Appalachian Football @ Western Carolina

Here we go with Week 9:

#16 Appalachian State (5-3, 3-2 4th)   @ Western Carolina (1-7, 0-6 9th)

Time: 3:30

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

Capacity: 13,742

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

ASU: 58.62

WCU: 39.23

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       

Mountaineers                42

Wofford @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 8:

#8 Wofford (5-1, 3-1 T2) @ #13 Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1 T2)   

Time: 3:30

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         

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 24,050 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

ASU: 61.34

WC: 62.87

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       

Mountaineers                         31

Elon @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 6:

Elon (2-3, 0-2) @ #15 Appalachian State (3-2, 1-1)

Time: 3:30pm

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

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 24,050 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

ASU: 60.36

EU: 49.26

Home: 2.53 points

Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13 ½ points (rounded).

Series: Appalachian leads 30-9-1

Last Meeting: Appalachian 28, Elon 24, November 19, 2011, Elon, NC

WXAPP’s Boone Gameday Weather Trends:

Increasing clouds, chance for shower late afternoon.

Kickoff: Temperatures in the mid 60’s

End of Game: Temperatures in the upper 50’s, shower possible

After a one week hiatus from conference play, Appalachian will finish the season with a run of six straight conference games. Three of those games will be on the road and three will be at home, but its starts this weekend against Elon for Homecoming. This date of this matchup has taken place more times in the last weekend of September or first weekend in October than at any other time of the year. Since Elon joined the SoCon in 2003, six of the nine matchups have taken place in November, with the other three landing in the same familiar weekend. In the last nine years, Appalachian has preferred Homecoming to fall on this weekend, but it does not happen all the time. Despite the obvious coincidence, this will be only the third time that Appalachian has hosted Elon for Homecoming, both being Mountaineer wins. The extremely obvious fact that Elon has not won in Boone since 1964, a string that includes sixteen straight Mountaineer wins overall, should make Elon the safe choice for this game. Most teams prefer “scheduling a win”, for this game, but Southern Conference opponents seem to prefer Appalachian to be their opponent for their Homecoming game. It makes a little bit of sense, but not a lot. Regardless, Elon coach Jason Swepson will make his first visit to Boone as a head coach this weekend. Swepson is notorious for announcing in his press conference when he was hired, that his job was to beat Appalachian State. One twenty year win streak over an opponent has already fallen in Boone this year, and its Swepson’s job to bring down a streak that has lasted forty-eight years and sixteen games.

Elon is a little bit confusing. Seems they can find a quarterback and a couple receivers almost anywhere when they recruit, but for whatever reason, finding a quality running back seems to escape them. We all know their offense is predicated in the passing game, and it isn’t a place high school running backs want to venture to for their college careers. The past four seasons, at this point in the campaign, Elon has ranked generally in the mid 70’s out of roughly 120 FCS teams in rushing the football. However, the Phoenix have not been this bad running the football since 2007, when they were ranked 106th nationally, averaging 92 yards a game on the ground. This season, the Phoenix are 101st nationally with a 100 yard a game average, which is most likely worse than it actually looks. Elon has played five games, and only in the West Virginia State game, did they rush for any significant yardage. Elon ran for 301 yards in that game against Division II West Virginia State. So, in four other games, Elon has rushed for 199 yards. The Phoenix have always been somewhat one dimensional, but this could pass as heavy of an Elon team we have seen in several years.

So what does Elon’s poor rushing attack mean? It all works back to their quarterback and their main weapons on offense. Quarterback Thomas Wilson threw for just over 3,000 yards last season in eleven games, averaging 277 yards a game. This year, Wilson is averaging 232 yards a game, which is not bad until you really think about it. Appalachian likes a very balanced attack, but would definitely prefer to run the ball, and does so pretty well. Jamal Jackson, in a balanced attack has put up 255 yards passing a game. The forty-three yards per game decline from one year to the next for Elon is suddenly a little eye-opening. Wilson has done a much better job taking care of the football this season. His twenty-one interceptions led the SoCon last year by a wide margin. This season, Wilson has only had four of his passes intercepted, however, all of them have been in road games.

