App State Football vs Western Kentucky (Roofclaim.com Boca Raton Bowl)

Appalachian State (10-3) vs Western Kentucky (8-5)

Saturday, December 18th, 2021 11:00am 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

FAU Stadium

Capacity: 29,571

Surface: Natural Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.99

WKU: 72.12

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.87 points

Line: App State -3

Series: App State leads 4-1

Last Meeting: App State 17, Western Kentucky 14, Dec 2, 2000, Bowling Green, KY

After a wave of realignment, these bowl matchups were going to have some significance. Here we have App State, an active participant in Sun Belt expansion, playing against Western Kentucky, a former I-AA opponent. It was Western Kentucky’s jettison from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, that gave the Mountaineers a path to FBS football. And now, three Conference USA teams in Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss, have decided that they would rather be aligned with schools in the Sun Belt. That decision left those former Sun Belt schools, along with Middle Tennessee wondering what went wrong. The battle for these newly aligned conferences and their hierarchy in college football begins with Bowl Season 2021. For the time being, the Boca Raton Bowl matches two division champions that are actually staying in the leagues they currently represent. Western Kentucky is looking for a breakthrough win in their current rebuild, while App State looks to remain on course to continue their unprecedented bowl streak.

Playing new opponents is always fun. Coaches get to break up the monotony of watching conference opponents and get to sharpen their film watching skills. The last time Western Kentucky and App State met on the gridiron was 21 years ago. A lifetime ago. Both teams were still in FCS/I-AA. The ‘Toppers were coached by Jack Harbaugh, father of Jim and John, who currently coach Michigan and the Baltimore Ravens. Jack ended his tenure in Bowling Green with the second most wins in Western Kentucky history by a head coach. Since that snowy playoff meeting in 2000, the Hilltoppers won the Gateway Conference and the I-AA National championship in 2002. Jeff Brohm, now head coach at Purdue, helped Western win the 2015 & 2016 Conference USA championship. Adding all that together, Western has won four conference championships in the last 22 seasons. This will be Western Kentucky’s eighth overall bowl appearance since transitioning to FBS.

In 2021, Western Kentucky started slow, caught fire midway through the season, but ultimately fell short of the CUSA title. Similarly to App State, The Tops lost to the eventual conference champion in the regular season, and in the championship game. Western was competitive with UTSA in both games, which were shootouts. They lost 52-46 in October at home, and then lost 49-41 on the road in December. The theme in those two games were loads of offense, and optional defense. In both games, Western threw for over 500 yards. In both games, UTSA established the ground attack, running for 192 yards and 304 yards on the Western defense. Those were the 3rd and 4th most yards the WKU defense allowed on the ground this season. A lot of teams fell behind against the high scoring attack, and abandoned the running game all together. Typically the teams that could run on Western and had a formidable passing attack, gave the Toppers fits. The teams that ran on Western (190+ yards), but threw for less than 200 yards, were the only teams that Western defeated among the teams that ran well on them. Those teams were 5-7 Charlotte and 10-3 UT-Martin, who just lost to Montana State in the Second Round of the FCS Playoffs.

It’s hard to avoid the passing numbers you see from the Western Kentucky offense. Quarterback Bailey Zappe, offensive coordinator Zach Kittley and wide receiver Jerreth Sterns migrated from Houston Baptist. This is a group effort offense that works like a machine. The passing statistics are video game like numbers. Zappe is responsible for nearly everything that offense does. It all starts with him, and for App State to slow down this offense they need make Zappe see things that he normally does not see. That does not mean the Mountaineers need to send extra pressure, or less pressure. Sometimes that can be as simple as sitting down in passing lanes and mixing your blitz angles. The Western offense plays the game like they are running out of clock from the start. They are consistently are in attack mode. For an offense that has thrown for 300 or more yards in all but one game, its not about stopping them, but limiting their chances. Western threw for exactly 1100 yards and nine touchdowns in two games against UTSA and still lost both games.

