WHO: No. 15 Appalachian State (5-3, 3-2 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-7, 0-6 SoCon)
WHAT: 'Battle For The Old Mountain Jug'
WHEN: Oct. 27, 2012, 3:30 p.m. EST
WHERE: Cullowhee, N.C., E. J. Whitmire Stadium
CULLOWHEE, N.C.—Appalachian State travels to Western Carolina looking to rebound from a 38-28 home loss to Wofford College last Saturday, marking the first time the Mountaineers have lost two regular-season home games since 1997, and the first time the Apps have lost two games on their home turf since the 2002 season. Western Carolina will look to rebound from a 42-31 loss at Elon University last Saturday.
Saturday's game will offer an interesting challenge for head coach Jerry Moore and Appalachian State as the Mountaineers will be engaged in another 'Battle For The Old Mountain Jug' by western North Carolina Mountain rival, Western Carolina.
This Western Carolina team, which is currently mired in a 20-game Southern Conference losing streak, has a former Mountaineer at the helm in Mark Speir.
Prior to his arrival in Cullowhee last December, Speir spent nine seasons at Appalachian State, where he originally arrived as a running backs coach back in 2003.
Speir spent time assisting out the legendary Moore—a coach he calls a mentor and a great friend— and will now look to lead the Catamounts against the same man on Saturday.
The former Mountaineer assistant is busy trying to establish a foundation built on those same elements in Cullowhee, and he isn't the only Black and Gold influence on the Catamount sidelines these days.
Former Mountaineer players Trey Elder, John Holt and Pat Mills are assistants with the Catamounts, as is former ASU quarterbacks coach Brad Glenn, who now serves in a new role—the Western Carolina offensive coordinator. It was a mass Exodus of Biblical proportions.
When Speir and his staff look across the E. J. Whitmire Stadium field turf on Saturday, they hope it will be a future reflection of the program they are currently getting up and running. Speir not only cut his teeth in Boone, he learned what it was like to be a champion, winning three national titles with the program and six-straight Southern Conference titles.
Moore, who is now squarely in the twilight of his career, has been a good source of advice for the new staff in Cullowhee this season, but now it will be up to the SoCon's all-time winningest coach to beat his former friends, players and assistants and cheer against them at least one Saturday this fall. A loss in Cullowhee, would be detrimental to ASU's playoff hopes, who enter Saturday's contest with a 5-3 overall record and a 3-2 conference mark.
With ASU's championship hopes likely out of reach for a second-straight season, and with a game at league leading Georgia Southern slated for next Saturday, Saturday's game provides for a pressure-packed situation for Moore's Mountaineers.
With a win by Speir and his Catamounts on Saturday, the first-year head coach's popularity would likely rise to rockstar-like proportions, as the Catamounts have seen little against their western North Carolina mountain rivals over the past three decades.
ASU enters Saturday's contest having dominated this series for nearly three decades now, having won 25 of the past 27 meetings between the two programs, including a seven-straight streak dating back to WCU's 30-27 win in Cullowhee back in 2004.
Saturday's meeting between the Catamounts and Mountaineers will mark the 77th all-time meeting between the two, and the 37th meeting in which the teams will battle for the Old Mountain Jug. ASU owns a 57-18-1 all-time series edge, including a 29-7 record in Jug games.
Saturday's game will mark an interesting meeting for WCU, as its coaching staff has much invested in the recruitment of players on both sidelines Saturday, but a win would do much for a program in desperate need of one in order to build confidence heading into the home stretch of the 2012 season.
For ASU, a win Saturday is absolutely paramount. No more slip-ups can be afforded, especially with a tough schedule remaining on the horizon what with traveling to Georgia Southern on Nov. 3 before closing out the regular season with a home game at The Rock on Black Saturday against Furman.
The Last Time The Catamounts Lifted The Jug
Western Carolina hasn't tasted success in this series since the 2004 season, which saw the Catamounts score one of the more memorable wins in recent history, posting a 30-27 come-from-behind win over the Mountaineers.
That game would see some unlikely events and an unlikely hero emerge in the waning moments, allowing the Catamounts to pick up their first win in the series in six years.
