WHO: Coastal Carolina (2-2, 0-0 Big South) at No. 17 Appalachian State (2-2, 1-1 SoCon)
WHEN: Sept. 29, 2012, 3:30 p.m. ET
WHERE: Boone, N.C., Kidd Brewer Stadium (24,500)
Preview: For the first time since 2006, Appalachian State will take on Coastal Carolina in a key SoCon non-conference battle on Saturday afternoon. The game will see the Black and Gold don their alternate jerseys for the only time during the 2012 season, which will feature the old Yosef logo on the helmet.
Saturday's meeting will mark just the third all-time meeting between the Mountaineers and Chanticleers, with ASU winning both of the previous matchups, with the last being a 45-28 first-round win in the FCS playoffs during an opening round clash in the '06 postseason. The only other meeting came during the 2005 regular season, as ASU was able to post a 30-3 regular-season home-opening win at The Rock.
ASU enters Saturday afternoon's contest against the Chanticleers coming off an impressive 34-17 road win at Chattanooga last Saturday, while Coastal Carolina has lost two-straight after dropping a 38-28 decision at Toledo last Saturday.
The Chanticleers are 6-7 all-time against Southern Conference competition, but are riding a three-game winning streak against SoCon foes, including a 47-45 triple-overtime win at Furman earlier this season.
ASU on the other hand, has been impressive against current members of the Big South Conference over years, with a 41-15-2 record against current members of the Big South. The Mountaineers did, however, log 19 of those 41 wins against former SoCon member VMI, who now plays as a member of the Big South.
The Mountaineers' offense was in good form this past Saturday after sputtering in the loss a week earlier against The Citadel, as ASU brings a unit into Saturday afternoon's clash with an offense that ranks 30th in FCS in total offense (413.5 PPG), 45th in scoring offense (27.5 PPG), 28th in passing offense (248.0 YPG) and 47th in rushing offense (165.5 YPG).
Jamal Jackson (89-of-136 passing, 992 yds, 5 TDs, 3 INTs/42 rush att, 179 yds, 2 TDs, 4.3 YPC) continues to play well in ASU's spread attack, putting forth a solid effort last week in leading the Mountaineers to a road win over Chattanooga. In that contest, Jackson was able to connect on 19-of-30 passes for 268 yards, with three TD tosses and only one interception.
Jackson has a strong arm, but though not as quick as some of his predecessors, has shown the ability to put the ball down and effectively get yards on the ground. In the win over then-No. 12 Montana earlier this season, Jackson had 312 yards of total offense.
The junior signal-caller certainly has plenty of solid options to get the ball to as a part of ASU's wide receiving corps, with the best of the bunch being redshirt freshman wide receiver Sean Price (18 rec, 233 yds, 3 TDs, 12.9 YPR).
Price came up big in ASU's win over Chattanooga last week, looking much like his predecessor Brian Quick on one of his two TD receptions, leaping high over a Chattanooga defensive back to bring in a 36-yard scoring pass from Jackson early in the fourth quarter.
Moments later after the ASU defense came up with a turnover, Price hauled in his second scoring catch of the evening on a 14-yard strike from Jackson on a slant pattern. Price will start at the "X" receiver position on Saturday against the Mocs.
Joining Price as members of that talented ASU corps of receiving options on Saturday will be veterans and preseason All-SoCon selections Andrew Peacock (20 rec, 221 yds, 1 TD, 11.1 YPR) and Tony Washington (13 rec, 165 yds, 12.7 YPR/1 rush att, 22 yds, 1 TD) at the "Y" and "M" starting wideout positions, respectively. Impressive freshman Malachi Jones (16 rec, 174 yds, 10.9 YPR) starts at the "Z" receiver position, while Drew Bailey (3 rec, 32 yds, 10.7 YPR) rounds out the aerial options for Jackson at tight end.
The Mountaineers' ground game gets some good news this week, with the return of Rod Chisholm (9 rush att, 37 yds, 4.1 YPC), who missed nearly the entire month with a broken hand, which he suffered in the 35-13 season-opening loss to East Carolina.
Handling the lion's share of the running game responsibilities in the absence of Chisholm has been Steven Miller (84 rush att, 399 yds, 5 TDs, 4.8 YPC), who has been solid running the football for the Apps through his first four weeks. His career-high 167-yard, three TD performance in the 52-28 loss to The Citadel was one of the few bright spots for the Apps a couple of weeks ago. Miller has caught the ball well this season, with eight catches for 68 yards and a TD.
