Here we go with Week 10:
#4 Wofford (8-1, 6-0 1st) @ #3 Appalachian State (8-1, 6-1 2nd)
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Surface: Field Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home advantage: 3.15 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 16-10
Last Meeting: Appalachian 44, Wofford 34, October 17, 2009
Weeks ago, a showdown in Boone of the top two Southern Conference programs was almost inevitable. The Mountaineers are no strangers to this de facto championship game. This will be the third year in a row for such a game for Appalachian, although the opponent has changed this season. Wofford has literally run all over their competition this season. Appalachian has done the same, despite a bump in the road last week. Wofford had a rough season last year, with tremendous injuries and a rash of the flu bug that decimated the roster, but has bounced back nicely. Both teams will be fighting for, at minimum, a share of the conference championship, but neither wants to share it with the other. In 2007, Appalachian and Wofford shared the championship, and were in line to meet in the NCAA semifinals, but Wofford lost a late lead at home against Richmond. With the NCAA and its love affair with geographical matchups, both Appalachian and Wofford could be in line for another crash course in December. In the meantime, fans will just have to settle for a battle of top five teams, with a ring on the line.
Wofford knows what is like to go into a hostile environment and win. Earlier this season, they slipped past Georgia Southern in Statesboro 33-31. Both teams were ranked in The Sports Network Top 25. Over 21,000 in attendance witnessed a high scoring battle that consisted of 107 total rushing attempts and only 23 passes. Georgia Southern ran for 243 yards, and Wofford carried for 302 yards. At that point in the season, both teams were held below their rushing average for that game, Georgia Southern by 30 yards, Wofford by 20 yards. Throughout the season Wofford has been right around 320 yards rushing per game. Georgia Southern has had their average as high 270 a game, but has fallen to 243 yards rushing. All season long, both Georgia Southern and Wofford have been in the top five in rushing, and in the bottom five in passing. Last weekend, Appalachian held Georgia Southern 50 yards below their season average on the ground. Southern averaged 5 yards per carry against the Terrier defense, while Appalachian stymied the Eagles into 3.3 yards per carry. Both Wofford and Georgia Southern practice against similar offenses all season long, while in one week of preparation, Appalachian held the Eagles to 20% fewer yards and 1.1 yard less per carry than their season average.
There is no secret to the success of the Wofford offense. It runs through Watauga County product Eric Breitenstein. In just nine games this season, Breitenstein has run for 1,189 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is a strong back that fits the Wofford system and only gets stronger as the game wears on. In four games where he has rushed twenty times or more, he averaged 189 yards and 7 yards per carry. However, Wofford results have not depended directly on Breitenstein. In his four games where he was most dominant, two games were blowouts, and the other two were decided by a touchdown in each game. In the five games where Breitenstein had less then glowing performances, one was a loss, three were blowouts, and the other was decided by two points, against, you guessed it, Georgia Southern. With Wofford, you can not forget quarterback Mitch Allen who has 567 yards on 5.2 yards per carry or Mike Rucker, who has 424 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. They all can and will burn you and those are the three options that must be accounted for on every play.
Obviously, last week there were not many bright spots for the Mountaineers. The offense was stagnant and a lot of that had to do with Georgia Southern. The Eagles attacked the line of scrimmage relentlessly, and were able to disrupt any rhythm the Mountaineer offense tried to gain. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, they return home this weekend to face a team that has not had a thought about stopping them in a long time. In the last two years, Appalachian has torched Wofford for 1,231 yards of total offense and 114 points. Of those yards gained, 782 yards have come through the air. The Mountaineers must continue to exploit what has been a weakness in the Wofford defense as they have in years past. The 2010 group of Mountaineer wide receivers is as good as any in school history, from the top to the bottom. The Wofford secondary averages 6’0” tall. Brian Quick is 6’5’ every day of the week. In his two meeting against the Terriers, Quick has caught 12 passes for 353 yards and five touchdowns. That is an astounding 29 yards per catch and a touchdown reception every 2.4 catches.
In the last five years, Wofford has been the only consistent threat to Appalachian during its run of five straight conference championships. During that stretch, only the 2006 game failed to be a high scoring affair, with Appalachian winning 14-7. The winners in the other four games scored at least 42 points. Including the game this weekend, Appalachian and Wofford will face off for the third time in six years as ranked opponents, and Saturday will mark the second time both teams were inside the top five nationally. Wofford will try as it always has, like almost every Appalachian opponent, and try to control the football. In a game like this, turnovers can kill a team. Any quick turnovers by either team will certainly lead to points scored. These two offenses are too powerful to be given extra chances. Most importantly, the team with fewer penalties will certainly benefit. Against an option attack, a free five yards is like giving them another first down. On the flip side of that, neither team can afford a wasted possession that an offensive holding call will result in. Field position will also be very critical. Both teams become very conservative in their play calling when they are pinned inside their own 20 yard line, which can also be viewed as a wasted possession. An absolutely packed house is expected this weekend and since Wofford has joined the conference, they have only won once in Boone. On that day in 2002, Wofford ran all over Appalachian, setting a record for rushing yards against in a single game. I think it is going to take another record breaking performance from Wofford to be able to beat the Mountaineers at home this weekend. The sting from the Georgia Southern loss may be just enough motivation for the Mountaineers this weekend to spring themselves into the playoffs. I am expecting a big day from the Mountaineer offense and defense.
The First Pick:
Lap Dogs 31