No. 15 Appalachian Ready To Tangle With Second-Ranked Georgia Southern In Statesboro


WHO: No. 15 APPALACHIAN STATE (6-3, 4-2 SoCon) at No. 2 GEORGIA SOUTHERN (7-1, 6-1 SoCon)

WHERE: STATESBORO, GA., ALLEN E. PAULSON STADIUM (18,000)

WHEN: NOV. 3, 2012, 2 p.m.

STATESBORO, GA.–For the third-straight season, the Appalachian State-Georgia Southern clash will feature a No. 1-ranked team–at least in the FCS coaches poll–heading into the annual rivalry clash, with the Eagles having been ranked as the nation’s top team each of the past two seasons in one of the two polls.

The loser of this matchup has gone on to win the Southern Conference title each of the past couple of seasons, and the only way that happens this season is for a GSU loss in the late-season clash.  A loss by ASU would mean a third league setback, while Georgia Southern would suffer a second league loss with setback on Saturday, which would likely hand at least share of the Southern Conference trophy to the Wofford Terriers with one week to go in league play.

There’s no need to tell you there’s a lot on the line Saturday for two teams that certainly do not like each other. For Georgia Southern, it’s resurgence as a football program under the direction of Jeff Monken involves Appalachian State. The Eagles, who come into Saturday’s matchup with Appalachian State with the nation’s longest winning streak, having claimed 14-straight on its home field.

Georgia Southern’s home winning streak commenced back on Nov. 6, 2010, with a 21-14 overtime win over a top-ranked Appalachian State team, and since, the balance of power has seemingly shifted in the Southern Conference, with the Eagles posting a 24-5 mark against  since that win over a top-ranked Appalachian State back in 2010, including two appearances in the FCS semifinals, a Southern Conference title, including a 15-2 mark against SoCon foes since, and a win Saturday over ASU, would give the Eagles at least a share of a second-straight Southern Conference crown. One of those two SoCon losses in the 17 league games for the Eagles came in Boone last season, as fifth-ranked Appalachian State was able to claim a 25-17 win over No. 1 Georgia Southern late last October.

That 21-14 overtime win over the top-ranked Mountaineers a couple of years ago ended a streak of 26-straight conference wins for ASU, which dated back to the 2007 season.

Meanwhile, since that overtime setback to Georgia Southern in 2010, fortunes have not been as good in Boone, as ASU is just 16-9 against all competition since that loss in Statesboro to the un-ranked Eagles back in 2010, including an 11-4 mark against league foes. Now, it’s Appalachian State is the team on its heels so to speak, as the Mountaineers need to find a way to win in Statesboro on Saturday, as a loss would give the Apps their third league loss on the season, which would put the Black and Gold squarely on the playoff committee’s playoff bubble should ASU finish 7-4. 

Should ASU finished tied with The Citadel in the league standings and both identical league marks at 5-3, the tie would likely go to the Bulldogs, as The Citadel beat Appalachian State head-to-head, as well as holding that win early in conference play over Georgia Southern. But this could also be the first time in league history that four qualify postseason.

However, there’s still plenty of football to be played before weighing those playoff scenarios that could play out over the final three weeks of the regular season.

ASU comes into Saturday’s showdown with the Eagles looking for its first win in Allen E. Paulson Stadium–A place where ASU is just 4-8 all-time in Paulson Stadium, with two of those wins coming in successive trips in 2006 (27-20, 2 OT) and 2008 (37-36).

Saturday’s meeting will mark the 28th all-time between the Mountaineers and Eagles, with ASU holding a slight 14-12-1 all-time series edge.

If ASU can pull out the road win on Saturday, it will do something that Georgia Southern was able to do back in 2007 with a 38-35 win, which end a long home winning streak by the Mountaineers, halting a 30-game winning streak at The Rock, which dated back to the 2002 FCS postseason. The 21-14 win by the Eagles two years ago brought an

Other than the 2006 and ’08 victories in Paulson Stadium, the Mountaineers have had only two other road victories in the rivalry, and one of those saw the heroics of backup quarterback Bake Baker lead the Mountaineers in a come-from-behind, 35-28, win in 1996, while the other victory in Statesboro 60 years prior, which was a 7-6 victory.

The stakes are high whenever these two meet on the gridiron, and that will once again be the scenario on Saturday, in a matchup between two of the FCS’ most-decorated football programs, having combined for nine national titles and 20 conference titles.

To give you an idea of how much each program has meant to the Southern Conference and the FCS in general, in the 18 SoCon football seasons since the Eagles joined the SoCon in 1993, 14 of those seasons have seen the Eagles or Mountaineers claim at least a share of the Southern Conference title.

