Here we go with Week 7:
#13 Appalachian State (4-2, 2-1 4th) @ #25 Samford (5-1, 3-1 T2)
Time: 3pm EST
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: LSR Blade Synthetic Surface
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home: 2.62 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 5-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 35, Samford 17, October 22, 2011, Boone, NC
Accuweather Birmingham Gameday Weather Trends:
Pleasant with plenty of sun. Clear.
Kickoff: Temperatures in the lower 80’s
End of Game: Temperatures in the upper 70’s
Getting a win over Elon is something Appalachian has been able to do in football since 1964, spanning seventeen games. Getting away from Elon and their built up frustration of continuing to lose to Appalachian has been tougher for the Mountaineers. It has been awhile since Appalachian has come away from an Elon game without some major injuries. In the past, it has been Armanti Edwards and DeAndre Presley who have fallen victim to Elon and their questionable tactics. Elon did their best last season to knock out Jamal Jackson, but he was not having any of that business. However, this week, Appalachian lost its starters at center and bandit linebacker for several weeks. For whatever reason, these acts have continued over multiple graduating classes and coaching staffs and perhaps it will be easiest for Appalachian to leave the Southern Conference than for Elon to discontinue their ways. So we can add Alex Acey and Deuce Robinson to the list that includes Doug Middleton, Rod Chisholm and others who have been lost for significant parts of the season. The focus now turns to a very game Samford squad who is looking to do the same thing that Elon has not done since it entered the conference: beat Appalachian in football. Samford has not been around as long, but have provided some interesting games in their short time in the SoCon. All four contests have been competitive into the second half, yet Appalachian has taken the victory in each game. The last two games have resulted in the same final score. This game is huge for both teams, as a loss would give either team their second conference loss and all but eliminate them from the conference title. Can Appalachian make it five straight wins over the Bulldogs?
Last season, we underestimated Samford’s passing game tremendously. Now graduated quarterback Dustin Taliaferro threw for 253 yards in the losing effort, but made tremendous strides from his junior to senior year. Current senior quarterback Andy Summerlin, who transferred from Memphis, has similar yardage numbers to Jamal Jackson, but without the hype. Summerlin has connected on 64% of his passes this season and went over 300 yards passing last week for the first time this season. However the conservative Samford offense has held him to only six touchdown passes this season, compared to Samford’s fourteen team rushing touchdowns. Summerlin is responsible for two of those rushing touchdowns. Summerlin has completed 21 to 23 passes in each game this season, despite his attempts fluctuating from 27 to 49. One issue for Appalachian is that they have not played against Summerlin on the field, and have only seen him on film. Sometimes it can take a half of football to understand player’s tendencies before being able to adjust. Getting pressure will be key for Appalachian. Both of his tackles on the offensive line are sophomores. Summerlin is a bigger quarterback, standing at 6’4 and 225 pounds and has been sacked eight times in the last three games, compared to zero sacks in the first three games.
Somehow, Fabian Truss is still at Samford and still has another year of eligibility after this season. He was mainly a kick returner in his early career, but has accumulated six 100-yard rushing performances up to this point in his junior season, while still leading the SoCon in kickoff returns. Three of those performances have happened this season, against Furman, Western Carolina, and The Citadel. Truss’ first 100-yard game occurred in 2010 against Appalachian, when he carried six times for 100 yards, which included a 74-yard touchdown run. Last season, Truss was held in check by the Mountaineers for 16 carries and 65 yards. Truss had run for consecutive 100-yard games going into last year’s game against Appalachian. Truss is averaging nearly thirty yards per kickoff return this season, but Appalachian booted all six of its kickoffs out of the end zone last week. Appalachian leads the conference with 22 touchbacks on 36 kickoffs. Once again, the more the Mountaineers keep the ball out of Truss’ hands, the better. Kickoff returns are huge momentum plays in football, and the fewer times a team can return a kickoff, the fewer times they can make plays.
