ASU takes on Georgia Southern
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Appalachian State (6-3, 4-2 SoCon) takes on the No. 1 team in the nation (AFCA poll, No. 2 Sports Network) Saturday when they play at Georgia Southern at Paulson Stadium. Appalachian State (No. 15 Sports Network, No. 14 AFCA) goes into the game needing a win over Georgia Southern (7-1, 6-1), and then a win at home against Furman the following week to finish with an 8-3 overall record and a likely playoff berth.
However, Appalachian State has struggled against teams that run the triple option out of the wingbone. The Citadel blasted the Mountaineers 52-28 and Wofford beat Appalachian State 38-28.
“Hopefully, the third time’s a charm,” Appalachian State linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough said. “That’s what they say. We’re working hard this week. We’re 0-2 against the option this year, so we’re definitely trying to make the effort to get this first victory against the triple option.”
The Mountaineers struggled with giving up the big play in each game. The Citadel scored three touchdowns of at least 45 yards, including a 57-yarder by quarterback Ben Dupree.
Wofford’s offense cranked out six plays of at least 22 yards, including a 57-yard Eric Breitenstein run that led to Wofford’s first touchdown.
“From a starting point, we’ve got to tackle better and we’ve got to make better adjustments,” Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore said. “Against The Citadel, we gave up 13 big plays that accounted for over 300 yards. Wofford was a tough ballgame that could have gone either way. We played better against Wofford than we did against The Citadel.”
Moore stressed the key to stopping an option offense is to tackle well, line up correctly and then play the right role. When one player makes a mental mistake, it can throw off the entire defense.
“You’ve got a pitch guy and he has to stay the pitch guy,” Moore said. “He can’t go after the quarterback and then help out on the pitch.”
Georgia Southern has plenty of weapons offensively. The Eagles average 34.9 points per game and gain 440.5 yards per game. Georgia Southern’s option offense averages 387.1 yards rushing per game, but is last in the SoCon in passing with 53.4 yards per game.
That is typical with triple option teams. The Citadel is seventh, Wofford eighth and Georgia Southern ninth in the SoCon in passing.
“Both teams we played did it a little different,” defensive tackle Steven Burns said. “Wofford ran it up the middle and The Citadel liked to run it outside. Georgia Southern’s the same way. They like to come out hard and get on the edge. They’ve got plays that go up the middle.”
Fullback Dominique Swope leads the Eagles in rushing with 104.1 yards per game, but is questionable for the game Saturday because of an undisclosed illness, according to the Statesboro (Ga.) Herald. He did not play in Georgia Southern’s 39-31 triple-overtime victory over Chattanooga last Saturday. Darrien Robinson scored one touchdown and quarterback Jerick McKinnon scored two during regulation play. Robinson, who finished with 74 yards on 11 carries, scored on a 20-yard touchdown in the first overtime.
McKinnon, who finished with 141 yards rushing and 55 passing on 3-of-5 attempts, scored the game-winning touchdown, a 1-yard run. The score capped a 10-play, 25-yard overtime drive. He also scored the ensuing two-point conversion to seal the win.
“It’s all about our front seven,” Burns said. “We have to do our job and play our position. The inside guys have to stop the inside runs and the outside guys have to stay with their main on the option. They can’t be greedy.”
Ezayi Youyoute leads the Eagles in passing by completing 12-of-25 passes for 169 yards and eight touchdowns.
“They’re extremely fast,” said Kimbrough, who has the most tackles in the conference with 101. “They’re real physical. They’ve got some good athletes on the wings and the quarterback is very good. It’s going to be a tough game, but we’re preparing for it and it should be a good battle.”
Appalachian State quarterback Jamal Jackson was listed day-to-day following his knee injury suffered at Western Carolina last Saturday. Jackson’s replacement, Logan Hallock, completed his first 20 passes, and finished 20-of-21 passing for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia Southern’s defense leads the conference in scoring by giving up just 16.5 points per game The Eagles are the only SoCon team to allow fewer than 300 yards per game by giving up 279.9 yards per outing.
“I think they’re a little like Wofford,” Moore said. “Everybody wants to talk about their offense, but their strong point might be the defense. Both have good offenses, but the defense gets overshadowed a bit because of time and because of their tradition. Both defenses are excellent.”