Sometimes, it is just not your day or year. Winning a conference title was not in the cards for App State in 2021. It’s difficult to beat a team twice in one season, yet it happened. Still, this week, a trophy is on the line, and that is what the Mountaineers play for year in and out. This is an intriguing matchup, that on paper looks tough, but there are opportunities for App State to exploit Western Kentucky. As was previously mentioned, the Hilltoppers can get hurt by teams with good running games and offensive lines. Western defended 521 rushing attempts this season, which was the 7th most in FBS. Teams simply do not run at you unless they believe that they can. Most of the teams above Western in this category were quite bad at defending the run. Five of them were ranked 104th or worse in that category. The other was Cincinnati. The offense that App has run this year has been slightly more geared to the passing game at times, but that does not mean that App State has not been able to run when they have wanted to. The pass-run split works out to be roughly 42% pass plays and 58% run plays. The balance is still there, which should keep the 98th ranked defense on their heels.

It can be difficult to look past glaring statistics for a team like Western Kentucky. If anything, App State’s coaches have had the experience to deal with teams that are very one-dimensional on offense. Years of defending teams like Georgia Southern, Wofford and VMI come to mind. You absolutely know what is coming, all you have to do is execute. Even more recently with teams such as Arkansas State, you know that quarterback is taking the snap and looking downfield. Those teams are going to gain yards, and they are going to score some points. The task is to keep them uncomfortable. Make the other team play a game they do not want to play. Make them think about you, and not what they are doing. Western likes to score points. That is no secret. One surprising note, the Tops have connected on 22/27 field goals this season. That is a lot for a college kicking game. When presented with the opportunity, they take those points. It could be that Western knows their defense is subpar, and their best way to combat that is with scoring. One could argue when Western hit their stride this season, and went on a seven game winning streak, it was partly due to their defense. In that seven game stretch, the Toppers allowed just 18.8 points per game. Those teams combined record was also 34-50, with Marshall and their seven wins being the best team they played in that stretch. In their five losses, counting UTSA twice, the Western defense allowed 44 points per game. The record of those teams were 44-18. Their offense has shown it can score, and they scored below their average in their losses, but it was often their defense which dictated their results. Only Kent State and Hawaii defended more plays than Western Kentucky this season. Only three teams in college football defended more than 1000 plays all season. It almost seems like you can have your way with Western’s defense. App State was a Top 15 red zone defense team all season long. Three of the five field goals Western missed this season were against UTSA, including two in the championship game. Those misses forced Western to play from behind, and they never caught up. It’s unlikely kicking several field goals will win you this game. Putting the ball in the end zone will be big for both sides, and obviously, whoever does that more will win.

The First Pick

Hand Towels 31

Mountaineers 38

App State Football @ Louisiana (Sun Belt Championship Game)

Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (11-1, 8-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 4th, 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

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.21

UL: 74.88

Home: 1.71

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by .62 points

Line: App State -3

Series: App State leads 8-2

Last Meeting: App State 13, Louisiana 41, December 12, 2020, Lafayette, LA

We all saw this coming, didn’t we? When the Sun Belt released its preseason poll for the 2021 season, Louisiana was a near unanimous pick to win the west. Someone voted for Arkansas State. App State and Coastal were tied in total points, but Coastal managed six first place votes to App State’s four. Still pretty well done by the coaches, except for maybe one or two guys. Regardless, nobody is surprised we are here again, with App State and Louisiana playing for the conference title, the only two schools to ever play in a Sun Belt Championship game. For the first time, this game is being played in Lafayette. The home team has won both such contests, and also lost their head coach to a Power Five school. For Billy Napier, this is his third appearance. This will be App State’s third different coach in the game. These teams are pretty familiar with one another and pretty much know what to expect from the other side. It all comes down to playing ball.

Since the last time we saw the Cajuns, they have not lost. Same goes for the Mountaineers. On the season both teams have had six common opponents. Both are 6-0 against those teams. Louisiana played those opponents tighter than App State did. The Cajuns outscored those teams 153-119, while the Mountaineers took those games a little more personally. App State outscored those teams 258-75. Five of those six, Louisiana played their foes within one score, with Troy being the outlier. App State closest game came last week, a 24-point win over Georgia Southern. That has been what Louisiana has done most of the year outside of a couple games. Sure, they handled a few teams with ease, but its these six games that are most interesting. Not all of these games have the exact same circumstances. Such as, App played Southern late, against a third-string quarterback, where the Cajuns faced the Eagles during the last game of the Chad Lunsford era in September. App State also avoided Jake Bentley from South Alabama. The Cajuns had to mount a comeback against Georgia State, where App finished the Panthers off in the second half.

From bad quarterbacks and backup quarterbacks to one of the most successful in school history. That is the challenge for App State’s defense this week, when they face Levi Lewis for the eighth time. We discussed it earlier this season, and although he has not started all of those games, he has played a lot against App State. Keeping Lewis in the pocket is a must. Although he is not typical dual threat, he can and will run when he sees the opportunity. Lewis has four rushing touchdowns this year, in four different games. Three of those came against three of the better defenses in the conference, including App State. Since the last meeting against the Mountaineers, Lewis has been really effective in the air, with ten touchdowns passes to just two interceptions. In two of the four games in which Lewis did throw an interception, against Georgia State and Arkansas State, the Cajuns were really challenged. The last game Lewis threw a pick and was not challenged on the scoreboard, was against App State. It appears the Cajuns have been intentional in taking care of the football as the season wound down.

The Cajuns have done a good job spreading the ball among their offensive skill players all year long. In the matchup earlier this season, nine different Cajuns caught a pass, and four players received rushing attempts outside of Levi Lewis. On the year, eleven Cajuns caught ten or more passes and the leading receiver, Peter LeBlanc led the team with 33 catches for 350 yards. He was consistent for eleven of twelve games. Outside of the Georgia State game, where LeBlanc caught nine passes for 118 yards, he was held under 43 yards receiving in every other game. Freshman Kyren Lacy scored on a two-yard catch in the previous matchup against App, and was an end zone favorite. Despite just 21 receptions all season long, Lacy found the end zone five times on the year, and in each of the last three games to end the season. Similarly with the running backs, not one back has a majority of the carries. Chris Smith has 144 carries for 834 yards and Montrell Johnson has 135 carries for 776 yards. They have combined for nineteen touchdowns. In the last two games, Smith has 19 carries and Johnson has 16 attempts. That’s down from their season average. Those carries went to Emani Bailey, who was averaging roughly eight carries a game. Bailey had thirteen attempts in each of the last two games. Wisely the Cajuns have conserved their top two backs for this weekend while giving more work for their third back.

Familiarity in football is super important. It’s the reason why you see teams like BYU struggle with Georgia Southern a week ago. Same reason App State slowly killed off the Eagles last week. Eventually talent wins out. App and Southern know each other all too well. The game was never in doubt, just the final. In the end, App State let up a field goal, which broke their second half scoreless streak. Still, that is four games giving up just three second half points. A continuation of that trend would be quite welcome on Saturday. Thomas Hennigan, Malik Williams and Jalen Virgil were responsible for the touchdowns, all coming on big plays. Virgil going back-to-back on kickoff returns in consecutive years against Southern will become highlights we see for years to come. Yet, it’s the App State defense that has stolen the show for the last several weeks. The Mountaineers have allowed 240 yards rushing in the last four games combined. In October, the Mountaineers gave up a season-high 246 yards rushing to the Cajuns. It is clear that Louisiana wants to run, and App State needs to continue its recent dominance in defending the run.

