Appalachian State: Regular-Season Recap and Playoff Preview

A Quick Glance At The SoCon’s Three Qualifiers:

GREENVILLE, S.C.–It will be the same three teams making postseason plans for the third-straight season out of the Southern Conference, when Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford all make an appearance in the FCS playoffs.

Once again, it was a strong season for the league, which sees three teams hosting a second-round game and receiving a first-round bye, with Georgia Southern being the league’s automatic bid qualifier and as a result, garnering the No. 5 overall seed for the FCS postseason.

The Eagles will be in the friendly confines of Allen E. Paulson Stadium to begin the FCS postseason, taking on Southland Conference member Central Arkansas in the opening round, while Wofford hosts CAA member New Hampshire and Appalachian State will welcome a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference for the second time in three seasons, when the Mountaineers host Illinois State. Appalachian State hosted Western Illinois in a second round matchup back in 2010.

Three teams gained a share of the Southern Conference title, with Appalachian State proving to be one of the hottest teams in the nation down the stretch, winning its last three games against Western Carolina (38-27), Georgia Southern (31-28) and Furman (33-28). Both the Western Carolina and Georgia Southern games were on the road.

Below, we take a look back at Appalachian State’s 2012 season and look forward to the postseason. Also provided below is an in-depth preview of Appalachian State’s opening round opponent, Illinois State. The Mountaineers enter the postseason having posted a 24-16 record in 19 FCS playoff appearances.

Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2 SoCon/tied for 1st)–If you ask any Appalachian State football fan, they will most certainly tell you that the 2012 football season was one of the “grittiest” efforts by an Appalachian State football team in the history of the program, as the Mountaineers seemingly faced adversity in the campaign from the outset.

Key injuries were the theme of the season, and then there were moments, such as the Southern Conference opener against The Citadel, which provided fans such “lows” that many wondered if the 2012 edition of the Mountaineers had the toughness and pedigree to make it into the FCS postseason.

However, when the dust had settled on the 2012 regular-season for the Black and Gold, the team had won its Southern Conference standard-tying 12th Southern Conference title, including having won seven in the last eight seasons. Ironically, to win the 12th league crown, the Mountaineers needed to beat the team that was first to claim 12 titles in the league, which was one of the league’s charter members, in the Furman Paladins (1936-present). A 33-28 win over the Paladins on Nov. 10 allowed the Mountaineers, who have only been a member since 1972, claim a league-high tying 12th crown.

Unlike most seasons, ASU has played better away from The Rock this season than it has on its home turf, compiling a 4-1 record away from The Rock, while going 4-2 on the home turf this season. Coming into the 2012 season, ASU was 61-5 in its last 66 home games. The Mountaineers lost two regular-season home games for the first time losing two regular-season contests on the home turf in 1997.

The 2012 season saw the Mountaineers record their first-ever win over a top-ranked foe on the road, with the 31-28 win at Georgia Southern, who was ranked No. 1 in the FCS coaches poll. The win by ASU was also the second-straight campaign in which the Mountaineers defeated a top-ranked team, having posted a 24-17 win at ASU over Georgia Southern last season.

But after both its league losses in the 2012 campaign, the Apps would bounce back with big wins, and since the 38-28 loss to Wofford on Oct. 20, the Mountaineers have reeled off three victories against its three biggest traditional rivals, in Western Carolina, Georgia Southern and Furman, with two of those wins coming away from Kidd Brewer Stadium.

The 31-28 win in Statesboro, GA, is much the reason the Mountaineers find themselves in an eighth-straight FCS postseason, and now the 17th playoff appearance in the 24 seasons with Jerry Moore on the sidelines as the head coach of the program.

In what was a season that was the toughest in recent memory from top-to-bottom in the SEC of the FCS, the Mountaineers would see a resurgence in many areas, with the most noticeable improvement being offensively. With a mass exodus of coaches from Boone after the 2011 season, which saw Appalachian State finish with its lowest offensive numbers since its switch to the spread offense in 2004, the program would bring back one of the best offensive minds it has had in since its transition to the spread, as Scott Satterfield returned to the sidelines for the Mountaineers in 2012.

Satterfield, who coached at ASU from 1998-2008 and was a former quarterback for Jerry Moore, became the first officially-titled offensive coordinator for the program since Rob Best in 2002. Satterfield was responsible for an offensive explosion for the ASU offense from 2004-08, including helping oversee an offense that achieved unprecedented heights in 2007, averaging a program standard 488.3 YPG.

It was Satterfield, along with former ASU offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, who now serves in the same role at FBS top-10 nationally-ranked South Carolina, who commandeered the Black and Gold offense during that previous four-year span.

After averaging just 390.2 yards of total offensive output last season, the Mountaineers completed the regular-season ranking in the top 10 statistically in offensive output this season, averaging 466.7 YPG heading into the postseason in a couple of weeks with Satterfield back in Boone for the first time in four years. Satterfield originally left to take the offensive coordinator responsibilities at Toledo in 2009, before taking the same role at Florida International in 2010 and ’11 under one of the brightest young coaches in the FBS ranks, in Mario Cristobal.

When ASU entered the 2011 postseason with an 8-3 mark against Maine at The Rock, it was a team that was not healthy mentally, as it was a team dealing with some internal issues that weren’t visible to the public eye, and though it was a talented team that defeated a top-ranked Georgia Southern team, it wasn’t a team that had what it took to win a league title or national title.

A Mountaineer team in disarray was no match for Maine in the opening round, dropping a 34-12 contest to the CAA co-champion, and bowed out of the postseason in the first round for the first time since 2002.

When the Mountaineers take the field against Illinois State in a couple of weeks at The Rock, it will be a team brimming with confidence, and one that will be have had three weeks of rest to heal from injuries after ending the season with a bye week. The only concern might be the Black and Gold being rusty, but the weeks of rest and recovery have been much needed after ASU went through what was an 11-week stretch of what was some grueling football.

Two areas, which go hand-in-hand in many ways, were responsible for the resurgence on the offensive side of the football in 2012. One was the improvement of the offensive line, which struggled to create the kind of running room to allow Mountaineer running backs to find daylight in 2011, and the ASU offense then became somewhat one-dimensional.

ASU’s leading rusher in 2011 was Travaris Cadet–now a member of the New Orleans Saints–who gained just 651 rushing yards. This season, however, the Mountaineers have seen much more success running the football, as Steven Miller (1,307 rushing yds, 11 TDs/29 rec, 367 yds, 4 TDs, 12.7 YPR) became ASU’s first 1,000-yard rusher in the running back role since Devon Moore went for more than 1,000 yards () during the 2009 campaign.

The offensive line was extremely young a year ago, and though the unit was a little more experienced coming into the 2012 season, it was a unit that was still very “green” coming into 2012 season. Left tackle Kendall Lamm was the lone Mountaineer offensive lineman that entered the 2012 season as a preseason All-SoCon pick.

Through the first five games of the season, the Mountaineer offensive line was simply sensational over the first five games of the campaign, as ASU allowed just five sacks through the first five games. However, the injury bug would end up biting the Mountaineers along the offensive line in the fourth week, losing Lamm to a concussion prior to a crucial road conference conference contest at Chattanooga, as well as Regan Dufort, who had to miss the remainder of the season due to taking a prescribed prohibited substance by the NCAA.

In the 34-17 win at Chattanooga, Ian Barnard and Will Corbin would step up and provide solid play on the offensive front in the game, and after a shaky start against the Mocs, would give Jackson the kind of time in the second half to highlight receivers Sean Price and out of the backfield, Steven Miller, en route to one of the most important victories of the season for ASU.

The 2012 season marked the second-straight season in which ASU had to make major transitions along the offensive line after being hit by a rash of injuries. With significant injuries up front, such as the one suffered by center/offensive guard Alex Acey, the Mountaineers were forced to use five different starting combinations along the offensive front during the 2012 season.

Still, players like the aforementioned Barnard and Corbin, along with a veteran like Graham Fisher, were able to step up and provide strong play along the offensive front and ASU showed its depth and progress along the offensive front despite the injuries and suspensions. Still, the unit has struggled in protecting the quarterback over the final six games of the regular-season, surrendering 12 sacks over that period after giving up just five through the first five weeks.

Miller has proven to be a threat with his speed in the ground game, as well as in the passing game. Miller had a career performance in the win over fellow playoff participant Coastal Carolina in the 55-14 ASU victory, rushing for a career-high 203 yards.

When ASU lost Brian Quick to graduation and to the NFL’s St. Louis Rams with the first pick of the second round, Mountaineer fans knew they had a receiver, in Sean Price (68 rec, 1,029 yds, 8 TDs, 15.1 YPR) capable of big things, but being able to foresee just how big of an impact Price would have was not really known.

After playing in just nine of 11 regular-season games, Price has become one of the stories of the FCS season this fall.

He has not only turned in one of the most remarkable season by an ASU freshman wide receiver, he has also turned in a season that has been a near record-setting freshman campaign for a freshman wideout in NCAA Division I FCS (formerly Division I-AA) history. Price enters the postseason needing just four receptions and 45 yards to set new national freshman marks for receptions and receiving yards. Price is ranked in the top 10 nationally in receptions regardless of class going into the FCS playoffs.

Price’s performance in the 31-28 win over Georgia Southern will be one of the indelible marks left for ASU fans left in the memory bank for the 2012 season, as he caught  seven passes for a career-high 231 yards and a key TD in the win. The 231 receiving yards were easily a career-high, and tied for the fourth-best receiving performance in school history. The 231 receiving yards by Price were the most by a Mountaineer wide receiver since DaVon Fowlkes posted a school-record mark of 280 yards receiving in a win over Elon in 2004. Price is a candidate for the Sports Network’s Jerry Rice Award, given to the nation’s top freshman player.

Another freshman receiver that made his name known to the ASU fanbase from the outset of the 2012 season was Malachi Jones (30 rec, 209 yds, 1 TD, 10.3 YPR), after hauling in seven passes for a 69 yards, in leading the ASU receiving corps, which was without a pair of receiving threats in the opener, including Price, who was serving the first of a two-game suspension to open the season.

