Here we go with the First Round:
#12 James Madison (8-3) @ #5 Appalachian State (9-2)
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin ratings:
Home advantage: 2.59 points
ASU is favored to win by 8 points
Series: ASU leads 11-3
Last Meeting: ASU 21, JMU 10
The season is finally over for all but 16 teams who have dreams of a National Championship dancing in their heads. For about eight of those teams, the opportunity to win it all is realistic. Two of those eight teams will face off in first round action in Boone, NC. One team is the two-time defending champions who will be playing at home. The other is the last national champion to win it not named Appalachian State. The Mountaineers opponent, James Madison feels as if they were given the shaft again by the NCAA by not being awarded a home playoff game. Some feel that ASU might have received the same sentence by being forced to the road in a possible second round match up with the playoffs’ number two seed in McNeese State. It’s really irrelevant. These two teams will not be thinking about where they should have been come Saturday. It’s the playoffs. It’s put up or shut up time. On Saturday, The Rock will be just as it is every weekend during the season. The Mountaineers will expect to win and James Madison will expect to pull off the upset. One team will play prepared and one will win and the other will be eating leftovers, dreaming of what could have been.
The James Madison team that will be taking the field at Kidd Brewer on Saturday is not the same team that Appalachian fans saw at the beginning of the 2006 season. That team was all about running between the tackles and play action passing. The Dukes have now adopted a style of offense that features the quarterback, Rodney Landers, who is questionable for Saturday’s game with a sore ankle. Despite his health, chances are he will probably play if necessary, so the Mountaineers must prepare as if he will. Landers has run for 1194 yards and passed for 1554 yards on the season and has had a hand in 24 touchdowns. In the last two games against Towson and William and Mary, Landers ran for 321 yards on 45 carries. That averages out to 7.1 yards a carry compared to the regular season where he averaged 5.9 yards per carry. However, against playoff teams, Delaware, New Hampshire and Richmond, Landers carried for only 5.4 yards per carry and was held well below is his season average in games against Delaware and Richmond.
They one way to stop Landers is get him off the field or force him to pass. In James Madison’s three losses, Landers’ touchdown to interception ratio was 1 to 2. In fact. Landers’ threw all of his four interceptions in the losses to North Carolina, Richmond and Delaware. On the opposite side of the ball, Appalachian is a prefect 19-0 when Corey Lynch incepts a pass. Landers must keep his passes away from Corey Lynch and the rest of the ASU defense if the Dukes are to advance to the second round.
The James Madison defense is considered one of the better defenses in all of the country. They have allowed only 21.5 points per contest and don’t allow teams to gain yards on the ground. They have only allowed 8 field goals and 31 touchdowns all season long. If there is a weak part of the JMU defense, its their pass defense, which gives up 205 yards per outing. ASU has shown in a couple games this season that they can throw the ball whenever they please. Madison only has eight interceptions on the season and has allowed teams to convert 63% of their passes.
For Appalachian the offense is similar that it revolves around the production of Armanti Edwards. When the Mountaineers can get to running the ball like they want, they are hard to beat. Although James Madison only allows 120 yards a game against the run, something has to give. I am not sure that James Madison has enough speed to contain the ASU running game as a whole. All season, teams have tried to focus on stopping Kevin Richardson, and if that worked, they were unable to contain Edwards. At the same time, when teams focused on Edwards, that is when Richardson would shine. Both players did their best running last year in the 2006 playoffs, when they blew away teams with their speed and elusiveness.
The ASU defense must step up to the plate this week as they face another strong running team. Take away Wofford and Western Carolina, and the rest of the schedule is full of teams that are considered run oriented. The Mountaineers have struggled at times this year with stopping the run, yet rank 10th in the nation in tackles for loss. If the Apps allow a somewhat injured Landers to run wild, it could be a long afternoon.
The tone of this game will be set from the very beginning. When I say that, I don’t mean whoever scores first, I mean whoever wins the coin toss. Both teams will likely prefer to take the ball if given the option and that is when either someone will score or get stopped. I think ASU holds the upper hand if they can get on the board first. In the games ASU lost this season, they had to fight back from behind and get out of their offense while doing so. Appalachian is much better team when they play with the lead. James Madison will need to move the ball and keep it out of the hands of the ASU offense early. Against Richmond, James Madison held the ball for only 23 minutes of the game and eventually lost by one point. ASU thrives on the quick score. The majority of ASU’s scoring drives this season have occurred in less than two minutes of possession. Penalties and turnovers are bigger when you play in the playoffs because everyone you play is better and they take advantage of those situations. I think another big factor in this game is field position. Anytime you can pin a team inside of its ten yard line, you force them to scrap half of their playbook. ASU punter Neil Young was able to control the spin on two punts last week to give Chattanooga bad field position. Whether it be Dexter Jackson or CoCo Hillary returning punts, both players have the breakaway speed that has the ability to flip the field on opposing teams. When you talk about field position and punting, the expectations are for a potentially low scoring game. Appalachian has not been held under 30 points all season long and although James Madison is talented defensively, I don’t see why the Mountaineers will not put points on the board. James Madison must make Appalachian play from behind and force the running game, and play mistake free. I think the home field advantage will come into play when it’s over. In 2005, ASU had 6,327 fans for a non-regional opponent in the first round. In 2006, 16,223 fans showed up to watch ASU pummel Coastal Carolina. More ASU fans will pack Kidd Brewer because they have expected to have a game this time of the year. James Madison has not won this year in front of large crowds and the health of their quarterback will certainly be an issue. The Mountaineers should advance to the next round.
The First Pick:
Black and Gold 35
Men don’t wear Purple 26