App State Football vs Marshall

Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Marshall (2-1, 0-0 CUSA)

Thursday, September 23rd, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.52

Marshall: 70.10

Home: 3.00

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 6.42 points

Line: App State -7.5

Series: App State leads 14-9

Last Meeting: App State 7, Marshall 17, September 19, 2020, Huntington, WV

For those who were looking for normalcy in Boone this past weekend, you got it, and then some. It was a busy weekend in the High Country. The eighth-largest crowd in Kidd Brewer Stadium history was treated to a big win over a former foe. It was a great day, but it was not perfect. Several adjustments will be made between games. There were fumbles on and off the field, and although the game day experience might not exactly be like riding a bike, the opportunity to jump back on does exist. That’s the beauty of it all. If everything was always perfect, it would get boring pretty quickly. We didn’t drive to the mountains for boring. We drive to see what we have yet to discover. We hike the same trails to relive an experience, and see it for the first time all over again. A lot of supporters will be doing the exact same thing on Thursday. Most App State students were but a twinkle in their parents eyes the last time Marshall played in Boone, and others have been waiting for this moment for a quarter century. Let us all appreciate it.

If this past weekend helped you relive the memories of the SoCon yesteryear, enjoy the the more vintage and seasoned brand of Marshall this weekend. Elon and Marshall did not cross paths in the Southern Conference, but those schools membership tells a great story about App State’s history in the last 30 years. Marshall left the SoCon in 1996, and became members of the Mid-American conference for eight years. Elon joined the SoCon in 2003. Those two moves along with others got people around App State thinking about FBS, or as it was referred to then, Division I. Marshall joined Conference USA in 2005, about the same time of App State’s resurgence in I-AA/FCS football. The Marshall games in the late 1980’s and 1990’s were intense battles. App State missed those games, and Georgia Southern helped bridge that gap, that Elon and other small private schools could not provide. Marshall went on to great success, winning I-AA titles, which was what they needed to move to FBS. App State’s playoff success in the 2000s stoked the desire to play teams like Marshall again. Last year, App and Marshall scheduled a series to work around the pandemic. This week’s game is the first leg of a separate home and home agreement that was announced in June 2015, and will be completed next year in Huntington.

Last season’s scheduling of the Marshall game was a win on paper, but was not exactly what a coaching staff wants at the last minute. You prep all offseason for the first few games, and then poof, Wake Forest and Wisconsin are gone, insert Conference USA. It did not help that App State had to deal with pandemic issues leading up to the game, and were trying to discover their identity with limited practice times and groupings. Long story short, it was not our best showing, and Marshall stuck to their game plan, and won an old-fashioned game. The Herd took that momentum and won five more games, to start the season 7-0, and then things went south. Marshall lost their last three games, getting shutout by Rice, stymied by UAB 22-13, and falling flat in their 17-10 Camellia Bowl loss to Buffalo. In all three games, Marshall was dominated in time of possession. This season, Marshall has soundly defeated two teams in Navy and NC Central. Navy has scored ten points combined in two games this season. NC Central has scored forty-three points in their two wins over Alcorn State and Winston-Salem State. And then, there is the debacle of last Saturday night. East Carolina scored 21 unanswered fourth quarter points to steal a win on the road from the Thundering Herd.

Seems that Marshall success has gone the way of its sophomore quarterback Grant Wells. The Mountain State native has already thrown for 1,110 yards in 2021, and has eclipsed 300 yards passing in every game, a feat he accomplished just twice last season. However, Wells is streaky, and when he is up, so is Marshall, and likewise when he has a rough game. He threw 18 touchdown passes in ten games last year, and half of those touchdown passes came in two games, against Eastern Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. On the the other hand, seven of his nine interceptions last season came in two games, in which Marshall was shutout by Rice, and narrowly won 20-9 over Florida Atlantic. Wells’ touchdown/interception ratio might be leveling out in 2021, with four touchdown passes and five interceptions, but that includes interceptions in each game. Thursday comes down to which version of Grant Wells shows up for Marshall.

App State was somewhat accused of sleepwalking on Saturday, but in the end, Elon never threatened the Mountaineers at all. Sure, Elon was annoying with 14 first downs, which is actually a pretty good number for a defense, but it felt like a lot more. Meanwhile, the Phoenix did not want to succumb to the ground game, and limited the Mountaineers to 187 yards on the rushing. That forced App State to probably throw the ball a handful of times more than they wanted. Chase Brice put up his largest yardage total (293) of the young season, which lead to big games from Corey Sutton and Malik Williams. Both eclipsed 120 yards receiving on the day, with Williams catching the 50-yard touchdown pass from Brice. Camerun Peoples was limited to eleven carries, which could be a signal that he might have a larger workload this week with the quick turnaround. Nate Noel finished with 73 yards on seventeen carries. The best stat line was produced by the defensive side of the ball. D’Marco Jackson turned in a thirteen tackle, three sack and 4.5 tackle for loss performance that had not occurred in college football in quite some time.

From 1977 through 1996, App State and Marshall played every single season, including twice in 1987. Throughout the 23 games series, neither team has played more than two games in a row in its home turf. Neither team has won more than four games in a row against each other. App had a four game winning streak to start the series, and Marshall currently holds a three game winning streak. It’s a real life cliché. Throw out the records. It has been a while since App State last beat the Herd in Boone. Twenty-seven long years. That night in 1994 was glorious. Scott Satterfield ran the option and pitched it to Chip Hooks repeatedly. Johnny Smith pulled down an interception and took it in for the go-ahead score, that would provide the final margin. Students could not control their excitement as attempts to remove the goal posts began before time expired. Only Jerry Moore could get everything organized long enough for the final seconds to tick away. And once again, the lights will be on at Kidd Brewer for one of the best Group of Five matchups of the weekend. This matchup was one that App State has circled. The Herd knocked App State out of the Top 25 last year and have not sniffed it since. Players and coaches might not care about that, but the fans do. We remember that painful feeling. Marshall has an offense that has the ability to score a lot of points. They have one speed, and that’s go. They like to move the ball up and down the field. The problem is the Herd’s defense. East Carolina blistered them for 561 yards. A very bad Navy team still managed 398 yards. How has Marshall surrendered all these yards without letting everyone score? It doesn’t help that Marshall has thrown six interceptions as a team, and has fumbled seven times, while losing three of them to inferior opponents. That also goes back to that time of possession battle that mentioned earlier. It’s a trend that dates back to last season. If Marshall turns the ball over three times, which is their average this season, it will be a long night in Boone. Mind you, they have been turning the ball over to teams that are clearly not as powerful as App State is on defense. Which leads to another interesting stat. Marshall has allowed just two sacks all season, while App State has nine defensively. It all comes down to how App defends Wells, and he has just been too streaky in his last several games to expect Marshall to come out on top.

The First Pick

Blundering Bessies 21

Mountaineers 31

App State Football vs Elon

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Elon (1-1, 0-0 CAA)

Saturday, September 18th, 2021 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.47

Elon: 38.55

Home: 3.00

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 41.92 points

Line: no line

Series: App State leads 32-9-1

Last Meeting: App State 31, Elon 21, September 21, 2013, Boone, NC

Chalk another one up in the “Close, but no cigar category.” A loss to Miami was probable, but a gut wrenching loss decided in the final moments was not what App State fans had in mind. Have we not suffered this fate enough? The close calls can kill you. They stick for awhile. Almost to the point that nothing matters as we stare into a campfire for moments on end trying to comprehend what your eyes just witnessed. Well, that’s at least what I did. Truth is the last close calls we had actually went our way. How quickly we forget needing to block a field goal at North Carolina to avoid overtime. Remember when everyone’s heart stopped beating as a football fluttered out of the back of a Columbia end zone. That pendulum has swung both ways. We all want them all, but these things have a way of evening out. Doubtful anyone would trade either Carolina game for Miami, or the others. Yet, the result brings outs a complicated range of emotions, and of wanting more. The only way to get past it, is to play ball.

