Here we go with week 7
Georgia Southern (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (5-1, 2-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 22nd, 7:30 PM EST
TV/Video: ESPNU & ESPN3
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 71.23
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -6.5
Series: App State leads 16-13-1
Last Meeting: Georgia Southern 34 App State 14; September 25, 2014 (Statesboro, GA)
Weather: Mostly sunny and clear Mid 60’s during tailgate and Mid 50’s at end of game
Somehow, we have all made it to Wednesday. But this hump day is unlike any other, its also our “Friday”, or Gameday Eve. Whatever you generally refer to as the day before the game day, it has a different feel. One cannot simply go to work or the grocery store this week in Boone without small talk about what will take place under the lights on Thursday night. It’s more than just a football game this week. A national television audience has brought an increased media presence to the High Country for Appalachian to show to the world what makes it a special place. Mix in the the opponent, easily the most hated of them all, and Thursday night has all the makings to be a night to remember. Luckily, there is something to play for this season. Only two years removed from the Southern Conference, Appalachian and Georgia Southern have quickly vaulted to the top of the Sun Belt. As much as things change, they seem to stay the same. These two rivals have made the transition look incredibly easy. They are a combined 19-2 against Sun Belt opponents in their short history in the league. As it was the premier battle in the FCS for over two decades, it remains that way in the Sun Belt. In 2014, the conference rolled out the red carpet for App and Southern, pitting them against one another in their first Sun Belt game in their schools history. This season, the game is the main event on the Sun Belt calendar as perennial Sun Belt stalwarts Arkansas State and Louisiana were the warmup game on Tuesday. The winner gets a leg up in their conference title race and perhaps preferential treatment when bowl selections are made in about six weeks. Lastly, the winner gets to say to the loser, “We beat you” for the next calendar year.
Southern’s option offense is basically the same style we have seen for years, with one major difference. Predominantly, the quarterback will take the snap from the shotgun or pistol compared to under center. Taking the snap from under center can be more difficult to defend as the quarterback can get lost behind the offensive line and the dive play can be very successful if the correct blocks are made. The shot gun formation gives an athletic backfield like Southern’s a better view of the outside running lanes, which is where Matt Bredia is really is difficult to defend. For Appalachian, getting to the outside will be paramount in containing the option. The Mountaineers must force the Eagle backs to think about where they are going when they get outside the hash marks. More thinking means less running and more time for the defense to pursue the ball.
Offensively, both Georgia Southern and Appalachian are hitting their stride at the midway point in the season. Instead of looking ahead to this Thursday, Southern put up season highs in points and total offensive yards in their win over New Mexico State, while Appalachian also put up a season high in points, and eclipsed 650 total yards for the second time this season. The Mountaineers 654 yards against Monroe fell just short of the 677 yards they gained against Howard in the season opener.
By now, we all know the Eagles names. We know about Kevin Ellison and his ability as a runner and passer. Last year he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in both categories and became the 6th player in Southern history to pass and run for 2,000 yards in a career with his numbers against New Mexico State. Ellison was forced to sit out two games earlier this season, suffering from academic issue in the past school year. He has started all four games since his return and is averaging a very balanced 157 yards of total offense per game. Quarterback Favian Upshaw is rotating in every third series to give defenses a different look. Upshaw is considered by some to be the better passer, but his four interceptions in twenty-five total pass attempts tells a different story.
Another Eagle name Mountaineer fans are all to familiar with is Matt Breida, the lightning fast running back. Breida is unequivocably the bread and butter for Southern. When he is on, Georgia Southern wins. It’s that simple. Breida can change direction at any time, but his most important assett is his quickness. He can get to a hole in the defense and make everyone on the field chase him. It’s not often you see a running back average 10.4 yards a carry this late in the season. His 148 yards per game rushing not only leads the Sun Belt, but is also good enough for third nationally. L.A. Ramsby is the third leading rusher for the Eagles. Ramsby is a power back that is difficult to take down. He provides a perfect compliment to Breida. Ramsby’s six touchdowns are second only to Breida’s eleven scores.
Appalachian has stayed true to their word all season long as far offensive strategy goes, with intentions to run the ball to get favorable matchups in the secondary, and win those 1-on-1 situations. It’s no secret, yet hardly anyone has been able to hold them down long. Monroe had a quick start last weekend, and surely there were many Mountaineer fans sweating in the first half. Appalachian was patient, waiting for their defense to make big plays and for Taylor Lamb to find open receivers deep in the Wahawk secondary. Lamb was his brilliant self, throwing for 261 yards on only fifteen attempts, while never being sacked. Marcus Cox ran for a somewhat quiet 122 yards and two touchdowns. Terrance Upshaw looked like he was 100% after battling an injury over the last couple weeks, running for 76 yards on only nine carries.
Statistical comparisons can make for a lot of great conversation leading up to the game, but the real fun part about the game of football is seeing how teams react when things do not go their way. At some point in the game on Thursday, one team is going to be playing from behind. Both teams have not done a whole lot of playing from behind this season. Take away their games against Power 5 opponents, its pretty foreign. Georgia Southern trailed Western Michigan for four minutes and nineteen seconds in the first quarter of their second game of the season. That’s it. They have held the lead ever since. Idaho tied the Eagles for 16 seconds, and then Matt Breida went 83 yards for a touchdown on the next drive. Appalachian trailed for a total of seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds against Monroe last weekend and calmy took a ten point lead before halftime. That is all the Mountaineers have trailed this season, once again, outside of Clemson. The Mountaineers hold a significant defensive advantage in this matchup. This team does not like giving up points. Period. The Eagles, on the other hand, have given up some points in several of their games. On the season, Southern has surrendered 25 points per contest. Although neither Appalachian or Georgia Southern have played really tough schedules to date this season, Appalachian has the upper hand. Georgia Southern could be without several key defensive starters due to injuries and targeting punishments. Two will serve the suspensions in the first half while another did not return last week after his injury. The first half will be extremely critical in this game. Appalachian will need to take advantage of those Southern losses and roll to a lead at halftime. With the way the Mountaineers rotate players on both sides of the ball, I fully expect the Apps to be the fresher team in the second half and thwart any chance the Eagles have of mounting a comeback.
The First Pick:
More Beaks 24