All-American Aaron Mellete, who is a highly touted NFL prospect, has also seen his production fall off. Mellete averaged a little over 10 catches per game last season, with 113 receptions, 1,639 yards and 12 touchdowns. This season, Mellete is pulling in 7.4 passes per game, for almost 85 yards a game. Mellete remains a red zone threat with seven touchdowns in only five games. Mellete has warmed up the last two weeks against conference foes Georgia Southern and Wofford. Mellete has caught 22/245/4 in those last two games. Mellete went over 100 yards receiving nine times last year, as he saved his best game to close the season against Appalachian. He had slightly better statistics against North Carolina Central in 2011, than he did against Appalachian, but when you think about the talent gap between opponents, it is easy to see that Mellete’s best game came against the Mountaineers. Mellete abused Appalachian, mostly in the first half for 14 catches and 236 yards receiving and one touchdown. Elon ran out to a quick lead last year before Appalachian eventually rallied. A couple more quick stats on Mellete, he scored two touchdowns in a game only twice last season, while doing it three straight games for the Phoenix. Mellete was held under 100 yards receiving only twice last season, but three times season has he failed to hit the century mark in receiving yards.

Appalachian finally found their offensive stride last weekend with a whopping 648 yards of total offense, which is a little over a third of a mile. Jamal Jackson provided 285 passing yards and 54 yards rushing to go along with four total touchdowns. However, Jackson provided his token interception, which it seems he has to get out of his system every game to get warmed up. Because we have been keeping track, Jackson is now 8-1 as a starter when throwing a touchdown pass in a game, and has thrown an interception in eight of his eleven career starts. Jackson leads the SoCon in total yardage and passing yardage and ranks 15th in rushing yardage in a very run heavy conference.

The main offensive weapons in the Mountaineer were on display once again in the big win over Coastal Carolina. Stephen Miller ran the ball seventeen times for 202 yards and two touchdowns, with included a 75 yard touchdown run in the second half. Miller recorded the 25th all time rushing game of 200 or more yards by a Mountaineer. Of the previous 200 yard rushing games, only DeAndre Presley accomplished the feat in fewer carries than Miller. Now with 601 yards on the season, Miller is on pace to become the first Mountaineer running back to hit 1,000 yards since Devon Moore in 2009. Sean Price continues to amaze after only three games in uniform. The redshirt freshman is averaging 120 yards a game receiving and leads the Mountaineers in receptions with 26 despite playing in two fewer games. Price hauled in two touchdown passes against Coastal Carolina, including an acrobatic 69 yard reception where he nearly lost his balance before racing past the entire Chanticleer secondary to the end zone.

Last week, I was looking for a hard fought game, and did not want to see a blowout at all. However, looking back, I may have rethought those sentiments. Even though the Mountaineers rolled up a massive day of offense and lit up the scoreboard for 55 points, I was equally as impressed with the defense. In the past, games like last weekend, the Mountaineers would have allowed another touchdown or two in garbage time. I think what may set the tone for the rest of the season was a play that may have gone forgotten. With the game already in hand and Appalachian kicking off after a score, the Coastal Carolina kick returner cleared the Mountaineer special teams and it appeared he was going to score. Punter and kickoff specialist Sam Martin was beat on the play, but found a gear and made the touchdown saving tackle. Plays later, the Appalachian defense forced a fumble and thwarted the scoring threat. I really think those moments, when a score by Coastal Carolina would not have mattered in the final outcome, made a statement. We have seen shades of the team playing for sixty minutes for two consecutive games. Whether the game was on the line like Chattanooga, or out of hand like last weekend, I think we have seen something from the defensive side of the ball. I am sure this weekend, Demetrius McCray wants to put forth an extra effort in slowing down Aaron Mellete. The NFL scouts will be watching both players and this game will carry significant weight to their playing careers after college. Otherwise, I think Appalachian might be finding a groove as far as their offense is concerned. I think the Appalachian defense will also shine this weekend. Only Georgia Southern has lost more fumbles than Elon this season and the Phoenix are also dead last in the conference in punting and in conference games, turnovers and field position are critical.