A Justin Clark-to-Michael Reeder 22-yard scoring pass allowed the Catamounts post the heart-stopping win.
Clark entered the lineup after starter Bennett Swygert went down with an injury with about five minutes remaining. Clark completed all five of his passes for 113 yards and a pair of scores as well as a two-point conversion pass, which was also hauled in by Reeder after WCU's final score.
It didn't appear as if the Catamounts would be afforded the opportunity to pull off the miraculous win, however, former East Tennessee State linebacker Lamar Beam came through and caused ASU quarterback Richie Williams to stumble and let go of the football as he was scrambling away from pressure, and the ball would be recovered by senior defensive tackle Albert Reid on the ASU 22 with a little over a minute left to play, setting the stage for the memorable game-winning play.
On the opening play, Clark completed a short pass to Calvin Guinyard with the Catamounts following with a quick timeout with 49 seconds remaining. Then, on the next play, Clark would connect with Reeder on a 22-yard pass in the corner of the end zone.
After Nygel Rogers intercepted a Swygert pass and returned it 27 yards for a score to give ASU a 27-16 lead with only 5:02 remaining, it appeared the game had slipped away from the Catamounts once again.
However, ASU was penalized for excessive celebrations after the TD and that resulted in a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff and led to good field position for the Catamounts on the ensuing possession.
Swygert would leave the game with an injury after the first play from scrimmage following the ensuing drive, and Clark would enter the game for the Catamounts.
Clark's first pass was golden as he found sophomore wideout Eddie Cohen on a short tunnel screen and after breaking a couple of Mountaineer tackles, raced 53 yards for a score to bring the Catamounts within five points after a faied two-point play, at 27-22, with 4:35 remaining.
"Western then kicked a bloop kick, which dropped on the Appalachian State and recovered by senior Randy Thompson on the Mountaineer 39. Clark moved the Cats to the one yard line, thanks largely to a 32 pass from Clark to Cohen. However, Clark tried a quarterback sneak, only to fumble and have ASU's Michael King recover the ball in the endzone for a touchback with 2:03 left in the game. After Williams had an incomplete pass and a short pass to Atwater, he fumbled to setup the game-winning Clark-to-Reeder pass" (taken from WCU Sports Information Recap, Nov. 13, 2004).
History of The Jug Game
Saturday's meeting between the Mountaineers and Catamounts marks the 37th time the two have gotten together on the gridiron with the Old Mountain Jug at stake.
Both Apppalachian State and Western Carolina have long been rivals on the gridiron, going back to each program's membership in the old North State conference. Saturday's game will mark the 77th renewal of one of Division I college football's most-heated rivalries.
The two teams wouldn't start playing with the old mountain jug on the line until 1976, when Yosef Club Director Wayne Clawson and Catamount Club Director Tom Bommer helped establish the trophy the two teams would play for—a 25-pound corn whiskey container. Support for the game was led by both school's sports information directors, WCU's Steve White and ASU's Rick Layton.
The design on the mountain jug, which is painted yellow with each school's mascot delicately detailed on each side of the trophy, was originally painted by the wife of Roby Triplett, who managed the Appalachian State bookstore. The late Dee Triplet is responsible for painting the trophy gold, adding each school's logo on the respective sides and the legend of one of the coolest college football rivalry trophies was born.
As mentioned above, Appalachian State owns a commanding 29-7 record all-time in "Jug" games since the inception of the trophy in 1976. ASU was able to control the early proceedings of the rivalry, winning four of the first five matchups between the two schools in this rivalry matchup. While the early years saw the Mountaineers enjoy most of the success, it would be the Catamounts who would seize control of the rivalry in the early 1980's, as the Catamounts enjoyed their most successful run in the rivalry, winning four-straight in the rivalry from 1981-84.
There were some memorable matchups in the early history of "Jug" battles, and in particular, the 1979 and '80 meetings, which were both Appalachian State victories.
Western Carolina brought a highly-touted passing attack, led by standout quarterback Mike Pussey to Conrad Stadium in 1979 and faced ASU's own version of an aerial display, led by Mountaineer Hall-of-Fame signal-caller Steve Brown.