It has been eight years since App State and Elon played, way back in 2013, when the star of the game was some freshman running back named Marcus Cox. It was the final year in the Southern Conference for both schools. Elon has been in the Colonial since 2014, and it was not a pretty start. Elon went 7-27 from 2014-2016. Elon then hired Curt Cignetti, who improved the Phoenix to 14-9 over two seasons before Cignetti was hired by James Madison to the same position. In 2019, Elon elevated Tony Trisciani to head coach after a stint as defensive coordinator. Trisciani was the defensive backs coach at Elon in 2006 when Armanti Edwards made his third career start and totaled 263 yards and added two touchdowns. That stat had little to do with Elon 2021, but why not mention Armanti when you can. Elon went 5-6 in 2019, did not play a fall season in 2020, but did play an abbreviated schedule this past spring, winning one game over Davidson, and losing five games. Among those five losses were a three point loss to #1 James Madison, and two losses to Richmond, and a 42-20 loss to Gardner-Webb. Almost forgot how weird FCS football can be.

Elon stands at 1-1 entering the renewal of the rivalry that never was. The Phoenix have played two barnburners, suffering a two point loss to Wofford, and securing a one point win over Campbell. The Phoenix warded off a two point conversion attempt by the Camels with 11 seconds left in regulation as Campbell went for the win. Campbell also attempted such a feat at Georgia Southern last season. Campbell still has dual threat Hajj-Malik Williams playing quarterback, and he burned Elon for 220 total yards and three touchdown passes. Wofford’s quarterback is Peyton Derrick, who spent his first two years of his career in Boone. Derrick was responsible for a 4th and 2 pass to Dominique Heath at Penn State that set up a touchdown. Derrick ran for 67 yards on just five attempts against Elon and threw for 155 more. After two weeks of mobile quarterbacks, the Elon defense will see a more pocket-oriented Chase Brice. Wofford averaged six yards a carry on the Phoenix defense, and four players logged rushes of over twenty yards. Wofford also completed passes of 33 yards and 71 yards.

Senior quarterback Davis Cheek is in his fourth season for Elon, and he brings plenty of experience with him. He will be playing in his 32nd career game on Saturday, and has thrown for 6,205 yards, with 38 career touchdown passes to just 17 interceptions. His sophomore campaign was cut short due to an injury, but Cheek has started every game in which he has appeared. In 2017 and 2019, Cheek surpassed 2,000 passing yards in each season, and had career highs in touchdown passes both years with fifteen total. He is well on his way to a career year, with four touchdown passes and 581 yards passing in just two games. Cheek did not play in the spring season of 2021. The ground game is not the forte of the Phoenix, as they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on the young season. Three receivers have caught 33/51 completed passes from Cheek and all of his touchdowns. Jackson Parham leads in yardage with 168. Chandler Brayboy has pulled in 12 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Kortez Weeks touts a 10/121/1 line.

With two games under our belt, the App State offensive and defensive leaders are beginning to take shape. The running back race is a figurative dead heat. Camerun Peoples has 195 yards and three touchdowns. Nate Noel has 177 yards on the season. Both have carried the ball exactly thirty-one times. Peoples is better downhill runner, and is tough to stop once he gets wound up. Noel was bottled up mostly by Miami, but found better running room in the second half. The trio of Thomas Hennigan, Corey Sutton and Malik Williams continue to lead the Apps in receiving, catching 25 of the 41 completed passes from Chase Brice. Each have a touchdown and have at least seven catches. DeMarco Jackson leads the team with 18 total tackles, with 11 unassisted. Steven Jones also has also 11 solo tackles, and is second on the team with 13 combined stops. TD Roof and Caleb Spurlin follow closely behind with 11 tackles each, with Roof sporting 2 sacks. Trey Cobb and Nick Hampton also have ten tackles each.

This will be the 997th football game in Elon history, and their 246th game as an FBS program. Elon has never defeated an FBS program in their history. Elon has not defeated App State since 1964, covering a span of 18 games. When Elon joined the Southern Conference in 2003, they were very bad. From 2007-2009, the Phoenix were actually decent, but still could not beat App State. Even as their time together in the SoCon dwindled, Elon’s success waned, but they still played tough games against the Mountaineers. It was just never meant to be. Now we find ourselves back down memory lane again in 2021, and we all hope its ends up just like it always has. It seems over the years, when Elon can hire a decent head coach, at some point, that coach will win a few games, and then head elsewhere. Nothing says that Tony Trisciani can’t become that next guy, but he has not had the time yet at Elon to make that happen. Maybe that’s why they decided to play a spring schedule without their starting quarterback. Eight games were scheduled, and six were played. One would figure that would give you an advantage, playing a spring schedule, but those affects on players and coaches at this point is relatively unknown. Elon’s inability to run the ball should be a major concern, especially this week. The Mountaineers have allowed 3.9 yards per game to FBS opponents, while Elon has gained 3.4 yards in the fall compared to just 3.0 yards per carry in the spring. Expect to see the Phoenix in a lot of 3rd down and long situations. Those will play into Cheek being harassed in the pocket. The App State defense already has six sacks in two games against above average mobility quarterbacks. Elon has only defended 41 pass attempts as a defense in two games. Part of that is playing Wofford, but even the Terriers and Peyton Derrick threw the ball around a little more than most of us remember seeing. That could be a real issue going from SoCon/Big South wide receivers to App State’s super senior quartet. Not sure how quickly this one gets decided, but the margin should be considerable by halftime.

The First Pick

Resurrectionists 14

Mountaineers 56

App State Football @ #22 Miami

Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Miami (0-1, 0-0 ACC)

Saturday, September 11th, 2021 7:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL

Capacity: 64,767

Surface: Bermuda Grass

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.58

Miami: 75.80

Home: 2.37

Miami is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.59 points

Line: Miami -9.0

Series: Miami leads 1-0

Last Meeting: Miami 45, App State 10, September 17, 2016, Boone, NC

If you were lucky enough to be in attendance at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday or Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday evening, you were treated to some pretty fantastic performances. Attend both? Bucket list weekend. Obviously the win on Thursday is what we are here to talk about. Hey look, we beat East Carolina for the first time in 46 years. We all knew we were a better program, but you need that scoreboard to back it up. The score is what gets etched into the history books forever. Another opportunity exists this weekend. Miami is reeling a little bit. Fans are super disappointed about not being able to compete with one of the best dynasties in all the sport. It almost feels like the shoe is on the other foot circa 2016. App State wanted to beat Miami five years ago. There was hope, and Miami was down, but they were still Miami with little ol’ App State on the schedule, in just their third full year of FBS football. Now, App State can beat Miami? Are we trying to convince ourselves of that again, or does there exist optimism with facts to support it? Miami is not going to hand it to App State — they’ll have to have to earn it. Just the way we like it.

We venture back to the time machine in Week 2 to complete a two games series that came together out of nowhere nearly 6 years ago. It was a first of its kind scheduling event for App State, to host their initial Power 5 opponent in Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Apps are returning the favor almost five years later. That series potentially opened the door for the Mountaineers to schedule the likes of other directional “Carolina” schools to eventually, maybe not, come to Boone. Looking at you, Gamecocks. Regardless, this return trip to Miami was scheduled before App State played in its first Camellia Bowl, which tells you exactly how quickly things can change in college athletics. In 2015, Miami was not performing, but they were still the Hurricanes, Despite that, they were able to roll the Mountaineers pretty easily in 2016, who were still working with FCS-type talent at many positions.