There are two train of thoughts here. You either believe the first matchup mattered, or it did not. Mattered as in, that data can be used as a predictive indicator of future matchups. Or, it was an absolute fluke, or as some football types would say, just one of those days. App State had a lot of those days this year that were completely opposite of what happened that night. Louisiana, in turn had a couple games this year that resembled that night. But, that game was abnormal. Both teams have played half of a season since then. App State has looked good enough since that night to make me a believer. Both teams have had their offenses struggle at times, but have been carried by their defenses. The Cajuns seem to struggle offensively for longer periods of time. It might take the App State offense some time to wake up, but when they do, it comes in bunches. Despite that, over the course of the season, the Mountaineers scored 100 or more points in every quarter this season. App State scored 223 points this year in the second half. Their opponents scored 227 points all year. This is not an argument for most points scored in the other twelve games wins this weekend, but more to state that several weeks ago, the App offense never got it going. Those are just facts. Had the Mountaineers turnover margin been -2 in that game, it might have had a chance. Being down -4 in that category is undoable. Many statistical models over time have come to a consensus that winning the turnover battle is the easiest path to win a football game. A minus-four turnover margin in a single game sets your chance of winning any game at about 10%. Louisiana is a top five team nationally in turnover margin, but that has more to do with turning the ball over themselves just eight times all year. The Cajuns were +12 on the season in turnover margin, and one-third of those turnovers gained, happened in one game. What is the likelihood of another one-off game like that happening again? Smaller than you can imagine. App State has shown all year it can fight off a turnover or two in hole, depending on the opponent, but anything more than that on Saturday will be too much. We all want to see a game decided on the field between two elite defenses. The Mountaineers have found ways down the stretch to score anyway they need to, whether by special teams or defense. They’ll find their way to lifting another trophy soon after.

The First Pick

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 24

App State Football vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 27th, 2021 2:30pm 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

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.51

GS: 54.98

Home: 1.90

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 24.43 points

Line: App State -24.5

Series: App State leads 20-15-1

Last Meeting: App State 34, Georgia Southern 26, December 12, 2020, Statesboro, GA

Eight long years have passed since App State and Georgia Southern have faced each other in Boone, on a Saturday. Fans assumed and expected that Saturday games in Sun Belt would be less frequent, but we probably did not know that this game, on a Saturday, would be taken from us as long as it was. Not many were able to experience that setting last year on a Saturday, so this means a little more. Forget that the game takes place on a holiday weekend. This game, on a Saturday, is a big deal. This is primetime in the High Country. You are coming up to get those Christmas trees anyway. Might as well make it a weekend and stick around for awhile. This should be the last game every year. If every big rivalry game across the country is this weekend, this game deserves that same spotlight. Southern has played App State more than any other school in their history. There are only eight schools that the Mountaineers have played more than Southern. Please Sun Belt, let’s keep this playing this one on a Saturday.

This has been a season to forget down in Statesboro. Just as it was getting started, before the calendar even flipped to October, the Eagles had fired their coach after a less then stellar first four games. Perhaps it was less about sneaking by Gardner Webb, or getting flattened by Florida Atlantic and Arkansas, where they were outscored 83-16 in those games. It’s hard to believe that the Louisiana game was a must win game for former coach Chad Lunsford. But maybe, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when a defensive player, surfed on top of an activity bus and chugged a beer that was thrown to him, prior to the game. Lunsford was 25-14 the previous three seasons. Maybe his seat was warming, but it should not have been hot. However Southern has now had midseason firings for its last two coaches in Tyson Summers and Lunsford. Both were first time head coaches. Clay Helton, a former Power 5 coach at Southern Cal, will get the reins next, and be asked the inevitable question. Are you keeping the option?

Another week, another team who has juggled quarterbacks this season. That’s now five straight games App State’s defense will face a quarterback who has not appeared in all of their teams games. This past week, it was third string walk-on Connor Cigelski who started in the loss to BYU. Cigelski was 11/14 passing for 122 yards, and ran eight times for twenty yards. Most of the season, it has been a rotation between Justin Tomlin and Cam Ransom. Tomlin has been around the program for a few years and Ransom is a freshman. Tomlin has completed under 52% of his passes this season while throwing just two touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Ransom has not been much better, completing less than 47% of his passes, with three touchdown tosses, but has not turned the ball over in the air. In all, the Southern passing offense has thrown twelve interceptions to just five touchdown passes, as Amare Jones and Sam Kenerson have also attempted passes, but are not considered traditional quarterbacks.

