Dukes, Spiders ready for playoff tests
Story by Chris Graham
The Biggest Football Game Ever Played is set for Saturday in Charlottesville – but the biggest football game of the opening weekend of the 2007 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs will be going on down the Blue Ridge in Boone, N.C., when the last two I-AA national champs meet in Kidd Brewer Stadium.
And to hear James Madison coach Mickey Matthews tell it, his team and the Appalachian State squad that made the headlines with its season-opening upset of I-A Michigan in the Big House are basically mirror images of each other.
“We have very similar offensive philosophies, very similar quarterbacks. Defensively – it’s different on defense, because they play a lot of man coverage in the secondary, which we don’t face a lot of. It’s different in that respect. We bring a lot more pressure than they do in terms of defensive philosophy. But in many regards, it’s like looking in a mirror,” Matthews said of the Mountaineers (9-2, 5-2 Southern Conference).
“I think our universities are very similar – the states they’re located in, just the student bodies. We’ve thought that for years, that Appalachian and James Madison are very similar. We recruit against them a lot on a lot of kids. And I’ve known Jerry Moore for 30 years. I think he does a tremendous job, obviously,” said Matthews, whose Dukes (8-3, 6-2 CAA) won a national title in 2004 before seeing Moore win the last two in ’05 and ’06.
To Matthews, App State’s game “begins and ends” with quarterback Armanti Edwards (1,221 yards passing, 928 yards rushing, 22 total touchdowns in 2007).
“I think he’s a great player. He just makes plays. He plays with a lot of confidence,” Matthews said.
“I think when you watch them on tape, I think their backs are good players. They have a great wideout. Number forty-seven (senior Corey Lynch) is a very good player at safety. But still, you just can’t – I’ve watched four or five games this morning, and their quarterback just makes so many plays for them. He’s a difference-maker,” Matthews said.
Matthews knows his team has its work cut out for it – not the least because it has to play ASU in Kidd Brewer.
“There’s not a tougher place to play in college football than Boone, N.C. – I don’t care if you’re talking about Ann Arbor, Athens, Ga.,” Matthews said. “I was at Marshall all those years, and we went into Boone, and we had some great football teams, and we never won at Boone.
“It’s very difficult to win there. Very hostile environment. They play with a lot of confidence in Boone. It’s very difficult,” Matthews said.
“They’ve won two national championships, and I don’t think they’ve left Boone except for the national championships. That’s a huge advantage that they have,” Matthews said.
Coach Dave Clawson said Monday that his staff only started watching film of EKU on Monday morning – and as a result he hadn’t gotten a good read of the team and the challenge it will offer UR when the two teams square off in Richmond on Saturday.
“It’s very clear that they’re a good football team. They’re 9-2 – and their only two losses were to I-A teams, Western Kentucky and Kentucky. It looks like they pretty much steamrolled their way through the OVC. The only game that was really competitive was their Eastern Illinois game – and Eastern Illinois is another playoff team,” Clawson said.
“They look like they’re pretty good at running the football, and they do a great job of creating turnovers. They lead the country in turnover margin at plus-21. And they have very good team speed on defense. They’re very disruptive – which I think accounts for a lot of the turnovers that they create,” Clawson said.
One thing that Clawson is sure of – “We’ve been in this position before, and we know that once you make the playoffs, every team that you play is going to be a good football team, or they wouldn’t be there.”
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.