If you thought comparing the one opponent that App and ECU had in common last week was wild, just hang tight. Based on the ACC’s decision to play one nonconference game in 2020, the opportunity for common opponents was minimal. Miami chose to play UAB in its opening game last year, and won 31-14 over the Blazers. The week before, UAB beat Central Arkansas 45-35, but the last game UAB played prior to that was their 31-17 loss in the 2019 New Orleans Bowl to App State. Now those games were a long time ago, and likely do not mean much, but they remain interesting. Last year Miami was 8-3, and played six games against teams sporting a record over .500, and went 3-3 in those games. All of their 2020 losses were to bowl eligible teams in Clemson, North Carolina and Oklahoma State. Coupled with the opening week loss to Alabama, the Hurricanes have lost three straight football since last season. Enjoy the irony here, in that Miami’s last win in football was over Duke. Certainly those dots have been connected by now.

The Miami offense goes through their Heisman candidate D’Eriq King, who is in his second season with the school since transferring from Houston. A major offseason story for King and the ‘Canes was his recovery from an ACL injury he suffered in the bowl game against Oklahoma State. King had no issues moving around in the pocket, and using his legs to escape the pass rush when pressured against Alabama. Still, King was sacked four times, lost a fumble on one sack, and had two interceptions. One of the interceptions was a tipped pass, and the other, King just threw into too much traffic. Only twice did King throw passes over twenty yards against Alabama. King netted ten yards on his nine carries against Alabama, and rushed more times than any other Hurricane in 2020. His receivers are really good, top to bottom, but none are head and shoulders above the rest. That’s not intended as bulletin board material, but more as a compliment. Several of them can hurt you. More importantly, Miami is really good at tight end with Will Mallory who was fifth on the team in receptions in 2020, while backing up Brevin Jordan who was a fifth-round selection of the Houston Texans. In all, Mallory and Jordan accounted for 60 receptions for 905 yards and eleven touchdowns for offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee last season.

For an opening weekend of college football, App State could not have asked for much better. Defeating an in-state rival on a neutral field in front of a national audience is the kind of stuff memories are made of. Old friends made new friends in downtown Charlotte on a perfect day and night for football. The new guy, Chase Brice, probably thinks he could have played better, but you will not find any complaints here. Forget the pedigree, expectations or uncertainty, Brice helped choreograph an App State win. The newspaper article might not land on the refrigerator door, but it was the first step in the right direction for the entire offense. A very balanced attack looked nearly unstoppable in the second quarter when the Mountaineers rallied from a 6-0 deficit to lead by two touchdowns at halftime. Ten players caught passes with Thomas Hennigan and Corey Sutton leading with four receptions and one touchdown each. The Mountaineers run defense allowed just 86 yards on the ground and Pirates committed one, two, or too many penalties to hang with App State.

This could be one of the tougher matchups to predict. Miami played the defending national champion last week, and one the best programs in college football history that remains in the middle of a historic run. Alabama has been making a lot of programs look bad on any given day. Can we actually read anything into that game? Does it tell you anything about Miami? Just because Miami could not keep up with Alabama last week does not mean that they cannot have a successful season, and make a lot of teams look bad. It’s almost like it is Week 1 all over again for Miami. The Hurricanes response this week will be critical. Manny Diaz and staff really need a win. We know how this works for App State. Not a must win, but in order to take the next step as a program, beating Miami will go a long way. It’s not often that the Mountaineers get their opportunities to play a game like this after having one under its belt. Prior to 2019, games against Georgia, Tennessee and Penn State were on opening weekend. In 2019, App State took advantage of having worked out some kinks to knock off North and South Carolina. Is that the recipe for P5 success? We’ll see. But we do know, that in 2020, Miami secured double digit margins of victory over five opponents. Those opponents were UAB, Louisville, Florida State, Pitt and Duke. Those teams were a combined 21-30 last season. There might not be much to this, but it does seem to be worth noting. Manny Diaz has long been known as a good defensive coordinator, but the Canes surrendered 27ppg last year and 408 yards per game in total offense. The Hurricanes scheme tends to use their overall speed to create havoc for opposing offenses. They tout their tackles for loss and turnovers in the media guide. That could be a major key for App State on Saturday. Limit negative plays, such as penalties, and take care of the ball. But is the havoc defense enough? If those negative plays are limited, and the turnover jewelry stays in its trunk, does a good defense exist? One last thing on D’Eriq King. He is 24 years old, and six projected starting NFL quarterbacks are younger than he. At Houston he played wide receiver in his first two seasons before moving to quarterback on a more full time basis in his later years, while still running the football quite a bit. He’s played a lot of football, yet has appeared in just sixteen games in his last three years of football, while also rehabbing an injury.

The First Pick

Depressions 30

Mountaineers 21

App State Football vs East Carolina (Duke’s Mayo Classic)

Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs East Carolina (0-0, 0-0 AAC)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, NC

Capacity: 75,412

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.55

East Carolina: 62.31

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11.24 points

Line: App State -10.5

Series: App State leads 19-12

Last Meeting: ECU 35, App State 13, September 1, 2012, Greenville, NC

And we are back. As in college football is back, but most importantly, fans in the stands are back. Hopefully we are past limited attendance and other measures that kept that lifeblood out of college athletics last season. Also back, is a matchup between App State and East Carolina for the first time in nine seasons. For the first ever, these two schools on the opposite ends of the state, will face off on the gridiron as FBS institutions. This will be the first game of a scheduled four game series, with App State hosting the first game in Bank of America Stadium this year and concluding with alternating games on campus sites from 2024-2026. As is normal practice in scheduling college football games way in the the future, this series was announced in early 2017. Since then, East Carolina has fired and hired another coach, while App State has just hired two coaches. The two programs have somewhat gone in opposite directions since the agreement was made, which surprises nobody considering their fans barbecue preferences.

East Carolina and App State were in different places nine years ago. That was the last time these two in-state rivals met. In 2012, East Carolina went 8-5 and lost the New Orleans Bowl to Louisiana. Their regular season schedule included games against North & South Carolina, Southern Miss, UAB and Marshall. Those were the schools App State wanted to play, and at that time, moving to FBS was in the works. In nine short years, App has now played those schools, and beaten most of them. East Carolina was in Conference USA, and App State wanted to be in a conference with the Pirates. But as the college football world turns, now both schools are in difference conferences and their trajectories have changed immensely. The Pirates have played in just two bowls since the 2012 season, defeating Ohio in 2013, and losing to Florida on January 3rd, 2015, after the culmination of the 2014 season. Since App has been bowl eligible in FBS, East Carolina has not appeared in a bowl game.

East Carolina and App State have not shared many common opponents in the last two seasons, and using data from 2020 games for comparisons sake might not make the most sense. Nonetheless, we do have one opponent from last year that was certainly eyebrow raising for both schools. It’s not often you can glean much from many Georgia State games, but its what we have. East Carolina got slapped around by the Panthers last year in Atlanta, to the tune of a 49-29 final score. The Pirates scored first to lead 7-0, but Georgia State answered with four unanswered touchdowns and won going away. The biggest takeaway from this game is how easily Georgia State moved the ball compared to how difficult it was for East Carolina’s offense to get going. The Panthers averaged 3 more yards a play on offense. But this game had a little bit of everything, with six combined turnovers, a punt return touchdown, two interception return touchdowns, and twenty accepted penalties between the two teams.

The Pirates return of a slew of offensive skill talent for the 2021 season. Holton Ahlers returns at quarterback and will be in his fourth year at ECU. Ahlers has 25 career starts under his belt. He started every game in 2019, and all but one game in 2020 due to pandemic protocols. Ahlers is a dual-threat left-handed passer that saw some of his numbers dip in 2020 after a stupendous year in 2019, where he passed for 3,387 yards and ran for another 359 yards. Ahlers has run for over 1,000 yards in his career, but the majority of that was accumulated during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In 2020, Ahlers ran for just 109 yards. Wide receivers CJ Johnson and Tyler Snead are the top returners at the position. Johnson caught 54 passes for 908 yards during his freshman campaign in 2019, but was limited somewhat in 2020 to nineteen receptions. However, Johnson did average 21.3 yards per receptions last year and remains a serious weapon for Ahlers. In the slot, Tyler Snead is a workhorse, logging 134 career receptions in twenty-five games. Snead isn’t much to look at, standing all of 5’7″ and weighing in at 174 pounds, but he is reliable and gets the job done. Snead also serves as the Pirates punt returner and kick returner.