The two standout quarterbacks were both effective in leading their respective big-play offenses in the contest, with Pussey completing 16 of his passes for 231 yards and a TD, while his counterpart Brown attempted just 13 passes in the game, but managed to lead the Mountaineers to a 35-27 win.
It was a new "wrinkle" that allowed the Mountaineers turn a 27-14 halftime deficit into a 35-27 win, as the Black and Gold came out of the halftime locker room fashioning the wishbone offense, catching the Catamounts off guard.
The ASU offense racked up 266 yards on the ground in the second half alone, while the Mountaineer defense was equally impressive, limiting the potent WCU passing attack to just 37 yards through the air and no points.
A year later, the Mountaineers and Catamounts would battle in another great game in Boone before 15,850 fans at Conrad Stadium, and the result would be in the same fashion, as the Mountaineers had to establish the win in come-from-behind fashion.
With the quarterback-wide receiver tandem of Steve Brown and Rick Beasley playing their final respective games before the home folks, it would provide an emotional backdrop for what was one of the more memorable games in the series for Appalachian State fans.
However, Beasley, who would finish his career as the NCAA's fifth all-time leading receiver and the leading receiver in Appalachian State football history, went down with a first-quarter injury and was not able to finish the game.
That took away a large part of the ASU passing attack, and Brown was limited to just 166 yards passing on the day. However, the exit of Beasley set the stage for a freshman running back to be the hero for the Apps on the day, as Alvin Parker would become the first 100-yard rusher of the season for the Apps in the narrow three-point win.
Appalachian State enters Saturday afternoon's contest continuing to play well on the offensive side of the football, however, the Mountaineers, had some struggles last week in the 38-28 loss to Wofford. Appalachian State's normally potent offense was limited to 363 yards of total offense, which was one of the lowest totals of the season for what has been a potent ASU offense this fall.
The Mountaineers enter Saturday's Old Mountain Jug battle ranking 13th nationally in total offense (451.6 YPG), 23rd in scoring offense (32.0 PPG), 21st in passing offense (265.7 YPG), and 34th in rushing offense (185.8 YPG). For the eighth season in nine since switching to the spread offense, the Black and Gold ranked among the Top 20 offenses in FCS football. ASU finished the 2011 season ranking 38th overall in total offense (390.2 YPG), which was the lowest offensive output in the spread era for the Black and Gold, or since 2004.
The Mountaineer offense is continuing to be led by Jamal Jackson (179-of-277 passing, 2,126 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs/92 rush att, 365 yds, 5 TDs, 4.0 YPC) this season, and he continues to have a strong season for the ASU offense and has thrived under the direction of offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield this season.
In the 46-14 win over Western Carolina last season, Jackson was impressive as he connected on 22-of-34 passes for 261 yards and a TD.
Coming into Saturday's clash with WCU, Jackson ranks among the Top 20 nationally in a couple different individual categories, including eighth in the FCS in total offense (2,491 yds) snd 16th in total passing yards (2,126 yds).
In last week's 10-point loss to Wofford, Jackson connected on 29-of-46 passes for 257 yards, with an INT.
Jackson also has one of the top receiving corps' in all of FCS football this season, led by a redshirt freshman wideout that has taken the league by storm this season, in Sean Price (41 catches, 541 yds, 6 TDs, 13.2 YPR).
Price has been one of ASU's most-versatile pass-catchers this season, as he has been reliable in clutch situations, when the Mountaineers need a big catch to keep a drive alive, while also having been the main option when the Mountaineers have gone in search of the big play in the passing attack this season. Price is one of four Mountaineer receivers that have 24 or more receptions this season.
Price is putting together one of the best seasons by a freshman wideout in school history, and currently leads all of NCAA Division I college football in receptions, receiving yards and TD grabs. Earlier this season, he matched a school standard for an ASU receiver by tying the school record for consecutive 100-yard receiving performance, with three-straight 100-yard receiving performances earlier this season in games against Montana (103 yds), Chattanooga (130 yds) and Coastal Carolina (128 yds). Price's biggest grab of the season came against Samford, as his 22-yard scoring reception against Samford allowed ASU to escape Birmingham with a 28-25 win.
