Here we go with The Quarterfinals:
#5 Appalachian State @ #4 Richmond
TV: ESPN Gameplan, MASN, MTN 18 Charter Cable Boone
Stadium: Richmond Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 3.16 points
Richmond is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 11 ½ points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 4-3
Last Meeting: Appalachian 13, Richmond 33, December 6, 2008
Richmond and Appalachian State were nearly destined to meet in the 2009 playoffs. In the last two seasons, both teams have traded twenty point blowout victories, and both teams probably felt like they could have played better in their respective losses. The rubber match is set for Saturday, and for the first time, it will be held in Richmond. Both teams seem to be very evenly matched and the stage is set for a great game, even though Richmond is favored. Both teams had tough games in the first round, but that is exactly what the playoffs are all about. You fight to play another day and you fight for the chance to be the last one standing. Both teams know what it is like to be the last one standing as they represent the last four national champions. Both teams will bring the everything to the table on Saturday and leave nothing in the tank. The winner will outlast the other and they will feel it. Will you?
Once again, its another week and another familiar opponent. For the third straight year, Appalachian and Richmond will face each other in the playoffs. Richmond is coming off its first national championship and Appalachian fans know exactly what it feels like to be back in the playoffs with a chance to repeat as champions. In fact, Appalachian fans want that feeling back so badly, that they plan to make Appalachian players feel like Richmond Stadium is their own. Appalachian expects around 5,000 fans dressed in black and gold to be in Richmond to support their team. Richmond has averaged well under 10,000 fans in six home games this season, so the Appalachian fans could become a big factor in this game.
For the second straight week, the Appalachian defense will have to defend a big quarterback. Eric Ward is not quite as big as South Carolina State quarterback Malcolm Long, but he plays just as a big. Ward is 6’2” and weighs in at 210 pounds. His rushing statistics are down from the past two seasons, but he can still move. Ward ran for a career long 74-yard touchdown run last week against Elon and finished the game with 136 rushing yards. Ward’s passing numbers have fallen off in 2009 as well. Ward has thrown 10 interceptions this year, with four of those coming in his last two games and has not thrown a touchdown pass in either game. In fact, in his last four games, Ward has only tossed three touchdown passes compared to six interceptions. In each game that Ward has attempted thirty or more passes this season, he has thrown an interception. Half of his interceptions have come in those four games (Delaware, VMI, Villanova and William & Mary).
More importantly, when you think about Richmond, the first thought that comes to mind is not a high octane passing offense. Recently, Richmond has been more known as a power running football team. However, running the football has not been as successful for the Spiders as it has been in the previous two seasons. In 2007, current Arizona Cardinal Tim Hightower lead a rushing attack that compiled 234 yards per game. In 2008, Josh Vaughn led the Spiders to 187 yards per game. This season, that number has plummeted to 160 yards per game. Hightower and Vaughn ran for over 1800 yards in each of those respective seasons. Justin Forte has ran for 999 yards, or about 83 yards per game. Defensively for Appalachian, they have not allowed a team to rush for over 100 yards in three straight games, including five of its last six games. In those six games, the Mountaineers have only given up 78 yards per game on the ground.
For several weeks in a row, we have talked about how the Appalachian defense has been carrying the team and it has continued to impress. Last week they held South Carolina State to just 229 total yards, 15 first down and six points. The lone Bulldog touchdown was an interception return. South Carolina State only possessed the ball for 23:44. The Appalachian secondary has collected 17 interceptions on the season, with nine coming in the last four games. Defense will be a big key this weekend, and the defense who plays the best, may carry their team to the next round.
It is hard to talk about Appalachian and not mention how explosive the offense can be, despite several straight weeks of below average production. It seems quite obvious that the season ending injury to wide receiver CoCo Hillary may have had some effect. As has been well documented, Armanti Edwards was injured against Elon and has not been as explosive since then. Edwards worked with a limited playbook against South Carolina State and did not play the previous week against Western Carolina. Saturday will mark three weeks since the injury occurred and the coaches are very optimistic that Edwards will be close to full strength. The Appalachian offense revolves around Edward’s ability to run on designed play and scrambles. When the Appalachian offense is at its best, Edwards ability to run forces the defense to devote and extra defender to stopping him, which in turn creates clearer lanes to throw the football. When opposing defenses are guessing on each play, the Appalachian offense clicks.
During playoff football, every single play is scrutinized. One penalty or one missed kick can make a difference each week. Richmond and Appalachian State know that all too well. Richmond dodged two bullets in the fourth quarter of their win over Elon, as the Phoenix failed to cash in on two field goals late in the fourth quarter that could have tied the game. Appalachian was facing a most probably deficit when South Carolina State lined up for a chip shot field goal with under eight minutes to play. A botched snap that sailed past both the holder and the kicker led to the go ahead touchdown for Appalachian. This week may be no different. Both defenses have been playing extremely tough football as of late and points may be tough to come by. Both teams have the ability to score points, but playoff football is all about trying to not make mistakes. Appalachian and Richmond combined for eight turnovers last week. Any repeat of those type of performances will certainly make it difficult for either team to fulfill their dreams of another national championship. For Richmond, they will continue to play as they have been all season. In games this season where the final score was within one score, Richmond ran the ball on average on 54% of their plays. In games where Richmond won easily, they averaged running on 65% of their plays. Appalachian must contain the Richmond ground game. The story has been the same for the last three years. If the Appalachian defense can force long yardage situations on second and third down, it will force Richmond to throw, where they have not been successful as years past. Richmond attempted more passes than had rushing attempts in only three games this season, which included their loss to Villanova. A Richmond team that is forced to throw plays right into the hands of the Appalachian defense. Defensive ends Jabari Fletcher and Lanston Tanyi have combined for 14 sacks on the year. The kicking game will also be important to both teams. Richmond kicker Andrew Howard is 12/20 on the season and has only connected on five of his last eleven. Appalachian State kicker Jason Vitaris is 18/25 on the season and has connected on his last four attempts. Howard has missed two extra points on the season, one that cost the Spiders a potential tie in their loss to Villanova.
The First Pick:
Eight Legs 16