It has been a long offseason, but not a lot has changed, thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted to collegiate athletes. That led to a flurry of graduating seniors deciding to come back and play another year for the Mountaineers, mainly because, last year did not turn out how they wanted, and they did not want to be remembered that way. So when the depth chart was officially released on Monday, you saw a lot of the same faces. Seemingly, four positions groups had little to no change at the top. But new faces have emerged in key spots, and fans and media have talked about them for months. Quarterback Chase Brice and the “new” guys on the offensive line have dominated those conversations. Sure, Brice is new, but he has been here since the spring with “new” offensive coordinator Frank Ponce. The left side of the offensive line is not new to App State, just to the starting roles, with true freshman behind them. Does live game chemistry need to be developed for some of these players? Sure, but we have to stop acting like all of these faces are, well, new.

Under Mike Houston, the Pirates have typically had enough offense to win football games. East Carolina averaged 26.8 points per game in 2019, and 30.2 points per game a season ago. The real issue comes down to defense. In 2019, the Pirates allowed 33.7 points a game and 35.4 last year. The point differential shrunk, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. East Carolina has the same defensive coordinator from a season ago, and they have stressed forcing turnovers. There is trendy train of thought in some football circles that turnovers, and not yards allowed or other metrics, are the key to a successful defense. Obviously turnovers are big, and East Carolina forced 18 turnovers in nine games a season ago. That was good enough for 25th in the country in total turnovers gained. Yet, gaining turnovers only goes so far, when a team also turns it over themselves. The Pirates gave away 21 turnovers, which was 122nd in the country, which is not good. Eventually, you have to stop the opposing offense. The Pirates were not good at that in 2020 either. East Carolina allowed 6.2 yards per play, and 447 yards per game. When you think about all these big numbers allowed on defense, forcing turnovers is just about the only option to give your team a chance to win. Not to mention, that of that 447 yards allowed per game, over 200 yards were given up on the ground. App State eclipsed that mark in eight games last season. With the Mountaineers breaking in a new quarterback, what better way to make him feel comfortable than to hand it off forty times. That’s not my suggestion, and honestly feel that is semi-lazy. It’s the first game, but that does not mean we have time to keep things simple. I’m expecting a balanced attack from the Mountaineers, with a lot of intermediate passing with well-timed deep shots down the field. If East Carolina wants to contend, they are going to have to be better on both sides of the ball after halftime. The Pirates were outscored in the third quarter 79-27 last season.

The First Pick

Scallywags 20

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs North Texas (Myrtle Beach Bowl)

Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs North Texas (4-5, 3-4 CUSA)

Monday, December 21st, 2020 2:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.19

North Texas: 54.14

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.05 points

Line: App State -19.0

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

It has taken a little longer than usual, but we have made it to the end of another college football season. This season was long haul for a lot of people involved. Many were responsible for making sure we could be entertained with this game in the safest way possible. In as much as we all want a break from all the stress, there are others who do not want it to end for plenty of reasons. We get to this point of the season annually. The mixed of emotions of the season being over for fans, but careers over for good, for a lot of great players. We are all fortunate that Zac Thomas, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams’ last game was in 2020, and not last year. It’s likely, for one last time we get to cheer for some players who first made memories in Happy Valley, and then New Orleans twice with a stop in Chapel Hill in between. Its surreal that this journey ends just miles from the Grand Strand, where many were heartbroken just weeks ago. For one last time, give your all in 2020, and hope we do not have to do it like this, ever again.

For the third straight season, the Mountaineers are matched up against an opponent from Conference USA in their bowl game. Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham were dismissed in New Orleans and now comes North Texas. This will be App State’s third Conference USA opponent in 2020, all with green as their primary color. North Texas lost to UNC-Charlotte by a score of 49-21, and did not play Marshall. Now, App played Charlotte a long time ago. Comparing those games are impossible. Some players that played in those games in September, are not playing now. But that game, in a nutshell can be one that describes the North Texas season. They lost by four scores. In their other four losses, the Mean Green lost by ten points or more in each game. Twice they lost by thirty points. The losses gut ugly fast. The wins, became less impressive as the season wore on. Four wins total, with one over relative FCS newcomer Houston Baptist. The remaining three wins were over Middle Tennessee, Rice and UTEP, who combined for an 8-14 record.

Although quality wins are lacking for the Mean Green, their offense does not lack for firepower. A lot of that offense was due to Jaelon Darden, who decided to not play in the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Darden was impressive in nine games, catching 74 passes for 1,190 yard and 19 touchdowns. He will be missed by North Texas. The next best receiver had 25 catches for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s a major drop off. Still, this offense averaged 515 yards per game, which was seventh nationally. The Mean Green passed for 284 yards per game, which was 22nd in the country, and 230 yards a game on the ground, which is 13th across the land. Darden may have been a large piece of that, but he was not everything. But the problem for North Texas is a very bad defense. How bad? How about 126th out of 127 teams bad. UL-Monroe went 0-10 this year, and still have gave up 45 fewer yards per game than did North Texas.

For most of the season, North Texas used has used two quarterbacks and they could not be more different. Austin Aune has played in eight games and started three. Aune is a redshirt sophomore, but was born in 1993. He was a second round draft pick by the New York Yankees out of high school. He enrolled at North Texas in 2018 and sat out after transferring from Arkansas. Aune had a career high five touchdown passes in the most recent win over UTEP. Jason Bean has played in seven games, starting in six of them. He’s also a redshirt sophomore, but can not rent a car like his teammate. The simple comparison is that Aune is the passing quarterback and Bean is the runner. However, both share similar statistics as far as touchdown-interception ratio and completion percentage. The ball comes off of Aune’s arm effortlessly, as one would expect from a former minor league outfielder. Bean is a former high school track star and has piled up 336 yards rushing and 7.8 yards per carry on the season.

For much of last week, it looked like App State might fall again to their bitter hated rival, but the Mountaineer defense stood tall late and gave Nate Noel and Jalen Virgil the opportunity to make plays. It was a satisfying, chippy win, regardless of how it unfolded. Zac Thomas bounced back from a pick-six to throw touchdown passes to Virgil and Thomas Hennigan. App State scored twenty-seven second half points and rallied from 14-0 deficit. Winning is hard enough, and its more difficult to win in Statesboro. It may have acted as a springboard into the bowl game, where the Mountaineers landed a geographically friendly bowl location, even if the start time is undesirable. Still, the Mountaineers might have one of the better crowds it will have all season rooting them on. Some streaks have been broken this season, but one that remains is an unblemished mark in bowl games. Finishing the season with a win, and more hardware, is the goal this week.