The First Pick:

Knee Benders 27

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football @ Chattanooga

Here we go with Week 4:

 #17 Appalachian State (1-2, 0-1) @ Chattanooga (1-2, 0-1)

Time: 6pm

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

Finley Stadium         

Surface: Polyethylene FieldTurf

Capacity: 20,668 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

ASU: 57.47

UTC: 53.64

Home: 3.41 points

Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by ½ point (rounded).

Series: Appalachian leads 25-10

Last Meeting: Appalachian 14, Chattanooga 12, September 24, 2011, Boone, NC

WXAPP’s Chattanooga Gameday Weather Trends:

Partly Cloudy, small risk for isolated shower

Kickoff: Temperatures in the upper 70’s to low 80’s

End of Game: Temperatures in the upper 60’s


            Words cannot describe what Mountaineer fans have had to go through in the last few days. This program has received few beatings at home like they did last weekend. We all know about recent playoff losses that got out of control. However, this one beats all the rest. This was a loss that transcends postseason play and can only bring back memories of some of the all-time worst losses. This was not Furman or Georgia Southern. This was a team that Appalachian had pretty much owned for forty contests. This takes you back to losses that should have never happened. The outcome is one thing. Most fans can understand a game where both teams played well, and eventually, one team has to lose in the end. The way this loss happened is unexplainable. We saw what The Citadel was able to do against Georgia Southern and knew that the Bulldogs were catching up, but wrote it off as two option teams playing one another. Eventually someone had to win. Appalachian gave up 618 yards at home, while Georgia Southern gave up 253 to the same team on the road. Something about that is not right. There really is not any other way to say it. Somehow, we all move forward to a game that both teams, Appalachian and Chattanooga, have to consider must wins. Chattanooga’s schedule includes a non-Division I game that will not count toward victories needed for the playoffs. Appalachian cannot fall to 0-2 in conference play and have a chance at the title, considering this conference race just got wacky this past weekend.

            Chattanooga has faced all of their non-conference opponents in a descending order of talent. They started with a loss FBS South Florida on the road before visiting Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks managed a three point win in a game that Chattanooga battled back from a 17-0 deficit in the second quarter. The game was destined for overtime when the Mocs tied the score at 24 with 39 seconds remaining. Jacksonville State worked into field goal range and kicked home the game winner with no time on the clock. Last Thursday night, Chattanooga controlled Glenville State for a 35-0 win that was more lopsided than the final score. That game saw Chattanooga unveil their bag of tricks, with passes to the quarterback lined up at receiver.

            After Appalachian beat down Chattanooga quarterback BJ Coleman last year, Terrell Robinson took over and started in five games and eventually won SoCon Freshman of the Year honors. Robinson is adept at the zone read and is particularly elusive in the open field. Robinson finished with 417 yards rushing and 336 passing last season. This year, in two games, he has 33 rushing yards, 57 passing yards, and 52 receiving yards. Robinson, who goes by “Silk”, quit the team after the USF loss on a Tuesday. He was unsure of how his role with the team was going to play out with freshman Jacob Huesman, son of Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman, and he splitting playing time. Chattanooga fully intended to utilize a two quarterback system. Robinson had a change of heart within twenty four hours and was accepted back on the team, but did not play at Jacksonville State. Instead, Robinson was awarded time at receiver against Glenville State. Somehow, this two quarterback system might work itself out, but having the coach and his son involved will be an interesting story line for Mocs fans in the coming seasons.

