Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. James Madison Playoffs Round 1 11/24/2007

Here we go with the First Round:

#12 James Madison (8-3) @ #5 Appalachian State (9-2)
11/24/07

Time: Noon

TV: CSS

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 16,650

Jeff Sagarin ratings:

ASU:     70.62

JMU:    64.92

Home advantage: 2.59 points

ASU is favored to win by 8 points

Series: ASU leads 11-3

Last Meeting: ASU 21, JMU 10

 

The season is finally over for all but 16 teams who have dreams of a National Championship dancing in their heads. For about eight of those teams, the opportunity to win it all is realistic. Two of those eight teams will face off in first round action in Boone, NC. One team is the two-time defending champions who will be playing at home. The other is the last national champion to win it not named Appalachian State. The Mountaineers opponent, James Madison feels as if they were given the shaft again by the NCAA by not being awarded a home playoff game. Some feel that ASU might have received the same sentence by being forced to the road in a possible second round match up with the playoffs’ number two seed in McNeese State. It’s really irrelevant. These two teams will not be thinking about where they should have been come Saturday. It’s the playoffs. It’s put up or shut up time. On Saturday, The Rock will be just as it is every weekend during the season. The Mountaineers will expect to win and James Madison will expect to pull off the upset. One team will play prepared and one will win and the other will be eating leftovers, dreaming of what could have been.

 

The James Madison team that will be taking the field at Kidd Brewer on Saturday is not the same team that Appalachian fans saw at the beginning of the 2006 season. That team was all about running between the tackles and play action passing. The Dukes have now adopted a style of offense that features the quarterback, Rodney Landers, who is questionable for Saturday’s game with a sore ankle. Despite his health, chances are he will probably play if necessary, so the Mountaineers must prepare as if he will. Landers has run for 1194 yards and passed for 1554 yards on the season and has had a hand in 24 touchdowns. In the last two games against Towson and William and Mary, Landers ran for 321 yards on 45 carries. That averages out to 7.1 yards a carry compared to the regular season where he averaged 5.9 yards per carry. However, against playoff teams, Delaware, New Hampshire and Richmond, Landers carried for only 5.4 yards per carry and was held well below is his season average in games against Delaware and Richmond.

 

They one way to stop Landers is get him off the field or force him to pass. In James Madison’s three losses, Landers’ touchdown to interception ratio was 1 to 2. In fact. Landers’ threw all of his four interceptions in the losses to North Carolina, Richmond and Delaware. On the opposite side of the ball, Appalachian is a prefect 19-0 when Corey Lynch incepts a pass. Landers must keep his passes away from Corey Lynch and the rest of the ASU defense if the Dukes are to advance to the second round.

 

The James Madison defense is considered one of the better defenses in all of the country. They have allowed only 21.5 points per contest and don’t allow teams to gain yards on the ground. They have only allowed 8 field goals and 31 touchdowns all season long. If there is a weak part of the JMU defense, its their pass defense, which gives up 205 yards per outing. ASU has shown in a couple games this season that they can throw the ball whenever they please. Madison only has eight interceptions on the season and has allowed teams to convert 63% of their passes.

For Appalachian the offense is similar that it revolves around the production of Armanti Edwards. When the Mountaineers can get to running the ball like they want, they are hard to beat. Although James Madison only allows 120 yards a game against the run, something has to give. I am not sure that James Madison has enough speed to contain the ASU running game as a whole. All season, teams have tried to focus on stopping Kevin Richardson, and if that worked, they were unable to contain Edwards. At the same time, when teams focused on Edwards, that is when Richardson would shine. Both players did their best running last year in the 2006 playoffs, when they blew away teams with their speed and elusiveness.

 

The ASU defense must step up to the plate this week as they face another strong running team. Take away Wofford and Western Carolina, and the rest of the schedule is full of teams that are considered run oriented. The Mountaineers have struggled at times this year with stopping the run, yet rank 10th in the nation in tackles for loss. If the Apps allow a somewhat injured Landers to run wild, it could be a long afternoon.

 

The tone of this game will be set from the very beginning. When I say that, I don’t mean whoever scores first, I mean whoever wins the coin toss. Both teams will likely prefer to take the ball if given the option and that is when either someone will score or get stopped. I think ASU holds the upper hand if they can get on the board first. In the games ASU lost this season, they had to fight back from behind and get out of their offense while doing so. Appalachian is much better team when they play with the lead. James Madison will need to move the ball and keep it out of the hands of the ASU offense early. Against Richmond, James Madison held the ball for only 23 minutes of the game and eventually lost by one point. ASU thrives on the quick score. The majority of ASU’s scoring drives this season have occurred in less than two minutes of possession. Penalties and turnovers are bigger when you play in the playoffs because everyone you play is better and they take advantage of those situations. I think another big factor in this game is field position. Anytime you can pin a team inside of its ten yard line, you force them to scrap half of their playbook. ASU punter Neil Young was able to control the spin on two punts last week to give Chattanooga bad field position. Whether it be Dexter Jackson or CoCo Hillary returning punts, both players have the breakaway speed that has the ability to flip the field on opposing teams. When you talk about field position and punting, the expectations are for a potentially low scoring game. Appalachian has not been held under 30 points all season long and although James Madison is talented defensively, I don’t see why the Mountaineers will not put points on the board. James Madison must make Appalachian play from behind and force the running game, and play mistake free. I think the home field advantage will come into play when it’s over. In 2005, ASU had 6,327 fans for a non-regional opponent in the first round. In 2006, 16,223 fans showed up to watch ASU pummel Coastal Carolina. More ASU fans will pack Kidd Brewer because they have expected to have a game this time of the year. James Madison has not won this year in front of large crowds and the health of their quarterback will certainly be an issue. The Mountaineers should advance to the next round.

The First Pick:

Black and Gold                35

Men don’t wear Purple      26

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian @ James Madison 9/20/2008

Here we go with Week 3:

#1 Appalachian State @ #5 James Madison
9/20/08

Time: 7pm

TV: CN8
Stadium: Bridgeforth Stadium
Surface: Field Turf
Capacity: 15,500
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
ASU:     68.16
JMU:    62.79
Home advantage: 2.87 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 2 ½  points (rounded).

Series: ASU leads 12-3
Last Meeting: ASU 28, JMU 27 Nov 17th, 2007; 1st round FCS Playoffs

 

Now the fun really starts. For Appalachian, the “scrimmages” are over. For James Madison, their shot at revenge is finally in sight. This weekend may bring about the most anticipated game in modern FCS history. It has certainly been anticipated by Dukes followers. Since the exit from the playoffs, every James Madison fan, player, coach, and water boy has had this date circled. The excuses are plenty. They shouldn’t have lost, if games were played on paper. They gave it away, if by “gave it away” you mean, they lost the lead. Does it really matter how it happened? It only matters that it did, which leads us to this weekend. Duke fans thought they should have won the National Championship. Appalachian fans knew, when Pierre Banks fell on “The Fumble: Part 2”, that their team wanted it more. (“The Fumble: Part 1” starred Jason Hunter and Ingle Martin.) That is the reason they play the game. The game is played by everyone on the field, not just the quarterbacks or running backs or wide receivers. Who is going to step up this Saturday and make a play that will not be forgotten?

 

In the Jacksonville game, Appalachian went up against a team and program they had never played before. This weekend will be the exact opposite. James Madison and Appalachian State are very familiar with one another. Coaches Mickey Matthews and Jerry Moore have known each other for the better part of their lives. The schools will have played each other three times in the last three seasons. Armanti Edwards was discovered against James Madison, and this will be the first team in his career that he will have played three times.

 

Senior quarterback Rodney Landers is the key to the JMU offense. He is a terrific spread quarterback that has plenty of speed and will finish plays off by lowering his head and punishing opposing defenses. He is responsible for 57% of the James Madison total offense and has improved his passing, completing 65% of his attempts for a total of 300 yards on the season and has only thrown one interception. Landers has carried the ball more than any other Madison back this season and leads the team with 7.4 yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns on the ground.

James Madison’s back and receivers are equally as talented as their quarterback. Griff Yancey has carried for 171 yards and is averaging 6.1 yards per tote. Eugene Holloman, despite missing the UMass game to injury, has carried for 143 yards and has averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Punt returner Scotty McGee will be someone the Mountaineer special teams will have to keep an eye on. McGee leads the CAA in punt returns at 17.1 yards per clip and kick returns at 29 yards per return. McGee returned one punt for 38 yards and a touchdown against North Carolina Central and has a long return on the season of 49 yards.

 

Appalachian fans are still curious as to what kind of team the Mountaineers will put on the field. The first two games sure felt like exhibitions against two teams on the opposite ends of the college football spectrum. The offense has looked somewhat bland and very run oriented. The passing game was not impressive in the win over Jacksonville. Some seem to think that ASU isn’t showing their hand. I don’t think it was so much that, as it was just trying a few different things on offense and giving younger guys some very valuable playing time. Injuries cannot be predicted and it gives those players some confidence when they have to step on the field and be counted on in pressure situations. James Madison is putting everything into this game, making it their season almost. Appalachian needs to play with a similar type of urgency. The season wont be over, but this game this weekend is the true test and battle of the best teams in FCS football.

 

Appalachian will certainly feature a mixture of Devon Moore and Robert Welton. Moore had 94 yards on nine carries against Jacksonville and Welton carried for a career high 161 yards on ten carries while scoring three touchdowns. Armanti Edwards added 77 yards on eight carries and will certainly be a factor in the game. Depending on how much JMU focuses on stopping Edwards will determine how the ASU game plan will play out. Edwards will have to be successful through the air, for the offense to put points on the board. If Edwards is only able to complete 41% of his passes like he has thus far, it will be a long day for the Mountaineers. A lot of the passing game woes have fallen on the wide receivers. Several players will have to step up in order to keep the chains  moving and keep James Madison off the field.

 

The advantage I see in this game for Appalachian is when the defense is on the field. James Madison was able to put 52 points on the board against a very good Massachusetts team. The Appalachian defense has speed at every position. Where there isn’t speed there is sure tackling and spot on assignments. Playing Rodney Landers is very much like defending the old Georgia Southern triple option and the wing-whatever you want to call it down at Wofford. JMU will be at a disadvantage every time Landers lines up under center.  Landers in the shotgun is very dangerous because he can turn the corner with such ease and gather so much momentum and fall forward while dragging tacklers. On the other hand, I feel as if the ASU offense is going to come out of its shell on Saturday. I don’t envision many three and outs and when ASU has the ball they will be deliberate. JMU played a pass heavy team last week and allowed close to 300 yards passing in the second half. Granted, UMass was behind and needed to pass, but JMU could not seem to get a good pass rush going. Liam Coen isn’t exactly a scrambling quarterback. If the ASU offensive line can protect and give Armanti time to throw, receivers will get open or Armanti will have time to make magic happen when he decides run.

 

Night games always bring out the best in college football. The players have had all day to rest and wait to get all of their adrenaline flowing for what will be a great game. The fans will have had plenty of time in the parking lots getting ready as well. The atmosphere will be electric. However, Appalachian players have played in big games. Over the past few years, the Mountaineers have played their best when the lights have been brightest. The James Madison following has hyped this game to no end. It really says something about desperation when fans start chanting to play a team that isn’t in their conference. It will be interesting to see if JMU can press pass the anxiety of the last nine months. Appalachian fans alike, just want as much to show the game last year was a fluke. Their team should have played better too. This game will certainly have playoff implications. The selection committee will look back to this game and the winner, as long they are playoff eligible, will be given serious consideration for home playoff games. Alas, there is lots of football to be played and it will start on Saturday night in Harrisonburg. The coin toss will mean so much in this game. If you are Appalachian, as the away team, you want to receive the ball and get down the field and score. If you are James Madison, you might want to do the same thing, to send the message and get your crowd into the game early. An opening drive defensive stop will also do the trick for the Dukes. Field position will be extremely critical. For both teams, even if they don’t score on their first drive, it will important to at least move the ball for 30 or 40 yards in order to “flip the field”. Play calling is much more conservative if a team is inside their own 20 yard line. Turnovers played a big part last November and will likely be equally as important. James Madison capitalized on an early ASU fumble and then a key fourth down stop by the ASU defense completed the comeback. If I am JMU, I am worried about being a little over prepared. Their coaching staff has admittedly looked at ASU tape all summer long. Jerry Moore and his teams look at games one at a time. It may come back to haunt them. This game has all the makings of a classic, and finally, JMU gets Appalachian in their house. Who is going to step up this Saturday and make a play that will not be forgotten?

 

The First Pick:

Mickey the Mouth          30
Moore of the Same        34