The only three campaigns in which either program has failed to accomplish a league title have been 1994 (Marshall), 1996 (Marshall) and 2003 (Wofford) have seen neither program claim at least a share of the crown. In 16 of the past 18 SoCon seasons, at least one of the two schools has qualified for the FCS postseason, with the only two seasons in which neither qualified for the FCS playoffs, and those were the 1996 and 2003 campaigns.

Jerry Moore has been on the sidelines in 20 of the 27 matchups between the two storied FCS programs, holding a 10-10 all-time record against the Eagles.

 

THE RIVALRY: The Appalachian State-Georgia Southern rivalry didn’t get its start with the two playing each other as SoCon members, with seven matchups occurring prior to Georgia Southern joining the league in 1993.

But the real rivalry between the two tradition-rich football schools wouldn’t commence until the modern era, beginning with an FCS quarterfinal meeting in 1987.

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State actually met prior to World War II prior to the GSU football program being shut down for 40 years after the war, the Mountaineer and Eagles met on met on six occasions, including meeting twice in 1934.

The Mountaineers held a slight 3-2-1 edge in those first six meetings, however, the Eagles claimed a 33-0 win in the first-ever matchup between the two, which was played 1932.

After the 1939 meeting which saw the Mountaineers claim a resounding 59-0 win in Boone, the two programs wouldn’t meet again until 48 years later in the FCS playoffs in Boone.

In a game still referred to as the “Ice Bowl” by ASU fans, it would be the Southern Conference champion Mountaineers that shut down the Eagles’ potent offense en route to a 19-0 win over Erk Russell’s GSU team.

Another classic between the two schools took place during the 1996 campaign, and it was one of the rare matchups that neither club came into the contest with any high praise, but it would provide every bit the drama that so many Mountaineer-Eagle matchups have without the two teams being highly regarded that season.

It would be backup signal-caller Bake Baker that would be called upon in the fourth quarter of that particular contest to rescue the Mountaineers from the jaws of defeat.

With 10 minutes remaining in the contest, Baker took over under center for the Apps and he faced a 21-point deficit. However, it would be the composure of Baker, and his ability to find pockets in the ASU defense, as well as his accuracy as a passer that would prove to doom the Eagles on this particular afternoon.

In just a little over 10 minutes on the field for the Black and Gold, Baker would lead the Mountaineers on three scoring drives, including a big-play strike on the game-winning drive, as he connected with wideout Otis Smith for a 68-yard TD to give the Mountaineers the go-ahead TD with 3:13 remaining in the game, helping the Mountaineers get their first-ever win in Paulson Stadium.

The series between the Mountaineers and Eagles has also had several games decided by the narrowest of margins, with three of the contests in the previous 27 games being decided by a single point, with two of those occurring in the modern era.

All three of the 1-point decisions in the series have gone the way of the Mountaineers, and the two modern 1-point games in the series have been absolute classics, as most meetings between the two FCS juggernauts have been over the the years.

The 1999 game saw Georgia Southern roll into Boone ranked as the No. 1 team in FCS football, led by quarterback Greg Hill and sophomore running back and eventual Walter Payton Award winner Adrian Peterson. The afternoon would see the titanic clash between the No. 1 Eagles and the No. 11 Mountaineers hinge on a few momentum-shifting plays that would prove to be the difference in a 17-16 upset win for the Mountaineers.

In front of 19,981 fans at The Rock, the Mountaineers failed to score an offensive TD, but got a 43-yard fumble return for a score by linebacker Weslan Hunter, and Luke Manuel recovered another GSU miscue in the end zone, increasing ASU’s lead to 17-0 in the third quarter.

However, the potent GSU offense would finally get going late in the third period, when quarterback Hill scored on a 6-yard run and found paydirt once again in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard scamper, bringing the Eagles within a field goal, at 17-14. But the Mountaineers were able to run out the clock, and the final GSU points would come as a result of a safety, as the Mountaineers were punting deep in their own territory and an errant snap forced the punter to run out of the back of the end zone for a team safey, providing the final scoreline of 17-16.

There have also been moments for Georgia Southern fans to relish in this great rivalry as well. The 2001 regular-season matchup between the Eagles and Mountaineers will be one that few Eagle fans will soon forget, as it was just GSU’s second win over the Mountaineers in Kidd Brewer Stadium, as the Eagles came to Boone and claimed a 27-18 win over the No. Appalachian State.

On what was a chilly, rainy afternoon at Kidd Brewer Stadium, it would be a GSU offense that would get going in the second half against what was a stout, stingy Appalachian State defense, led by nose tackle Ryan Watson, in front of a crowd of 15,331. In a 28-22 loss at Furman a few weeks earlier, ASU had proved it could stop one of the league’s best running backs, in Furman’s Louis Ivory, in limiting the reigning Walter Payton Award-winning running back to a mere 40 yards a week earlier.

Adrian Peterson would come in sporting a streak of 36-straight games with 100 or more yards rushing in his college career, and a running back that would go on to become the best running back the SoCon had ever seen, had not known the feeling of rushing for less than 100 yards in a game felt like.

However, for the second time in as many weeks, the tough Mountaineer defense would make the road a tough one for one of the league’s most-accomplished running backs, holding Peterson under 100 yards rushing for the first time in his standout career, limiting the 1999 Walter Payton Award winner to 71 yards on 19 rush attempts. But it would the Eagles who would board their Eagle Tours Bus back to Statesboro for the six-hour bus ride with a victory.

After GSU senior quarterback J.R. Revere put the Eagles ahead 14-0 on runs of 23 and one yards in the opening quarter of play, ASU would storm back for nine unanswered points in the second quarter to cut the Eagles’ lead to 14-9 heading into the halftime locker room.

The Mountaineers started to find some offensive success of their own in the second quarter of play against one of the nation’s top defensive units, as quarterback Joe Burchette found Clemson transfer Jason LeMay on a 4-yard scoring pass to give the Mountaineers their first TD of the game, and then the Mountaineers would benefit from a special teams miscue by the Eagles, as GSU snapped the ball out of the end zone to give the Apps a safety and account for the five-point Mountaineer deficit heading to the break.

The Mountaineers would grab momentum after the break, as the Mountaineers would take a 15-14 lead after running back Jerry Beard scampered in from seven yards out to cap the Mountaineers opening drive of the second half, with Burchette able to burn the Eagles secondary on a third down play, which he found wideout Sterling Hayward down the right sideline for a 30-yard gain to keep the drive alive. It would be the key play in what would become a 6-play, 63-yard ASU drive.

The physical nature of the game was also beginning to take its toll on the GSU defense as well, as defensive end Jamar Jones, safety David Young and corner Dion Stokes all left the game with injuries.

After ASU’s defense stymied the high-powered GSU attack once again, it would be the GSU defense that would help turn the momentum of the game by forcing a pair of critical turnovers in the contest.

Deep in its own territory, Burchette dropped back to throw an out-route to wide receiver Jermaine Little, however, GSU linebacker Michael Youngblood would step in front of the pass and intercept the ball at the ASU 20 and returned it seven yards to the 13, helping set up the Eagle offense in great position. A few plays later, Revere would score his third TD of the day on a 2-yard plunge to make it 20-15 after the Eagles’ two-point conversion failed.

It looked as though ASU was ready to take the lead late in the third quarter, driving deep inside the GSU red zone, reaching the Eagle 7-yard line. However, the Mountaineers would come away with no points because Burchette tossed his second pick of the day, as his pass was tipped in the end zone, landing in the waiting arms Derrick Williams to thwart the golden scoring opportunity.

ASU would slice the Eagles’ lead to two points early in the fourth quarter, as Erik Rockhold came in and knocked through a 20-yard field goal with 11:13 to play in the game, making it a 20-18 deficit.

With ASU’s defensive efforts focused on stopping Peterson and the fullback dive, the Mountaineers seemed to be positioning themselves for a come-from-behind win over the Eagles, but it would be an Eagle offense that had been slowed significantly all afternoon by the ASU defense, and one that had yet to produce its patented big play, which would find that big play when in it needed it most.

Revere, who had been the Eagles’ top offensive option all day, would fake the hand-off to Peterson, and them follow Peterson through the same hole, using Peterson as a lead blocker and 72 yards later, Revere was in the ASU end zone, having out-paced the ASU defense straight down the middle of the field to allow the Eagles to open up a nine-point (27-18) with 10:10 to play. That play would be a significant one for GSU, as Paul Johnson was able to grab his only win as head coach of GSU at Appalachian State on that afternoon.

The Mountaineers out-gained the Eagles, 308-254 in total offense on the day, including a 168-0 advantage in passing yards, but it was an opportunistic defensive effort, combined with a 124-yard, four-TD effort from senior quarterback J.R. Revere that would be the difference. The two would meet once again in the postseason at Paulson Stadium, with the Eagles putting up a more convincing result, with a 38-24 win in the FCS quarterfinals.

The 2012 matchup will once again surely be one to watch, as five of the past six matchups between the two teams have been decided by a TD or less.

The 2008 matchup, which is pictured just above, would also provide for some high-level drama and prove to be yet another classic in the series in what was another thrilling 1-point decision.

Unlike the ’99 matchup between the Eagles and Mountaineers, the ’08 clash was an offensive showcase, as ASU was able to escape Allen E. Paulson Stadium with its second-straight victory inside the anything but friendly environment.