In last week's win at Chattanooga, Miller finished the contest with a hard-fought 95 yards on 22 carries against one of the best rushing defenses in the FCS. Miller also had a pivotal 35-yard scoring catch in the second quarter, helping the Mountaineers tie the game just prior to the half. Miller currently ranks fifth in the league in rushing yards, and is averaging right at 100.0 YPG rushing (99.8 YPG).
Maybe the most impressive aspect of Saturday's win for ASU was the recovery of the offensive line against one of the best defensive fronts in the FCS. After completely getting dominated in the opening quarter by that star-laden front for the Mocs, which constantly applied pressure to Jackson, and even caused a first quarter fumble that led to UTC points.
To its credit, ASU, which was playing with out its two starting offensive tackles, who were out as a result of injury and an NCAA rules question, rebounded to play maybe its best three quarters of the season. Preseason All-SoCon left tackle Kendall Lamm was forced to miss the game with a concussion suffered during the week, and he should be cleared to return to action on Saturday against the Chanticleers.
Regan Dufort, who missed the game with a discrepancy involving a potential NCAA rules question, is appealing NCAA for the discrepancy and it is unclear whether he will return this season. Set to start in Dufort's place on Saturday will be either Will Corbin or Ian Barnard who played excellent in their first starts in tandem of the season, and Corbin's first-career start.
Coastal Carolina brings a defense into Saturday's contest against the Mountaineers ranking 77th nationally in total defense (397.5 YPG), 85th in scoring defense (32.8 PPG), 87th in defending the pass (241.5 YPG) and 54th against the run (156.0 YPG). The Chanticleers will operate out of a 4-2-5 defensive formation on Saturday.
CCU has had to deal with some injuries along its defensive line early on this season, losing preseason All-Big South defensive end Chris Thomas to a season-ending knee injury in the 47-45 win over Furman.
The leaders along the defensive line to this point in the 2012 season for the Chanticleers have been veteran defensive end Quinton Davis (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack), while Johnny Hartsfield (12 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack) anchors the defensive interior for the Chanticleers.
The strength of the CCU defense is its linebacking corps, which consists of reigning Big South Player of the Week Quinn Backus (41 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 PBUs, 2 FR, 1 FF), who had 13 tackles and forced a fumble in the 38-28 loss to Toledo last week. Backus will team with talented junior Mike McClure (40 tackles, 4.5 TFL).
The two talented linebackers rank No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in tackles, respectively. Backus claimed the Big South Defensive Player of the Week honors last week
The Chanticleers have struggled in the secondary early on this season, but the unit has had its moments early on this season. Leading the Coastal Carolina secondary this season has been cornerback Dontavious Johnson (12 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 PBUs, 1.0 TFL, 1 blkd kick).
Johnson is the lone senior in the secondary for the Chanticleers and he will team with LaDarius Hawthorne (26 tackles, 2 PBUs, 1.0 TFL) as a starting cornerback for the Chanticleers on Saturday afternoon. Johnson currently leads the Big South Conference in INTs coming into Saturday's contest, and was the national player of the week after picking off North Carolina A&T three times in the season opener.
The Chanticleers will utilize three safeties in their 4-2-5 defensive scheme, highlighted by Pernell Williams (20 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and Phillip George (23 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU). Williams will start at the "Whip" safety position for the Chanticleers on Saturday, while George will start at the free safety position. Johnnie Houston (15 tackles, 1.0 sack) rounds out the starters for the Chants in the secondary at strong safety.
One of the strengths for Appalachian State coming into the 2012 season was thought to be its defense, and against Chattanooga last week, it played like it for the first time in 2012. The Apps were able to limit the Mocs to just 270 yards, including holding the Mocs to just 87 yards on the ground last Saturday.
The Mountaineers are in the second season operating out of the 3-4 defensive scheme, and the switch for the most part, has been a large success to this point. Highlighting the efforts in the 34-17 road win at Chattanooga last Saturday night was Brandon Grier, who finished the night with seven tackles, a sack, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and a 70-yard interception return for a score to seal the Mountaineers' road win and garnered National Defensive Player of the Week honors by the Sports Network.
