Here we go with Week 1:
#6 Appalachian State @ East Carolina
TV: Fox Sports Net
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Greensboro, Winston Salem, WMFR 1230 Greensboro, High Point; WSML 1200 Burlington, Greensboro; WCMC 99.9 Raleigh, WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WPWT 870 Bristol, Johnson City; WTOE 1470 Spruce Pine, WDNC 620 Durham, WLON 1050 Lincolnton
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home: 3 points
East Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 6.5 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 19-11
Last Meeting: East Carolina 29, Appalachian 24, September 5, 2009, Greenville, NC
WXAPP’s Greenville Gameday Weather Trends:
Mix of Clouds. Chance for an afternoon storm. Muggy. Stay Hydrated.
Kickoff: Temperatures in the mid 80’s
End of Game: Temperatures in the upper 80’s to low 90’s
Almost three years ago, when Appalachian and East Carolina kicked off the 2009 season, much hype surrounded the game. Appalachian was one year removed from a historical three year run of national championships and the most decorated player to wear the black and gold was coming back for his senior season. East Carolina had just finished its best year under Skip Holtz, going 9-5 in 2008 and had won Conference USA’s Eastern Division. It had been thirty years since the last time the in-state foes had played. East Carolina was favored again to win Conference USA in 2009 and Appalachian was poised for their final season with Armanti Edwards. However, a decision to mow the lawn in sandals left Appalachian without their star player and for much hope of pulling off a victory. The Pirates raced to a big halftime advantage and looked to cruise to a lopsided victory. Travaris Cadet and the Mountaineers staged a furious comeback in the second half, but fell short by five points. Something else happened that day beyond what occurred on the field. The eyes of those with power witnessed something that day that is still somewhat in the works. East Carolina was amazed by the Mountaineers that showed up the day, on the field and in the stands. Appalachian sold out its allotment of tickets to alumni and students and travelled to Greenville in full force. It was later revealed that Appalachian bought more tickets than any other travelling Conference USA opponent for East Carolina that season. The landscape of college football was slowly evolving with realignments in the not so distant future. East Carolina became in interested in Appalachian and vice versa. To this day, Appalachian is still looking for the right moment to leave FCS football and East Carolina is still trying to convince the schools in their conference that Appalachian belongs in the world of FBS football. In the years since their last meeting, much has changed at both schools. Skip Holtz left for South Florida and the Pirates have struggled under Ruffin McNeill the past two seasons. Replacing Edwards and assistant coaches who slowly migrated to better situations has also been tougher than expected for Appalachian. An 8-4 season used to be the old Jerry Moore status quo from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but that is no longer acceptable on the mountain. For Appalachian, enter an era of change that is basically the same. Our beloved former walk-on quarterback and offensive guru Scott Satterfield has returned with his up tempo offense that brought Appalachian their many accomplishments from the last decade. A group of players who did not know how to behave and some assistant coaches who surely did not help matters have also moved on. The question remains whether a different culture and a new attitude will benefit the Mountaineers as the season progresses, but we can all agree that figuring it out along the way will be plenty of fun.
Twice this season, the Appalachian coaching staff will face off against a group of very familiar faces, both wearing the same ugly color that is purple. East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill played for ECU in the late 1970’s when they won the Southern Conference championship in 1976. He was on Jerry Moore’s first coaching staff at Appalachian for three years as a linebackers coach. McNeill returned to Boone after a year at ECU in 1992 to coordinate the defense for four seasons. He helped coach Appalachian to six playoff berths and two Southern Conference championships during his stay. His youngest daughter Olivia is a senior at Appalachian.
John Wiley is the associate head coach and linebackers coach for ECU, entering his third year in that position. Wiley spent nineteen years in Boone as the defensive backs coach starting in 1989. Wiley left for two seasons beginning in 1991, but returned to Appalachian in 1993 to coach defensive backs and eventually defensive coordinator. Wiley was known for adjusting his defensive approach in the middle of the game to match up with opposing offensives. Wiley helped the Mountaineers to seven SoCon championships, twelve playoff berths and 87 all-conference performers. Recruiting Coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick spent five seasons at Appalachian starting in 1984 under Sparky Woods. Kirkpatrick was the wide receivers coach at Western Carolina for two seasons in 2003-04. From 2000-02, Kirkpatrick was the head coach at Chattanooga. Current Mountaineers offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford was a graduate assistant for two years at East Carolina in 2008-09 while also playing for the Pirates from 1995-1998.
