Appalachian Football @ Georgia Southern

Here we go with Week 10:

#15 Appalachian State (6-3, 4-2 4th)  @ #2 Georgia Southern (7-1, 6-1 9th)

Time: 2pm

TV/Video: ESPN 3

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

Paulson Stadium         

Surface: Natural Grass

Capacity: 18,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

ASU: 57.37

GSU: 66.32

Home: 3.02 points

Georgia Southern is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 12 points (rounded).

Series: Appalachian leads 14-12-1

Last Meeting: Appalachian 24, Georgia Southern 17, October 29, 2011, Boone, NC

WXAPP’s Statesboro Gameday Weather Trends:

It’s gonna stink.   

            Appalachian’s backs are against the wall, with everything to lose this weekend. A loss would shred any hopes the Mountaineers have of sharing the conference title. A loss would also put Appalachian’s chances of making the playoffs in serious jeopardy. For Georgia Southern, a win gives them the conference title, and the automatic bid to the playoffs, and most likely, a very high seed and home field advantage for at least a couple rounds in the playoffs. The Eagles final two opponents are out of conference and one would expect Southern to beat Howard and lose at Georgia. Interestingly enough, a Southern loss and an Appalachian win would have quite the opposite effect on both teams. If anyone knows anything about the matchups when these two programs battle, it is that anything can and will happen at any given time. The last two seasons, both visiting teams have been the top ranked team in the country and both lost. Appalachian fell in overtime in 2010 in Statesboro, while Georgia Southern lost their top ranking in Boone last year. An Appalachian win still gives them a chance at sharing a title, but would need a little help, and coupled with a home win over Furman next week, would almost certainly put the Mountaineers in the playoffs. Southern controls their destiny as long as they win, but with a loss, which would be their second in conference, would leave them on the outside, also needing help from other teams. So, as is the case when these football powers meet, everything is on the line, and it all comes down to which team wants it more.

             Beyond all the similarities between the Appalachian and Georgia Southern football programs, they share another common bond in 2012 that they have not shared before. Earlier this season, the Citadel Bulldogs upset both schools in back to back weeks. From that point on the conference race has been wide open, and the Bulldogs are the direct reason why both Appalachian and Southern are in the little mess they are in currently. Several times over the years, both schools have played with plenty on the line, but the extra loss on both teams’ schedules has put them in precarious situations. Rarely does this game serve as eliminator as far as conference contention is concerned. Since those back to back wins, The Citadel has beaten one team – Western Carolina.

            Last year, coming to Boone, Georgia Southern entered as the country’s top ranked rushing and scoring offense. The triple option was back and it was shredding teams left and right. When Georgia Southern left Boone, they were the second ranked rushing offense. Appalachian held the Eagles to 135 yards on the ground, averaging only 2.7 yards per attempt. Southern quarterback Jaybo Shaw had not thrown an interception all season before the Appalachian game, but left with two interceptions to his name. The Mountaineer defense came to play in what was their third and final triple option opponent of the season.

            Southern enters this weekend as second ranked rushing offense, with similar numbers to last year in the yardage category, but the Eagles are not scoring at the same rate. Their scoring is down almost ten points a game and a lot of that can be attributed to the turnover category. Last year, the Eagles lost eighteen fumbles in fourteen games. This season they have lost twelve fumbles in eight games. That works out to only ¼ of a fumble more per game, but it is significant. Aside from poor ball handling, the Southern kicking game has had a hard time replacing one of their best kickers of all time. Adrian Mora nailed 57 field goals in his career, and made 146 straight extra points before missing two in a playoff game last year. This season, the Eagles have had two freshman, Alex Hanks and Ryan Nowicki split kicking duties. Nowicki kicked the first two games for the Eagles, and missed two costly field goals against The Citadel, and has been relegated to being the backup place kicker since. Hanks missed two extra points a couple weeks ago against Furman. Last week against Chattanooga, an overtime win for the Eagles, Hanks missed two field goals. Hanks is 6/10 on the season, but those misses have costs the Eagles some points this season. In a game of such magnitude, turnovers and missed opportunities to score points can be tough to overcome in a game that will certainly be driven by emotions and momentum.

