SoCon Playoff Primer
By Russell V.
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The road to the Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, TX - championship game kicks off this weekend for Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford.
Does it seem like it’s been an eternity since the last SoCon game day for everyone else, or was that just me?
Like I said on Twitter, last Saturday felt really weird – it was the first Saturday since September where no SoCon team took the field. Thank god we are back at it this weekend though, as three SoCon teams take part in the do-or-die glory that is the playoffs.
Old Dominion at Georgia Southern, 1 p.m.
You know all about Georgia Southern by this point. Explosive triple option offense, lockdown defense, 2011 conference champions. What you may not know so much about is the feel good story of the season – Old Dominion. The program was reborn in 2009 and 2011 was their first season competing in the CAA. How’d they do? Pretty well. They only went 10-2 overall, 6-2 in conference play – which was good for second place. I asked my friend Joseph Suhoski from CAAzone.com what makes the Monarchs tick. Here’s a snippet of his responses.
- The most productive player on offense for ODU is obviously quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a freshman from Atlanta. Since taking over at halftime in Week Five for our injured starter (Thomas DeMarco), he's thrown 20 interceptions against just one INT and one fumble. He plays very calmly, unlike most freshmen in college football.
- The defense is led by CAA Defensive POY Ronnie Cameron. He was among the leaders in sacks and total tackles from the DT position, and led all defenders in TFL's (regardless of position). Between him and All-CAA first team LB Craig Wilkins, the defense was second in the conference in rushing yards allowed and yards per attempt.
Saturday will mark the third time ODU has faced a triple option offense since ’09. In their previous two matchups, they gave up 422 and 326 rushing yards, respectively. Their rush D has greatly improved since then, but they have yet to face a team that runs it like the Eagles do. Add in the Paulson Stadium factor and there is no way I can pick against them in this game.
Georgia Southern 42, Old Dominion 28
SoCon Game of the Week: Maine at Appalachian State, 2 p.m.
Saturday will mark the second-ever meeting between the two squads, which also came in the playoffs. App fans do not have fond memories of it though – Maine won 14-13. Think it is safe to say both teams have changed significantly since then. Both teams mirror each other very closely statistically. They give up around the same yards per game on defense, force plenty of turnovers and have good balance on offense. Maine’s strength offensively, though, is its passing attack. Led by quarterback Warren Smith, the Black Bears average more than 240 yards through the air and 29.4 points. That will be a challenge for App’s secondary, which has given up 199.7 passing yards, last in the SoCon. The good news for App? Maine’s weakness on defense is their run D – they give up 158.3 yards per contest, good for eighth in the CAA. Tavaris Cadet will need to have a big game Saturday both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. That should help open things up for Jamal Jackson and Brian Quick. If the Mountaineers cannot get the run game going, things will become a lot more difficult for them. Fortunately, they will establish the run game and will pull away late, sending the Mountaineer faithful home happy for at least one more Saturday.
Appalachian State 34, Maine 20
Wofford at Northern Iowa, 5 p.m.
The first meeting between these two FCS powerhouses should prove to be a dozy, as they say. The Terriers bring the 19th-best D and the no. 1-rushing attack in the country up north to face the fifth-seeded Panthers and a defense that is giving up just 16.18 points per game. Wofford got in the playoffs, thanks to Mitch Allen’s last-second touchdown dive against the Mocs two weeks ago, so some people might think that the team is stumbling into the playoffs. Keep in mind though, UNI has never defeated a team from the SoCon in the Division I era (aka since 1985). The key to this game, as with any Wofford game, will be how well the Panthers can stop the Terrier triple option. Wofford is averaging 356 yards per game on the ground, but UNI is giving up just over 120 yards per game there, led by the Missouri Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, L.J. Fort, who has 151 tackles and six forced fumbles – both team highs. The Panthers have an effective running game of their own, led by quarterback Tirrell Rennie (739 yards, nine touchdowns) and running back David Johnson (730 yards, eight touchdowns). Alvin Scioneaux and company will have their hands full trying to keep them in check. Don’t ask me why, but I have a bad feeling about this game for Wofford. Perhaps it is how, as I mentioned before, they have more or less backed into the playoffs and that UNI is one of the tougher places to play in the country. I hope I am wrong, but I see UNI getting their first victory over a SoCon team this weekend.
UNI 27, Wofford 20