dennis Wagner responded with uncertainty. He told the media that he would know on Thursday whether to start South Carolina transfer Zac Brindise or true freshman Brandon Pechloff. The two alternated series in the second half against Wofford. Brindise has thrown three interceptions in the last two weeks while Pechloff has thrown four interceptions himself. Wagner will likely stick with a quarterback as soon as they stop throwing the ball to the other team.
Appalachian was able to put The Citadel away early in the second quarter as they cruised to a 39-10 victory. DeAndre Presley threw a career high five touchdown passes and has now thrown 143 passes without an interception this year. Presley now has 14 touchdown passes on the season. After suffering a head injury that forced him out of the Elon game, Presley only ran four times for 27 yards. Brian Quick emerged once again as he caught three passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 65 yard catch and run from Presley. Travaris Cadet chipped in with three catches for 79 yards and a touchdown and eight rushes for 59 yards. Despite splitting carries with entire Mountaineer backfield, Cadet has shown his playmaking skills all season, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
The Mountaineer defense was very impressive in their first test of the season against a triple option offense. Appalachian only allowed 197 yards rushing on 53 carries. Linebackers Justin Wray and DJ Smith combined for 24 tackles, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble and fumble recovery. The Citadel was not able to complete a pass, except to Mark Legree, who grabbed his fourth interception of the season and his 21st of his career. The ten points allowed were also a season low for the Mountaineers.
Personally, every season, the Western Carolina game makes me nervous, because it is more than just another conference game. Appalachian and Western have met each other more than any other team in their schools history. Most of the time, this game has been played at or near the end of the season. It was like a bowl game for both teams, assuming neither was advancing to the playoffs. Once again, it has been more than just the last game of the season. It was a springboard into the next season, a way to win recruits in western North Carolina. However, during the last 25 years of Appalachian dominance, this game has turned into a Western Carolina super bowl, so to speak. The last two Catamount wins have turned into massive celebrations. For Appalachian, a win is considered business as usual. It appears that recent history will continue to repeat itself. Appalachian has become a national force year in and out, while the Catamount program continues to struggle, no matter who mans the sidelines. The Cat offense is just plain bad, and their defense is not far behind. DeAndre Presley started his first career game two years ago in Cullowhee. He struggled in the first half, but won his first conference award as he was named freshman of the week. The Mountaineers won 35-10. Presley is now much more mature, and many consider his play the biggest surprise in the FCS this season. The Mountaineers simply have too many weapons, and as long as they take care of the football on Saturday they should not have any trouble with the Catamounts.
The First Pick: