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Playoff preview: Villanova at Appalachian State

By Andrew Gaddess, FCS Assistant

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

FCS THIRD ROUND: (10) VILLANOVA AT (2) APPALACHIAN STATE

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 11, noon ET

Facts & Figures: Kidd Brewer Stadium (21,650) -- Boone, North Carolina. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN. Announcers: Mike Gleason, John Congemi. Home Record: Villanova 4-1; Appalachian State 7-0. Away Record: Villanova 4-3; Appalachian State 3-2. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: Villanova - Colonial Athletic Associate; Appalachian State - Southern. Nicknames: Villanova Wildcats; Appalachian State Mountaineers. Sports Network/Fathead.com Ranking: Villanova (10); Appalachian State (2). Head Coaches: Villanova - Andy Talley (187-106-1 at Villanova, 215-124-2 Overall); Appalachian State - Jerry Moore (199-78 at Appalachian State, 226-125-2 Overall). All-Time Record: Villanova (570-443-41); Appalachian State (548-304-28). Playoff Records: Villanova (9-7); Appalachian State (24-14). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Villanova 8 (1989, 91-92, 1996-97, 2002, 08-09); Appalachian State 17 (1986-87, 89, 91-92, 94-95, 98-99, 2000-02, 05-09).

What to know: The Villanova Wildcats had a challenge on their hands last week, as they traveled to Nacogdoches, Texas, to face an unfamiliar opponent in Stephen F. Austin and one of the best quarterbacks in FCS history in Jeremy Moses.

Moses was as advertised early, leading Stephen F. Austin to a 21-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Wildcats responded, however, by scoring 47 of the game's final 50 points to run away with a 52-24 victory.

Quarterback Chris Whitney completed 21-of-30 passes for 222 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes, three of which were caught by receiver Norman White. Whitney found Matt Szczur 11 times for 128 yards and a touchdown.

The return of Szczur was paramount. After missing the bulk of the season with sprains in both ankles, Szczur finally appeared healthy. He added a big play threat (51-yard touchdown catch) and was effective out of the Wildcat formation.

Szczur's 68 rushing yards led a ground attack which compiled 234 yards. Aaron Ball and Angelo Babbaro were their usual reliable selves, gaining 63 and 47 yards, respectively.

Though designed to stop the run, the defense turned in an admirable performance, holding SFA scoreless in the second half and intercepting Moses three times. The Wildcats currently have the No. 8 scoring defense in the FCS (17 ppg). Despite their success against Moses, the Wildcats are still a run- stuffing team, ranking No. 7 in the FCS against the run (98.4 ypg) as opposed to No. 66 against the pass (207.6 ypg). This week's matchup against Appalachian State should provide a more favorable matchup for the defense.

The Appalachian State Mountaineers ran their way into the quarterfinals behind a career-high 264 rushing yards from quarterback DeAndre Presley in a 42-14 rout of Western Illinois - head coach Jerry Moore's 199th win with the SoCon power.

The snow-covered field was conducive to the run and the Mountaineers took advantage, racking up a season-high 417 rushing yards in the win. With his 264 rushing yards, Presley became just the fourth player in FCS history to surpass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.

The rest of the rushing duties were handled by committee, as Devon Moore, Travaris Cadet, Cedric Baker and Rod Chisholm all made significant contributions. The Mountaineers had just two completions and 47 yards through the air in the win.

With the score tied at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter, the Mountaineers used a 21-0 second quarter to gain an insurmountable advantage. The defense, aided by the elements, was tremendous, holding Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) finalist Matt Barr to 98 passing yards and one touchdown, while intercepting him three times. Western Illinois, which entered the game averaging 476.1 yards of total offense (No. 2 FCS), managed a season-low 231 yards.

Presley now ranks No. 34 in the nation and No. 1 among quarterbacks with 84.7 rushing yards per game. He leads an offense which scores 35.1 ppg (No. 7 FCS).

The defense, behind D.J. Smith, Marc Legree and Jabari Fletcher, is rife with talent, but has largely been outplayed by the offense this season. The Mountaineers rank just No. 71 in the FCS against the run (157.08 ypg), although they do play in the run-heavy SoCon.

Saturday's matchup between Villanova and Appalachian State is one of the most significant in FCS history, pitting two unfamiliar but similar powers in opposition of each other.

The Wildcats impressed last week, showing an ability to adapt on the fly to an unfamiliar opponent. Abandoning their run stopping principles, they dropped eight men into coverage and were able to stifle the FCS' best passer.

Appalachian State, while a superior team to Stephen F. Austin, provides a matchup more suitable to the Wildcats' tendencies. Villanova has perhaps the best offensive line in the country, a committee of reliable backs and a trump card in the recently returned Szczur.

Snow is not in Saturday's forecast in Boone, but cold weather further necessitates the need for an effective ground game. Coincidentally, both teams possess such an attack.

Prediction: Villanova, 27-23

12/08 14:45:05 ET