Here we go with The Quarterfinals:
#7 Richmond @ #2 Appalachian State
TV: ESPN Gameplan
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 2.83 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 3 points (rounded).
Series: ASU leads 4-2
Last Meeting: ASU 55, UR 35; December 7, 2007
Win or go home. Survive and advance. Whatever you call, all it takes is having more points than the opponent at the end of sixty minutes. You win to play another day. The next day will be this Saturday. For the first time in Appalachian’s playoff run since 2005, they will play an opponent for a second time. In each of the previous three seasons, Appalachian played 12 different schools in as many playoff games. When the Mountaineers take on Richmond on Saturday, the memories of the last game between these two schools are very vivid. It was a spectacular night and every thing went the right way for the Mountaineers. Appalachian hopes to duplicate that same atmosphere and the results in the round of eight.
Richmond was considered a playoff team all year in 2008. They impressed many critics with a very convincing win against Elon on the opening weekend of the season. They followed with a loss to Virginia and win over Towson. That schedule was very similar to Appalachian’s schedule. Appalachian played a tough out of conference game against James Madison, a BCS foe in LSU and an easy game in Jacksonville. The only other losses for Richmond were to playoff teams Villanova and James Madison, who will play this weekend.
Looking at statistics, it is easy to see that Richmond has a great defense. The Spiders have only allowed 98 yards per game on ground and 16.2 points per game. The Spiders have only given up 251 yards of offense per game and have only allowed 23 total touchdowns. However, once you start digging and comparing how Richmond did in their two conference losses, you find something different. Against JMU and Villanova, Richmond gave up 32 points per game. They gave up 226 yards to both teams in the running game. They also allowed 362 yards in offense in both games. All statistics were way up from their season averages against teams that were very well matched against Richmond.
In the 2007 game, all of the Mountaineer defensive focus was on stopping future Arizona Cardinal Tim Hightower. This year will be no different as Richmond will use Josh Vaughan, another big running back with NFL potential. Vaughan has run for 1,503 yards and 16 touchdowns. He helps Richmond control the clock as the Spiders averaged 32:40 of possession per game. Most likely, Richmond will try to control the clock, just like they have been all season, and just like every team that has played Appalachian. Quarterback Eric Ward is leader in the huddle. The quarterback has thrown for 2,311 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. More than Hightower in 2007, Ward impressed me with his ability to know when and when not to scramble out of the pocket. Richmond’s offensive line gave up 23 sacks for 141 yards and even with those yards lost, Ward still managed to gain 270 yards on the ground to go along with six touchdowns.
Appalachian got off to a fast start on offense against South Carolina State. Unfortunately the first drive ended with a fumble inside the five yard line, which gave the Bulldogs the chance to score first and force Appalachian to come back from an early deficit. That has been an unwelcome theme for the Mountaineers in the last two games. Appalachian suffered from the turnover bug in its previous game against Western Carolina as well. Against a team like Richmond, turnovers will eventually haunt you. The Mountaineers need to take better care of the ball or else they could find themselves taking a very early exit from the playoffs.
Defensively, Appalachian held their own by only giving up 3.8 yards per carry against SC State. They did not allow any points in fourth quarter and only allowed Malcolm Long to complete 17 of 41 pass attempts. That has been the consistent theme for the Mountaineers all year long. Appalachian has only allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 48% of their passes and has intercepted 19 passes. The run defense has only allowed 4.2 yards per carry as well on the season. The defensive side of the ball has won Appalachian many games and will have to do the same against Richmond. The Appalachian offense will get their points, but the onus will be on the linebackers to contain the scrambling ability of Eric Ward and the running game of Josh Vaughan.
It is hard to talk about these two teams and not hark on the last game they played nearly a year ago at Kidd Brewer Stadium. Armanti Edwards created his personal highlight film as he rushed for a record 313 yards on the ground and had a part of seven total touchdowns. This year will be a little bit different for both teams. Appalachian has been a team riddled by injuries and the lack of consistency from the running backs has forced them to become more pass oriented. That was extremely evident as Armanti Edwards threw for a school record 433 yards against SC State. Edwards has thrown for 631 yards and 12 touchdowns more than the 2007 campaign and has run for 650 less yards than the previous year. Richmond will have a totally different team to prepare for. On the other hand, Richmond’s offensive tendencies and philosophies have remained the same. Richmond still wants to control the ball and run first, pass second. The huge difference is that Appalachian’s defense is much stronger than last year’s unit, allowing only 20.2 points per contest and have been stronger in the run defense as well. Vaughan is a bruiser and does not have the breakaway speed that Hightower did. Ward will have to pass to beat the Mountaineers, but that has been a huge hurdle for Mountaineer opponents. The Mountaineers will have Devin Radford back in the lineup and the Spiders will have to respect his game breaking ability. In all, I think the Mountaineers have too many weapons on both sides of the ball and I don’t think this years Richmond team can match up as well as in 2007. The Richmond defensive backs average 5’10” and I would love to see who matches up against the 6’4” Brian Quick. This game may not be easier for the Mountaineers, but I think the margin of victory will be much more convincing than last week.
The First Pick:
Black Spiders 17
Black Rain 34