Just like how last weekend was odd in that App State and Georgia Southern were playing on a Saturday, this will be the first time in six appearances that App State will play its bowl game on a non-Saturday. Not just any day either, a Monday afternoon. Luckily, the date only has an effect on the fans, and typically not the players and coaches. However this is an inaugural bowl game, in a year unlike any other, so why not Monday afternoon football? Unfortunately, the last time the Mountaineers played in this stadium, they lost the chance to achieve one of their goals. Yet, an opportunity to continue an unprecedented streak still exists. North Texas will be playing in their eleventh NCAA-sanctioned bowl game in program history. They have just managed two wins. This will be the fourth time that Seth Littrell is taking the Mean Green to a bowl game and they have yet to win one yet. Their last two losses were exceptionally lopsided, losing to Troy 50-30, and by thirty-nine points to Utah State last year. A trend has seemed to develop. North Texas can score some points sometimes, and occasionally, when they do not score, they get beat pretty bad. Seems simple enough. App State is by far the best defense that North Texas will have played this season. Rice played the Mean Green close, but eventually fell 27-17 after blowing a 10-0 lead on the road. Rice might be the next best defense that North Texas played, and that is asking a lot. Never thought 2020 would bring Rice football to this corner of the internet. North Texas is going to have to do better than their season average of allowing 4.5 touchdowns per game in order to give themselves a chance to win. App State has scored 31 points or more in every bowl game in their history, while allowing just 11.33 points per game in their last three bowls. It’s a mismatch on paper, and that should carry over to the scoreboard on Monday afternoon.

The First Pick

Green with Envy 20

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (7-4, 4-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 23th, 2020 6:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Paulson Stadium

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.53

Georgia Southern: 65.35

Home: 0.84

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.34 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 18-15-1

Last Meeting: Georgia Southern 24, App State 21, Boone, NC October 31, 2019

Another week has passed and this football season, now nearly halfway through December is still in its regular season. Two rivals will tee it up in a game that is for nothing but bragging rights and pride. Maybe that is a good way to end the oddest college football season of our time. Nothing else to think about besides beating the other guys. The same guys who have stolen the last two games due to unforeseen circumstances. The guys who have who ripped the national ranking right out from under us for consecutive seasons. Both teams are limping to the finish for several reasons but it’s going to take more than a couple bumps and bruises to keep any athlete off the field for an App-Southern game. Players have been chirping off to the media all week leading up to this installment, and certainly that will carry over between the lines. A classic game could be in the making. Tune in either way because what is supposed to happen in this series, rarely does.

Way back before we had any inclination how wild this college football season was going to be, Georgia Southern and App State had both scheduled Campbell as one of their opening games after a series of cancellations. For the Eagles, it was their opener, played on September 12th. App State played the Camels two weeks later. Campbell gave the Eagles a lot of problems, but it was a game that Southern won 27-26 after being down thirty-three players for “various reasons”. Southern led that game for six minutes and forty-two seconds. Close games eventually became the prevailing theme for the Eagles’ season. Eight games have been decided by one score or less. The games that were more lopsided included a two touchdown loss to Coastal Carolina, and more one-sided wins over UMass (41-0) and Florida Atlantic, (20-3) which was played last week. That broke a two game losing streak that included losses to Army by one and Georgia State by six. It’s been an up and down season for Southern, and with each passing game, most became more confused as to what this Eagle team was made of.

For a good majority of the season, Georgia Southern’s offense went through Shai Werts, JD King, and Wesley Kennedy III. Werts is the fourth-year starting quarterback that is the heart and soul of the Eagle squad. In the game against Army, a one point loss, Werts injured his right throwing shoulder and did not finish the game. Werts went on to play against Georgia State, but split time with redshirt sophomore Justin Tomlin. Werts ran the ball eleven times in that game and completed four of his seven passes. However, it was Tomlin who took all the snaps last week against Florida Atlantic while Werts rested. Coach Chad Lunsford has been careful with his comments about Werts’ health, first saying he maybe should have not played Werts against Georgia State, and early this week saying Werts may not play on Saturday. Read into that what you will, but expect to see him suited up. JD King played only seven games before he was lost for the season due to an injury, yet he still remains second on the team in rushing this season. Wesley Kennedy III played in eight games and ran for 447 yards and six touchdowns before he was pinched by local law enforcement for various drug and weapons charges.

The names change, and sometimes they do not, but Georgia Southern remains the same. They continue to rely on a ground attack that they hope leads to copious amounts of possession that leads to a fresh defense that can take advantage of teams that have to get out of their typical comfort zone on offense. That recipe has has worked well for a really long time and despite being without a super explosive offense, the Eagles are possessing the ball for nearly 34 minutes a game this season. However, Southern is only scoring 26.36 points a game this year, which is down from 2019 when they scored 28.15 a contest. In 2018, the Eagles averaged just over 30 points per game. Goes to show, you can be a team with a bunch of returners, but be caught by a pandemic and injury issues and everything kind of slides downhill. Sounds a little bit like a team we know. But, what has kept Southern’s head above the ditch water is a defense that is more than holding its own. Given the offensive struggles, the Eagle defense is allowing just 21.2 points per game, the fewest rushing yards and yards per carry in the conference and are second in the conference with 13 interceptions.

The Mountaineers did just about everything they were supposed to do last weekend. They had better offense, better defense, time of possession and so on. The problem is that they gave Louisiana too many short fields. After everything that happened, both coaches made critical mistakes at important times of the game. And even as poorly as the Mountaineers played at those important moments, they were still in the game in the fourth quarter. The theme in the three losses have been turnovers, and lack of second half scoring. Usually that goes hand in hand. This weekend, App State is going to have to figure out how to come out of the locker room and execute like they typically do in the first half. The third quarter is the one where App State has scored the fewest all season long, and allowed the most, yet still holding an eleven point advantage over the course of the season. The Mountaineers have been strong out of the gates this season, and that will be the key to beating Georgia Southern. Starting fast and keeping the Eagles out of their comfort zone on offense.

The matchup this weekend will be the first of its kind for App State and Georgia Southern in Sun Belt and FBS play. We are playing on a Saturday. It’s the day these games are supposed to be played. The hard part will be keeping it that way going forward. The Sun Belt has not experienced its best rivalry on the weekend, and its long overdue. The last time App and Southern played on a Saturday was in 2013, when App State dismantled Southern by a score of 38-14. That was one of the few bright spots for the Mountaineers that season. Without question, a win by either side will provide a bright spot for both programs in 2020, a year that many want to put behind them. A Southern win would make it the third time in this rivalry’s history that the Eagles have won three games in a row. The last time it occurred was when App State lost four games consecutively across the 2000-2002 seasons. App and Southern met in the playoffs in 2001. One part of this game that will be similar, is that it will be played in the evening, with a sunset kickoff that will resemble the primetime kickoff that was scheduled before the game was postponed back in October. On to the game. It was surprising to see Southern let go of their offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse of two plus years, but the lack of points that was referenced above is probably the reason. If anything, DeBesse was in a no-win spot in Statesboro as the natives get restless really quickly. DeBesse was relieved after not being able to hold onto an eleven point fourth quarter lead in their loss to Georgia State. Notice how the offensive coordinator got fired, and not a defensive coach. Regardless, Southern got a 20-3 win last week, but only one offensive touchdown was scored in that win. Seems the struggles will continue for Southern as they enter their last game of the regular season. For App State, they have what it takes to win this game, the question is just which App State team shows up. The Mountaineers offense has struggled against above average defenses all season, and that is exactly how one should categorize Southern. They are good enough to win too, but not good enough to maintain separation from App State without some help. Both defenses are good enough to keep this game in the twenties, and the team with the fewest turnovers will win.

The First Pick

The Stink 20

Mountaineers 24

Appalachian Football vs #21 Louisiana

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt)

Friday, December 4th, 2020 8:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.30

Louisiana: 76.59

Home: 1.03

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.74 points

Line: App State -2.5

Series: App State leads 8-0

Last Meeting: App State 45, Louisiana 38, Boone, NC December 7, 2019

It’s finally Louisiana week…. again. We had all hoped to do this for the third straight season, but this year is not the same as any other. So we settle to makeup a postponed game that was scheduled to have occurred two months ago. Although a trophy is not on the line in this edition, bragging rights remain like they always do. Louisiana is tired of it. They are tired of looking at 0-8, tired of hearing about it, and they want to do something about it. On the other sideline, a team wants to continue that streak and send out a fantastic group of seniors, if its their last game, out on the right note. Louisiana certainly does not want to think about a loss for two weeks before having to travel back to the east coast to play another conference championship game on the road. And the Mountaineers want to strive for another ten win season before playing their most hated rivals in the regular season finale. Both teams have reasons to look ahead, but don’t expect this game to lose one bit of luster because a trophy is nowhere to be seen.

