Here we go with The First Round:
#7 South Carolina State @ #5 Appalachian State
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 3.12 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 9 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 2-0
Last Meeting: Appalachian 37, South Carolina State 21, November 29, 2008
Another year, another championship and another uninteresting playoff match up. That song could be sung by both South Carolina State and Appalachian in 2009. When you have similar champions from year to year and the NCAA selection committee is so concerned about travel costs, the odds are good that you will start seeing the same teams more often. In the past four years, Appalachian has been matched up in the playoffs with a team from South Carolina or Virginia. This time around, its even the same opponent from last year’s playoffs. Its starting to feel like South Carolina State is in the SoCon and they are the team that Appalachian plays after Western Carolina. This is not going to turn into a gripe about playing South Carolina State in back to back playoffs, but more of a gripe about not having a playoff system that actually crowns a National Champion. This week’s winner will play the Richmond and Elon winner, which was also exactly the same as it was in 2008. This whole deal is starting to get predictable and that makes it no fun for the funs. South Carolina State thought they were worthy to host a game, and maybe they should have hosted. If they hosted they would most likely play another school, one that they may have not had to play in the past. Every team deserves a fair shot, and this selection process does not deliver it for the fans, coaches or players. It is starting to resemble the other upper division of college football.
Since so little has changed between these two schools in the past year, some much further digging will be required. In the mean time, each team’s best player from 2008 is still around. William Ford is the Bulldogs leading rusher, despite being off of his 2008 pace just a bit. Ford has rushed for 372 fewer yards and four fewer touchdowns in 2009. Obviously teams crowded the box against the Bulldogs in an effort to contain him and the SC State offense. Even backfield mate Travil Jamison has rushed for 239 fewer yards and 11 fewer touchdowns. That’s a total of 611 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns missing from one year to the next. Most teams that lose that kind of production will not win consecutive conference titles, but SC State did. So where did all the offense go?
Quarterback Malcolm Long has had similar numbers from 2008, but they did not come close in the passing game to make up for what they lost in the running game. Long threw for 340 more yards in 2009 and has also completed a higher percentage of his passes by 7% and his average per attempt has increased by 1.32 yards to eight yards per attempt in 2009. One hopes that a quarterback can get better with more experience, and that is exactly what Malcolm Long has done. Long has also lost about 15 pounds from last year, which has improved his quickness and running ability. Long ran for zero touchdowns on the ground in 2008, but has five rushing touchdowns in 2009.
Long’s top receiver is junior Oliver Young who has had at least four catches in every game against FCS opponents. Young has been on a hot streak the last couple weeks with 12 catches for 289 yards and four touchdowns against conference rivals Morgan State and North Carolina A&T. Young has increased his yards per receptions by three whole yards and has caught nine touchdown passes on the year. Last year against Appalachian State, Young was held to just one catch for 18 yards.
Just like last year, Appalachian is wondering about its quarterback situation. Armanti Edwards was injured for the second time in as many years in the game against Elon. Last year, DeAndre Presley filled in against Western Carolina. This year it was Travaris Cadet, a former transfer from Toledo who filled in nicely last week. Cadet ran for 58 yards and threw for another 101 yards, but more importantly, did not turn the ball over. Cadet managed the game and did all he needed to do to beat Western. More importantly, Cadet got the ball to Devon Moore who ran for a career high 191 yards and two touchdowns, and topped the 1,000 yard mark for the season. Right there is where the comparisons stop. In the 2008 playoffs, Appalachian was down to its fifth-string running back and the ground game was ineffective. This season, Appalachian will start an all conference performer who can do a little bit of everything. Moore has 15 rushing touchdowns on the season, including 28 receptions for 248 yards.
The Mountaineer defense has stepped up its game in the last month of the season. Since giving up 34 points to Wofford, Appalachian has held every opponent to fewer points per game that their average. In that five game stretch, Appalachian has held opponents to a meager 17.4 points per game. At this time, that total would be good enough for 7th in the nation. In that same five game stretch Appalachian has only allowed 275 yards of total offense per game, another total that would good enough for 12th in the nation. Appalachian’s defense has also started to force turnovers. In those same five games, Appalachian has forced 11 turnovers, while only giving up 6 on offense. That +1 advantage in the turnover department would rank 11th in the nation. Those are three critical statistics when a defensive unit is measured. Are you giving up points and yards, and are you taking away the football from the other team? Appalachian’s defense has been doing that with the best of them at the most important time of the season.
This playoff game is one of only two in the first round between top 10 teams, the other being Richmond and Elon. This game will perhaps have the feel of a quarterfinal or even a semifinal game. South Carolina State and Appalachian are two teams that have tough defenses and running games that are difficult to stop. The difference in this game start with Appalachian’s running game. As previously noted, Appalachian started a fifth-stringer last year and Armanti Edwards’ injury was worse than what had been diagnosed. Edwards carried 19 times for 42 yards in the win, but was rarely successful. This time around, the coaching staff has a better feel for Armanti’s injury, and will probably run him only a couple times, if at all. Devon Moore can certainly handle the load and it will be a little different than what South Carolina State saw last year. Moore has averaged 17.5 carries a game in 2009 and will most likely see 20 carries on Saturday. South Carolina State’s William Ford is not having the season he did last year, but he is not to be forgotten. Ford ran for 117 yards and a touchdown last year against Appalachian. The difference for South Carolina State could be Malcolm Long, who has been more accurate this season. Long completed only 17 passes on 40 attempts against the Mountaineers last year. Appalachian’s secondary is among the top units in the nation, with 14 interceptions and only allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 56% of their passes. I think this Appalachian team is a little different that last year’s version and that will throw South Carolina State off their game a bit. The Bulldogs will not roll over and play dead, but overall, Appalachian is healthier than they were last year and it will show.
The First Pick:
Dog Tired 20