Leading the Mountaineers’ attack will be Armanti Edwards, who made a name for himself in the 34-32 monumental win over Michigan last season when he threw for three touchdowns and ran for one. He accounted for 289 total yards with 227 through the air and 62 on the ground, and that dual-threat presence is what kept the Wolverines in the hole all day long.
Never was that more evident than his final drive where he led the Mountaineers 69 yards on seven plays in 1:11 that set up the game-winning field goal.
On that final march, the Greenwood, S.C. native started it off with an 18-yard scamper then he proceeded to complete five straight passes for 51 yards that got ASU inside the five yard line at the Big House.
Appalachian State went on to win its third consecutive national championship on the Football Championship Subdivision ranks, formerly known as Division I-AA, but this is a new year for the Mountaineer program with a whole new set of goals.
“We feel like we haven’t won anything,” Edwards said. “We’re still out there trying to be hungry because we know it’s a different year. Coach Moore always tells us no one remembers last year so we try and take that to heart and play like we haven’t won anything.”
Last season, the talented signal caller had a lot of help in the form of ASU’s all-time leading rusher, Kevin Richardson, who ran for 1,348 yards and 16 touchdowns which was second on the team behind Edwards.
Richardson is gone and the Mountaineers must also replace three FCS All-Americans from last year’s offensive line, along with their three leading receivers from a year ago.
If there was a positive with the rash of injuries that Jerry Moore’s team had to deal with it was that all five projected starting linemen for this season got valuable experience.
CoCo Hillary made his mark on special teams in 2007 by averaging more than 24 yards a kick return and he is also the top returning receiver Edwards will have at his disposal with the 23 grabs he made a year ago.
Moore will have several newcomers making their first career start on Saturday but the area that concerns ASU’s head coach the most is down in the trenches where his guys average 6-2 and 266 pounds versus an LSU front that checks in at 6-3, 286 pounds.
“I think one of the first things is pretty obvious and it’s size,” Moore said. “They’re a typical Southeast conference football team. They’re big, fast, and very, very athletic. They’re extremely well-coached and probably one of the best tackling teams I’ve ever seen.”
LSU also has some holes to fill from last season as the Tigers must replace six starters on defense starting up front with one of the most decorated players in the school’s history in Glenn Dorsey.
Taking over in Dorsey’s absence is Ricky Jean-Francois, who some NFL scouts project as a first round pick for the 2009 NFL Draft.
The Tigers also hope to get a boost inside by the return of Charles Alexander, who missed most of last season with a knee injury and then a large portion of fall camp.
“Defensively, I think our defensive front is up to the challenge,” said LSU head coach Les Miles. “This team led all of football in rushing a year ago, and we’re going to be challenged to play extremely well and disciplined upfront.”
The LSU defense under Bo Pelini yielded 293 yards a game last season when it faced a spread offense and Miles knows that his guys will be put to the test early on this year with the attack the Mountaineers will bring.
“They spread the field and create space and it’s an issue with a team that throws the ball well, and it’s an issue with a team that can run the football as well as they do,” Miles said. “It’s very similar to an option offense. It’s similar to a ‘spread and throw it.’ They attack the width of the field as well as the vertical seams. It’s a great challenge and I think our guys understand that they must play disciplined in this game.”
“They’ve got another outstanding team and a quarterback that can help them beat any team in the nation, including us,” said LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. “The offensive scheme that they run is very similar to Florida. It makes you have to play sound, be disciplined, and keep your techniques solid. If we don’t do that we’ll be in for a long night.”
Adding to the mystery on the defensive side of the ball is how the two co-coordinators will function in their new role now that Pelini has moved on to Nebraska.
Bradley Dale Peveto has had a couple of trial runs of serving in his new capacity on the sidelines when LSU recently scrimmaged twice in Tiger Stadium, and Doug Mallory was back at his familiar spot up in the box, only with a little more responsibility.
Sure there will be some growing pains in the early going but the headman feels that everything is right on course.
“It appears that the adjustment of the new guys is going to be minimal,” Miles said. “Obviously the terminology is the same and the way we call the defense is the same. It’s going to be fun for those guys in the season opener but we think we’ve gone through enough preparations so that everyone understands their role.”