            Because of the two-headed quarterback, Chattanooga has completely changed their offensive philosophy in less than a year. When BJ Coleman was at the helm, The Mocs were a pass happy team. Now, Jacob Huesman and Robinson run a very balanced attack, but leans heavily toward the run. In three games, the Mocs have averaged fifty rushing attempts per contest, while grinding out 173 yards on the ground a game. Huesman leads the team with 213 total rushing yards. Huesman has also added 473 yards passing. If the Mocs can run on Appalachian, which seems easier to do nowadays, they will do it at will. Coach Huesman has always preferred a possession ballgame against Appalachian. He wants to burn the clock and give the Mountaineers fewer opportunities to score.

            One has to take a long look to find any positives from last weekend. Stephen Miller’s 167 yards rushing with three touchdowns is a bright spot only because something had to be. Miller is now up to 305 yards and five touchdowns on the season, with all but 47 yards coming at home. Miller has only one good showing on the road wearing the black and gold, and that was against The Citadel last year. His other road rushing performances include: 15 yards against Va. Tech, 28 at Wofford, -1 at Furman, -2 at Elon. Miller seems to be fitting in the offense better than last year, but will perhaps see the best defense he has seen all season on Saturday. The Mocs are only allowing 106 yards a game on the ground, good enough for 29th nationally.

            After what was one of his best performances as a Mountaineer, Jamal Jackson fell to earth with a dud in his tenth career start. For the first time, he was unable to reach 200 yards passing in a game. For the seventh time in his career, he threw an interception in a game. That is starting to become an unhealthy trend. In ten games started, Jackson has thrown an interception in all but three games. Conversely, he has also has thrown touchdowns in the same 7:3 ratio. Seven games with touchdown passes, three without. In those three games where Jackson did not throw a touchdown pass, Appalachian’s record speaks for itself: 0-3. Jackson is 6-4 as a starter, but three of those losses have come in his last four games played. Statistics are nice and look pretty and sell newspapers, but eventually, you have to put your team in position to win football games.

 The Appalachian defense had its worst performance in decades. There are not many games where the Mountaineers give up 52 points, three 100-yard rushers and 7.3 yards per carry. It was an all-around ugly display. Either this is a sign of things to come, or this game is a complete aberration. We won’t know which the case is until we get a few more games played on the schedule, but until then, I am leaning toward the pessimistic view. The team will probably have a nice bounce back game this weekend. Surely will not expect or predict a blowout, but I can see a win. What is worrisome are the emotional highs and lows that may come with the rest of this season. It appears this team suffered from a very emotional high after the Montana win. It makes one wonder if this team actually believed in itself. What they need desperately is a tough hard fought win where a lead is never comfortable. If the Mountaineers come to the field every Saturday and are prepared for battle, then this season will bring success. There are not any easy games in this conference anymore. Most of these players on this team were recruited when Appalachian winning by large margins was the norm. The talent gap between the top and bottom of this conference has shrunk significantly in a short amount of time. Chattanooga has been dangerous since Russ Huesman has been coaching. Each game during the Huesman era between Appalachian and Chattanooga has been decided in fourth quarter and expecting anything different this weekend is foolish. One of these teams will end up with their third loss on Saturday, with little room for error for the remainder of the season. Hopefully that team is not Appalachian.

The First Pick:

Birds on a Train                      22       

Mountaineers                         24

The Citadel @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 3:

 #21 The Citadel (2-0, 1-0) @ #8 Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0)        

Time: 3:30pm

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         

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 24,050 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

ASU: 58.12

Cit: 58.12

Home: 3 points

Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3 points (rounded).

Series: Appalachian leads 29-11

Last Meeting: Appalachian 49, The Citadel 42, October 15, 2011, Charleston, SC

WXAPP’s Boone Gameday Weather Trends:

Partly Cloudy, Miniscule chance of pop up shower. Heck of a day for tailgating!