Armanti Edwards willed the Mountaineers to victory on the day, as he accounted for 333 of ASU’s 454 yards of total offense in the 37-36 Mountaineer road win. An acrobatic 1-yard dive into the Georgia Southern end zone on a fourth-and-goal play would give the Mountaineers a 37-34 lead with just 2:36 remaining in the ballgame.

But like it had done all afternoon against the Appalachian State defense, Georgia Southern proceeded to march right back down the field following the Mountaineer scoring drive, marching 69 yards to the ASU 13 before Antonio Henton’s pass was picked off by ASU’s Travis Dowda inches outside the goal line to seemingly bring an end to the game one would think. However, as with any rivalry in the SoCon, the game is never over until the clock hits triple zeros.

Edwards, who didn’t take a snap under center his entire Mountaineer career, took the shotgun snap about five yards in the end zone, and when he tried to bring the ball out, he was met by a couple of Eagle defenders and driven back, never making it out of his own end zone, and the Eagles pulled to within a point, 37-36, on the safety.

Following ASU’s free kick, the Eagles would get the ball back at their own 42-yard line and promptly moved the football moved all the way to the Mountaineer 27 before ASU got a sack from defensive tackle Anthony Williams put the ball back to the Mountaineer 39. After two incompletions by Henton, ASU’s Mark LeGree intercepted a third-straight pass by Henton at the goal line to effectively bring an end to the game and allow the Mountaineers escape with the win.

Game Preview: Appalachian State comes into the contest needing a win to keep whatever hopes it may have at an FCS playoff invitation, but more importantly, need a win to keep its FCS playoff hopes alive.

Appalachian enters Saturday afternoon’s contest playing well offensively this season, as the Mountaineers field the nation’s 10th-best offense (465.7 YPG), 22nd in scoring offense (32.6 PPG), 21st in passing offense (268.8 YPG) and 25th in rushing offense (196.8 YPG).

One of the uncertainties heading into Saturday’s matchup for the Appalachian State offense heading into Saturday afternoon is at quarterback, where Jamal Jackson (182-of-281 passing, 2,190 yds, 15 TDs, 7 INTs/94 rush att, 366 yds, 5 TDs, 3.9 YPC ) went out early in the game against Western Carolina with an injury and his status for this weekend’s game against Georgia Southern remains up in the air.

The expectation is for Jackson to be starting for the Apps when the Black and Gold takes the Allen E. Paulson Stadium turf on Saturday. Jackson is having another strong season under center, and he comes into Saturday afternoon’s game ranking 15th in the nation in total offense, coming in with 2,556 total offensive yards.

Jackson had a strong effort in the 24-17 win over Georgia Southern last season, as he completed the afternoon by completing 13-of-26 passes for 222 yards, with three TDs and an INT, while rushing 13 times for 54 yards. Jackson’s favorite receiver against the Eagles will be one he won’t have this season against the Eagles, as St. Louis Ram rookie wide receiver Brian Quick had a couple of TD catches in that ASU win last season.

If Jackson is unable to go under center on Saturday afternoon against the Eagles, the Appalachian State offense should be in good shape judging from his performance in last week’s win over Western Carolina, as Logan Hallock (20-of-21 passing, 230 yds, 2 TDs/10 rush att, 17 yds). It was a strong start to his Mountaineer career for Hallock, as the Ferguson, N.C., product came off the bench and completed his first 20 passes, which was much the same start that Jackson had when he came off the bench last season for an injured DeAndre Presley, completing his first 15 passes on the day.

One of the players that made the job much easier for Hallock on Saturday afternoon was senior running back Steven Miller (188 rush att, 1,077 yds, 9 TDs, 5.7 YPC/25 rec, 328 yds, 4 TDs, 13.1 YPR), who was simply sensational in the 38-27 win over Western Carolina in Cullowhee. Miller, who currently ranks second in the Southern Conference in rushing, rushed for a career-high 245 yards and a score last Saturday, garnering SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honors. With his performance on Saturday afternoon, Miller became the first Mountaineer running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing plateau.

One of the aspects of Miller’s game is his versatility coming out of the backfield is catching the football, and he might be the best pass-catching wideout in the SoCon. The ASU offensive staff has done a nice job of scheming with Miller this season, as they have been able to put him in great situations where he is most dangerous, which is getting him the football in space.

In last season’s matchup against the Eagles, ground yards weren’t the easiest to come by, and Miller finished the game with 23 yards rushing on four carries.

Teaming with Miller in the backfield will be Rod Chisholm (34 rush att, 140 yds, 1 TD, 4.1 YPC), as he is an experienced, power back that is most beneficial to the Mountaineers in short-yardage situations.