There is no comparing Georgia Southern to any Sun Belt team. We all know this. Even with their more modern option running game, the way the game flows and unfolds is incredibly important to their success. Their best defense for Southern, is their offense. Considering the quarterbacks they have gone through, one would expect any team to struggle. Eventually, you have to move the ball, possess the ball, get first downs and score. The Eagles have not been doing enough of that this year. The Eagles are tied for last in the conference in first downs with Troy, and are eighth in the conference in scoring at 21.8 points per game. The Eagles are seventh in the conference in total offense at 355.4 yards per game and fifth in time of possession at 29:53. Good Southern offenses possess the ball more than their opponents and are usually well over 30 minutes per game of possession. For the time being, all the facts are relevant and apply, and it will be interesting to see how Clay Helton and his staff rebuild this Eagle offense.

The Mountaineers defense has now kept their opponents from scoring in the second half for three straight games. Two of those games have been played on the road, and that’s absolutely unheard of in college football. This defense is on fire right now. Throw in the fact that Troy gained 142 yards of offense for the game, and only 20 yards in the final three quarters. It must be frightening to be on the other side of this unit right now. Once the defense inserted their will against Troy last weekend, the offense picked it up. App State scored to close the first half and open the second half. An early second half interception by TD Roof was followed by a one play drive that allowed the Mountaineers to coast for the remainder of the game. Nate Noel had his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season and eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the year. Noel’s performance gave App State an FBS leading tenth consecutive season with a running back surpassing 1,000 yards. The offensive line paved the way for 233 team rushing yards and gave up zero sacks. Thomas Hennigan caught all seven of his targets for 85 yards and a touchdown, and has TD receptions in three straight games.

It remains to be seen who starts at quarterback for Southern. It will be something that App State will probably figure out when the Eagles break the huddle for their first play. There is no reason for Southern to be forthcoming about that information. Regardless of what the Eagles have been through this season, they still have a chance to salvage something. Finishing 4-8, with a win over their hated rival is still something to hang your hat on. The same scenario arose for the Mountaineers in 2013. App State entered the game against Southern, on a Black Saturday with a 1-6 record and trounced the Eagles 38-14. That was the same year that Southern went on to beat Florida. If there is ever a time in this series where you think you know the outcome, refer back to 2013. App State lost four games that year by a touchdown or less. They were very close to being 8-4. Just like Southern’s record this year might be 3-8, they have lost three games by eight points or less. They played and lost to two Power 5 type programs in Arkansas and BYU. Because of that, the Eagles were always going to look about one game worse than they actually were. They are not as bad as they look on paper, but for some reason, they could not finish a few close games. The Southern defense can play the run a little, and they have been on the field a long time this season, and are usually facing a team trying to burn clock. However, the secondary has been getting absolutely roasted all season long. The Eagles have yielded 293 yards per game in the air and 26 touchdown passes. Both marks are second worst in the league. The best way to beat a Georgia Southern team is get ahead of them. Whenever they play from behind, they get out of what they prefer to do on offense. The Eagles are not running it as well as years past, but they are still running it to the tune of over 200 yards a game. They have three running backs in the top 24 in terms of yardage in the conference. It just has not been consistent enough to work off of their defense. Expect a big game from Chase Brice and the receivers, that slowly works Southern into being uncomfortable, and turns a borderline close game early, into a runaway late.

The First Pick

Chicken Shortage 20

Mountaineers 42

App State Football @ Troy

Appalachian State (8-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Troy (5-5, 3-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 20th, 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

Veterans Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Prograss

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.92

Troy: 60.43

Home: 1.99

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.5 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 6-3

Last Meeting: App State 47, Troy 13, November 28, 2020, Boone, NC

Wasn’t long ago, the games against Troy were a really big deal; for Sun Belt East division supremacy. The 2015, 2016 and 2018 games were absolute barn burners. Those games were the reason why these two teams began facing off toward the end of the conference calendar. Outside App State’s first year of Sun Belt play, each game has been played no earlier than Halloween. But 2020 changed many things about Sun Belt football. Troy remains to appear later on the App State schedule, but Georgia Southern has grabbed the final date on the regular season calendar. One would assume that App State and Troy will meet again next year prior to conference expansion taking place, but even that is not certain at the moment. As late as 2023, Troy moves to the west division and games with App State will likely become less common. As much as this is not a goodbye, but maybe see you later, games with Troy were fun for awhile. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that this chapter of App State’s Sun Belt history is coming to a close.