Kickoff: Temperatures in the mid 70’s

End of Game: Temperatures in the upper 60’s


                        As expected, Montana and Appalachian State gave every fan exactly what they were looking for last weekend. The first half was full of offense as Montana took an early lead only to see Appalachian string together three consecutive touchdowns. Montana finished the scoring in the first half that saw the score tied at intermission. The defenses ruled the second half as the third quarter was scoreless until both teams traded touchdowns in the beginning of the final stanza. Appalachian’s defense rose to the occasion, unlike the two schools previous meetings. Patrick Blalock and Demetrius McCray finished off Montana with interceptions on the Griz’ final two possessions to seal a Mountaineer win, that was twelve years in the making. Quickly though, Appalachian’s attention turns to their first conference opponent fresh off of a win over the third ranked Georgia Southern Eagles. The Citadel had Southern on the ropes last season, but fell just short in Statesboro. This past Saturday, the Cadets were just good enough to squeeze past Southern by connecting on a field goal with less than a minute remaining in the game. Any chances that The Citadel might catch Appalachian on a Montana hangover were erased with the Bulldog victory. The Mountaineers have not lost to The Citadel in Boone since 1992. Most of the players on both teams had yet to be born the last time The Citadel drove off the mountain with a victory. Will history repeat itself or can the Bulldogs start off conference play with wins over two perennial contenders?

            The Citadel opened their season with a win over cross town rival Charleston Southern. The game was tied at 14 at halftime, before The Citadel rolled off 35 unanswered points to win. The Bulldogs racked up 479 yards rushing and never punted. However, Citadel lost two of their six fumbles and turned the ball over once on downs. Going for it on fourth down in a wishbone offense is not uncommon and neither is mishandled snaps and handoffs, but six fumbles, lost or not is a problem. Last week against Southern, the two teams combined for eight fumbles. The Citadel only lost one and the Eagles lost two, but the timing was most important. Georgia Southern fumbled on its 27 and 39 yard lines on its first two possessions. On both occasions, the Bulldogs scored touchdowns and led 14-0 just barely halfway through the first quarter. Georgia Southern scored touchdowns on its next two possessions to tie the game at 14. On its next possession, The Citadel booted in its first of three field goals of the game to take a 17-14 lead.

            What might have been the play of the game as far as momentum was concerned came on Georgia Southern’s final possession in the first half. The Eagles worked in the passing game as time was winding down and worked to attempt a 31-yard field goal on the last play of the half. The Citadel blocked the attempt and went to the locker room with a three point advantage. Surely that play gave the Bulldogs a needed boost as they headed to the locker room. That brings back memories of the 2006 Appalachian/Furman game in Boone. Furman lined up for a field goal trailing 14-7. Corey Lynch blocked the field goal and returned it for a touchdown and 21-7 Appalachian halftime lead. The Mountaineers went on to win the game 40-7.

            The Citadel forced four consecutive punts from Georgia Southern to start the second half and led 20-14 heading to the fourth quarter. Southern went ahead 21-20 with just over three minutes remaining. The Citadel nailed a field goal to give the game its final score with under a minute remaining and Southern missed another 31-yard field goal, this one wide, to give The Citadel its first win over the Eagles since 2006.

            The Citadel used 11 different players to run the ball against Charleston Southern and used only six against Georgia Southern. Starting quarterback Ben Dupree ran 17 times in both games. Against CSU, he ran for 77 yards while piling up 92 yards against GSU. Dupree is the leading rusher for The Citadel in terms of carries, total yards rushing and has scored two touchdowns. Three other Bulldogs have carried for at least 14 times or more this season. Darien Robinson averages 64 yards a game and eight yards per carry while adding one touchdown. Rickey Anderson has toted the ball 14 times for 110 yards and leads the team with four rushing touchdowns. Backup quarterback Aaron Miller has rushed 14 times for 33 yards. Miller seems to be the preference when passing the ball, as he is 7/11 for 107 yards on the season, while Dupree has completed one pass this season for twenty-six yards. With eight total completions for a whopping 133 yards in two games, The Citadel’s receivers are not much to talk about with six different players catching passes.