The Black and Gold brings a defense into Saturday's final non-conference contest ranking tied for 85th nationally in scoring defense (32.8 PPG), 97th in total defense (440.3 YPG), 70th in passing defense (221.8 YPG) and 94th in rushing defense (218.5 YPG).
The Mountaineers are really young along the defensive line, with two freshmen and a sophomore starting along the defensive front this season. The unit is anchored by sophomore defensive end Ronald Blair (20 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 FR), who is ASU's top pass-rushing down lineman. He will team with Davante Harris (9 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and Stephen Burns (11 tackles, 2.5 TFL) at defensive end and defensive tackles, respectively, on Saturday.
The strength of the ASU defense is in its linebacking corps, led by two of the nation's best at the two inside linebacker positions, with All-Americans Jeremy Kimbrough (47 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 QBH) and Brandon Grier (36 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 TD) anchoring that unit. Both Kimbrough and Grier could very well end up winning the Buck Buchanan Award this fall, which is given to the most talented defensive player at the FCS level.
The two starters at the respective outside linebackers heading into Saturday's final non-league tilt will be James "Deuce" Robinson (25 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.5 sack) and Joel Ross (19 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH). Both Ross and Robinson have done an excellent job in each of their first respective seasons as starters on the ASU defense. Robinson has had to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker just prior to fall camp, and has adjusted nicely to his new role.
ASU has a nice group of athletes in the secondary, but at times have given up the big play this year, mostly as a result of inexperience. Anchoring the secondary this season have been a pair of all-league standouts, in Demetrius McCray (14 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 0.5 sack) at cornerback and Troy Sanders (26 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) at safety.
Like Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina also brings an impressive offense into Saturday afternoon's showdown against Appalachian State, and the surname leading that offense will be familiar to Appalachian State fans, and that name is "Hillary"—as in Aramis Hillary (93-of-139 passing, 1,127 yds, 7 TDs, 4 INTs/46 rush att, 83 yds, 2 TDs, 1.8 YPC), who is the younger brother of former standout Mountaineer wide receiver CoCo Hillary.
Hillary leads a Coastal Carolina offense that enters Saturday's contest ranking 36th in total offense (403.0 YPG), 35th in scoring offense (30.3 PPG), 86th in rushing yards per game (114.3 YPG) and 15th in passing offense (288.8 YPG).
Hillary has seemingly broken his new school records passing the football with each passing week through the first four games, and has quickly become one of the explosive quarterbacks in the FCS, and will likely be the top quarterback the Mountaineers have seen through the early portion of the schedule.
Hillary, who was recruited hard by Appalachian State, originally started his career at the University of South Carolina, where he found himself behind Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw on the Gamecocks' depth chart, and he decided to transfer to Coastal Carolina.
Hillary, of course, owes plenty of his success to having one of the most dynamic receiving units in the FCS this season. The trio leading the Chanticleers catching the football this season have been Matt Hazel (20 rec, 293 yds, 3 TDs, 14.6 YPR), DeMario Bennett (19 rec, 232 yds, 2 TDs, 12.2 YPR) and Niccolo Mastromatteo (20 rec, 214 yds, 1 TD, 10.7 YPR).
Hazel and Bennett have good size and speed and are deep threats, whereas Mastromatteo, who missed last week's game for the Chanticleers as a result of an injury, is more of the utility type wideout for the Chanticleers, who does a little bit of everything as a wide receiver to help Coastal Carolina's offense, especially in clutch situations.
When the Chanticleers go to the ground game, they will look to Jeremy Height (54 rush att, 234 yds, 3 TDs, 4.3 YPC/12 rec, 81 yds, 6.8 YPR) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (27 rush att, 106 yds, 1 TD, 3.9 YPC/1 rec, 9 yds). The Chanticleers have struggled to run the ball at times this season, but if Height gets into the open field, he has the speed to take it the distance. Taliaferro has been the back Coastal has relied on in short-yardage situations.
The Chanticleers' offensive front is coached by former Furman All-American offensive lineman Patrick Covington, and he, like former ASU offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, is one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation at the FCS level, and he has helped recruit the offensive linemen with the attributes to fit Coastal's potent spread offense. Anchoring the unit so far this season has been preseason All-Big South left guard Jamey Cheatwood.
Final Prediction: Appalachian State 44, Coastal Carolina 41