Here we go with Week 6:
#2 Appalachian State (3-2, 1-0 T2) @ Samford (3-2,1-1 T4)
Stadium: Seibert Stadium
Surface: LSR Blade Synthetic
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 3.14 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 7 ½ points (rounded).
Series: Series tied 1-1
Last Meeting: Samford 42, ASU 35 November 7th, 1970
Welcome to the Southern Conference, Samford University. You have already learned that in this conference, every weekend is a new game, where any team can win. You gave playoff contending Elon a scare at their house by staying close before losing by just a mere six points. You also found out first hand, just how bad the situation is in Cullowhee. Western Carolina scheduled you for their Homecoming game, but nobody told the mighty Samford Bulldogs. This week, you get to play the best there is to offer in the Southern Conference: three-time defending national champion Appalachian State. Although the Mountaineers may run the ball 70% of the time and the team may not be as fast as Ole Miss, there is one thing I am sure, you won’t catch us snoozing or overlooking the Bulldogs.
While scoreboard watching and seeing that Samford was hanging with Elon and beating Western, many people wondered. What do they have down there? It is the their first year in the conference. They are not supposed to be any good. Can they beat the Apps? Certainly, they can. That is why you play. But what really makes Samford who they are?
First off, they have a former Heisman trophy winner as a head coach in Pat Sullivan. After his playing days at Auburn were over, Sullivan coached at Texas Christian and Alabama-Birmingham before taking over at Samford prior to the 2007 season. Samford finished at 4-7 during his first year. Secondly, the Bulldogs defense has not been allowing too much of anything. They have allowed only 21 points a game in the last three contests (Ole Miss, Elon, Western Carolina). Against the powerful Elon passing attack, they forced Scott Riddle into three interceptions and three sacks while only allowing two touchdown passes. Lastly, Samford’s offense is fairly run oriented. They are a team that controls the clock. Against Elon, they controlled the ball for 33:24. Against Ole Miss they held the ball for 34:08. They are averaging as a team 4.6 yards per rushing attempt and average 44.4 rushing attempts per game.
The Bulldogs are led by freshman quarterback Dustin Taliaferro who has thrown for a very efficient 640 yards in five games. Taliaferro has completed two-thirds of his pass attempts on the season. Chris Evans is main man at running back for Samford. Evans has run for 579 yards and six touchdowns in five games this season. He averages 21.8 carries per game and 5.3 yards per carry behind one of the biggest offensive lines in the conference. Their line averages 315 pounds per player.
It appears the Mountaineers have found their groove on offense. Armanti Edwards threw for a career high four touchdowns and led the team with 305 total yards against The Citadel. The rotation of Devin Radford and Robert Whelton at running back worked nicely as they combined for 94 yards rushing. Radford, for the second straight week, has shown he is dangerous with the ball in the open field as he took a screen pass 68 yards for a touchdown. A nice change of pace was set by Matt Cline, who carried four times for 49 yards. Seven different receivers caught passes for the Mountaineers and four different players caught touchdown passes.
The Appalachian defense was smothering. The Apps held The Citadel 145 yards below their total offensive production. Bart Blanchard was only able to complete 41% of his passes. The Citadel running attack could only muster 2.4 yards per rushing attempt. The Bulldogs could only convert six of its 19 third down attempts. In almost every key statistical category, Appalachian held The Citadel below their season averages.
The key to this game will be how Appalachian comes out in the first quarter. Although the first quarter against The Citadel was uneventful, the Apps exploded for 34 points in the second stanza. Two costly turnovers helped the cause for the Mountaineers. A Citadel punt attempt sailed over the head of the punter and on the ensuing possession, Pierre Banks intercepted a pass that set up ASU with another short field. That is what the Apps have been known for in the past, jumping out early and cruising to the win. Samford is not a team that is going come back from a large deficit and win. Their offense is not designed for it. Appalachian’s defense is third in the conference in turnover margin and every turnover has come by way of interception. Those ten interceptions are also tops in the conference. Appalachian also leads the league is passing efficiency defense, only allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 53% of their passes. On the other side, although Samford likes to control the clock, Appalachian in turn does not need very much time to score. ASU’s longest drive against The Citadel went 11 plays for 89 yards and took 4:55 off the clock. The remaining scoring drives all lasted less than three minutes, with three drives lasting less than one minute. I don’t think Samford has the horses to get in a shootout with Appalachian and I don’t think Appalachian is going to be held under 35 points. The turnover battle may be the battle that Samford can win to give them a shot. Samford (+5) is one of three teams in the conference ahead of Appalachian(+3) in turnover margin. Also, Samford leads the conference in kickoff returns at 24 yards per return. That is certainly something Appalachian fans did not want to hear. However, what they gain in those categories, the Bulldogs lose in others. Samford is the most penalized team in the conference in terms of yardage at 63.9 yards per game and in turn, their opponents are penalized the second fewest at 38.6 yards per game. I see this being a fairly close first half. Samford will be able to burn some clock while trying to keep Edwards and Co. off the field. The Apps will break it open with a key interception and the flood gates will open up. Although Samford has only allowed 83 yards per game on the ground, I predict at least two ASU players will break that barrier on Saturday.
The First Pick:
Mountain House 31