Here we go with Week 9:
#16 Appalachian State (5-3, 3-2 4th) @ Western Carolina (1-7, 0-6 9th)
TV/Video: Catamount Sports All Access
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
EJ Whitmire Stadium
Surface: Desso Challenge Pro 2
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home: 2.47 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 17 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 57-18-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 46, Western Carolina 14, November 12, 2011, Boone, NC
WXAPP’s Cullowhee Gameday Weather Trends:
Mostly Cloudy with the chance for showers, with temperatures in the mid 60’s.
Just as everyone has forgotten about “the fumble” and the “roughing the quarterback who is selling a fake handoff”, we must talk about it a little more. Whether Jamal Jackson’s pass went forward or backwards can be talked to death, but my original thought was that he had to be down. Regardless, Jackson should have tucked the ball and not allow the officials to be put in the position to make a bad call. It turned out to be the biggest play of the game. The other call, questions every defensive strategy of football since the game was invented. Decades ago, the game of football was primarily a game of running plays, options, and tons of formations with adjectives identifying some type of bone. In those days, the phrase that was used went something like this, “if you think it has the ball, hit it”. Generally, that rule still stands, except in modern day football, where quarterbacks cannot be touched if they do not possess the football, whether you believe it or not. That call was not as painful, but it epitomized the day. For whatever reason, the sun was shining on the Terriers last weekend. The elimination game that it was, has basically taken away all hope the Mountaineers had of winning a conference championship in 2012. At best, Appalachian will share the trophy, most likely with two other teams, one that it beat, one that it did not. Next up: the Catamounts. From the looks of it, this is the same ole sorry Catamounts, except half of their coaching staff had different addresses last year at this time. Will the Mountaineers accept the challenge and kick Western while they are still down, or will Appalachian give up and call it a season?
Roughly ten and a half months ago, the rivalry between Appalachian and Western added another nasty chapter. Western continued to be up to their old habits of replacing a football staff just about every fourth or fifth year. Appalachian’s season had ended somewhat abruptly, despite evidence that alluded to a shorter season than in the past. Western Carolina decided that they would fill their football vacancy by hiring recruiting coordinator Mark Speir away from Appalachian. Brad Glenn, John Holt, and Trey Elder hitched a ride with Speir to Cullowhee while sending shockwaves throughout the Southern Conference football world. There is plenty more to the story which does not need to be discussed, especially considering the number of versions. Western had basically picked Appalachian’s pocket while the Mountaineers were still wondering what had happened to their own season. In the end, Appalachian has perhaps an extra loss at this point in the season, while, Western still has their one win over Mars Hill. Some things never change.
Speaking of Mars Hill, they have been Western Carolina’s whipping boy for the last two seasons. It is the only team Western has beaten in its past twenty-five football games. Luckily for Western, they have beaten Mars Hill twice. Of those past twenty fives games, only five have been decided by ten points or less. Two were the wins over Mars Hill, and two have occurred this season, in losses at home to Samford and last week on the road at Elon. The Catamounts have shown some signs of putting together an offense under Speir and company, but their defense is atrocious. Western is averaging right at 25 points per game, something they have not accomplished in Cullowhee since 2007. However, until the Cats can start stopping people, they will not see their win totals increasing anytime soon.
To give you an idea how bad this Western defense is, allow me to put it in perspective. The Catamounts are dead last in rushing defense, in the country. And this is not a figure based on who they have played. Outside of Appalachian, Western has run heavy Chattanooga and Alabama remaining on their schedule. The 333 rushing yards per game they allow might actually get worse. Six times, the Catamounts have given up 42 or more points – this season. Coincidentally, Western only allowed Samford 25 points, the same number that Appalachian allowed to the Bulldogs. Western has given up an average of 513 yards per game, which is somehow only the third most yards given up in the country. There is one defensive category that Western leads the conference in, and which is fumbles recovered, but that comes with the silver lining, because everyone runs the ball on them.
Western has been rotating their quarterbacks this season, almost with no pattern to follow. Troy Mitchell has been getting the majority of the work the last couple weeks. Mitchell has passed for 489 yards on the season and has rushed for 316 yards. A good majority of those rushing yards, 236 of them to be exact, have occurred in his last three games on a total of forty eight carries, which is good enough for a respectable 4.9 yards per carry. Mitchell threw his only two touchdown passes of the season last week against Elon. Eddie Sullivan is the other quarterback, who has played mostly in games two through five, against Marshall, Wofford, Samford and Furman. Sullivan appears to be the better passer as he dropped back a little over thirty six times per game in during those four weeks. Sullivan has thrown six interceptions to only four touchdowns and has totaled 916 yards passing on the season. Interestingly enough, Sullivan leads the Catamounts in rushing on a per game basis, as his averages just edge out Mitchell, due to not playing in two games. Sullivan has carried 50 times on the season for 246 yards.
Overall, it was a tough game against Wofford for most of the Appalachian offense. The running game averaged a paltry three yards per attempt. Every Mountaineer with multiple catches averaged less than eight yards per reception outside of Tony Washington, who caught seven passes for 75 yards. More importantly, catching the ball was a huge issue, especially in the first half. Jamal Jackson was erratic to say the least. You know its coming. Jackson threw his token interception, which extends his streak to six straight games with an interception. Jackson’s record when throwing more interceptions than touchdowns: 0-5. Jackson’s record when throwing zero touchdown passes: 0-4. Jackson’s record when not throwing an interception: 3-0. With any luck, Jackson will avoid finding the other team this weekend. Western Carolina is the only team in the conference that has yet to intercept Jackson in his career, but then again he has only played them once. It has to stop at some point, right?
We talked about the defense last week, and what they needed to do to keep Wofford down, which was avoid the big play. The Mountaineers could not hold down the Terriers, as they allowed six different rushers to bust 20+ yard gains, led by Eric Breitenstein and his 57 yard run in the first quarter. On top of that, Wofford hit a big pass play, which was all they needed to keep the threat alive. More concerning, Appalachian lost linebacker Brandon Grier for most of the game which was a huge loss, and his availability for this Saturday is up in the air. The defensive secondary spent most of their day tackling Wofford running backs, but could see a little bit more play at their natural positions this weekend. Western has one of the bigger receiving corps in the conference going 6’0” at two positions and 6’4” at another. You could see Western possibly try to attack the Appalachian secondary which could be a tad rusty.
Although a conference championship is probably out of the question, making the playoffs is not. No Jerry Moore that has been 8-3 has ever missed the playoffs, and even if Appalachian were to slip up once more before the season is over, a 7-4 record with an expanded playoff field is probably a safe bet, just depending which game is lost. This weekend, outside of the obvious battle for the Old Mountain Jug among friendly coaching staffs, should be an Appalachian win. Western will have to pull off one of its best outings of the season on both sides of the ball, and they have every reason to. Appalachian has won seven straight games in the rivalry, but Western always seems to trip up Appalachian when they are a little down. Although Western only has two wins against Appalachian in the last couple decades, Cullowhee is the place where the upset usually occurs. Mark Speir may have the utmost respect for Appalachian, but that does not mean he doesn’t want the win. This game will thrive on emotion and momentum, and Appalachian doesn’t need to get caught up in all the hoopla. This Appalachian team needs to move on. Last weekend was a game that was decided on a few plays, even if the scoreboard doesn’t reflect how the game was played. This weekend is another day to play and prove all the doubters wrong. Hopefully we can see a more explosive offense, while at the same time getting back to Appalachian football.
The First Pick:
Can’t Amounts 24