The Ragin Cajuns win over then-ranked #23, now-ranked #12 Iowa State has been viewed positively, then negatively, and now again in a more beneficial light. Fact is, when that game was played in mid-September, it was the opening game for both teams, and it’s much easier to sneak up on a Power Five opponent fresh out of the gates. There is no doubt that Iowa State is a good team, probably a better team than they were nearly three months ago, but it’s hard to put much stock into a team you beat three months ago during a pandemic. Nonetheless, Louisiana beat Iowa State, and then proceeded to play four games that were decided by one possession, three in conference, and one out of conference. The Cajuns needed overtime to beat Georgia State, a 53-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Georgia Southern at home, lost to Coastal on a late field goal at home, and then edged UAB with a fourth quarter touchdown to win. The Cajuns trailed UAB after every quarter of that game, except the one that mattered, the fourth. Its arguable that every single one of those games could have had a different result. In the last month, the Cajuns have defeated Texas State, Arkansas State, South Alabama and UL-Monroe. Neither of those teams are exactly lighting the world on fire, as South Alabama has the best record at 4-6 overall. That’s the Sun Belt West for you.

Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis will be playing his sixth game in his career against App State on Friday night. It might not be his last one, as the senior announced his intentions to return to school in 2021, taking advantage of an NCAA rule. Lewis saw mop up time in the 2017 game in which App blistered that Cajuns for a 63-14 win. Like every other Cajun footballer, Lewis has never defeated App State. What has been asked of him in 2020, is slightly different than years past. The Cajuns have typically relied on a dominant running game, which has only helped Lewis throughout most of his career, but that ground attack has not been as fruitful. Lewis is throwing for about seven more yards per game in 2020 than 2019, and that’s really not a big deal one way or the other. However, his wide receivers have tailed off as well. Lewis had only thrown seven interceptions in his career in thirty-two games coming into 2020, but has thrown seven picks in just nine games this season. His accuracy has dropped a couple percentage points and so has his touchdown passes per game. In addition, Lewis is running the ball more than he has in the previous two seasons. which includes five rushing touchdowns.

These names are all so familiar. Elijah Mitchell is coming off back to back seasons with 1,100+ rushing yards and double digit touchdowns. Mitchell had four 100+ yard rushing games in 2018, five such games in 2019, but has only run for 100+ yards once in 2020. For his career, Mitchell has averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the ground, but that number is reduced to 4.7 yards per carry when you single out his performances against App State. He has never hit 100 yards in a game against the Mountaineers, but has come close. App State has contained him before and must do so again on Saturday. Trey Ragas and Mitchell look like nearly the same guy on the stat sheet, but they are different backs. Ragas is listed an inch shorter and about twelve pounds heavier than Mitchell. Ragas scored three of his seven touchdowns against Texas State, which also featured his only 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Ragas started the season slow, but has produced lines of 131-75-78-95 in the last four games. That is good for right at 95 yards average per game as the season closes.

If kickoff times are any indication of how well App plays, the night time has been the right time. Earlier this season, the Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State on a weeknight with 45 offensive points. Last week, App State added 47 more points in another game that was played mostly under the lights. And then comes the 8:30pm start, that will only bring more of a Boone chill to the night. It’s not the story, but it is a variable the Cajuns have to account for. Another would be a resurgent offense that put on a decent display last week. The first three offensive scores of the game were made by App State playmakers in Camerun Peoples, Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan. Peoples finished with 95 yards rushing after a 63-yard touchdown run. Williams caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score, and Hennigan had one of his more active games in a quite a while since nursing a leg injury, with six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Zac Thomas threw four touchdown passes on a pretty flawless night to four different receivers.

Besides the obvious lopsided nature to this series, it has always been intriguing how it has unfolded. The first four installments were surprising, yet validating wins by App State that proved to themselves and others they could compete in FBS football. The first game was the closest, a dominating 19 point win in Lafayette. Then App won by 21 points, 24 points and then 49 points. When Billy Napier was hired, things quickly changed. Since 2018, all four games have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Last year’s Sun Belt Championship game was a cakewalk of sorts for App State, but Napier kept them fighting until the bitter end. This year, a Sun Belt title will not be on the line, but you would expect a similar game to unfold as we have seen in three of the last four games. Both teams have taken a small step back on offense in 2020, but that is mainly because both teams were exceptionally good last season. The Cajuns averaged 257 yards a game last year on the ground while also scoring close to 38 points per game. Those numbers have decreased to 217 yards rushing a game and 35 points per game. The rushing drop off is most significant while the 2020 points average is buoyed by a 70-point outburst last week. Remove that game, and the Cajuns have scored just under 31 points per contest. That’s nearly a whole touchdown less from one year to the next. The reason is the Cajuns do not have a game changing wide receiver. They have spread the ball around a lot this season, as three pass catchers have eclipsed just 300 yards receiving on the season. It’s been more of a plodding offense compared to 2019. More plays run, but less points scored. The 2019 Cajuns possessed the ball for 30:24 a game and converted close to 48% of their third downs. In 2020, the Cajuns have lost nearly two minutes a game of possession, down to 28:28 on average, and converted just over 42% of their third downs. Likewise, App State has not been as dominant, but the falloff has not been as severe as it has for Louisiana. This one comes down to quarterbacks. We have veteran players who have played in a lot of big games, but one has been more accomplished, and that’s the difference. Zac Thomas has not had big passing yard games against Louisiana in the past, but he hasn’t needed it. In 2018, Thomas ran 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns in two games, and last season, backed it up with 28 carries for 88 yards and two more scores in two games. Levi Lewis can run too, but he won’t be asked to carry it like Thomas will.

The First Pick

LaLa 24

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football vs Troy

Appalachian State (6-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) vs Troy (4-4, 2-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 28th, 2020 8pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.66

Troy: 61.60

Home: 0.77

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10.83 points

Line: App State -14.5

Series: App State leads 5-2

Last Meeting: App State 48, Troy 13, Troy, AL November 29, 2019

Last week has been beat to death. Coaches move on to greener pastures, players get injured, and eventually the shoe doesn’t fit like it used to. That’s the price of success, and App State might be paying their dues a little. The offense looked great in the first half. They brought tempo, and took the fight right to Coastal. But one team adjusted better than the other, and by the time the fourth quarter came around, one was hanging on, and the other, knocking on the door. It was a fun college football game to watch. Sometimes our team is going to end up on the wrong end of that score. It has not happened a lot, and that is why it can be frustrating and disappointing. The good thing, is that App State gets another chance to show everyone that the best is yet to come. This year’s version is not the 2019 team, or the 2018 team, or the 2005 team. They are their own version of themselves, and that story will get written one day once its all over in this crazy season of college athletics. Eventually, a lot of these upperclassmen will stop playing football, and what they will remember the most will not always come down to rings and trophies, but to how they responded to adversity, and showed the next team how to compete the right way. That lesson will last longer than any play they may have not made.

Troy has played seven opponents in eight games this season. Yes, you read that right. The Trojans opened the season with a 47-14 throttling of Middle Tennessee. Last week, Troy fell to the Blue Raiders by three points at home by a score of 20-17. This was after Troy and Coastal’s game was postponed the week before. So what happened between September 19th and November 21st that changed for Troy? First of all, starting quarterback Gunnar Watson was sidelined after being injured in the Georgia State game on October 24th. Secondly, Troy began to struggle running the ball, having not eclipsed 100 yards rushing as a team in the last four games. Third, Troy’s defense started to crack, allowing big rushing yard totals to opponents such as Georgia State (210), Georgia Southern (326), and Middle Tennesee (186). Even Arkansas State ran for 108 yards against Troy, which is pretty out of character for the Red Wolves.