            Jerick McKinnon has been Southern’s quarterback for a majority of the season but has split time with Ezayi Youyoute. McKinnon is a year older by class, and is a little heavier at 208 pounds. Youyoute was the starter at the beginning of the season, but had a case of the fumbles and has seen less time behind center. Youyoute is two inches taller at 5’11, and is twenty pounds lighter than McKinnon. Youyoute saw his most significant playing time in a month last week with ten carries. Youyoute has 450 rushing yards on the season, but 371 of those came in the first three games of the season. McKinnon is a more consistent runner, and went through a large workload last weekend. McKinnon had been averaging thirteen carries per game before last weekend, when he ran twenty-eight times for 141 yards. It was his second 100-yard game of the season.

            Dominique Swope was the leading rusher for the Eagles before sitting out last week with an illness. Swope has twelve touchdowns and 729 yards rushing on the season, hitting the century mark five times. Swope did not play against the Mountaineers last year, but the Eagles have been leaning heavily on him since. In his last twelve games before sitting out last week, the Eagle offense has handed the ball to him 255 times over that span, which averages to 21.25 carries per game. Swope’s injury is undisclosed and his status is questionable for Saturday. Also questionable is Robert Brown, a 1,000 yard rusher in 2010 for the Eagles, who has had a hard time recovering from a concussion. Brown has missed three of his last four games and may sit out this week as well.

            Appalachian is not alone in the injury department. Jamal Jackson exited in first half of the win over Western Carolina. Jackson took a hit to his knee, which caused some swelling and he is also listed as questionable this weekend. For those interested, the term “questionable” is commonly known as having a 50/50 chance to place. It almost is considered a game time decision, by seeing how the player feels in warm-ups before the game. Appalachian quarterbacks have had knee injuries in the past. If the knee affects Jackson’s ability to run on his usual 6-10 keepers per game, than it is probably best he does not play. The spread offense is not as productive without a 100% healthy quarterback. On the other hand, Logan Hallock played marvelously for the Mountaineers in relief. He set a school record for completion percentage in a game, formerly held by Armanti Edwards. Any time you can break a record held by Edwards, you have played some good football. However, the defense that he will face on Saturday is quite a bit better than what he had to play against last week. It will take another performance like last weekend by Hallock, if he gets the call, in order to beat Georgia Southern in Paulson.

            Another great game was had by Steven Miller, who burst into the Appalachian record books by becoming only the 12th Mountaineer running back, and 14th player, to rush for 1,000 yards in a season at Appalachian. Miller’s 245 yards gave him his second 200-yard game of the season as he joined the likes of Armanti Edwards, Devon Moore, DeAndre Presley and Kevin Richardson who have all rushed for 1,000 or more yards in the last ten years. Miller ran thirty-four times against the Catamounts, which was also a career high.

            Since both teams have so many question marks coming into this game, it sets the stage for a somewhat unknown player to have a breakout game. It would be hard to imagine Swope, Brown and Jackson all sitting out, but the coaches have played cat and mouse with their teams’ significant injuries. However, there has been one player for Appalachian that is somewhat known, but for whatever reason, the recognition is not there. It is understandable in the Southern Conference, for a receiver to get any credit, that he has to be outstanding and he has to have done it for a long time. I am talking about Sean Price. He has had his games, and Appalachian will need a big game from him in order to beat Georgia Southern. When he is active on the field and catching several passes a game and getting vertical, Appalachian has been hard to beat. Every game Appalachian has won this season, Price has averaged at least twelve yards a catch.  Price sat out two games, which were both Appalachian losses, and in the third loss, against Wofford, Price was held to less than eight yards per catch. The Mountaineers are also 5-0 when Price catches a touchdown this season. Take it a step further and Appalachian is 6-0 this season when throwing a touchdown pass. All seventeen touchdown passes by the Mountaineers have come in their wins. Pretty amazing when you sit back and think about it. Last year, all of Appalachian’s touchdowns against Georgia Southern were in the air, two to Brian Quick and one to Andrew Peacock. In 2010 loss, the two touchdowns were both on the ground. This has been something we have tracked all season and into parts of last year. If Appalachian wants to win, it needs to get everyone involved in the passing game, and keep Georgia Southern’s defensive line running sideways and backwards. It is almost the only hope Appalachian has. The Mountaineer defense has struggled mightily all season against the triple option, and it could be a long day if Appalachian has to play from behind while the option eats up the clock. We must also consider the weather in Statesboro on Saturday. It is going to be a warm November day in Statesboro while Appalachian has had to practice indoors up to this point in the week thanks to the snow from Sandy. This is a tough one to call, but if everything goes just right, Appalachian can win.

The First Pick:

The Stink                     19       

Mountaineers             20

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