Samford’s receivers are a very experienced unit. Leading the charge is Kelsey Pope with 31 catches, 317 yards and two touchdowns. Riley Hawkins is equally explosive with his 18 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns. Hawkins is easily the red zone threat as three of his four touchdowns have been shorter passes (5,14,20), while he caught an 82-yard touchdown catch last week against The Citadel. Hawkins has also averaged a very impressive 14.3 yards per punt return. Chris Cephus also has caught 18 passes for 281 yards and is more of a big play threat with his catches going for 15.6 yards on average.
Despite losing the time of possession battle and being outplayed for a good portion of the game last week, Appalachian prevailed with timely defensive turnovers and fourth quarter touchdowns to defeat Elon. The Mountaineers allowed big performances to Thomas Wilson who threw for 419 yards and Aaron Mellete, who caught all three of Wilson’s touchdown passes, along with ten other passes that went for a total of 237 yards. Mellete was big in every game he played against Appalachian, but most importantly, he will end his career having never beaten the Mountaineers. Scott Riddle kept the seat warm for you Aaron. However, the game’s biggest performer was Jamal Jackson. For the first time in his career, Jackson threw for over 300 yards and won the game. His previous two 300-yard performances were losses to East Carolina and Furman. It was the second time in his career Jackson had thrown for four touchdown passes in a game, with the previous occurrence happening last season at Elon. Once again though, Jackson threw his customary interception. Jackson ran for a career high 94 yards on a career high 17 attempts. The rushing yardage was surprising considering the loss of Kameron Bryant, Jackson’s top backup, to a season ending injury the week before. However, Jackson does a really good job when he is running, getting out of bounds and avoiding hits when he called on to run. He never seems to put his body in jeopardy of the big hit which is something that is very tough to coach.
Steven Miller turned out his second lowest rushing performance of the season, but also carried the ball only seventeen times, his second fewest carries of the season. Many of his carries were taken by Jackson, but the Mountaineers also saw the return of Rod Chisholm for the second straight game. Chisholm seemed to run harder this week on his carries and should be pretty close to 100% health. The emergence of Miller as a receiver has added another element to the Mountaineer passing game. Miller now has three receiving touchdowns on the season, all coming in the last two conference games. Miller is now up to 676 rushing yards and 181 receiving yards on the season. Andrew Peacock chipped in with a team high seven catches against Elon, giving him a team leading thirty reception on the year. Tony Washington only caught two passes, but made the best of them, which included a career long 54-yard touchdown reception where he broke several tackles before hitting the end zone. It was his first touchdown of the season.
I have a high respect for Samford and their football team. They came into the conference and were a middle of the pack team from the start. They have played Appalachian tough in every game and have also beaten every team in the conference outside of Appalachian since they have joined. Summerlin and their passing game should be able to move the ball against the Mountaineers, who have given up the most passing yards in the conference this season. That number will probably even out once Appalachian runs into some of the more run-oriented teams in the conference, but nonetheless, the statistic exists. Samford leads the league in interceptions with 11, with Appalachian a close second with nine. I think those numbers are once again skewed based on schedule. Samford really has not run into any of the league’s better passing teams, with Appalachian owning the league’s top passing attack based on efficiency and yards per game. Gardner-Webb, who is 0-5, and averaging 228 yards per game in the air, threw for 320 yards on Samford. Six of Samford’s eleven picks have also come against inferior opponents. Three were picked off in the Furman game, on a quarterback that the Paladins are not even playing anymore. Another three interceptions came against West Alabama, a team who owns the 127th ranked passing offense in Division II. Western Carolina, Georgia Southern and The Citadel don’t exactly strike anyone as teams who as proficient in the forward pass. I think it is very possible Jamal Jackson continues his ways with opposing defenses. Jackson threw for 290 yards last season against the Bulldogs, and Travaris Cadet had his way with the Bulldog defense as well. I think Steven Miller is a better running back than Cadet. Samford gave up eight plays of twenty or more yards last year against Appalachian and I think that is where the Mountaineers will win the battle. I think Appalachian has better playmaking ability compared to all of the Samford offenses we have seen in the past. I believe you can almost count on Samford coach Pat Sullivan taking his chances if given the opportunity to jump on Appalachian quickly with a fourth down conversion attempt or fake field goal. Either way, I think the Mountaineers are the better team this weekend.
The First Pick:
Dogs from the Plains 27