Here we go with Week 8:
#8 Wofford (5-1, 3-1 T2) @ #13 Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1 T2)
TV/Video: GoASU TV
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
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home: 2.66 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 1 point (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 17-11
Last Meeting: Wofford 28, Appalachian 14, October 1, 2011, Spartanburg, SC
WXAPP’s Boone Gameday Weather Trends:
Mostly Sunny and clear.
Early Morning: Temperatures in the low 40’s
Noon: Temperatures in the lower 50’s
Kickoff: Temperatures in the mid 50’s
End of Game: Temperatures in the lower 50’s to upper 40’s
Entering the fourth quarter last weekend, Appalachian held onto what seemed to be a commanding 21-10 lead. During his career, Jerry Moore has a spectacular record when leading after three quarters and when his team scores twenty or more points. Both trends were on the Mountaineers side last Saturday. Quickly, Samford erased the two score lead with a touchdown less than thirty seconds into the fourth quarter and pulled within three points with a successful two point conversion. Suddenly the Mountaineers had lost the momentum and there was a lot of football to be played. On the final three Mountaineer possessions, they ran 22 plays for 179 yards. Fourth quarter domination had been the theme of the season, but the first two drives of the fourth quarter ended with a Jamal Jackson interception and with a turnover on downs. With 1:33 on the clock, Appalachian had to score a touchdown and were eighty yards from the goal line. The drive included three incompletions and four plays that went for big yardage. Jackson ran once for 17 yards and hit Andrew Peacock on a 21-yard passing play. Sean Price started it and finished it with a 20-yard catch on the first play of the drive, and the game clinching score from 22 yards on the last play. The fact that Appalachian didn’t need a comeback beginning the quarter, but was able to flip the switch, and make the plays when it counted speaks volumes. They now have the confidence they didn’t have earlier in the season during losses to East Carolina and The Citadel.
After Appalachian’s thrilling win, the focus of the conference turned to the late afternoon kickoff between Wofford and Georgia Southern. Wofford had not lost going into that game, and they were facing their first true test of the season. The Wofford schedule had been criticized by national media halfway through the season. They had played three conference teams (Furman, Western Carolina, & Elon) who have one conference win to their credit, a Division II school, and Gardner Webb. The remainder of Wofford’s schedule included the likes of Georgia Southern, Appalachian, South Carolina, and tough conference games against The Citadel, Chattanooga, and Samford. The weakest team on that slate appears to be The Citadel, who has cooled off since knocking off Georgia Southern and Appalachian earlier in the season.
Wofford attempted eight passes in the game against Georgia Southern, while the Eagles ran 52 plays, and kept the ball on the ground on every single play. Of those eight passes, Wofford connected on three of them, for a whopping 27 yards. That is how you beat Wofford. Let me repeat. In order to beat Wofford, you must keep their passing game in check. The passing plays that Wofford likes to run sets up their entire offense. They want the threat of a pass to be there just enough to keep defensive players off the line of scrimmage. The threat was never there against Georgia Southern. Wofford averaged 4.1 yards per carry rushing the ball. That is good, but not good enough. When a team like Wofford hands the ball off or gives ten different players the opportunity the carry the ball, you know they are searching. They are using tool in the shed in order to break the big play. Eric Breitenstein had a 65 yard run, and twelve other carries that went for a combined 37 yards. Take away the big play, and Breitenstein averaged just a shade over 3 yards a carry. Ray Smith carried four times for 25 yards. Smith had a long of 12, and three other carries that went for 13 yards. His average was 4.3 yards, taking away his longest carry. Finally, Cam Flowers carried six times for 30 yards, with a long of fourteen yards. His other five carries went for sixteen yards, which equates to 3.2 yards per attempt. Limiting Wofford’s big plays is instrumental to beating them. Brandon Grier and Jeremy Kimbrough will have the task of keeping Wofford’s offense behind schedule, and in long distance situations.