Jones turned in another clutch performance in the win at Georgia Southern a couple of weeks ago, hauling in four passes for 22 yards, including his first TD catch as a Mountaineer.

Price was aided by both veteran all-league wide receivers Andrew Peacock (68 rec, 716 yds, 3 TDs, 10.5 YPR) and Tony Washington () this season.

But the one player that gave the Mountaineers a chance to experience the success they achieved during the regular season was Jamal Jackson (235-of-361 passing, 2,905 yds, 19 TDs, 7 INTs/108 rush att, 334 yds, 5 TDs, 3.1 YPC). It was Jackson’s performance on the season that keyed the resurgence on the offensive side of the football for Appalachian State, and Jackson is having one of the best seasons ever turned in by a Mountaineer signal-caller.

Jackson heads into the playoff opener against Illinois State on the verge of breaking nearly every school single-season passing record, most of which are held by the only two-time winner of the Walter Payton Award winner, Armanti Edwards. Jackson heads into the postseason having amassed 3,239 yards of total offense this season, with several superlative performances on the season.

The junior quarterback from Atlanta, GA, has been ailing from a knee injury, which he suffered in the win over Western Carolina. He has played at less than 100-percent in the final two weeks of the regular season, turning in maybe his gutsiest performances of the season in the 31-28 win at Georgia Southern, completing the contest by connecting on 21-of-34 passes for 384 yards and three TDs in the dramatic road win.

It has been a bit of a disappointing season to this point for the ASU defense, but like its offensive counterparts, injuries have plagued a unit that returned eight starters coming into the campaign. The Mountaineers came into the 2012 season with many having tabbed the Mountaineers as having one of if not the best defense in the Southern Conference heading into the 2012 campaign.

While statistically might not have seen the Mountaineers put up the numbers they would have hoped in 2012, the fact remains the Mountaineers did what they needed to on the defensive side of the football during the regular-season, including making stops and forcing key turnovers when they absolutely had to.

ASU finished the regular-season ranking 92nd in total defense (412.3 YPG), 73rd in scoring defense (28.5 PPG), 57th in passing defense () and 100th in rushing defense (199.1 YPG).

The Apps finished the regular season ranking 23rd nationally and third in the Southern Conference in turnover margin (+.55) and ASU’s 14 INTs led the Southern Conference and ranked tied for 12th nationally this season.

While ASU saw its struggles on the defensive side of the ball, it showed significant improvement down the stretch, and in particular, against the run, as evidenced by the performance against talented Furman running back Jerodis Williams in the regular-season finale, holding the talented senior running back to less than 60 yds (59 yds) rushing in the 33-28 win.

The Black and Gold has a couple of performers up for postseason national awards, in senior linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough (128 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT) and senior cornerback Demetrius McCray (51 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 8 PBUs, 1 FF). Both Kimbrough and McCray enter the postseason as candidates for the prestigious Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the top defensive player in FCS football. Kimbrough was selected as the SoCon’s co-Defensive Player of the Year for the 2012 season.

Two other significant, key performers that have also logged significant roles on the Black and Gold defensive side of the football this season have been senior strong safety Troy Sanders (72 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 INTs, 0.5 sack, 1 FF) and senior inside linebacker Brandon Grier (68 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 2 FR, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 FR).

The two veterans have been catalyst of the ASU defense this season, much like McCray and Kimbrough. Sanders, a native of Chester, S.C., got his senior season off to a strong start, recording one of his three INTs in the season-opener at East Carolina. Sanders bookended his regular season, registering a key INT, helping the Black and Gold hold off a final Furman surge and come up with a 33-28 win.

Sanders garnered First-Team All-SoCon honors, as selected by the league’s media, while being invited as a part of the Second-Team All-League scroll by the league’s coaches. Throughout his career donning the Black and Gold, Sanders has been one of the biggest hitters on the ASU defense.

Though the defensive line has been extremely “green” for ASU this fall, it has had an all-league veteran to rely on for leadership, in sophomore defensive end Ronald Blair (59 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR). Once again, Blair has been one of the key pass-rushing threats at his bookend position in theMountaineers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

It was Blair that exploded over the second half of the campaign for the Mountaineers. Blair came to life in the 2012 season against Samford, in ASU’s 28-25, come-from-behind win. In that contest, Blair registered assisted on tackles on second-and-one and third-and-one for no gain, as he was playing with an injury, forcing the Bulldogs to punt with 1:33 left to play with the Mountaineers trailing 25-21. Blair also led the Mountaineers with 8.5 TFL so far this season.  For his efforts this season, Blair garnered First-Team All-SoCon accolades, as selected by the league’s media, while garnering Second-Team All-SoCon honors, according to the league’s head coaches.

Blair’s two cohorts along the defensive line–Davante Harris (31 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 4 QBHs) and Stephen Burns (32 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 FF)–also earned All-SoCon recognition, earning All-Freshman plaudits.

Harris and Burns were solid along the defensive line all season, and Burns, who played nose tackle, and Harris, who played defensive end, continued to mature as the season progressed.

Evidence of such maturity was evident in games down the stretch, such as Burns’ performance in the win at No. 1 Georgia Southern, when he made four tackles and a tackle-for-loss.