Starting alongside Price at receiver on Saturday will be 'M' wideout Andrew Peacock (44 rec, 446 yds, 2 TDs, 10.1 YPR), 'Y' receiver Tony Washington (26 rec, 331 yds, 1 TD, 12.7 YPR/5 rush att, 44 yds, 1 TD, 8.8 YPC) and 'Z' wide receiver Malachi Jones (24 rec, 274 yds, 11.4 YPR).
Peacock and Washington have obviously provided the veteran leadership this season, but it's been the emergence of players like the aforementioned Price and Jones that have made this corps truly one of the most versatile units in the FCS this season. Against the Catamounts last season, Peacock was able to haul in six passes for 56 yards, while Washington snagged five passes for 33 yards in the 46-14 triumph.
The Mountaineers' ground game has been solid this season, and leading the way in running the football for the Mountaineers has been senior running back Steven Miller (154 rush att, 832 yds, 8 TDs, 5.4 YPG/24 rec., 317 yds, 4 TDs, 13.2 YPR). Miller is a speedy, big-play threat out of the backfield and is looking to become ASU's first 1,000-yard rusher at the running back position since Kevin Richardson was able to complete that feat back in the 2007 campaign.
Coming into Saturday afternoon's clash with Western Carolina, Miller ranks fourth in the SoCon and 20th nationally in rushing. If he should reach the 1,000-yard plateau this season, Miller would become the 12th player in Mountaineer football history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in a season.
An extremely versatile running back, Miller has set career highs in three of the last four games for the Apps, as either a rusher or a receiving threat out of the backfield.
In the win over Coastal Carolina on Sept. 29, Miller set his career-high for rushing yards by amassing a career-high 202 yards on the ground, and followed that performance up with a pair of career-high setting receiving performances in wins over Elon and Samford. In the 35-23 Homecoming win over Elon, Miller hauled in six passes for 97 yards and two scores, before following up that performance with six catches for 98 yards in the victory at Samford. Against Western Carolina last season, Miller rushed for 76 yards on 11 carries, while also hauling in one pass for 23 yards in the 46-14 win.
Joining Miller in the ASU backfield on Saturday will be Rod Chisholm (28 rush att, 131 yds, 1 TD, 4.7 YPC/2 rec, 15 yds, 7.5 YPR) and Michael Frazier (17 rush att, 93 yds, 1 TD, 5.5 YPC /1 rec, 27 yds), who have both really become the short-yardage backs this season for the Apps and have offered a nice change-up up to Miller's speed and explosiveness coming out the the ASU backfield this season.
The ASU offensive front has been the walking wounded at times this season, but the Mountaineer front line might be one the most improved aspects of this offense this season and is one of the main reasons the Apps have been able to right many of the wrongs on the offensive side of the football from a season ago.
The recent rash of injuries has seen the Mountaineers yield six sacks over the past couple of games after yielding just five sacks through the first five games of the 2012 season. The Mountaineers still rank 26th nationally in sacks allowed per game.
The stalwart along the offensive line for the Mountaineers this season has been left tackle Kendall Lamm, who was a preseason All-SoCon selection. As a result of the injuries, players like Ian Barnard (RG) and Will Corbin (RT) have stepped into starting roles and performed nicely this season for the Apps. Graham Fisher has also performed well since moving into his role as the starting center for the Apps this season.
Western Carolina enters Saturday afternoon's contest against the Mountaineers with a defense that has improved, but it is one that continues to struggle against the diversity and speed of the offenses in the Southern Conference.
The Catamounts come into Saturday afternoon's contest ranking 119th nationally in total defense (513.8 YPG), 113th in scoring defense (39.6 PPG), 121st (last nationally) in rushing defense (333.8 YPG) and 28th nationally in passing defense (180.0 YPG).
Despite the struggles on the defensive side of the ball this season, the argument could be made that the Catamounts are much improved on the defensive side of the football this season, even though there's not a discernible difference in some statistical categories. The good news for Speir and his staff heading into Saturday afternoon's rivalry game is that ASU offers little in the way of surprise for a coaching staff that either played or coached in that same offense just last season.
The Catamounts will utilize a 4-2-5 defensive alignment on Saturday against the Mountaineers. The centerpiece and heart and soul of this WCU defense is its linebackers, which is led by one of the league's best, in strong side linebacker Rock Williams (76 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks).