When Gunnar Watson went out with injury, Junior Jacob Free was more than capable of filling in. Despite not playing the entire game against Georgia State, Free stepped in and threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns, but also added a couple interceptions. Free added 419 passing yards against Arkansas State, but was limited by Georgia Southern to just 201 yards and two interceptions. While starting for Watson, Free and the Trojans were 1-2, but Free succumbed to eight sacks in 2+ games. Watson did not fare much better. A true pocket passer, Watson has been sacked twelve times in his six games, with half of those coming at the hands of Middle Tennessee. Watson has three games with over 300 yards passing, and did all of that against FCS Eastern Kentucky, three-win Middle Tennessee and now two-win Texas State. Watson leads Troy in a high-volume, high-percentage passing attack that values getting the ball out quickly to its receivers. Watson leads in the conference in passing yards per game and completion percentage,

Four different Troy pass catchers are in the top twenty in conference in yards per game and the same four are in the top seventeen in receptions a game. Kaylon Geiger is the leader of the group with 45 catches for 577 yards and one score. Geiger feasted on the lesser teams on the Troy schedule, posting 100 yards and at least seven interceptions against EKU, Texas State and Arkansas State. Geiger’s pace has slowed in the last two games despite catching ten passes against Middle and Georgia Southern, but has only covered eighty-three yards, for just an 8.3 yard per catch average. Geiger was up over fourteen yards per catch in the previous four games. Reggie Todd and Khalil McClain are the touchdown scorers for Troy at receiver. Their statistics are virtually identical, with having caught five scores on the season. Todd is 6’5, 205 pound senior and his five scores all came against the weaker, middle four teams of the Troy schedule (EKU, Tex State, Ga State, Ark State). Todd has just five catches for thirty-eight yards the last two weeks. McClain scored three of his five touchdowns against Middle Tennessee. Another tall receiver, McClain had a season high ninety-two yards last week.

Let’s focus on what App State did well last week. Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel look like they could be a formidable one-two punch out of the backfield, with their completely different styles, but similar results. App State just needs to find the right time to mix in Noel early, while also not overexerting Peoples. App must also figure out a way to continue pushing the ball down the field. Malik Williams has been fortunate to haul in long completions in each of the last two games, but the intermediate throws could increase. The defense did all they could last weekend until the dam finally broke. Outside of two big plays, the defense played extremely well. Troy will no doubt look to strike early on their opening drive just how Arkansas State and Coastal did.

For the first time in a very long time, App State will host a Saturday night game at Kidd Brewer Stadium. In the past, these games were reserved for earlier in the season, when teams were looking for relief from heat. But this Saturday, not only is it a late kickoff, it is coming with winter knocking on the door. Troy is lucky enough to get a game in back to back trips to Boone that will feature some cooler weather than what south-central Alabama usually deals with. That sounds like a game that is made for defense. Both Troy and App State feature some of the best linebackers in the conference. Carlton Martial has 66 tackles, and 7.5 for loss as one of the premier downhill linebackers in the league. Trey Cobb And D’Marco Jackson seem to be trading the App State tackle lead from one week to the next. Both lead the team with 56 tackles on the season. With Troy only allowing 24.3 points per game, and App State being even stingier at 19 points allowed, we all could be in for another close Troy-App State classic. Outside a couple App State blowouts, the games between these two have been close battles throughout the years. Troy presents as a team very similar to Arkansas State, but with much better defense, and an offense that might not be as good as the Red Wolves. However, their lack of a running game is concerning. The Trojans are averaging just 2.54 yards per carry on the ground in the last four games and have converted just seven red zone touchdowns in their last seventeen red zone drives. App State has had their own struggles scoring points, but Troy has allowed opposing quarterback to complete two-thirds of their passes all season long. The Mountaineers will bounce back on Saturday with a two score win.

The First Pick

T-roy 20

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football @ #15 Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (6-1, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (7-0, 5-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 21st, 2020 Noon EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.85

Coastal Carolina: 71.50

Home: 1.73

Coastal Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.38 points

Line: Coastal Carolina -5.5

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, Coastal Carolina 37, Boone, NC September 28, 2019

In the past, a trip to the beach was a reason to celebrate. Whether it be a family vacation, a senior week or a church youth group trip. You went to celebrate something as a reward for working hard on a project, a semester of school or to just get away from the weekly grind and recharge your batteries for a couple days. That was what some App State fans got to enjoy on their “beach trip” in 2018. Fast forward two years and the vacation has quickly turned into a business trip. Not many saw this coming. Coastal has become the darling of America in an otherwise gloomy time of our nation’s history. Quickly their antics and celebrations became something to help people forget what ails them. But, eventually the fun ends. The ferris wheel stops turning, the buffet runs out of popcorn shrimp, and the 18th hole looms large in the distance. The credit card bill comes at the end of the month and its time to pay for all the fun you have had for the last few weeks. Hopefully, you didn’t exceed your limit.

The upstart Chanticleers have taken advantage of a schedule that has really worked out for them. Now look, winning your first seven games is not easy task, and it’s not all luck. They edged Kansas for the second straight year, and abused Campbell early on. Then came four Sun Belt games against teams that Coastal had lost to the previous year. In three of the four losses in 2019, the Chanticleers were competitive, losing to Georgia State by ten points, three points to Georgia Southern in overtime, and by one point to Arkansas State. They turned those three close losses into dominating, multiple score wins over those three schools. The fourth was Louisiana. After the Cajuns throttled Coastal 48-7 in 2019, revenge was served with Coastal winning by a field goal in the closing seconds. Oddly enough, the Chants are 2-1 all time against Louisiana, with both wins coming in Lafayette. As you can see, this has been a slow and steady climb for Coastal, not just an overnight Cinderalla story.

As the Chanticleers were growing last year as a team, their results were misleading. It was pretty evident at that time that Coastal was still missing a piece here and there. While App State fans chalked up a 56-37 shootout last season to a semi-new coaching staff that was feeling out their players, and an odd weather delay in Boone, Coastal’s quarterback of the future was watching from the sidelines and waiting his turn. That has become the big difference in the 5-7 season in 2019 and a 7-0 record this year. Grayson McCall has played more like a veteran quarterback than a redshirt freshman. McCall has 16 touchdown passes to his name while just throwing one interception. That’s impressive at any level of football for any snapshot of a season. McCall has added four more scores on the ground and is a true dual threat quarterback. He’s thrown exactly twenty-four passes in the last three games in which he appeared, which shows that Coastal has been able to do exactly what they want to on offense.

As much love as the Coastal defense deserves, its the offense that really should get all the credit. Despite the triple-option base, the Chants pass more than any option based attack. It’s just that many times, the first option can be a pass, or the third option could be a pass. It requires discipline to run and to defend. When run well, the defense becomes the benefactor because they are never on the field. Thus, the onus for Coastal is to remain efficient passing the ball on Saturday. Players like Jaivon Heiligh has to continue to be someone that be counted on. Heiligh has been consistent all year, but is also on a hot streak, with at least five catches in each of his last five games, and his yardage totals look like this: 93-108-107-81-95. He’s also scored touchdowns in five of seven games played. CJ Marable has really emerged in the passing game as well. More commonly known for running the ball, Marable has been happened to quietly sneak out of the backfield, as he is second on the team with twenty receptions on the season. He has also scored via the pass similarly as Heiligh, with five straight games with a receiving touchdown. He does not got the volume of his teammate, but he makes the most of his chances.