Though not all-league honorees this fall on the defensive side of the football, ASU has also gotten solid performances from free safety Patrick Blalock (57 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 6 PDs, 2 FRs, 1 FF), as well as outside linebackers Joel Ross (43 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU) and Deuce Robinson (36 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sack).

Game-by-Game Recap of 2012 Regular-Season:

Game 1: East Carolina 35, Appalachian State 13

GREENVILLE, N.C.–Appalachian State would begin the 2012 season on the road against an old North State rival when it battled the East Carolina Pirates, coached by former Mountaineer defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil (1989-96), and would put up a gallant effort before falling, 35-13, in front of 49,023 fans at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The Mountaineers were able to stay in the game most of the way, as the Black and Gold trailed just 14-13 with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter, however, after Drew Stewart’s 41-yard field goal, Justin Hardy returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a score to give the Pirates the momentum back, ultimately propelling the Pirates to a 35-13 win.

The ASU offense would get off to a strong start offensively in  2012, as the Mountaineers amassed 419 yards of total offense on the afternoon in the loss. It would be the start of a campaign that would see the ASU post its second-best season offensively in school history. Jamal Jackson finished the afternoon by completing 23-of-40 passes for 300 yards, with an INT.

 Game 2: No. 11 Appalachian State 35, No. 12 Montana 27

BOONE, N.C.–Appalachian State opened its home slate with a 35-27 win over Montana in a rare night game at in front of a crowd of 30,856 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

The Mountaineers had another banner night on the offensive side of the ball, rolling up 417 yards of total offense in the contest, but were out-gained by the Grizzlies (483-417) on the evening. Jamal Jackson recorded his ninth-straight 200-yard passing performance, connecting on 23-of-40 passes for 260 yards, including two TD tosses and also had a rushing TD. In total, Jackson accounted for 328 yards of total offense in the contest.

It was the first of what would be nine sterling performances for redshirt freshman wide receiver Sean Price, as he was able to haul in eight passes for 108 yards, including his first-ever TD reception on a 32-yard strike to put ASU on the board for the first time on the evening.

Montana was led on the night from a career night from fullback Dan Moore, who finished the night with 238 all-purpose yards (145 yards receiving, 93 rushing), was the lynchpin of the Grizzly offense.

Clinging to a 28-27 lead with eight minutes to play, ASU put together an 11-play, 78-yard drive capped by a two-yard TD plunge from running back Steven Miller to provide what proved to be the game-winning score.

Defensively, ASU was led by senior linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough and Brandon Grier, who recorded 14 and 13 tackles, respectively. Cornerback Demetrius McCray picked off a couple of passes to record his second two-interception of his Mountaineer career.

Game 3: No. 21 The Citadel 52, No. 9 Appalachian State 28

BOONE, N.C.–On what was the 50-year anniversary of Kidd Brewer Stadium, The Citadel came to Boone and posted a 52-28 win over Appalachian State, marking the program’s first win in the High Country since 1992. The 52-28 setback was ASU’s worst loss in Southern Conference play in eight years.

The Bulldogs ran out to a 31-0 lead midway through the second quarter and never looked back en route to the win. The Citadel had a historic day offensively on ASU’s turf, amassing 619 yards of total offense, including 463 yards on the ground alone.

The Citadel senior quarterback Ben Dupree finished the day completing 2-of-4 passes for 56 yards, while rushing for a team-best 191 yards on 20 carries, which included a couple of long, electrifying scoring runs. Backup quarterback Aaron Miller also proved effective throwing the football for the Bulldogs, as he connected on both of his passes for 99 yards on the day.

There was at least one bright spot on the afternoon for ASU, and that was the play of senior running back Steven Miller, who rushed for a career-high 167 yards, while also accounting for three of ASU’s four scores on the day.

Game 4: No. 17 Appalachian State 34, Chattanooga 17

CHATTANOOGA, TENN.–Appalachian State went on the road and used a make-shift offensive line along with a stout performance from its defense to garner a 34-17 win over homestanding Chattanooga in a crucial early-season SoCon clash at Finley Stadium.

The win improved ASU’s overall record to 3-2 on the campaign and brought its SoCon ledger to .500, at 1-1 on the campaign. Without the services of two starting offensive linemen (Regan Dufort and Kendall Lamm), the ASU offense would struggle against Chattanooga’s seasoned, stout defensive line for much of the first quarter, but would begin to find some success offensively in the second quarter.

A couple of early turnovers would see the Mountaineers fall behind 10-0 in the opening quarter, but things would start to break the way of ASU in the second quarter, on a Drew Stewart 24-yard field goal and a 32-yard TD catch by running back Steven Miller, allowing ASU to tie the proceedings, 10-10, heading into the halftime locker room.

ASU would go on to score 24 more unanswered points over the next two quarters, bookended by a 70-yard INT return for a score from senior linebacker Brandon Grier to seal the game midway through the fourth quarter, as the Black and Gold picked up their first road win of the 2012 campaign.