Redshirt junior Rio Johnson (6-2, 203 lbs) was named the starting quarterback for East Carolina against Appalachian. Johnson won a four way battle that lasted from spring ball to fall camp. Johnson has the most experience of this teammate under center, but that experience is somewhat limited. Appearing in four games last year, Johnson completed 69% of his passes for 157 yards and one interception. His longest pass was 17 yards and he averaged 5.4 yards per passing attempt. Johnson completed 58% of his passes in his final two years of high school to go along with 29 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Johnson has a plethora of returning receivers to help him transition to the starting role. Justin Hardy hauled in 64 catches for 658 yards last season and corralled six touchdown receptions. Andrew Bodenheimer caught 46 balls for 484 yards. Reese Wiggins caught 29 passes for 432 yards. To compare, Appalachian’s returning leading receivers Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock caught 32 and 48 passes respectively. However, that is only part of the offense the Pirates run. The media guide officially calls their offense a “spread”, which is the formation, but not the style. There are several different variations of the spread attack. The Pirates style is an all out passing game of short passes that move the chains Imagine Georgia Southern moving the ball four and five yards at a time, but passing the ball. The Pirates ran 921 offensive plays last season and 524 (57%) of them were passes. However, with those passes, come interceptions; a total of twenty of them in 2011 for the Pirates.
Appalachian returns one of its most successful sophomore quarterbacks ever. Jamal Jackson started seven games for the Mountaineers last season, posting a 5-2 record, and throwing for 2,001 yards, 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Unlike East Carolina, the starting role has been firmly in his hands since he took over at The Citadel last season in his first career start. Jackson will remind some of Richie Williams, with a slightly larger build, tipping the scales at 208 pounds. Jackson has been instrumental during the offseason getting players together for workouts and understands that what happened last season was not a good rendition of Mountaineer football. He has a big arm that he can use to stretch the field and is athletic enough to be able to run when flushed out of the pocket or on designed running plays.
Jackson will need the help of some young talent to be successful this year. As mentioned, receivers Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington return, but gone are seniors Brian Quick and Ben Jorden and Travaris Cadet. Redshirt freshman Simms McElfresh and Sean Price will man the other receiver positions. Rod Chisholm will return to the field after a year away from football to be the starting running back while Sophomore Drew Bailey mans the tight end position. You will also see some speed from Stephen Miller assuming he is healthy and converted linebacker Michael Frazier in short yardage situations. If included on the travel roster, true freshman Tysean Holloway could see some carries as well, as he is the better all around back.
Outside of four solid starters on defense, the Appalachian defense is equally as young. Linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough and Brandon Grier return as leading tacklers from a season ago. Strong Safety Troy Sanders was third on the team in tackles last season and defensive back Demetrius McCray led the team with five interceptions and fourteen defended passes last season. On the line, Appalachian might be even younger, with redshirt freshman at the nose tackle and right end positions. Ronald Blair returns at left end where he concluded his freshman campaign with 3.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Doug Middleton saw action last season as a true freshman and will man the other corner position opposite of McCray. The belief is Middleton might switch back to the “star” position after dealing with the Pirate receiving corps.
With so much newness on the field for Appalachian, one must wonder if this game will come down to the players or the coaches. Most of the rosters have turned over since 2009, as only six Mountaineers that played in the 2009 game remain, none of them on the offensive side of the ball unless you count the converted Michael Frazier. Question marks remain for Appalachian on the offensive side of the ball which include the consistency of the new receivers, and whether or not any of the Mountaineer running backs are in game shape. The one counter to the inexperience will be the speed of the offense between plays. Appalachian has always had a very well conditioned team, which could come into play this Saturday and on what appears to be a warm day. East Carolina was a little weary the last time around playing in similar heat and also choosing to wear an all purple uniform on that day. The Mountaineer defense is good where it needs to be, at linebacker and in the secondary, but depth is a huge issue. Most teams do not have four and five quality cornerbacks to match up against the “Air Raid” attack. Appalachian will need to get in the passing lanes when they can against ECU and apply pressure to the quarterback if a long yardage situation occurs. In 2009, East Carolina pummeled Appalachian on the ground, but the Pirates do not rely on the running back as much in this offense. However, the freshmen need to be up to the task when called upon for the Mountaineers. The matchup between Scott Satterfield and John Wiley will be interesting. Almost every play that Satterfield ran in his previous stint at Appalachian has been witnessed by Wiley several times over. He knows his strategy and his ways. The kicking game will also be interesting to watch. Appalachian has been inconsistent in camp with field goals. Kickoffs will also be fun to watch with the new rules in play. Teams will now kickoff from the 35, and touchbacks will result in the ball being placed on the 25. There are a lot of unknowns for both teams and Appalachian’s recent performance against FBS teams has been subpar. I think this entire game depends on how much ECU has improved on defense and the turnover battle.
The First Pick:
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