            Jamal Jackson gained his 133rd yard passing on Appalachian’s sixth drive of the season against East Carolina almost two weeks ago. Jackson has continued to throw the ball consistently since then. Jackson followed his 300 yard performance against East Carolina with a 260 passing game against Montana that included two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Jackson completed 70% of his passes against the Grizzlies in what could be considered his best start of his career since his first one, against The Citadel last year. Jackson completed 21/27 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns last season against the Bulldogs. That game and last week against Montana were the only games in his career completing over 70% of his passes with multiple touchdowns passes and no interceptions. Also interesting about Jackson against Montana were his rushing statistics. His sixteen carries for sixty-five yards were both career highs in a single game. Jackson added his tenth career rushing touchdown against the Grizzlies and his 325 total yards was the sixth time he has gone over 300 yards total offense in only his ninth start.

             For the first time this season, Appalachian fans were able to lay their eyes on Sean Price. In his first career game with significant playing time, Price flourished with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Andrew Peacock continues to lead the Apps in receiving with ten catches for 134 yards. Peacock had a dazzling catch and run last week that left a Montana defender on his behind while he saw Peacock dive into the end zone for his first score of the season. Malachi Jones was steady against Montana with four catches for thirty-four yards. Most significantly, Jones made a great sideline catch on a 3rd down and 16 that helped set up Appalachian’s final touchdown of the game. Jones ran to the sticks and made his cut and waited on the ball while dragging both feet to secure the catch. Jones made a tough play look ultra smooth in a pressure situation.

             Steven Miller did something none of us have seen from him before at Appalachian. Miller carried the ball 27 times for 91 yards against Montana. That is easily his most rushing attempts in a game while wearing the black and gold. Miller’s previous high was last year, against The Citadel, when he carried eighteen times for 102 yards. In all, Miller had 76 carries all of last year and has already rushed 41 times this season. Keeping him fresh until Rod Chisholm returns will be a big key to Appalachian’s season, especially while trying to redshirt Tysean Holloway. Of Appalachian’s 80 rushing attempts this season, 74 have come from either Jackson, Miller or Chisholm.

            I believe we all had this feeling that The Citadel might be slowly rising from the SoCon cellar. Perhaps, it might be happening before our eyes a lot sooner than we imagined. Keep in mind, The Citadel, Georgia Southern and Wofford all run very similar offenses. They practice against them on a daily basis almost. The Citadel basically gave one away in Statesboro last year and Georgia Southern should have been on the upset alert last week. I am not reading too much stock into their win over GSU, but it still happened, and that might be the best thing for Appalachian in the long run. The Citadel is 3-17 in Boone and has not played well in Boone in several seasons. Appalachian has scored 28 or more points in every game in Boone since The Citadel’s last win over Appalachian in 2003. The Citadel has averaged 14.5 points per game in Boone since that same game. The Mountaineers need to do what they have always done against the Bulldogs and that is jump on them early and take them out of the game. The Citadel has had the most trouble defending Mountaineer quarterbacks over the years. Whether it has been Richie, Armanti, DeAndre or even Jamal, it has been the one position that has killed The Citadel over the years. I expect Jackson to have another huge day. As always, you can almost count on The Citadel to pull of some type of trick play against Appalachian. A fake punt is almost a guarantee. Kevin Higgins mentioned it on his teleconference. Whether he was trying to spark his team or was telling the truth we might never know. Higgins said “..we aren’t good enough…and we don’t have the talent to keep up” in reference to his team’s brutal schedule that included Georgia Southern, Appalachian and NC State next week. The Citadel hopes to play one possession at a time and be in the game at the end. I just don’t think the Mountaineers will allow the fourth quarter to be one of significant importance.

The First Pick:

Cadets                                 20       

Mountaineers                   42