Here we go with Week 11:
#11 Elon (8-2,6-1 2nd) @ #2 Appalachian State (8-2, 6-0 1st)
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 2.52 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 11 points (rounded).
Series: ASU leads 26-9-1
Last Meeting: ASU 49, Elon 32; September 29th 2007
This is the time of the year that coaches and players have worked so hard for. For both Elon and Appalachian, this game will play a major factor into determining a conference champion. Elon needs some help, but it all starts with a victory over Appalachian. For the Mountaineers, they can wrap up at least a share of the conference title with a win. Both teams are most likely in the playoffs at this point and their resumes can only be made stronger by playing one another. Elon may not feel as comfortable with their playoff positioning as Appalachian. The Phoenix suffered a tough loss to Wofford and cannot afford another beating to highly ranked opponent. Elon’s other loss on the season came at the hands of Richmond, another potential playoff team. No doubt about it, Elon has been tested this season and this weekend, all will find out if all of the hard work will come to fruition as the play in best game day atmosphere in the Southern Conference.
Everyone has been waiting for Elon to return to its past glory days from the NAIA. When Elon hired Pete Lembo, people knew the Elon was making a commitment to football. Lembo landed some good recruits on the offensive side of the ball and that has helped mold Elon into the premier passing team in the league. Quarterback Scott Riddle has drawn comparisons to Brett Favre, they way he throws the football with an almost reckless abandon. Riddle leads the league with 247 passing yards per game and has thrown 22 touchdown passes despite 14 interceptions. It helps that Riddle has one of the best receivers in the conference in Terrell Hudgins, who has had an All-SoCon type of season with 76 catches for 1043 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Generally when you see team like Elon, who has such a prolific passing game that scores a lot of points, you find a team that is trying to cover up for their defense. That is not the case for Elon. The Phoenix defense is ranked 2nd in total defense, only allowing 315 yards per game. Elon has also only given up 20.6 points per game on defense, which is also good for 2nd in the league. In fact Elon is ranked second in pass efficiency defense and pass defense as well. Where Elon is not so good on defense is turnovers. Elon has only forced 18 turnovers on the season, good for 6th best in the Southern Conference. The teams below them in forced turnovers are Chattanooga, Georgia Southern and The Citadel. Those teams have a combined total of four conference wins. Another glaring statistic is the Elon’s red zone defense, or lack thereof. No team in the league waves opposing offenses into the end zone better than Elon. The Phoenix give up a score 88% of time opponents reach the red zone. The teams ranked directly ahead of Elon in red zone defense are Chattanooga, Georgia Southern, and The Citadel, with those same four conference wins.
The Mountaineers left their home away from home with another lopsided victory over the Chattanooga Mocs. Appalachian has now won 5 games in 4 years in Finley Stadium. It was the running game that propelled the Mountaineers to victory. Three Mountaineers rang up over 100 yards on the ground: Armanti Edwards, DeAndre Pressley and Cedric Baker. The running attack will also play a very important role this weekend if the Apps want to get one step closer to a conference title. Keeping Elon off the field will be very important. You do no want Scott Riddle to get in a groove and one way to avoid that is by running the football. In the previous two games against Elon, Appalachian has rushed for an average of 315 yards per contest while scoring 47 points per game.
Appalachian’s defense has been overlooked for most of the season. Although not having the lofty rankings in certain categories that teams like Elon and Samford have, they have consistently been one of the toughest defenses to score on. The passing game while Elon’s offense is on the field will be entertaining to watch. You will have Elon’s talented receivers against best secondary in the conference. Appalachian is fifth in the nation in interceptions and Mark Legree leads the subdivision with a total of eight picks. In its last three games, Appalachian has only allowed 15 points per game. Appalachian also leads the conference in third down defense, fourth down defense and red zone defense. Appalachian has also forced ten more turnovers than their opponents. Simply put, when a play needs to be made, the Mountaineer defense is there every time.
Some folks wrote Elon off after the loss to Wofford. Mainly because the Wofford win set up a huge battle for first place on Halloween night against Appalachian. Elon quietly defeated Western Carolina and suddenly, there is another battle for first place in Boone, just two weeks removed from the last game. Over the past few years, there has been one constant about Appalachian football. When there is a big game to be played, the Mountaineers always show up big. Against Wofford, Elon could not stand up to the pressure of playing a big game. Elon also struggled early in the season against Richmond and escaped a narrow win at Georgia Southern. Basically, they have won all of the games that they were supposed to. To be considered a great team, you have to win a couple of those games against the likes of Richmond or Wofford. Elon is 4-0 on the road this year, with wins against Stony Brook, Georgia Southern, The Citadel and Chattanooga. Against Stony Brook and Chattanooga, there were less than 5,000 fans on hand in both of those games, and they won both games by double digits. The Georgia Southern(17,049) game and The Citadel(12,582) game were the two largest crowds that Elon has played in front of this year. Those games were won by 2 and 4 points respectively. What will happen when the Phoenix run into 30,000 crazy Appalachian fans in the regular season home finale on Senior Day? The weather also looks to favor the Mountaineers. The coolest kickoff time for Elon this year was 64 degrees when they played at Chattanooga. The fearless forecasters are calling for temperatures around 40 degrees with wind and the chance of light precipitation. More important then the crowd size and the weather conditions, Elon may have to weather a storm of a different kind. The last time Elon saw Armanti Edwards on the field was for his first SoCon game of his career in 2006. Edwards did not play Elon in 2007, while recovering from a shoulder injury. You cannot duplicate on a scout team what Armanti Edwards can do on the field. Beyond stingy defenses and high scoring offenses, something must break. Although Scott Riddle is a great passer, he can get a little pass happy considering his 14 interceptions. Edwards has as many touchdown passes as Riddle, with 135 fewer attempts and only two interceptions. Quarterback play will either win or lose this game. For Elon to be successful, Riddle has to play well and pass the ball consistently. On the other hand, Appalachian’s Edwards can beat teams with his arm and his legs. I think Elon is too one dimensional and their strength is going up against the strength of the ASU defense. The Apps will prevail and capture their fourth straight conference title.
The First Pick:
The Riddle 35
The Answer 49