Offensively, ASU was led by Jamal Jackson, who connected on 19-of-30 passes for 268 yards and three TD tosses, while also throwing an INT. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Sean Price was sensational in the road win for ASU, hauling in 10 passes for 130 passes and a pair of fourth-quarter scoring catches in the win. ASU out-gained Chattanooga 401-270 in total yardage in the contest.

Game 5: No. 17 Appalachian State 55, Coastal Carolina 14

BOONE, N.C.–Appalachian State rolled up a season-high 684 yards en route to getting a 55-14 win over Coastal Carolina in the first meeting between the two teams since the 2006 playoffs.

It was a banner day for Steven Miller, who posted his first 200-yard performance of his career (204 yds), to go along with a pair of TD runs, including a 75-yard jaunt in the third quarter, helping the Mountaineers roll up their third-most successful offensive afternoon in school history.

Jamal Jackson continued his strong play under center, as he was able to connect on 20-of-28 passes for 285 yards and three TDs, while also rushing for 39 yards and a score in the lopsided win. Not to be out-done, Sean Price had a second-straight strong performance, hauling in eight passes for 128 yards and a pair of scores.

ASU’s defense was solid all afternoon in limiting what had been a high-octane Coastal Carolina offense to just 304 yards, including  just 114 yards on the ground. Leading the defense in the win for the Black and Gold was Buck Buchanan Award candidate linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough, posting 11 tackles in the lopsided win.

Game 6: No. 15 Appalachian State 35, Elon 23

BOONE, N.C.–Appalachian State was able to claim its second Southern Conference win by posting a 35-23 win over Elon to remain unbeaten against the Phoenix since it joined the Southern Conference in 2003 on what was a Homecoming Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

Elon All-America wide receiver Aaron Mellette, who hauled in 13 passes for 237 yards and three TDs, would keep things interesting until late into the contest, as the Black and Gold led just 21-17 after three quarters and Elon actually held two brief leads in the contest, at 7-0 in the opening quarter and 17-14 in the third quarter.

Appalachian State would get another big day from the passing game, which amassed 304 yards through the air, as it was all part of Jamal Jackson’s career afternoon, which saw him rack up 398 yards of total offense in the 12-point win. Jackson connected on 20-of-29 passes for 304 yards, with four TDs, while rushing for 108 yards and a score on 17 attempts.

Elon actually held the advantage in total offensive yards, posting a 515-499 advantage in total offense, including 419 yards through the air, in the losing effort. Phoenix quarterback Thomas Wilson connected on 25-of-41 passes for 419 yards with three TDs and three INTs. ASU rolled up 400 or more yards in its first six games of the season for the first time since 1972.

Appalachian State’s defense racked up three INTs on the day, with Jeremy Kimbrough, Demetrius McCray and Jamil Lott recording the INTs on the afternoon.

Game 7: No. 13 Appalachian State 28, No. 25 Samford 25

BIRMINGHAM, AL.–Sean Price hauled in a 22-yard pass with 22 seconds to play, allowing Appalachian State to overcome a four-point deficit and come up with a 28-25 win over No. 25 Samford at Seibert Stadium.

Trailing 25-21 with 1:33 to go in the ballgame, Jackson engineered a seven-play, 80-yard drive to
lead Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1 SoCon) to its fourth-straight victory.

The game-winning drive was set up by Appalachian’s defense, which stopped Samford twice with
the Bulldogs needing only one yard to seal their first victory over the Mountaineers since 1970.

“On second-and-one with 2:33 to play, Ronald Blair and Davante Harris stuffed SU’s Jeremiaha Gates for no
gain and, on the following play, Blair and Adam Scott combined to keep Gates short of the first down
marker again, forcing Samford to punt. The boot sailed into Appalachian’s end zone, setting the stage
for the late-game heroics (Taken for ASU Post-game recap).”

Appalachian State posted a 413-352 advantage in total offense on the day, as Jamal Jackson connected on 22-of-39 passes for 288 yards, with a couple of TDs and an INT.

Samford was led on the day by running back Fabian Truss, who posted 46 yards and a TD, while hauling in eight passes for 113 yards on the day. Adam Scott, who made his first-career start at outside linebacker in relief of an injured Deuce Robinson, finished the day with seven tackles and three sacks.

Game 8: No. 8 Wofford 38, No. 13 Appalachian State 28

BOONE, N.C.–Appalachian State had its four-game winning streak snap and dropped its second game on the home turf to a team from the Palmetto State, as No. 8 Wofford posted a 38-28 win over the Mountaineers at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

The win by the Terriers marked the first by Wofford in the High Country since 2002, and the story was the Wofford ground attack, which rolled up 393 yards on the ground en route to amassing a 440-363 advantage in total offensive yards on the day.

It Wofford’s win also marked its second-straight over ASU, marking the first time the Terriers have defeated the Mountaineers in back-to-back seasons since 2002 and ’03. The 363-yard output by the Appalachian State offense was its second-lowest output of the regular-season.

“The momentum swung firmly in Wofford’s direction just 1:10 later when defensive end Tarek Odom scored on a controversial 40-yard fumble return to stretch the Terriers’ advantage to 38-28.” (Appalachian State post-game recap). Appalachian State was led offensively on special teams by wide receiver Tony Washington, who hauled in seven passes for 75 yards, while also returning a kickoff 99 yards for a score in the contest.