One thing is for certain, Troy has been in a bunch of games this year. Only the first game of the season, a 55-3 win over Southern, has been decided by more than two touchdowns. The other 9 games have all been decided by 14 points or less. The Trojans average margin of defeat in their five losses is 10.2 points per game. Outside of Southern, Troy’s average margin of victory is 6.25 points. Their peer wins over Georgia Southern, Texas State, South Alabama and Southern Miss are not much to crow about, but they have played and lost to above average G5 teams in Liberty, Coastal and Louisiana. They had every reason to beat South Carolina, but could not pull it off. That has basically been the mark of Chip Lindsey’s tenure at Troy. A win or two away each season from being bowl eligible. Troy has won five games each season under Lindsey, and they will be likely underdogs in their final two games this season. Of those 15 wins by Lindsey, eight of them have been wins over South Alabama, Texas State, and Georgia Southern. The two times he has faced App State, Lindsey’s teams have looked overmatched, losing 48-13 and 47-10.

Another week, another team who has juggled quarterbacks this season. That’s four straight games App State’s defense will face a quarterback who has not appeared in all of their teams games. Gunnar Watson played throughout the loss to Louisiana last week. Watson was called on to the throw the ball 55 times, because Troy’s ground effort was nonexistent. He threw his first interception of the season against Louisiana, and only 52.7% of his passes were completed, which was a season low. The Troy defense gave them a chance in the fourth quarter, but three turnovers eventually did the Trojans in. Taylor Powell played mostly in the beginning of the season at quarterback for Troy, but has not seen much time recently. He started against South Alabama, but was injured and Watson finished the game. Powell has thrown six interceptions this season to just seven touchdown passes. As a team, Troy is 84th in the country in passing efficiency, which is one spot ahead of Arkansas State, who has thrown sixteen interceptions on the year.

Troy and South Alabama are really similar. They both have enough defense to win, but its their offenses that are lacking. The 23.1 points per game the Trojans defense gives up is going to put them in position to compete in many games. That figure ranks 51st in the country, almost directly behind South Alabama, after giving up 31 to App State. The Troy offense is scoring just 25.7 points per game which is 84th nationwide. That figure is seven spots behind South Alabama, who is 77th at 26.4 points per contest, which includes 7 points scored against App. Now those are season long figures, and surely does not put much emphasis on the Jaguars not having Jake Bentley last week, who had pretty much played every snap at quarterback for the Jags. Reminder that Troy defeated South Alabama at home the week before, without Bentley. Troy raced out to an early lead and held on. South Alabama was the benefactor of four App State turnovers last week, which propelled them to 5th in the country in turnovers gained. Coming in to this game, Troy is already tied for 14th in turnovers gained, yet so is App State.

The difference between App State and Troy is hardly in the numbers, but plays being made. Looking at last week’s boxscore blindly, it would have been hard to imagine App State won going away. Sure, the game was close for a long time, but that’s why you play the full sixty minutes. App State was good when it had to be, and that was the entire second half. Despite many threats, South Alabama could not score beyond a second quarter touchdown. That makes it back to back weeks, that the Mountaineers held their opponents scoreless in the second half. Troy has just eight second half points in its last two games as well. The App State defense has also done a really good job of making their opponents one dimensional. Arkansas State and South Alabama combined for 61 carries and gained just 110 yards. Troy will present an offense that has averaged just 110 yards per game this season on the ground, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. The Trojans do have seventeen rushing touchdowns, but sit at ninth in the conference on the ground, sandwiched between South Alabama and Arkansas State.