Williams is one of the more active linebackers in the Southern Conference, and he comes into Saturday's showdown for the Jug leading the Southern Conference in tackles average per game (12.7 TPG).
Williams enters Saturday's contest against the Mountaineers with 287-career tackles, and with 19 more stops this season, he will break into the Top 10 all-time career tackles list at WCU.
Joining Williams as a starting linebacker on Saturday afternoon will be Courtland Carson (72 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1 PBU), who like Williams, is having a solid season in the Purple and Gold.
Carson is athletic, and like his teammate Williams, is among the league's leaders in tackles so far in 2012. Carson's 9.0 tackles-per-game average ranks him fifth overall in the SoCon in tackles-per-game.
The Catamounts have been solid this season across their defensive front, and leading the four down linemen for the Catamounts this season has been veteran defensive end Brian Johnson (31 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU).
Johnson, a veteran defensive end, continues to lead all Catamount defensive linemen in tackles so far this season. He's a big, athletic defensive end that does a nice job of creating pressure from the edge.
Starting opposite Johnson at defensive end on Saturday for the Purple and Gold will be freshman Caleb Hawkins (18 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks), who is doing a nice job in his first season as a starter along the WCU defensive front.
Hawkins brings good speed and power for the Catamounts on the edge, and he might be WCU's best pure pass-rushing threat coming into Saturday's Battle For The Old Mountain Jug.
Bevans Robb (16 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1.0 sack) and Eric Banford (19 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 FR) will comprise the defensive interior for the Catamounts, and both are athletic, but a bit undersized. Teams have had success when running the ball inside against the Catamounts once again this season, and this will be a matchup to keep an eye on this Saturday.
The secondary, which is of course made up of two corners and three safeties in the Catamounts' 4-2-5 defensive scheme. It will mark the first of two-straight opponents that will utilize a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, as ASU's next opponent, Georgia Southern, will also operate out of a 4-2-5 scheme.
The starting trio of safeties for the Catamounts on Saturday is boundary safety Sertonuse Harris (57 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3 FFs), who is having as good a freshman season as any freshman defender in the Southern Conference this season. Harris is a big hitter in the WCU secondary and currently ranks third on the club in tackles this season. Harris will team with middle safety De'Von Richardson (33 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU) and free safety Trevor Taylor (21 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 PBUs).
Rounding out the starters in the secondary for the Catamounts on Saturday will be a talented duo of cornerbacks, in Jaleel Lorqueet (33 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBUs) and Elijer Martinez (29 tackles, 4 PBUs, 1 INT). Martinez and Lorqueet are probably two of the more underrated cornerbacks in the SoCon this season, but the duo will definitely have their hands full on Saturday trying to slow ASU's Price, Peacock, Washington and Jones.
Appalachian State struggled giving up some big plays in the running game last week in the 38-28 loss to Wofford, but it's been a unit that for the most part has been a disappointment this season. While it has not lived up to some of the expectations many had envisioned for the unit prior to the campaign, in its own defense, the unit has suffered a rash of injuries this season and is exceedingly young along the defensive front.
The Mountaineers will operate out of a 3-4 defensive alignment on Saturday, and bring a defensive into the Battle For The Old Mountain Jug that ranks 94th nationally in total defense (421.5 YPG),73rd in scoring defense (28.9 PPG), 94th in rushing defense (194.9 YPG) and 74th in passing defense (226.6 YPG).
One of the big question marks heading into Saturday's clash with the Catamounts is at one of the positions the Mountaineers have been outstanding at this season, which is linebacker. If you were going to give an MVP award to player on the defensive side of the ball at this point, you would most likely point to ASU inside linebacker Brandon Grier (63 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 2 FRs, 1 FF, 4 QBHs), who is having an outstanding senior season for ASU, and one worthy of All-America and perhaps Buck Buchanan Award-type attention.
Grier went down with a knee injury late last week in the loss to Wofford, and his status for Saturday's game against the Catamounts remains questionable. If he can't go on Saturday, expect Karl Anderson (16 tackles, 1 FR) to once again step into the ASU lineup on Saturday.