The strength of the Appalachian State offense is no doubt its wide receiving corps, and while the Mountaineers won’t have Brian Quick for the matchup in Statesboro this season, the Black and Gold will have the services of one of FCS football’s top freshmen talents, in wideout Sean Price (51 rec, 683 yds, 7 TDs, 13.4 YPR). Like Quick, Price is a big, physical wideout, at 6-5, 210 pounds and has presented most opponents he has faced in the SoCon this season matchup problems with his size alone. Price is also slightly faster than Quick in the open field, and he has made some big catches for the Mountaineers this season, with none bigger than perhaps his 22-yard scoring catch at Samford in the waning seconds, allowing ASU to escape Birmingham with a 28-25 win.

Price will be joined in the starting rotation at wide receiver by a couple of veterans and another freshman as Andrew Peacock (51 rec, 514 yds, 2 TDs, 10.1 YPR), Tony Washington (30 rec, 388 yds, 2 TDs, 12.9 YPR/7 rush att, 57 yds, 2 TDs, 8.1 YPC/18 KR, 511 yds, 1 TD, 28.4 YPR) and Malachi Jones (24 rec, 274 yds, 11.4 YPR) round out what many feel is the strongest corps of receivers in the Southern Conference, and no doubt one of the stronger units in FCS football.

It was Peacock that had a game against the Eagles last season, which has catapulted him into one of the league’s top wideouts a year later. Peacock is the most sure-handed of the ASU wideouts, and in the 24-17 triumph over the Eagles last season, he hauled in only two passes, but his first reception of the day, which was a 25-yard scoring reception, was his first scoring catch in an Appalachian State uniform. Peacock combines good speed, route-running and has maybe the best hands of the wide receiving corps for the Mountaineers. Peacock will be ASU’s starter in the ‘M’ receiver role on Saturday.

Washington has big-play ability and might be ASU’s most-versatile pass-catching threat heading into Saturday’s showdown. He has a 22-yard rushing score, which came earlier this season against The Citadel, when he found the end zone on a 22-yard scamper, while he showed his wares as a kick-return threat against the Wofford Terriers a couple of weeks ago, returning a kickoff 99 yards for a score.  Last season against the Eagles, Washington was able to haul in three passes for 32 yards. Washington will start in the ‘Z’ receiver role on Saturday.

Rounding out the starting receivers on Saturday for the Apps will be Jones, who has been a dependable receiver in this his first season catching the football for the Apps, and if it weren’t for the performance of Price, Jones would be the freshman receiver everyone we be talking about for the Black and Gold. Jones enjoyed his best performance as a receiver for the Apps against The Citadel, catching six balls for 41 yards, while hauling in five passes for a career-high 69 yards in the season-opening loss to East Carolina. Jones will start at the ‘Z’ receiver position on Saturday for the Apps.

Sophomore tight end Drew Bailey (6 rec, 85 yds, 2 TDs, 14.2 YPR) has been one of the biggest surprises on the offensive side of the football this season for the Mountaineers.

Bailey had some of the biggest shoes to fill coming into the campaign, replacing one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the history of ASU football, having to replace Ben Jorden.

Bailey was thought  to be more of a blocking tight end coming into the season, and that remains his strength, however, he has provided some big catches this season, including one of the catches of the season for the Apps, with his diving catch for a score against Coastal Carolina earlier this season. Bailey hauled in his second scoring pass of the season on a 16-yard catch in last week’s win over Western Carolina.

 

The reason why Appalachian has seen so much of an improvement on the offensive side of the ball this season has everything to do with a young offensive line that has had to deal with adversity from the outset of the season. The top performer along the front is left tackle Kendall Lamm, who was a preseason All-SoCon selection and is set to make his 16th start of his young career and 10th this season.  Lamm teams with William Corbin at offensive tackle, as Corbin is a relatively new starter along the ASU offensive front, making just his sixth start on Saturday.

With right tackle Regan Dufort not eligible to play the remainder of the season according NCAA rules, and with Alex Acey sidelined with a broken foot, center Graham Fisher, left guard Shaq Counts and right guard Ian Barnard have stepped up their games to solidify the unit, despite losing two starters. ASU is much more physical up front than it was a year ago, as evidenced by Miller’s season to this point.

The Mountaineers are averaging 197 yards on the ground per game this season, which is 41 more yards than the 2011 Apps ended the season averaging on the ground. Coming into Saturday’s rivalry matchup, the Mountaineers are averaging 6.3 yards-per-play this season, including 4.9 yards-per-rush, and the Apps have yielded 13 sacks (1.44 SPG) this season, which ranks fifth in the league.

