Here we go with Week 11:
Western Carolina (2-8, 1-6 8th) @ #6 Appalachian State (8-2, 7-0 1st)
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 3.06 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 27 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 54-18-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 35, Western Carolina 10, November 22, 2008
In most college football rivalries, you have a pair of teams that exchange victories back and forth each year. That is why they are called what they are. In some of the best rivalries, they play for trophy that has some type of meaning between the two schools, whether it’s a cup, a bucket or a bell. The rivalry between Western Carolina and Appalachian was once named by Sports Illustrated the “best football rivalry you’ve never heard of”. Luckily, for Western Carolina fans, most people have not heard. In recent years the series has not been much of a rivalry. Western has not taken the jug home from Boone since 1984. Whenever Western has won the jug, it has been Appalachian bringing it to Cullowhee. Appalachian has won 22 of the last 24 meetings overall in the series and has defeated Western by an average score of 45-15 since 2004, the last time Western put their hands on the “Old Mountain Jug”. History looks to repeat itself in 2009 as Western and Appalachian are once again heading in different directions. Western Carolina players will be home for Thanksgiving while the Mountaineers will prepare for a playoff opponent. Can the Catamounts force the Mountaineers to travel in the first round?
As has been documented, Western Carolina continues to rebuild its program, but has had little success. Year Two under coach Dennis Wagner appeared to be promising before the start of the season but the good feelings lasted as long as the home opener. Western lost to Gardner Webb at home and never seemed to recover until mid-October when they defeated a lethargic Citadel team on Homecoming. Several more losses followed until a surprising road win last week against Eastern Kentucky, who despite their 5-4 record, had an outside shot of winning the Ohio Valley Conference. That win makes this weekend’s game against Appalachian all the more interesting. Did the Catamounts finally find a groove and will that momentum follow them to Boone and springboard them into the 2010 season?
On paper, Western Carolina looks very boring to a Mountaineer fan. Their numbers look below average at best. The offense has averaged only 14.1 points per game and ranks 90th or worse in the nation in every offensive category. Their highest scoring output this year was a 26 point effort in a loss to Wofford. Zach Jaynes is the leader for the Cats. He has thrown for 1624 yards and eight touchdowns. Three of those touchdown passes came last week. Jaynes has also thrown ten interceptions and has been sacked 21 times. Five of Jaynes touchdown passes have been thrown to junior wide receiver Marquel Pittman, who has 48 catches for 607 yards. Three of Pittman’s touchdown receptions also came in the last two weeks.
Appalachian showed last week that they are still the kings of the Southern Conference and plan to be that way for years to come. The Mountaineers exposed the nation’s top ranked defense for nearly 500 yards of total offense, more than double what Elon had been giving up. The defense held the potent Elon offense to only 10 points and forced Scott Riddle into questionable throws as he was intercepted three times. That forced the Elon coaching staff to a more conservative attack as they started to run the ball. Elon was flattened in the first quarter with heads hanging low after the Mountaineers jumped to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and cruised to a fifth straight title.
The Mountaineer attack was led by three rushing touchdowns by Armanti Edwards, whose status for Saturday’s game is still in doubt. Edwards spread the ball all over the field and the Elon defense was guessing all afternoon. Edwards passed for 281 yards and connected on 87% of his passes. Devon Moore and Devin Radford carried 23 times for 75 yards to keep the Elon offense off the field.
In trying to find some ways that Western has an advantage over Appalachian, I could not find many. The Catamounts will be loose and have everything to gain from a win. This will be their last game of the season, so they can let it all out and hope for an upset. Coach Wagner said it best in his teleconference: Western Carolina will have to play a perfect game to win. They will need to hope that Armanti Edwards does not play in order to have the best chance. Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Mountaineers, they will need to keep Appalachian off the field. The Cats will have to hope that the Mountaineers are looking ahead to the playoffs. They will need to test the Mountaineers with the deep ball and hope its finds their receivers hands. Appalachian leads the conference with 14 interceptions. They will also need to force some turnovers. Once again, play keep away from Appalachian’s explosive offense. The only thing that has stopped Appalachian this season has been themselves. When the Mountaineers get in a rhythm, they are tough to contain. The last time these two schools tangled in Boone, it resulted in the firing of the entire Western coaching staff. Even if Western played its best game, I still don’t think it would be enough. Going undefeated in the Southern Conference is a tough task and the Mountaineers are on the verge of doing it for the second straight year. I think the Mountaineer defense is up to the task of shutting down Western Carolina, especially with the uncertainty under center. I think you might see 400 rushing yards for the Mountaineers in a game that will get away from the Catamounts in the second half.
The First Pick:
Can’t Amount 13