It would be tough to go without mentioning Eric Breitenstein in this spot. The Watauga County native has been racking up yardage throughout his career. His previous three matchups against Appalachian have been a mixed bag. His first career 100 yard rushing came against Appalachian way back in 2008. His 157 yards that night are completely overshadowed by seventy points the Mountaineers scored that night, a couple weeks short of four years ago. Breitenstein’s second game career game against Appalachian occurred in a de facto conference championship game, with both teams undefeated in conference play. Breitenstein was held in check with only thirty nine yards rushing on seventeen carries. Last year, Appalachian was without Jeremy Kimbrough, and it showed, as Breitenstein carried the ball thirty-three times, still a career high in attempts, for 173 yards. He has 56 career touchdowns, and will finish his career with three straight 1,000 yard seasons However, of Breitenstein’s 56 career touchdowns; there are only two teams in the Southern Conference in which he has yet to score a touchdown against: Georgia Southern and Appalachian.
I felt like Jamal Jackson’s streak of interceptions was going to be snapped last weekend. Jackson waited until the fourth quarter to turn the ball over, and it was very concerning. Most of his interceptions have come in the first half, when there was plenty of time to overcome the mistake. Despite the constant nitpicking by yours truly, Jackson has a very solid INT:TD ratio in his career at 2:1, which includes stats when he was playing in garbage time earlier in his career. Jackson has improved the statistical categories that we have kept up with. When Jackson throws more touchdowns than interceptions in a game, he is 5-0 this season, and 10-0 in his career as a starter. Jackson is 10-4 as a starter, and yes, he has thrown an interception in every single loss as a starter. With his 288 yards passing against Samford and only 6 yards rushing, Jackson remains the conference leader in passing efficiency and total offense.
Steven Miller, the starting running back, has led the team in receiving yards in two straight games. The idea is to keep Miller away from the line of scrimmage and get him out in space to make plays. Rod Chisholm is taking away a few carries from Miller, but has been used effectively to give Miller a break and to keep him fresh. After a three game stretch of 70 total rushing attempts by Miller, he has rushed for exactly seventeen times in each of the last three games. His twenty receptions are the most surprising. Over the season, he has averaged fourteen yards a catch, but most recently, in his last four games, those numbers have spiked to 18.9 yards per catch. Those are outstanding numbers for a receiver, much less a running back.
So how do we talk about this matchup? It is really difficult to look at season stats and judge the two teams, Wofford has played the bottom of the conference, and at that, teams that are not particularly offensive powers. You can throw the Georgia Southern game out the window based on the style of play of both teams. There were a combined 106 rushing plays called, and the teams only combined for thirty first downs. The game was completed in under two and half hours. For Wofford, I think Appalachian presents an entirely different challenge. Wofford must now defend the entire field against an Appalachian receiving corps that is arguably the best in the conference. Wofford may have a defensive back or two with equal talent, but they certainly do not have four of them. I think Appalachian will exploit the Wofford secondary as they have in the past. Last season, the Wofford game was the last game of the season where Jamal Jackson did not start. The Appalachian offense was in shambles, and Wofford played keep away and slowly pulled away while Appalachian continued to miss opportunities in the red zone to cash in on points and cut the Wofford lead. On top of that the Mountaineers only possessed the ball for twenty-one and a half minutes. For as poor of a performance Appalachian displayed last year in Spartanburg, the Terriers won by two touchdowns. Only two touchdowns. It has been ten years since Wofford has won in Boone and only one game since 2002 has been decided by fewer than ten points in Boone. Much like Appalachian, Wofford has suffered a slew of injuries to the defensive side of the ball. Even Eric Breitenstein has been wearing a protective boot this week and has been limited in practice. In a game of two high-powered offensive teams, two things are going to happen and one of them is not going to result in a back and forth affair. This game will be decided on which defense figures out the opponent first and I believe the game will snowball from there. Appalachian’s offense has improved tremendously since last season. Wofford’s offense is basically the same yet, they have a different quarterback than last season. Brian Kass is a lanky 6’1 and is not as quick with the ball as Mitch Allen was last year. He is not deceptive even after handing the ball off. That offense thrives on deception and misdirection. I think the Appalachian defense will be able to swarm the outsides more effectively than last season and contain the wingbone attack.
The First Pick:
Ankle Biters 21