Boone native Eric Breitenstein, playing his final game in front of friends and family in his hometown, led the Wofford ground attack, as he posted 123 yards and a couple of scores on 24 carries in the Terrier win.

Game 9: No. 16 Appalachian State 38, Western Carolina 27

CULLOWHEE, N.C.–Appalachian State was able to jump out to a commanding 38-13 lead in the third quarter, but had to hold on for the last quarter-and-a-half to get a 38-27 win over arch-rival Western Carolina at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.

The win marked the Mountaineers’ 26th win in the last 28 meetings in the Battle For The Old Mountain Jug with the Catamounts, including having claimed their seventh-straight win in the series, dating back to the 2004 season.

For the second time in the 2012 season, the Mountaineers had a running back reach the 200-yard mark, as Steven Miller notched his second 200-yard rushing performance of the season, posting a career high 245 yards rushing on 34 carries to go along with a TD.

Backup quarterback Logan Hallock entered the lineup in the first quarter, replacing an injured Jamal Jackson, and all Hallock managed to do was connect on 20-of-21 passes for 230 yards and three scores in helping ASU get the win. Sean Price matched an Appalachian State freshman record with 10 catches, and finished the day with 142 yards receiving, which included another acrobatic scoring catch from 18 yards out with five seconds remaining in the opening half.

The Catamounts got TDs from running back Michael Johnson and quarterback Troy Mitchell in 2:40 span and trailed by just 11 points (38-27), but that would be as close as WCU would get the remainder of the way.

Game 10: No. 15 Appalachian State 31, No. 2 Georgia Southern 28

STATESBORO, GA–Appalachian State put itself in prime position to claim a league standard-tying 12 Southern Conference crown by picking up a 31-28 road win over second-ranked Georgia Southern at Allen E. Paulson Stadium.

Heading into the afternoon, the Mountaineers knew they needed a win to just remain in playoff considered, however, the three-point win over the Eagles in Statesboro, coupled with Samford’s 24-16 overtime upset win over Wofford later that day, put Appalachian State in control of its own destiny for a seventh league crown in the past eight seasons.

Appalachian State posted its first road win over a No. 1-ranked foe (Georgia Southern was ranked No. 1 in FCS Coaches Poll) for the first time in program history.

So many storylines played out over the 60 minutes of football on the early-November afternoon, however, it would be a redshirt freshman, a junior and a senior that stole the show on the offensive and defensive side of the football against the high-powered Eagles.

Sean Price posted a freshman record 231 receiving yards on seven catches, including a highlight-reel 56-yard catch and run for his only score of the day, which was part of 21-point second-quarter explosion for the Mountaineer offense, which went from trailing 14-3 at the end of the first to leading 24-21 at the break.

Junior quarterback Jamal Jackson, playing virtually on one-leg as a result of an injury suffered against Georgia Southern, which saw him remain a “questionable” starter leading up to kickoff, gutted out one of the more remarkable performances by an ASU signal-caller–at least since Richie Williams’ second-half performance in the 2005 national title game against Northern Iowa that saw the Mountaineers bring h0me the first of three titles–as he connected on 21-of-34 passes for 383 yards and three TDs in the historic win.

The ASU defense, which has been much-maligned all season, stepped up and made plays against a high-powered GSU offense in the second half, surrendering just one score. Although the Eagles rolled up 552-453 advantage in total yards, the Mountaineer defense kept the Eagles from turning those yards into being meaningful by keeping the Eagles out of the end zone in the second half.

Leading the charge for the ASU defense was senior safety Troy Sanders, who posted a team-leading 10 tackles, 2.0 TFL and the game-clinching INT to thwart GSU’s last-ditch effort for a game-winning score in the waning moments of the contest.

GSU, which racked up 386 yards on the ground despite playing without its leading fullback Dominique Swope, was led by backup fullback Will Banks, who posted 129 rushing yards and three scores.

Game 11: No. 12 Appalachian State 33, Furman 28

BOONE, N.C.–Appalachian State was able to claim its league standard-tying 12th Southern Conference title by claiming a 33-28 win over arch-rival Furman in front of a sellout crowd of 28,986 fans crammed inside Kidd Brewer Stadium on Black Saturday.

The Mountaineers, who joined the SoCon as an official member in 1972, are now tied with Furman (12), who is a charter member of the SoCon and has participated in every season of football in the league since its inception (1936-present).

It was a defensive performance that allowed the Paladins to score just seven of its 28 points offensively that proved to be the story of the game for the Mountaineers’ 12th league title script. The Mountaineers also limited a balanced Furman attack to just 300 yards of total offense, and held one of FCS’ best running backs, Jerodis Williams, to just 57 yards rushing on the day. Williams did post a 100-yard kickoff return for a score late in the first quarter to get Furman on the board late in the opening quarter, showing his overall versatility and speed.

The defensive efforts for ASU were led by Buck Buchanan Award candidate Jeremy Kimbrough, who posted a career-high 17 tackles in the win, while senior safety Troy Sanders posted seven tackles, a pass breakup and a game-clinching INT for the second week in a row, with Furman driving late looking for the game-winning score.