Grier has been the heart and soul of this ASU defense, teaming with another senior veteran in the middle, in Jeremy Kimbrough (92 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 INT), as the duo have acquitted themselves as arguably the SoCon's top two linebackers in 2012. One element both Kimbrough and Grier bring to the ASU defense is the ability to drop into pass coverage and make big plays. Both are physical, big hitters in the middle of that ASU defense. Both Grier and Kimbrough led the ASU defensive efforts against the Catamounts a year ago in the 46-14 win at The Rock, recording nine and five tackles, respectively, in the win.
Joining Grier and Kimbrough at linebacker on Saturday at both OLB positions will be sophomores Deuce Robinson (31 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.5 sack) and Joel Ross (37 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 TDs, 1 PBU, 1 QBH), who has scored TDs the past couple of weeks via an INT return and a fumble return for a score.
The Apps have a talented secondary, led by a couple of veterans, in senior cornerback Demetrius McCray (34 tackles, 3 INTs, 0.5 sack, 4 PBUs, 1 FF) and senior strong safety Troy Sanders (54 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF), who are both once again having All-SoCon worthy seasons. McCray actually entered the campaign as a Buck Buchanan Award candidate, added to the preseason watch list by The Sports Network.
Teaming with Sanders and McCray in the Mountaineer secondary on Saturday against the Catamounts will be free safety Patrick Blalock (42 tackles, 4 PBUs, 1 INT, 1.0 TFL) and cornerback Jamil Lott (24 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INTs).
Lott was originally expected to be a starter at the free safety position, but injuries dictated he make the move to corner this season.
The weakest unit on the defensive side of the football for the Black and Gold this season has proven to be the defensive line, but most of that has to do with lack of experience rather than a lack of talent. A lot more is expected out of three down linemen than is expected from four down linemen, which a majority of the teams in NCAA Division I college football utilize schematically.
This places a great deal of pressure on the nose tackle in the 3-4 defensive alignment, and the Mountaineers have called upon the services of freshman Stephen Burns (25 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FF). Burns has stepped into his role and performed nicely this season, but still the Mountaineers lack the experience they had the position with Dan Wiley last season in the first season in the 3-4 defense.
Teaming with Burns up front on Saturday will be veteran sophomore Ronald Blair (41 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR) and Davante Harris (20 tackles, 4.5 TFL), who like Burns, is a freshman and in his first season as a starter at defensive end for the Apps after redshirting following a concussion last season. Blair is a player that has come on and played well as of late on the defensive side of the football for the Apps, as he has posted 26 tackles, 4.0 TFL and 1.5 sacks over the past five games, including notching a career-high 10 tackles last week in the loss to the Terriers.
The Catamounts have been solid, even explosive at times this fall on the offensive side of the football, utilizing the exact same spread offense that Appalachian State has utilized to much success since 2004, and one that will line up against the Catamounts on Saturday.
Western Carolina enters Saturday afternoon's showdown for the Old Mountain Jug ranking 63rd in the nation in total offense (365.8 YPG), 60th in scoring offense (25.8 PPG), 30th in rushing yards per game (188.1 YPG) and 85th in passing offense (177.6 YPG).
The Catamounts have utilized a two-quarterback system this season, with both Troy Mitchell (50-of-82 passing, 489 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT/76 rush att, 316 yds, 6 TDs, 4.2 YPC) and Marshall transfer Eddie Sullivan (91-of-164 passing, 916 yds, 4 TDs, 6 INTs/50 rush att, 246 yds, 2 TDs, 4.9 YPC) splitting time under center this season, and as has been the case for most of the season, the starter for Saturday likely won't be revealed until game time on Saturday.
Mitchell is coming off a performance against Elon last week, which saw him garner SoCon Freshman of the Week accolades, and he's a player that the WCU coaching staff has a lot of the same qualities and versatility that Armanti Edwards had at Appalachian State.
In the loss to the Phoenix last Saturday, Mitchell passed for a career-high 175 yards and two scores, while also rushing for 78 yards on 15 rush attempts. Look for Mitchell and Sullivan to both see action on Saturday in an attempt to try and keep the Appalachian State defense off-balance.
