Tomorrow at high noon, the Villanova football team will take the field at Kidd Brewer Stadium in a bid to advance to the FCS semi-finals. In order to achieve their goal of returning to the National Championship game, the Wildcats will have to score a big win against the top-seeded Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Appalachian State football is most notable for two things: (1) beating a ranked Michigan team at the Big House in 2007 and (2) winning an unprecedented three consecutive titles in a row from 2005-07.
Both schools notched impressive victories last week, with Villanova coming back from a big deficit to beat Stephen F. Austin 54-24 in Texas, while Appalachian State crushed Western Illinois in the snow, 42-14. This is a game between two teams that can put a lot of points on the board.
Both schools sport very efficient offenses that can move downfield with both their passing and ground games. The running game is likely to feature in this game, however, as more cold weather in the forecast may impede the passing attack of both teams. Being able to stop the opposing offense will be the most important factor in whether the 'Cats can move on to face either Eastern Washington on their red turf, or North Dakota State, potentially a home game.
Villanova currently has the No. 8-ranked scoring defense in the FCS, allowing only 17 points per game. They rank No. 7 against the run (98.4 ypg) and No. 66 against the pass (207.6 ypg). Talley showcased his defense's ability to adapt last weekend, however, by dropping eight men into coverage against the FCS's top-passer, Jeremy Moses. Appalachian State's balanced offense should be more a more favorable match-up.
App State, meanwhile, has a lot of defensive talent, but rank just No. 71 in the FCS against the run, allowing 157.08 yards per game. They are rated No. 43 in total defense, allowing 341 yards per contest, and No. 40 in scoring defense, allowing opponents to put up an average of 22 points per game.
Villanova, on the other hand, has what may be the best offensive line in the subdivision, and a committee of capable runners. That offensive line will need to watch out for defensive end Jabari Fletcher, who leads the team with 12 sacks this season.
Another App State defender that should be on the Villanova radar is safety Mark LeGree. LeGree is a first-team All-American for the third time in his career and has earned those honors by taking advantage of Quarterbacks' mistakes. He has 22 career interceptions, which is good for second in SoCon history. Chris Whitney should be aware of LeGree's position on the field and be sure to keep the ball out of his hands.
The Mountaineers' offense is driven by star quarterback DeAndre Presley, who has produced nearly 3,300 yards of total offense and 34 touchdowns, both with his feet and his arm. He rushed for 264 yards last weekend against Western Illinois. Imagine Chris Whitney under center for the other team, except a better runner (34th-best runner in FCS, averaging about 85 yards) and a little less efficient as a passer (Presley is 11th in passing efficiency, while Whitney is 8th) and you will understand why the Villanova defense better keep him in check.
Presley's top target is wide receiver Brian Quick, who was a primarily a basketball player in high school. Though comparatively new to the game, Quick is a big an athletic receiver, capable of making big plays -- and App State relies on him for them. He averages 18 yards per catch and has scored 8 touchdowns this season. When Presley is feeling the pressure, he will surely target his big receiver downfield and the 'Cats better be able to cover him.
Though Presley leads the team in rushing, converted runningback Travaris Cadet is their second-option on the ground. He spent last season as a back-up QB and a receiver (and as a former QB, I always worry about his trick-play potential), but has shown that he can run (591 yards and 5 touchdowns) and catch passes (17 catches, 207 yards and 1 TD) this season. He is also the primary return man for his team.
Offensively, the key for Villanova will be the running game. Appalachian State is weaker against the run than the pass, so using the ground game to set up some key passes. Having Matt Szczur back at 100% adds a wildcard to the 'Cats offense that is very hard to game-plan for.
Defensively, the 'Cats need to keep Presley under control. The excellent defensive line play we have seen in a few games this year, including in Texas last weekend, will be key to doing so. Stopping the QB in the backfield before he can run, and forcing him to get rid of the ball could help control a very potent App State offense. Keeping tight coverage on Quick will also be key to preventing the big-time passes that can really hurt Villanova.
To close on a silly note: A few years ago, Appalachian State put out a commercial with one of the most memorable jingles in the history of University advertising. Though, with a high in the 40's expected for Saturday, I'm not sure they can live up to the refrain.
The game will kick off at NOON on Saturday, December 11th, from Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, NC. Television coverage will be provided by the Worldwide Leader, ESPN.
On a side note: thanks to Fact on Villanova Sports for their App State player profiles this week.