Georgia Southern brings one of the top defensive units in the nation into Saturday’s matchup against Appalachian State, and a unit that has the opportunity to finish as one of the elite defensive units in program history. The Eagles enter Saturday afternoon’s clash with ASU ranking fourth in the nation in total defense (279.8 YPG), sixth in scoring defense (16.5 PPG), fourth in passing defense (147.8 YPG) and 28th in rushing defense (132.2 YPG). The Eagles will utilize a 4-2-5 defensive scheme against the Mountaineers on Saturday.

The GSU defense will have its stiffest challenge of the season to date, facing the SoCon’s top offensive unit on Saturday. In a matchup between two teams that feature some of FCS’ best athletes on both sides of the football, a missed assignment on defense for the Eagles on Saturday can be detrimental against a team like Appalachian State, which has so much team speed on the offensive side of the football.

The strength of the GSU defense is no doubt its defensive line. The Eagles have one of the best in the FCS defensive tackles lining up across the defensive front each and every Saturday, and that player is Buck Buchanan Award candidate nose tackle Brent Russell (30 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 blkd kick).

Russell is a player that is truly dominant and one of the best defensive players to ever play in the Southern Conference. Russell comes into Saturday’s contest on the cusp of setting a new school record for sacks, as he needs just one sack on Saturday against Appalachian State to surpass Edward Taylor’s (1993-96) all-time mark of 24-career sacks. Russell currently ranks second in school history, having amassed 23.5 sacks so far in his career.

Against Appalachian State last season, Russell had a solid afternoon, as he posted a team-leading 10 tackles, 2.0 TFL and a sack. Russell always seems to step up and play his play his best football in matchups against big-time FCS competition, and I would expect nothing less than that on Saturday.

Lining up alongside Russell at nose tackle will be Blake Riley (26 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack), who is a solid veteran on the defensive interior for the Eagles. Riley posted a pair of tackles and 0.5 TFL against the Apps.

The Eagles will also have one of the better defensive end tandems in the FCS this season, and GSU has three defensive ends that will see time on Saturday afternoon against the Mountaineers.

Set to start on Saturday afternoon for the Eagles will be veterans Josh Gebhardt (15 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Dion DuBose (28 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF).

Both DuBose and Gebhardt have quickness and athleticism on the edge for the Eagles and both are having solid campaigns rushing the passer for the Eagles.

The real ‘x-factor’ in the defensive line for Georgia Southern this season has been Javon Mention (16 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 QBH). Mention leads the Eagles in sacks, and he comes into Saturday’s rivalry matchup tied for third in the SoCon in sacks.

Mention had a strong performance against the Apps last season, registering five stops and a sack, while Gebhardt recorded a pair of stops in the 24-17 setback.

The Eagles will also bring some of the top linebackers in the league into Saturday’s matchup, including a player in weakside linebacker John Stevenson (72 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 FF) that is having a breakout season for the Eagles.

Stevenson is one of the best athletes on Georgia Southern roster, and has excellent speed and instincts as a linebacker. His fumble he caused against Elon earlier this season on a play in which Elon got a big gain on a pass play late in the game, allowed the Eagles to hold on for a 26-23 win over the Phoenix.

Teaming with Stevenson at linebacker on Saturday will be veteran Kyle Oehlbeck (30 tackles, 3.0 TFL), who is having a solid season in the middle of the GSU defense this season. Oehlbeck is a good tackler and is a reliable asset in the middle of the Georgia Southern defense.

The Eagles are athletic and opportunistic in the secondary. The Eagles starting trio of safeties will be Darius Eubanks (50 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR) at the free safety position, while J.J. Wilcox (51 tackles, 1 INT) is all set to start at strong safety, and Deion Stanley (28 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 PBUs) rounds out the starters at ‘nickel’ safety.

Rounding out the starters on the defensive side of the football heading into Saturday night’s contest will be cornerbacks Valdon Cooper (14 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD) and Lavelle Westbrooks (23 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD). Sophomore Nic Wright (13 tackles, 1 FR) could also play role in the GSU secondary on Saturday, with Westbrooks nursing a bit of an injury.

Appalachian State has not fared well when facing the other two teams in the Southern Conference which employ the triple-option offense, and the Black and Gold hope to change those fortunes on Saturday afternoon in Statesboro. In two games against The Citadel and Wofford, the Mountaineers’ defense has yielded an average of 529 yards of rushing offense and 45 points. So, needless to say things have been rather difficult for the ASU defense when facing this particular offense this season.

For the second-straight season, ASU is utilizing a 3-4 defensive scheme, and its most successful game against a team running that particular offense came last season against Georgia Southern, as the Mountaineers held the Eagles to regular-season lows for total offense (201 yds) and rushing offense (135 yds).