Offensively, the Mountaineers racked up 488 yards of total offense, which included 339 yards through the air, to post a 488-300 advantage in total offense over the Paladins. ASU did surrender five sacks in the win over the Paladins.

The offensive star of the afternoon for the Black and Gold proved to be wide receiver Andrew Peacock, who set career highs for receptions (11) and yards receiving (130), to go along with an 18-yard scoring catch and a 3-yard scoring toss in the second quarter.

 

Previewing Illinois State: Illinois State, a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which is a league that has been considered the top league in FCS football season, will pay a visit to Kidd Brewer Stadium for a second-round playoff matchup with Appalachian State.

Saturday’s matchup in Boone marks the first playoff appearance for the Redbirds since the 2006 season, when Illinois State won its opening round game by getting a 24-13 win over Eastern Illinois before falling 28-21 in the quarterfinal round to Youngstown State. It was the same Youngstown State team Appalachian State would demolish, 49-24, in an FCS semifinal matchup before eventually winning the national title with a 28-17 win over UMass in the title game matchup.

The Redbirds come into Saturday’s contest against Appalachian State with an 8-3 record overall this season, including a 5-3 mark in league play to finish third in the league’s standings.

One of the more impressive things the Redbirds were able to accomplish during the 2012 season was they were able to complete the campaign a perfect 5-0 on the road.

Traditionally, Appalachian State has fared well against members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, having posted an unblemished mark of 4-0 against the league, charting wins over Northern Iowa (21-16, 2005 national title game), Southern Illinois (38-24, ’05 FCS Second Rd), Youngstown State (49-24, ’06 FCS Semifinals) and Western Illinois (42-14, ’10 FCS Second Rd).

Illinois State will be taking on a current Southern Conference member for the eighth time in school history on Saturday, as the Redbirds have posted a just a 1-6 ledger against the league’s current member schools. The Redbirds have faced Chattanooga (0-4), The Citadel (1-1) and Georgia Southern (,1999 FCS Semifinals) to make up those seven games, with the lone win against the league being a 24-6 win over The Citadel in 1973.

The Redbirds enter Saturday’s matchup ranked 16th in the final regular-season FCS poll, and have posted some impressive road wins this season, which include triumphs over Northern Iowa (33-21) and at FBS foe and MAC member Eastern Michigan (31-14). The win over Eastern Michigan marked the program’s first win over an FBS foe since the 1991 season.

The Redbirds suffered setbacks to Missouri State (24-17), North Dakota State (38-20) and Southern Illinois (17-0), with all three losses coming on home turf.

Illinois State will be making its fourth appearance in the FCS postseason when it takes the Kidd Brewer Stadium turf on Saturday afternoon to face Appalachian State, having posted a 3-3 all-time mark. The Redbirds have logged wins against Colgate (56-13, ’99 FCS First Rd), Hofstra (, 99 FCS Second Rd) and Eastern Illinois (24-13, ’06 FCS First Rd), while losses have come against Northwestern State (48-28, FCS First Rd), Georgia Southern (28-17, 99 FCS Semifinals) and Youngstown State (28-21, ’06 Second Rd).

 The Redbirds’ Offense: The Redbirds will enter Saturday afternoon’s contest in Boone with an offense that has proven to be a solid unit on the offensive side of the ball all season, as ISU enters Saturday’s matchup ranking 53rd nationally (383.6 YPG), 42nd in scoring offense (29.1 PPG), 75th in rushing offense (135.6 YPG) and 29th in passing offense (247.4 YPG).

Leading the Missouri Valley Conference’s premier passing attack this season has been senior quarterback and Missouri Valley Football Conference Player of the Year Matt Brown (225-of-359 passing, 2,676 yds, 20 TDs, 10 INTs).

Brown is a pro-style quarterback and a drop-back passer under center for the Redbirds, and he comes into Saturday afternoon’s matchup with the Mountaineers having posted a Missouri Valley Football Conference (formerly the Gateway Conference) with the league’s all-time record for career passing yards (9,897 yds), while having set school marks for completions (880), touchdown passes (71) and pass attempts (1,375). The record-breaking Brown has been able to accomplish this feat in a league that produced Kurt Warner (Northern Iowa).

Brown has had some big performances under center this season for the Redbirds, as he completed a school-record 42-of-57 passes for 473 yards and five TDs in a 54-51 win over Eastern Illinois. He has passed for 200 or more yards in eight of the Redbirds’ 11 games this season.

Brown has a talented corps of wide receivers at his disposal, which includes Lechein Neblett (43 rec, 566 yds, 4 TDs, 13.2 YPR), Tyrone Walker (71 rec, 955 yds, 6 TDs, 14.0 YPR) and Donoven Harden (37 rec, 522 yds, 5 TDs, 14.1 YPR).

Headlining the receiving corps is obviously Walker, who comes into Saturday’s matchup as the leading pass-catcher, and was a big reason why the Redbirds were so successful throwing the football this past season.

Walker has four 100-yard receiving efforts this season, including a season-high 142 receiving yards in that thrilling 54-51 win over Eastern Illinois.