The Catamounts, who rank 30th in the nation in rushing yards this season, have really gone out and made an effort to establish the run offensively this season, using the run in the spread to try and set up the pass. The Catamounts are led in the ground game by a pair of freshmen in rushing, with the aforementioned Mitchell ranking second on the club, while freshman Darius Ramsey (81 rush att, 389 yds, 1 TD, 4.8 YPC/15 rec, 96 yds) from Shelby, N.C. leads the club.
Ramsey is one of the fastest players on the offensive side of the football for the Catamounts, and he has eclipsed the 100-yard plateau two times in this his true freshman campaign, including a career-high 120 yards rushing in the season opening win over Mars Hill. Veterans Michael Johnson (42 rush att. 212 yds, 4 TDs, 5.0 YPC) and Michael Vaughn (49 rush att, 159 yds, 4 TDs, 3.2 YPC/12 rec, 95 yds, 7.9 YPR) will also be significant threats in the ground game for the Catamounts on Saturday.
The Catamounts also have solid contingent of wide receivers entering Saturday's showdown, led by another freshman, in Spearman Robinson (36 rec, 357 yds, 1 TD, 9.9 YPR).
The product of Greenwood High School, which also produced two time Walter Payton Award winner and Appalachian State legend Armanti Edwards, was highly sought after by Appalachian State in the recruiting process, but chose Western Carolina. Robinson ranks third among freshmen wide receivers in the FCS in receptions, with 36 catches so far in 2012. Robinson is coming off a career-high 139-yard receiving effort in the loss at Elon last week and will start at the 'X' wide receiver position on Saturday.
Robinson will be complimented by veteran wideouts Jacoby Mitchell (31 rec, 289 yds, 3 TDs, 9.3 YPR) and Deja Alexander (8 rec, 83 yds, 10.4 YPR) on Saturday, while big and sure-handed Nate Stephenson (3 rec, 34 yds, 1 TD, 11.3 YPR) will once again hold down the starting role at tight end for the Catamounts on Saturday. Alexander, a junior receiver, leads the Catamounts with three receiving TDs this season, while Mitchell has yet to really find the rhythm he enjoyed a year ago, as he has been slowed by a nagging knee injury this season.
Prior to Speir and staff's arrival in the Valley, the Catamounts' biggest weakness year-in and year-out was seemingly the offensive line, however, under the direct supervision of former Appalachian State standout John Holt, the offensive line has made significant strides this season.
Entering Saturday's contest, the unit is being anchored by senior right guard Ryan Moore, who is having his best season as a Catamount, and he has the third most starts and appearances of any player on the WCU roster entering Saturday's contest, as he will be making his 15th start and 39th appearance on Saturday afternoon for WCU.
Quevalas Murray has done a nice job since transitioning from the defensive line to the center position for the Catamounts this season, while the two youngest players along the WCU offensive front are freshmen Josh Wineberg (RT) and Tyler Philpott (LG), who have both shown the potential to have a bright future for WCU. Left tackle Dan Polaski is another player that is having a great season along the WCU offensive front and will be making his sixth-straight start at left tackle on Saturday.
It's been awhile since Western Carolina has knocked off a ranked foe on the FCS football gridiron, and you have to go back the 2006 campaign to find the last time the Catamounts were able to upend a ranked foe, when WCU posted a 20-17 upset win over Eastern Kentucky.
In fact, all-time, the Catamounts are just 11-71-3 all-time against ranked foes, with the last win over a ranked Southern Conference foe coming in the 2005 season, when the Catamounts claimed a 41-21 win over No. 2 Furman in Cullowhee.
Eight of the program's 11 wins over ranked foes have come in Cullowhee, and the WCU first-year head coach Mark Speir will be looking to do something that has only been accomplished once in 1969.
On Saturday, the Catamounts face an Appalachian State team that will take the E.J. Whitmire field turf ranked for the eighth-straight season. While I think the Catamounts will keep it close for a while on Saturday, Appalachian State has too much to play and more talent, which will show in the second half as the Mountaineers post their eighth-straight win over the Catamounts, and 26th victory in the last 28 meetings in the Mountain Jug game.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: APPALACHIAN STATE 38, WESTERN CAROLINA 24