For a good part of last Saturday, the only part of the day that was perfect for the Mountaineers was the weather. That can be good news and bad news in Boone. However, App State found a way to get it done, even after a day where there were thirteen combined punts between the two teams. Six players caught at least two passes, as tight ends Miller Gibbs and Henry Pearson snagged seven combined passes for 62 yards. The ground game was mostly stuck in the mud, with just 131 yards in all, but once again, when it counted, Camerun Peoples did the job. Peoples accounted for 25 yards on the drive that resulted in the go-ahead score, and another 21 yards on the final drive of the game, that melted the clock away. On those last two drives, predominantly guided by Jacob Huesman, Peoples gained forty-six of his sixty-seven rushing yards. No other back got the rock in the late stages of the game, and this could be a glimpse into the future for the App State offense.

There is not much to dislike about the matchup this weekend. Players and coaches live for these kind of games, where they can test their preparation and their teams skills in game that has a tremendous impact on the remainder of the season. Sure, you can say that App State needs to win this game in order to put them in position to play for the conference title. Well, so did the last game, and so will the next game after Coastal. But this challenge is not new to App State. It is new to Coastal Carolina. Being undefeated is not easy. It comes with attention, and pressure and can take the focus of just playing the game. Unfortunately for Coastal, they have had an extra week to think about being undefeated, before playing a school they have never beaten. All of this while trying to manufacture a rivalry and build a game up more then it perhaps needs to be. This is close to being a game where you throw the statistics out the window, because App State and Coastal are at or near the top of so many categories. Both teams can tout a balanced offense and a stout defense. They both get after opponents quarterbacks and protect their own. The similarities are almost endless on paper. But that is not where this game is played. At some point, the game is no longer played on social media or in television interviews. It happens between the lines. Both teams will want to control the clock and keep the other offense off the field, but it might be tough for either offense to get going. If anything, the Mountaineers’ tough game last week may have set them up perfectly for a game that may look the same. This game could come down to mistakes and who makes the fewest for sixty minutes. Coastal is one of the last penalized teams in the conference, and they need that continue. An option offense does not mix well with penalties. It thrives off manageable down and distance scenarios. If a couple extra flags fly, Coastal could be stuck trying to convert long yardage situations against an App State defense that is playing as well as it has all season long.

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 20

Mountaineers 27

Appalachian Football vs Georgia State

Appalachian State (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (3-3, 2-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 14th, 2020 2:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.59

Georgia State: 61.30

Home: 1.81

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.1 points

Line: App State -16.0

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, Georgia State 27, Atlanta, GA November 16, 2019

Last season, Georgia State head coach was quoted as saying the “the people make the place, and now the people are gone”, when referring to his time at App State. That statement no longer holds true. Surely Elliott was referring to Scott Satterfield, Mark Ivey, Nick Cardwell and Dale Jones’ departure from Boone to Louisville. Half of those “people” have returned to Boone, so the pregame midfield conversations and post game handshakes might feel more like the “people are making the place” all over again. Never mind that Elliott’s quote is right out of the book of Jerry Moore, and Shawn Clark, a former teammate of Elliott’s, has pretty much cited Moore’s philosophies at every turn. This storyline might be getting old, but the story evolves with each passing year. The Panthers are still waiting for that breakthrough win against App State and with each year it does not occur, the pressure to do so builds even more. As much as Elliott wants that first one against his alma mater, across the sidelines stands a colleague, a teammate, and a friend, who wants his first as well.

After two weeks of low hanging fruit, App State will play its first game of the season against a divisional opponent in Georgia State. As the regular season comes to a close Georgia State will be playing its seventh game of the season, with only three games remaining. The Panthers are currently sitting in last place in the east division, and no team has allowed more points in conference play outside of Arkansas State. In those five conference games, the fewest points an opponent has scored has been 34 points, and that has occurred on exactly three occasions. The other two games, the Panthers surrendered 59 points and 51 points. That Panther defense is going to give up points regardless, but the difference in the wins and losses has really been about the offense scoring enough points. Last week, the Panthers took advantage of three ULM turnovers to run away with a 52-34 win. In their win against Troy, Georgia State benefitted from four turnovers from the Trojans, and an injury to Troy starting quarterback Gunnar Watson.

Last season, Georgia State decided they had a better chance to beat App State by starting injured quarterback Dan Ellington instead of their backup. That backup is now starting quarterback Cornelius Brown IV, or “Quad”. Brown did appear in that game, but Georgia State was trying to protect him and his redshirt status. Brown has already vaulted himself as a borderline top shelf quarterback in the league. He still has his freshman moments, but has really popped in his redshirt freshman season. Brown has been responsible for multiple touchdowns in every game this season, except Coastal Carolina. Brown has also taken only six sacks all season, with three of those coming against Coastal. He is also used in the zone read game as well, but not extensively. After ten or more carries in three of the first four games, Brown has been limited to under ten carries per game in the last two. He is a slim quarterback at 6’5 and 200 pounds, and the Panthers might be limiting his exposure down the stretch.

Georgia State has the third best rushing offense in the conference despite not having its full complement of running backs all season long. Leading rusher Destin Coates missed the Arkansas State game, but had otherwise been very consistent as the lead back. Tucker Gregg filled in for Coates nicely with a 142-yard effort against the Red Wolves. In fact, the Panthers fourth leading rusher behind Coates, Gregg and Quad Brown is Jamyest Williams, the South Carolina transfer who is listed as a cornerback. Injuries to Seth Paige have also limited him to just five carries on the season and one appearance. Coates has been the primary workhorse this season with twenty or more carries in four games, all in which he eclipsed 100 yards on the ground. Wide receiver Cornelius McCoy returned after a month absence to put up a 7-118-2 receiving line against ULM. McCoy also shredded East Carolina in October for seven catches and 59 yards. In McCoy’s absence, Sam Pickney amassed thirteen catches catches for 214 yards, including three touchdown receptions, all against Arkansas State.

For the second straight week, the offensive game plan was pretty much the same. That’s not a bad thing. Conference road wins should not be taken for granted, and App State went on the road twice in a row and came back with wins. In more simpler words, the Mountaineers got the job done. App ran the ball, controlled the clock, converted over fifty percent of their third downs, and most importantly, scored more points. Not just more, but twenty-one more points. Three touchdowns more. Check and check. The App defense gave up one big play in the air, but it did not hurt them. Monroe ran the ball well at times as App was defending the pass to keep the game in front of them. The defense added two interceptions to their season total, bringing the Mountaineers’ sum to ten on the season, which leads the conference and is fifth in the country, trailing just Arkansas, Wake Forest, Kentucky and Pitt.

It’s quite puzzling to find a team that is pretty decent at stopping opponents’ run game, yet so completely below average defending the pass. Usually in this beautiful game of football, being able to run and stopping the run leads to success and wins. The two most successful run-first teams that Georgia State played this year has been Louisiana and Coastal Carolina. Two teams with pretty good overall records. Louisiana is 35th nationwide rushing, averaging 193 yards per game. The Cajuns unloaded on the Panthers, rushing for 240 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. Coastal Carolina is 30th in the country, and went off for 250 yards on the ground, managing 5.3 yards per carry. The remaining four teams that Georgia State played are currently 73rd (ECU), 104th (Ark State), 112th (Troy), and 121st (ULM) on the ground nationwide. So in six games this season, Georgia State has allowed 723 rushing yards. Louisiana and Coastal are responsible for 490 of those yards. Next on the schedule: App State’s rushing offense plowing through teams for an average of 283 yards per game at 6 yards per carry. So as much as statistics on paper are going to suggest that App State should throw the ball to defeat the Panthers because they have played a bunch of pass-first teams, its really could be quite the opposite. Maybe Georgia State is not as bad as allowing twenty passing touchdowns in six games, and they are likely not as good is giving up just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. Either way, the Mountaineers will have the opportunity to put up some points this weekend no matter how they attack the Panthers.

The First Pick

Blue Kitties 23

Mountaineers 49