Harden had a nice effort for the Redbirds earlier this season, posting a 139-yard performance, which included a 79-yard scoring catch in the fourth quarter.

Neblett is Illinois State’s second-leading receiver, and has been a clutch receiver all season for ISU. Neblett enjoyed his best receiving performance of the season in that thrilling win over Eastern Illinois, posting nine catches for 132 yards and a TD.

The running game for the Redbirds has been powered by Darrelynn Dunn (221 rush att, 850 yds, 12 TDs, 3.8 YPC/21 rec, 125 yds, 6.0 YPR), who has four 100-yard rushing efforts this season for the Redbirds ground attack. Dunn comes into Saturday afternoon’s game with the Mountaineers having charted four 100-yard rushing performances of the season, and enters the postseason as the leading rusher for Illinois State. Dunn is a physical runner with a good speed, and he posted his best performance in the road win at Eastern Michigan, amassing 129 yards on 32 carries, including a pair of scores.

The offensive line for the Redbirds is a solid unit, led by junior center Pete Cary, who was one of a school-record eight players to garner postseason First Team All Missouri Valley Conference honors along the offensive front. Cary captains an offensive front that averaged 5.5 yards-per-play this season, and allowed just 10 total sacks in 2012.

The Redbirds’ Defense: The Illinois State defense might be the most physical Appalachian State has faced this season, and it will be undoubtedly one of the toughest the ASU defense has faced in 2012. Coming into Saturday afternoon’s contest, the Redbirds rank 16th nationally in total defense (310.6 YPG), 41st in points allowed per game (22.8 PPG), 20th in pass defense (175.5 YPG) and 37th in rush defense (135.2 YPG). The 35 sacks recorded by the Redbird defense has amassed this season ranks tied for fourth nationally (3.18 SPG).

The Redbirds come from a league in which a premium is placed on the defensive side of the football. Illinois State has one of the best individual defensive players in the nation, in defensive end Colton Underwood (89 tackles, 18.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 1 blkd kick).

Underwood enters Saturday’s contest as a Buck Buchanan Award finalist, and it’s no wonder. It’s unheard of for a defensive end to chart 89 tackles.

In conjunction with his tackles total on the season, which ranks second on the squad, Underwood also finished the season ranking tops in the MVFC in sacks (9.5) and tackles-for-loss (18.0).

Underwood turned in his most outstanding performance of the season in the win over Eastern Illinois, as the Panthers simply had no answer for stopping the 6-5, 255-pound junior bookend. In the 54-51 triumph, Underwood racked up 13 tackles, 3.5 TFL and three sacks. Underwood was of course one of those eight First-Team All-MVFC selections for the Redbirds in 2012.

Joining Underwood at defensive end on Saturday will be Nate Palmer (59 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 FR, 3 FFs), while the two defensive tackle positions will be occupied by Shelby Harris (76 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF, 5 QBHs) and Albert Sparks (11 tackles, 0.5 TFL). Harris joined Underwood on the First-Team All-MVFC scroll this season, and is probably as good a defensive tackle as ASU has faced this season, save maybe Georgia Southern’s Brent Russell.

Overall, the task of slowing this Illinois defensive line is a daunting one, and the Mountaineers can’t afford for Jamal Jackson to take a lot of hits on Saturday if the Mountaineers are to make a long run in the postseason. The Mountaineers come into Saturday afternoon’s contest having surrendered 22 sacks on the campaign.

The Redbirds also possess talent at the three linebacker positions, led by middle linebacker Mike Zimmer (109 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT), who enters Saturday’s contest as the team’s leading tackler. Zimmer is a fundamentally sound tackler at middle linebacker. The senior linebacker garnered First-Team all-league accolades this season for his efforts. He will be flanked at linebacker on Saturday by both Austin Davis (27 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 4 PBUs, 1 FF) and Evan Frierson (64 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 2 FRs).

Zimmer patrols the middle of the ISU defense and has had some outstanding performances in the middle of that Redbird defense this season. Zimmer posted a career-high 17 tackles in the loss to Missouri State, and he comes into Saturday’s contest with five double-digit tackle performances on the season.

Rounding out the Redbirds defense is their secondary, which has helped ISU forge a Top-20 ranking nationally in pass defense this fall. Leading the talented unit this fall has been First-Team All-MVFC selection free safety Ben Ericksen (48 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 7 INTs). Ericksen has seven of the team’s 15 INTs this season, and his seven picks leads the nation coming into Saturday’s contest. He has a pair of games this season in which he has recorded two INTs in a game.

Set to start at strong safety for the Redbirds on Saturday will be Ezra Thompson (42 tackles, 1 FR, 1 INT), while Dominic Clarke (35 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 4 PBUs) and Mike Banks (47 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 10 PBUs) will have their respective hands full at the two cornerback positions, trying to limit  Appalachian’s Price and Peacock.

Final Prediction: This one should be one of the games of the opening round, but given ASU’s success on its homefield in the postseason, with of course the exception of last season, I like the Mountaineers in a tight one over a talented Illinois State team.

Final Score Prediction: Appalachian State 31, Illinois State 27

 

 

 

Topics: Appalachian State Mountaineers, Football, Illinois State Redbirds

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