Here we go with The First Round:
#13 South Carolina State @ #2 Appalachian State
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 2.77 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 21 points (rounded).
Series: ASU leads 1-0
Last Meeting: ASU 24, SCSU 0; November 17, 1984
This years Selection Sunday was less suspenseful than the same Sunday evening in 2007 for Appalachian State. Instead of the questions of who and where, the question this past weekend was more along the lines of who? Most Mountaineer fans and playoff experts had it narrowed down to a few teams, depending how much emphasis that the selection committee placed on the economy and geographic proximity. Finally, the draw was the South Carolina State Bulldogs from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The stage is now set. The Mountaineers march into the playoffs will begin like it has the last three seasons, at Kidd Brewer Stadium, where the Mountaineers have won 41 of their last 42 games and twelve in a row.
South Carolina State has the chance to surprise the Mountaineers. In 2005, Appalachian faced another unfamiliar foe in Lafayette. The Leopards received the lone bid from the Patriot League and Appalachian was also the second seed. In 2006 and 2007, Appalachian faced Coastal Carolina and James Madison in the first round, teams they had defeated at home in the previous seasons. Lafayette gave Appalachian a good game before falling 34-23. South Carolina State is in the same spot, the lone automatic bid from their conference and once again, Appalachian is the second seed. The difference between Lafayette in 2005 and the 2008 South Carolina State team is speed. South Carolina State has it and Lafayette did not. Also, The Bulldogs run a Multiple Pro I formation, which also has spread tendencies, compared the Lafayette and the offense of days past, the I formation.
William Ford is the most dangerous player for SC State. Ford has rushed for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ford has a very quick first step and can sometimes get lost in the backfield considering the size of quarterback Malcolm Long (6-3, 257). Ford is complimented well by backfield mate Travil Jamison who has run for 567 yards and 16 touchdowns. Ford is the smaller, quicker back at 5-11, 185 pounds while Jamison runs for the tough yards at 6-0, 200 pounds.
Malcolm Long has some of the best receivers in the MEAC to throw to. Oliver Young has caught 47 passes for 587 yards and four touchdowns. Phillip Morris has reeled in 35 catches for 547 yards and five touchdowns and NC State transfer Octavius Darby has 26 catches for 450 yards and four touchdowns. In all, five different Bulldogs have four or more touchdowns between the backs and receivers. SC State really likes to spread the ball around and it shows on the stat sheet.
Appalachian advanced to the playoffs by running the table in the Southern Conference, posting a perfect 8-0 record. The last time Appalachian had a unblemished league record was in 2006, when they won 14 straight games to close the season. The Mountaineers rested some players against Western Carolina in order to be prepared for the playoffs and they gave other players their chance to shine. DeAndre Presley started his first career game and was awarded as the conference freshman and offensive players of the week. It was the first time in seventeen years that the conference had given two awards to the same player. Presley started in the absence of All-SoCon quarterback Armanti Edwards, who was still recovering from a hip pointer. Edwards expects to start for the Mountaineers against SC State.
The difficult task in comparing teams from different conferences is judging the strength of the conference. The MEAC has been a league that has received one bid to the playoffs for several years. The Southern Conference has been a multiple bid conference for as long as I can remember. It seems this year, like most others, the Southern Conference is strong than the MEAC. SC State has some very impressive statistics, especially on the defensive side of the ball. SC State has limited opposing offenses to 248 yards per game. They also limited teams to only 2.6 yards per rushing attempt. They have only given up 23 touchdowns and have shutout their last three opponents. However, I don’t think those numbers could hold up if the Bulldogs had to play the likes of Wofford, Elon and Georgia Southern. Appalachian’s statistics cant hold up to SC State in certain circumstances. However, any team that can hold an arch rival to 72 total yards has to have a good defense. Appalachian has proved each week that they have one of the best red zone defenses and can really go after the football by forcing 25 turnovers.
So what does it all add up to? We could be looking a shootout on Saturday. SC State scores right at 30 points a game and Appalachian averages 39.3. The two teams combine for 851 yards of offense a game. But this is different. This is the playoffs. Each possession is important and sometimes, if you are not accustomed to the pressure, players can do overplay. Despite the relative youth, these Appalachian players know what it takes to play in tough games. Appalachian battled back after trailing Western Carolina in the first half. Elon scored late in the second half and took a slim lead before Appalachian rallied. SC State has not had to play a tough game for almost a month now. They have cruised to extremely lopsided victories. How will SC State respond if they get down early? That may be the toughest hurdle for SC State to overcome. If the Bulldogs can stop the Mountaineers in the first quarter, they will become more confident and the longer you let a team hang around, the better they feel about winning. The first quarter is the most important for SC State. The Bulldogs must also avoid penalties. SC State has averaged 7.8 penalties for 72 yards per game this season. That is roughly 9.2 yards per flag. Appalachian will be able to move the ball on SC State, and the Bulldogs don’t need to help the Mountaineers with their field position. I think this will be a very tough game. William Ford is the real deal and Appalachian has struggled with stopping the run between the tackles. SC State must control the clock and keep Appalachian off the field. It will be a difficult thing to do considering SC State has only averaged 27:12 of possession per game. I think this is the game where Appalachian finds success through the air and makes a couple huge defensive plays.
The First Pick:
Dog Tired 27
Mount Up 41