Here we go with Week 10:
#7 Appalachian State (7-2, 6-0 T1) @ #6 Elon (8-1, 6-0 T1)
Stadium: Rhodes Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 3.11 points
Elon is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 6 ½ points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 27-9-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 24, Elon 16, November 15, 2008
This one is for all the marbles. A better script could not have been written for this week’s game. Two teams undefeated in conference play, ranked in the top ten in the nation, battling it out for the conference championship and the automatic berth to the NCAA Division I Playoffs. Elon has its first chance to win the league championship since joining the conference in 2003. Appalachian is in very familiar territory, having won the past four conference titles and has won nine of eleven all time games with a conference crown on the line. Throw in that the nation’s top offense will square off against the nation’s top defense and it is icing on the cake. What more could a college football fan ask for?
These two teams have been analyzed up and down by just about everyone, trying to see who has the upper hand. You shouldn’t have to dig deep however, because Elon should have the upper hand, because they are playing in their own backyard. However, big time games are decided and won by teams who have played in exactly those situations. From what could be determined, Elon has trailed for only eight minutes in all of their wins this season. They have jumped on opponents early and cruised to easy wins. They have won every conference game by two touchdowns or more except Furman. That has not been the case for Appalachian. Of Appalachian’s seven wins, they trailed for extended periods of time in games against The Citadel and Wofford. Appalachian has also faced tough games against Chattanooga and Samford, teams they led early but could not pull away until late in the fourth quarter. In Elon’s lone loss to Wake Forest, they were blown out. In Appalachian’s two losses, they lost by five points on each occasion and had to fight from behind in both games. It is easy to see, that Appalachian is more battle-tested than Elon. Appalachian has played six tough games. Elon has played one tough game. Appalachian should have the upper hand based on this season’s experience alone.
Elon’s Scot Riddle is the conference leader in passing yards and touchdowns and part of that is due to Elon’s pass-happy offense. Part of that is due to all everything receiver Terrell Hudgins, who averages ten catches a game. Hudgins totals also include 1195 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns. Hudgins also recently broke a NCAA record that was formerly held by Jerry Rice. You really cannot say enough about these guys. They have excellent chemistry together and it has been obvious for several years now.
Elon’s defense was a highly ranked unit last year and they have only improved on those marks in 2009. Elon’s opponents have only gained 92 legitimate first downs. Eleven other first downs were gained by penalty. That is an average of just over ten first downs a game. Elon also only allowing 3.5 yards per play and only 2.6 yards per rush. The 208 yards a game they allow is by far tops in league by over 40 yards. The Phoenix have also only given up 12 points per game. Those numbers are good, but I would have one concern. Appalachian’s offense can explode for tons of yards, first downs and points in a hurry. It will be interesting to see how the Elon defense responds if the Mountaineers have one of their patented spurts.
Appalachian came back down to earth, in terms of explosive offensive outputs last week against Chattanooga. The defense turned in one of their best first quarter performances with two interceptions which eventually led to a quick 21-0 lead for the Mountaineers. At the start of the second half, Chattanooga had cut the lead and attempted two successful onsides kicks in an effort to keep Appalachian’s offense off the field. Chattanooga controlled the football, had long drives and pulled within a point of the Mountaineers. The Mountaineers then woke up in the fourth quarter and shut down the Mocs and pulled away for the win. The Appalachian offense cannot fall asleep at anytime this weekend. They must play a complete game for quarters in order to win their fifth consecutive conference championship.
The Mountaineer defense played a very tough second half in the game against Chattanooga. They were on the field for roughly eleven minutes of the third quarter as the Mocs slowly moved the chains. They also turned back the Mocs on fourth down conversion in the red zone. In the fourth quarter the Mountaineers recorded their third interception of the day and forced Chattanooga to three and outs on two other possessions. They stepped up when they needed to in order to preserve the victory.
What else is there to say about this game? It is highly anticipated by both sides. Elon wants to announce to the FCS ranks that they have arrived. However they cant do that until they beat the man. The man, in this case, is Appalachian State. The Mountaineers, despite a young team, have experience in key positions and one of those walks up and down the sideline all game. The biggest intangible in this game is the coaching staffs. Big games require big game experience. The Appalachian coaching staff knows what it takes to motivate players and knows what are the right calls at the right times. However, it is up to the players to execute. Both Elon and Appalachian have executed superbly this year, to put themselves into this situation. This is a matchup of some of the top ranked units in the Southern Conference and the country. When you look at this game between two evenly matched teams, what is the deciding factor? Who wins? I think the teams that wins is the one that is the most balanced in all phases of the game. The nod on the defensive side of the ball goes to Elon. Their numbers are just magnificent. They speak of championship football. I think on offense, despite both teams being so explosive, the edge goes to Appalachian. Obviously Elon can score too, but there offense is not balanced enough. Their running game plays second fiddle to Riddle and Hudgins. Those guys are the key to Elon football. Appalachian’s offense is much more balanced, averaging 220 yards on the ground and 272 yards in the air. Overall, Appalachian has more weapons on offense. Devon Moore leads in the conference in rushing with 810 yards. Appalachian is the only team with three receivers in the top ten in the conference in receiving yards, even though one of them is out for the season. On special teams, the slight edge also goes to Appalachian. The Mountaineers lead the conference in kickoff coverage. Elon has only one touchback on the year compared to Appalachian’s six. The average drive start for Elon’s opponents is the 31-yard line. Appalachian, even with numerous procedure penalties on kickoffs, gives up the 26 yard line. Five yards could play a huge difference late in the game. Elon’s long field goal of the year was 43 yards, while Appalachian’s was 49 yards. That’s another six yards that goes in Appalachian’s favor. Both teams lead the conference in turnover margin and a turnover either way will be huge. No way will someone lose the turnover battle and win the game this Saturday. In the end, Appalachian has a better balance than Elon and has the experience in big games. I think the Apps have the better team, the better athletes and the desire to push through. It won’t be by much, but it will be enough.
The First Pick: