Here we go with the Semifinals:
#6 Richmond (11-2) @ #5 Appalachian State (11-2)
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin ratings:
Home advantage: 2.59 points
ASU is favored to win by 2 points
Series: ASU leads 3-2
Last Meeting: Appalachian 20 Richmond 3, 11/28/87
In any given game in the first two rounds of the playoffs, when looking at match ups, you can usually depict which team has the edge, whether it be that one team is playing at home, or that one teams strength can match up against another teams weakness. When you get to the semifinals, with four teams remaining, the ability to predict an outcome of a game gets harder. Every team is good now. There is a reason that a team is able to obtain double digit wins and advance through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Appalachian and Richmond are no different. Both teams play really good football. Both teams can get up and down the field and score points and have been able to keep opposing teams out of the end zone. Both teams are fighting for that elusive goal of getting to Chattanooga. Richmond will be seeking its first appearance in the title game, while Appalachian attempts to advance for the third time in as many years. Whoever wins will have earned the right to play for a national championship.
Richmond was able to defeat Wofford in Spartanburg last Saturday. That is something the Mountaineers were unable to do when they had the chance in September. That was two and half months ago and the ASU team that took the field on that day is not the same team that it is today. That team may have been accused of inserting Armanti Edwards into the lineup before he was healthy. Edwards was unsuccessful before injuring his shoulder and giving the reins to Trey Elder. That day was also very warm and muggy in Spartanburg, and it definitely took a toll on the Mountaineer defense that was on the field for 35 minutes. The Mountaineer team that will take the field on Friday night may be the healthiest the team has been all season long. Also take into consideration that the game will not be played in Spartanburg in front of 8500 fans. This game will be played at Kidd Brewer Stadium with a crowd of around 20,000 fans expected. Also, the game time temperature will be slightly cooler then what Richmond faced last week in Spartanburg, and nearly 50 degrees cooler then when ASU played Wofford.
The engine that makes the Richmond Spiders go is Tim Hightower. The Spiders leaned on Hightower’s 140 yards a game rushing to win the Colonial Athletic Conference. Hightower has averaged 24 carries a game this year, including 27 carries per contest in the playoffs. A lot of Hightower’s yards came against inferior opponents. Hightower ran for 246 yards against Northeastern and 295 yards against Bucknell. However, Hightower has slowed toward the end of the season only averaging 109 yards in his last four games, and was held to under 90 yards rushing in two of those contests. Averaging over 100 yards rushing a game it still a pretty big deal, but you can see the trend.
At quarterback for the Spiders is Eric Ward who has passed for 2,133 yards and 14 touchdowns. Ward is a very adequate passer and is a threat to run as he has gained 397 yards rushing on the season. Although the Spiders throw a lot, he is a big key to their offense. If Ward fails to be successful through the air, the Spiders will become a one dimensional attack. Ward will need to hit his receivers early in the game in order for Richmond to be able to score points.
Another part of Richmond’s game may have solid results is the kick off return team. Justin Rogers is ranked 3rd nationally in kick off returns with 31.4 yards per return. Appalachian struggled with kick return defense against Eastern Washington, allowing 2 long returns, one of which went for a touchdown. A positive for Appalachian this week is that they have had a week to correct its mistakes and probably have worked extremely hard on kickoff coverage in practice.
Appalachian arguably played its best defensive game of the season last week. Although special teams allowed Eastern Washington to score three touchdowns, the pressure on the quarterback was an issue all game long. Appalachian never allowed the Eagles to get into a rhythm offensively. When Eastern Washington could manage a drive, it was Corey Lynch that was intercepting a pass and DJ Smith falling on a fumble while the Eagles were in the red zone.
Appalachian ran up a playoff record 529 yards of total offense against Eastern Washington. Devon Moore filled in nicely for Kevin Richardson with 100 yards on the ground. Armanti Edwards continued his hot streak with another 347 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns. ASU has had a two players rush for 100 yards in four of its last six playoff games. Receivers CoCo Hillary (37 yards) and Dexter Jackson (41 yards) stretched the defense for long pass plays that kept the Eastern Washington defense guessing all game long. The Eagles had only allowed 130 yards rushing a game and the Mountaineers exploded for 309 yards on the ground.
This game features some of the best rushing teams in the nation. Appalachian will spread you out and find their holes while Richmond will pound you all night long. Richmond will force the run and try to duplicate the game plan that James Madison tried. The best way to keep Appalachian from scoring is having possession of the ball. Appalachian has not been stopped on offense all year long. James Madison is the only team to hold the Mountaineers under 30 points all season. Appalachian will be able to use Kevin Richardson and Devon Moore and make the Richmond defense guess which back is getting the ball. Turnovers are always key in playoff games. Neither Richmond nor Appalachian would be where they are right now without the untimely miscues by opposing teams. The kicking game may also loom large for both teams in a game that is expected to be very close. Richmond has hit 15/22 field goals this season, with two misses last week against Wofford and three misses in their loss to Towson. Appalachian has hit 17/21 field goals and all of those misses were beyond 40 yards. I think Richmond will put up one heck of a fight, just like James Madison did. The reason the Mountaineers will prevail is because of the leadership of the seniors. These guys know what it takes to win. The experience in the playoffs the last two seasons will be invaluable. Richmond is a very young team and although they will be a force to be reckoned with for the next few years, their time is not right now. Appalachian will be playing in front of a crowd that will be tailgate deprived due to the exam schedule and they will be relentless. I think this game will be decided in the third quarter. Appalachian will score late and force Richmond to pass the ball and they will press the issue and make mistakes. The Mountaineers know the way the way to the Choo Choo. All Aboard!!
The First Pick:
Big Bad Mountaineers 38
itsy bitsy spiders 24