Coming into Saturday afternoon’s clash in Statesboro, the Mountaineers bring with them a defense that ranks 88th nationally in total defense (409.8 YPG), 70th in scoring defense (28.7 PPG), 94th in rushing defense (189.8 YPG) and 64th in passing defense (220.0 YPG).

The Mountaineers have been battling injuries on the defensive side of the football as of late, and have struggled the past few weeks, especially in stopping the run. Leading the defensive efforts this season continues to be the ASU linebacking corps, which is among the best in the SoCon and FCS football.

Veterans Jeremy Kimbrough (101 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT) and Brandon Grier (63 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 2 FRs, 1 FF) have been the two anchors in the teeth of that Mountaineer defense. This season, the senior duo of linebackers has been among the nation’s best. Kimbrough provided so many game-changing plays a year ago for the Apps, including a 46-yard INT return for a score in a 14-12 win over Chattanooga last season in a key league showdown. Kimbrough is the first player in the SoCon to reach triple figures in tackles this season, and he is a player which began the season as a part of the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List.

It’s been Grier, who missed last week’s game with an injury, helping provide those types of plays this season, and he had a game-clinching INT return for a score in the road win over the Mocs this season.

He also recovered a fumble and clinched a win at Samford earlier in the season as well.

Set to start at the two outside linebacker positions for the Apps come Saturday afternoon will be both Joel Ross (40 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 TD, 1 FR) and either Deuce Robinson (33 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF) or junior Adam Scott (15 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks).

Scott was sensational for the Apps in just his second-career start against Samford, posting seven tackles, three sacks and three tackles-for-loss in the 28-25 win.

Ross has had a strong season for the Mountaineers, and he returned a fumble 47 yards for a score in the 38-28 loss to Wofford a few weeks ago.

The Mountaineer secondary continues to be anchored by senior cornerback Demetrius McCray (39 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 PBU), who picked off a couple of passes against the Eagles last season. McCray comes into Saturday afternoon’s clash with the Eagles having picked off nine passes, which is tied with UTC’s Kadeem Wise for the career-active lead in INTs among SoCon defensive players.

McCray teams with Jamill Lott (29 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 FF) at cornerback, and Lott is a big hitter at the other cornerback position, and a player that is an exceptional athlete, blessed with good speed. Lott and McCray will be elements of the ASU defense on Saturday, as they will need to get off blocks on  the perimeter to make plays against GSU’s option attack on the edge.

The two safeties set to start for the Mountaineers on Saturday will be All-SoCon standout Troy Sanders (55 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 FF, 1 INT) at strong safety, while  Patrick Blalock (45 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 PBUs) will start at the free safety position. Sanders has a streak of 34-straight starts, which is most starts on the team. Sanders is a veteran leader on the defensive side of the football for the Apps, and he is one of the more physical players on the defensive side of the ball for the Black and Gold.

The defensive line is the most inexperienced unit on the defensive side of the ball for the Mountaineers, with two freshmen and a sophomore slated to start up from for the Apps on Saturday afternoon. The two redshirt freshmen slated to start up front for the Mountaineers on Saturday will be Davante Harris (22 tackles, 4.5 TFL) and Stephen Burns (28 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 FF). Harris will start at one of the defensive positions, while Burns will line up as the starter at the nose tackle position on Saturday for the Black and Gold.

Anchoring the defensive line, and building off the momentum of a strong All-Freshman campaign at the other defensive end position for the Apps is Ronald Blair (48 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 FR). It was Blair who helped ruin the planned victory party for the Eagles last season in Boone, finishing that contest with eight tackles, 2.0 tackles-for-loss and a sack in the 24-17 ASU triumph.

Coming into Saturday’s monumental Southern Conference clash, it’s the Georgia Southern offense that is hitting its stride at just the right time this season. The Eagles sputtered offensively early on in the campaign, but now appear to hitting on all cylinders.

Entering Saturday afternoon’s matchup against the Mountaineers, Georgia Southern ranks 18th nationally in total offense (440.5 YPG), 17th in the nation in points per game (34.9 PPG), second in rushing offense (387.1 YPG) and 121st (53.4 YPG) in passing offense.

GSU is led by senior quarterback Jerick McKinnon (9-of-17 passing, 258 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT/119 rush att, 734 yds, 6 TDs, 6.2 YPC). McKinnon is a supreme athlete at quarterback and he is the team’s leading rusher, though not the starter coming into the season, having split time with Ezayi Youyoute (12-of-25 passing, 169 yds, 1 TD/68 rush att, 450 yds, 4 TDs, 6.6 YPC) under center.

