App State, 'Nova share more than success
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Football coaches will spend an entire week leading up to a game trying to get as much information as possible about their opponent.
At other times of the year, the opposing coaching staff sometimes volunteers much of the information.
Saturday's FCS quarterfinal between the recent national-championship football programs at Appalachian State and Villanova will mark their first meeting, but the two coaching staffs got to know each other quite a bit a couple years ago.
Villanova coach Andy Talley dispatched two assistant coaches - offensive coordinator Sam Venuto and wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Brian Flinn - to Boone, N.C., to gain insight into how App State head coach Jerry Moore runs his vaunted program.
Such coaching sojourns are common throughout all levels of football. They're usually done in the offseason and provide a chance to share and discuss coaching philosophies and different schemes.
But the friendly feelings between these staffs will turn competitive on Saturday at The Rock in Boone - at high noon ET - with one of the more anticipated games in FCS playoff history: Villanova (8-4), basically healthy as a team again, appears back to being on last year's national championship level, while App State (10-2) is the top seed in this year's playoffs and a program that won three straight national titles from 2005-07.
"They were very gracious with us," Talley recalled about his coaches' visit with the App State program. "Because we wanted to see what they were doing, how they recruit, how they coach and so on. It's a fantastic program.
WR/KR Matt Szczur was MVP of Villanova's win in the FCS championship game last season.
"Jerry Moore, I think, is a lot like me, he lets his coaches coach. (He) is someone who gives a guy responsibility, delegates him and lets him do his work. They're very laid back, really good guys. Our guys really came away very impressed. No secrets, they have terrific players that can run and tackle and block and catch. They're really a solid football program. They have great facilities, great support and it's a school that wants to be a football school."
"Had a great time with them," Moore recalled. "We shared a lot of stuff, a lot of information. We've always had a good relationship with them.
"They used to play Furman and I'd call Andy and we'd look at that tape after they got through playing, to get ideas from him. We've always been pretty open with each other, exchanging things, as far as ideas. I remember those guys coming down, sure do. We spent like three or four days together."
Before the App State faithful gets worked up about Moore and his staff giving away trade secrets to their success, consider the king of the mountain in Boone - now in his 22nd season with his Southern Conference power - has made similar trips as well and doesn't find any negative to them, even though the Mountaineers wound up playing Villanova.
"Not at all," Moore said. "Just like us playing Florida, I spent three out of the last four springs at Florida with Coach (Urban) Meyer and their staff and visited with them. And that's just part of the process, I think, in the coaching fraternity. We were very open with those guys from Villanova and I suspect if we had wanted to come up there Andy would have opened the doors to us and shared with us. I don't think there are any big, big secrets in this business. We were glad that they wanted to come down, really."
Many people are glad the two star-laden teams are matched in a monumental showdown on Saturday on ESPN. It just feels like a round or two early.
Had Villanova been a healthier team during the regular season, it would not have lost four games and gone into the playoffs unseeded. It would have more resembled the team that blew past Stephen F. Austin, 54-24, in the second round last Saturday, hours after App State handled Western Illinois, 42-14, in the snow.
Snow isn't predicted for Saturday's showdown, so there should be a fast track for both teams, who get up and down the field but also play with physical styles. App State plays offense a little bit better; Villanova's defense is a little stronger.
A healthy Matt Szczur - something that hasn't been said since September - gives Villanova its chief offensive weapon, although fellow wide receiver Norman White has come out of Szczur's shadow to have an All-CAA season for quarterback Chris Whitney.
Of course, App State features one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation in DeAndre Presley, who rushed for an astounding 264 yards on only 16 carries against Western Illinois.
Then there are all the other standouts, like the left side of Villanova's offensive line, seniors Ben Ijalana and Brant Clouser, who have never missed a start, and linebackers Marquis Kirkland and Terence Thomas, and App State's defensive trio of end Jabari Fletcher, linebacker D.J. Smith and safety Mark Legree.
Stars, stars and more stars, the Appalachian State and Villanova coaches know all about them. Just like they have a mutual respect, and insight, into each other's program.
"They're more talented, but they remind me of Samford (a SoCon team which App State beat, 34-17), the things that they do," Moore said. "The defense is a little different than other people we've played, but their offense is a little bit like Samford. They're very versatile, they have traits of throwing it and traits of running it. The quarterback's a big strong runner. You can tell he's very, very competitive. They've got a couple receivers that are that way. I think that when you watch the tape on 'em, the first thing that jumps out at me is all of them play hard. And that's the reason they win."
"Speed, I think, is the first thing you think of when you think of Appy," Talley said. "They really run to the football as a defense. And on offense, they put a lot of pressure on you. And they make big plays in critical situations. I think it's a team that has been on the national scene for a while, won three national championships, has a lot of poise and confidence. They welcome you into their house ready to run you off the field. They're competitors. I like the matchup; I think it's going to be a terrific game."