ASU takes on tough Samford secondary
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Since that 55-14 victory, the No. 13 Mountaineers’ offense has been on a roll. They followed with a 35-23 win over Elon that saw quarterback Jamal Jackson complete 20-of-29 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
Jackson received the Southern Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week for his performance,
At Samford, Jackson faces a Bulldogs secondary that is physical and not afraid to take chances. The Bulldogs have grabbed a Southern Conference leading 11 interceptions in just six games.
They are also second in pass defense, giving up just 166.8 yards per game. That’s in contrast to Appalachian State’s passing game, which is second in the SoCon at 263.5 yards per game.
Logic says that something has got to give when the teams play at Seibert Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 2 p.m. Central Time. Samford, ranked 25th in The Sports Network poll, goes into the game in second place in the SoCon with a 5-1 overall record, 3-1 in the conference.
Appalachian State (4-2, 2-1) has won three straight after an embarrassing 52-28 home loss to The Citadel.
Samford got a boost from safety Jaquiski Tartt, who returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ victory last week. Tartt, who was the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Week, has three interceptions this season, while teammates James Bradberry and Alvin Hines have two each.
“They’ve got a lot of players back there who can make plays,” Jackson said. “They are very athletic. Even last year, they had a good defense.”
Appalachian State’s offense has improved since a 55-28 loss to The Citadel. The Mountaineers are third in the SoCon in total offense with 472.8 yards per game.
Much of the reason for their success, particularly passing the ball, is the emergence of freshmen receivers Sean Price and Malachi Jones. Price caught eight passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns against Coastal Carolina, and has 29 receptions for 398 yards and five touchdowns in just four games.
Jones is seventh in the conference in receiving with 21 catches for 248 yards. Leading the Mountaineers in receiving is Andrew Peacock, who has 30 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns.
Peacock had seven catches for 71 yards against Elon.
“All four of their DBs are very talented,” Jones said. “We definitely can’t take them lightly.”
Both freshmen agree that Samford’s secondary plays a physical style that they’ll have to deal with in both getting open downfield and in blocking on running plays.
“They cover well, and they are probably the most physical secondary we’ll see,” Price said. “When we’re run blocking, we have to put our hands on them. As far as the passing game, we have to get their hands off of us so we can get in and out on our routes as fast as possible.”
Jones also said that Samford’s safeties are not afraid to hit people.
“Their two safeties are head-busters,” he said. “They like to come down and stop the run, so we’re going to have to be aggressive when we block them.”
Appalachian State’s running game has also picked up the past few weeks. Running back Steven Miller gained 202 yards and scored two touchdowns against Coastal Carolina.
Miller averages 112.7 yards per game after picking up 676 yards in six games this season. The running game has complemented the passing game, which in turn has allowed the Mountaineers to score at least 34 points in their last three games.
Price feels he and Jones are adjusting to playing on the college level, and are working well with the other receivers and with Jackson.
“Everybody’s just been working as a group as far as receivers are concerned,” Price said. “We’re probably one of the best groups on the team. When we do individuals, we go to work. Our group is real close and I think it’s just how compatible our group is with Jamal. It makes things a lot easier on the field.”