The Eagles are loaded at running back, although the two fullbacks have been hampered by injuries in recent weeks, as both regular starter Dominique Swope (130 att, 729 yds, 12 TDs, 5.6 YPC) missed last week’s win at Chattanooga, while Robert Brown (14 rush att, 122 yds, 3 TDs, 8.7 YPC) has been battling to get to 100% all season, having had off-season back surgery.

Both Swope and Brown are great backs, and both should be available for action on Saturday. If for some reason neither is able to go on Saturday, the Eagles will employ the services of junior William Banks, who has looked solid in limited action this season for the Eagles. Brown led the Eagles rushing efforts against the Mountaineers last season, with 47 yards on 15 carries last season. Each of the past two seasons, Swope (2011) and Brown (2010) have eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the Eagles.

The two slotback positions will be occupied by Darreion Robinson (44 rush att, 270 yds, 3 TDs, 6.1 YPC), who had that memorable 46-yard punt return for a score on a play in which he broke several Mountaineer tackles en route to the game-tying (17-17) in the fourth quarter, and Jonathan Bryant (29 rush att, 261 yds, 2 TDs, 9.0 YPC/4 rec, 88 yds, 22.0 YPR), who does a little bit of everything for this Eagle offense, and is dangerous with his speed, both as a rushing threat and a receiver coming out of the GSU backfield. Both with have to be accounted for due to their tremendous speed on the interior.

The Eagles, who rank last nationally in passing yards per game, showed they could throw the football a few weeks ago in a 38-17 win at Furman. The Eagles torched the Furman defense for 165 passing yards, with a majority of those coming on big plays in the second half of that contest. The biggest threats when the Eagles go to the air on Saturday will be Kentrellis Showers (8 rec, 102 yds, 2 TDs, 12.8 YPR/2 rush att, 49 yds, 24.5 YPC), who leads the team in receiving, while Zach Walker (3 rec, 130 yds, 1 TD, 43.3 YPR) has made some acrobatic catches over the last couple of weeks, including a one-handed grab in the win at Chattanooga, which made the SportsCenter “Top 10″ last week. Walker also hauled in a 75-yard scoring catch in the third quarter in the come-from-behind win over Furman a couple of weeks ago.

One of the biggest reasons the Eagles have been able to find their way back to prominence has been the play of the offensive line over the past couple of seasons. The Eagles have been a little knicked up along the offensive front the past couple of weeks, but expect (C) Manrey Saint-Amour and reserve (RT) Raymond Klugey to be back this Saturday. Saint-Amour,  who will start at center on Saturday, will be one of the anchors of this front on Saturday after turning in a SoCon All-Freshman season last year.

Manrey-Amour will team up front with fellow All-SoCon performer Dorian Byrd at left tackle, while Trevor McBurnett (LG), Garrett Frye (RT) and Logan Daves (RG) round out the starting quintet heading into Saturday’s showdown. It’s a cohesive front that has helped the Eagles average 6.6 yards-per-play this season, including 6.3 yards-per-rush.

Final Prediction: Coming into this season and week, really, I was all ready to pick the Eagles to get the win, but I have seen Appalachian win too many games where others have had Southern Conference title hopes on the line, only to see the Black and Gold come up big on the road or at home for a victory to claim the league crown. The 2010 Wofford game and the 2009 game at Elon are two games that come to mind, when both schools had league title hopes on the line only to see the Black and Gold remain alive and claim either the league crown outright, or as in the case of the 2010 team, claim a share of the league crown along with Wofford.

The simply fact is, ASU has not had a marquee win this season and is still waiting for that moment in 2012, which has been apparent in at least for one week in each of the previous eight seasons and the Mountaineers have provided that captivating moment that makes those that follow the FCS think the Mountaineers might just have the talent to win a title once again, and for the Apps, I think this is that week.

Saturday’s game is different in this fact; Simply put, the Mountaineers have had their postseason hopes threatened with losses to Wofford (38-28) and The Citadel (52-28) in league play, while also having lost the season opener to FBS member East Carolina (35-13). With that said, I do think the Eagles have a slight edge in speed, but not by much, and it was evident last season that the Eagles are limited on the perimeter against ASU more than any other team in the league because of ASU’s athleticism.

I will say for this prediction to stand, I think Jamal Jackson must be in the lineup on Saturday, simply for his veteran leadership alone. It’s not to say Logan Hallock isn’t a good player or can’t help ASU pull it off, but Jackson has been in pressure situations before and he is this team’s leader. If a banged up ASU offensive line can protect Jackson and spring four and five-yard gains for Miller on Saturday in the early going, I honestly think there’s no better coaching staff in the league to win a football game when it is an absolute “must” than Jerry Moore and staff. ASU wins a tight one by a field goal and puts a hold on GSU’s title hopes for at least one more week.

Final Score: APPALACHIAN STATE 33, GEORGIA SOUTHERN 30

 

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