Here we go with Week 9:
#3 Wofford (6-1, 4-0 T1) @ #2 Appalachian State (6-2, 4-0 T1)
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 2.68 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 3 ½ points (rounded).
Series: ASU leads 14-10
Last Meeting: Wofford 42, ASU 31; September 22nd, 2007
The folks at ESPN could not have hand picked it better. When they decided to broadcast their first regular season game from the FCS ranks, it is pretty obvious they chose Appalachian because of the recent success, and Wofford, for being the first team to beat Appalachian after the much heralded win over Michigan in 2007. It just so happened the game was scheduled the night after Halloween. ESPN offered moving the game to Halloween and putting the game on ESPN2. Who could say no to that? What ESPN didn’t know was how the season was going to play out. Wofford and Appalachian are both undefeated and tied for first in the conference title race. In fact, they are one last minute James Madison come from behind victory away from having a game as the top two ranked teams in the country. I think ESPN will settle for a game between #2 Appalachian and #3 Wofford with the home team having revenge on their minds. People have been looking forward to this game ever since the match up was announced, even before ESPN got into the mix. The excitement was going to be there regardless. It has been twelve years since two teams in the conference have been undefeated and playing each other this late in the season. The loser of this match will have an uphill battle to win the conference and will be forced to run the table to secure a possible home playoff game. To the winner goes the inside track to a conference title and a near lock for one of the top four seeds in the upcoming playoffs. Anyone excited yet?
Before the season, most critics felt this would be a rebuilding year for Wofford. The Terriers lost several key seniors, including a quarterback who started the majority of his career. Many did not think that Wofford would be in this position two months ago. Give all the credit to head coach Mike Ayers for making this team believe it had what it took to contend for another championship. Ayers coaches his teams to be extremely disciplined and play together as a team. Evidence to that is the fact that Wofford, although not the least penalized team in the conference, has been penalized for the least amount of yardage this season. Wofford also leads the conference in turnover ratio with an astounding +15 margin. What is more is amazing is that Wofford has only turned the ball over five times on the season.
The Wofford offense is led mainly by three seniors. Quarterback Ben Widmyer has thrown for 742 yards and seven touchdowns and has rushed for 475 yards and six touchdowns. In doing so, he has completed a ridiculous 69% of his passes and has led Wofford to being the most efficient passing team in the conference. Tailback Dane Romero is the leading rusher for the Terriers with 518 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Romero has the lowest rushing average of Wofford rushers with over 30 carries on the season. Wide receiver Andy Strickland has caught 21 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Strickland has caught 38% of the all the completed passes for the Terriers this year.
A lot of what Wofford does on offense is considered old school football. The only problem, is that old school football, when executed properly can make defenses look extremely silly. The Terrier playbook is full of misdirection and counters, speed options and reverses. The goal of any defense when playing Wofford is to play assignment football. Stay with your man. Just because your man doesn’t have the football now, chances are good that he might be getting it, especially if you leave him to pursue. That lesson goes for every player on the field. Wofford has seven players with over 25 rushing attempts on the year. Also, ten different receivers have caught passes. They will give the ball to whoever is open and give every player a chance to beat you.
For the first time in recent history, Appalachian faced a gimmick defense and was stifled all day long on offense. Armanti Edwards ran for 16 yards on 16 carries, but picked up the slack while completing 16-24 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Edwards has now played five straight games without an interception and his 15:2 touchdown to interception ratio is tops in the conference for passers with over 100 attempts. Devin Radford ran for 90 yards, but 84 came on one run in the second quarter. Brian Quick was also responsible for a 44 yard pass reception, but only had one other catch on the opening drive of the game.
The Appalachian defense answered the bell when they were most needed. With the Mountaineer offense struggling, the defense recovered their first three fumbles of the season. Two of the fumbles occurred in the red zone on what looked to be certain Paladin scoring drives. Mark Legree made a nice interception on the sideline on Furman’s opening drive of the second half which also killed any Paladin momentum. The only negative were the adjustments made during the game. Furman struggled to move the chains in the first half and decided to test the Mountaineer rushing defense up the middle. Furman had plenty of success which I am sure the Wofford coaches saw when watching film.
There are so many variables when comparing Appalachian and Wofford. Both teams lead the conference in points scored, total offense, rushing offense and passing efficiency, red zone defense and interceptions. Neither team is very consistent when it comes to penalties, kickoff coverage or time of possession. Sounds to the average football fan like this one could be a shootout with the last team with the ball winning. However, there are plenty of variables that someone cannot decipher from statistics. Both teams came off very emotional victories last week. Wofford had no trouble in defeating Elon and ringing up 55 points along the way. Appalachian found victory in defeating a long time rival in a game that was much closer than the final scored indicated. Wofford racked up its second highest point total of the year. On the other hand, Appalachian scored only 26 points, its second lowest amount of points this season. I think this sets up a potential letdown game for Wofford. If the points don’t come as easy, teams tend to get frustrated and try to do too much. Appalachian was guilty of that last week. I also think this sets up an opportunity for the Mountaineers to have an offensive explosion. Rarely, this late in the season, does Appalachian struggle offensively in consecutive games. Another variable is the big bright lights of ESPN2. Appalachian is a perfect 12-0 on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU. Wofford has not had the chance to prove themselves on national television like Appalachian has. Wofford nearly lost a 37 point halftime lead last year on the road when facing Western Carolina on ESPNU, before holding onto a three point win. The last time the Terriers played in Boone, Armanti Edwards had started just his fifth career college game. Last year, Edwards was not completely healthy after injuring his shoulder in the preseason and against Michigan. Wofford has been lucky to avoid Armanti Edwards at full strength. Wofford has played their last three games in front of a combined total of 23,331 fans. This year Appalachian is averaging 29,150 fans at home games. I think the crowd noise, particularly on Halloween night will be a factor. The picture I have in my mind is the last time ASU played at home on a Friday Night, against Richmond. There were roughly 24,000 fans in attendance, but there was a buzz, a very unique atmosphere that night that might be duplicated on Friday evening. I think all the chips are stacked against Wofford. They certainly have a fine team, that could easily beat Appalachian on any given day, but I have a gut feeling they will find themselves on the short end of the witch’s broomstick.
The First Pick:
Scrappy Pups 42
Happy Apps 49