At this point of the season, most teams have pretty much shown their hand. You might get a new play wrinkle added to an offense or defense occasionally, but more often than not, teams know what is coming. It’s just a matter of stopping it. Teams with aspirations to play games beyond their regular schedule might mix a few more things in. App State certainly is going to play in a bowl game and Troy is trying to, but they might focus on the things they have done right this year, versus trying something new. Speaking on trying things new, that might be beneficial for Troy if they want to score more points. The Trojans are second-to-last in red zone offense in the Sun Belt, with only South Alabama trailing. Adding on, Troy has converted every field goal they have made this year (7/7), but six of those made kicks came on a red zone possession. Troy has attempted and made just one field goal outside of the red zone this year. So, if Troy is not attempting field goals, but must be going for it on fourth down a lot? Wrong. Troy is averaging 1.8 fourth down conversion attempts per game, and they do well converting, but that figure puts them solidly in the middle of the conference. However, Troy punts a lot. Only Arkansas State and Monroe have punted more than Troy this season, and the Trojans lead the league in touchbacks after punts. They also rank dead last in kickoff coverage, just in case you needed more kicker statistics in your life. These things are not all super major, but they do add up. Decisions to kick a field goal, attempt a fourth down, to play aggressive or choose the safest play eventually leads to something. And typically, Troy has been on the wrong end of a lot of those 50/50 decisions this year. Twice against Coastal Carolina, the Trojans elected to punt in the second half versus attempting short yardage fourth downs. That could have been the difference in a one possession road game. This Troy team is capable of winning games, but it just seems a lot of things need to go just right for that to happen. Troy will hang for a few quarters, but the App defense will turn it on late and seal the deal.

The First Pick

Aged by Bronze 16

Mountaineers 31

App State Football vs South Alabama

Appalachian State (7-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) vs South Alabama (5-4, 2-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 13th, 2021 2:30pm 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

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.27

South Alabama: 57.02

Home: 2.09

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.34 points

Line: App State -22

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last Meeting: App State 30, South Alabama 3, October 26, 2019, Mobile, AL

It happens every year. November football in Boone. A date reserved for a school that is located much further south then where App State is situated. The calendar says fall but the thermometer says winter. This will be South Alabama’s first trip to Boone in November. Mercury levels do not decide football games, but it sure is fun to talk about. We have reached the final third of the regular season, and many teams know their fate for the remainder of their games. South Alabama has some work to do to extend their season past the scheduled twelve games. They need to grab a win in one of three games where they will be decided underdogs. App State’s work continues with three pivotal games that will decide whether or not they get to play for a conference championship. These last three games are super important. There is no time for a slip up. South Alabama is improving. Troy is knocking on the door. And well, you know how Georgia Southern games can go. New week, same goal. 1-0.

Many across the Sun Belt have wanted South Alabama to become a thing for several seasons. One, they foresee the Jaguars as being the closest program to giving Louisiana some competition in the near future. Secondly, they have shown brief success in the past, but have never been consistent winners. South remains in their FBS infancy, as this is just their tenth season playing a full slate of FBS & Sun Belt opponents. Steve Campbell was fired as coach last year after going 9-26 over three seasons. Campbell had a difficult time adjusting to Division I football. New coach Kane Wommack represents an investment by South Alabama to get better at football. Wommack spent two years in Mobile as a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in 2016-17 and then spent three years in Bloomington at Indiana, before returning to the deep south, where he spent the majority of his coaching and collegiate playing career.

For the third straight week, App State will play a team that is juggling its quarterback depth chart. South Alabama’s Jake Bentley, by way of South Carolina and Utah, was injured against Troy last week and did not return to the game. Oddly enough, Bentley was South Carolina’s starting quarterback in 2019 to begin the season, before, you guessed it, he was injured. Next up is Desmond Trotter, who App State faced in 2019. Bentley has not been ruled out, but it appears Trotter would start this week. Trotter played in all but one game for South in 2020, and also appeared against App State two seasons ago. Trotter was 3/8 passing for 43 yards on a wet day in which the App State defense gave up just 144 total yards. Trotter will offer some mobility from the pocket that Bentley did not have, but he remains limited as a passer. If South Alabama decides on offensive philosophy change is needed, it could present problems for App State without any tape go on.

Three of South Alabama’s four losses have been on the road. Four of their five wins have been at home. The games that do not fit that mold is their two point home loss to Louisiana and a three point road win at Bowling Green. In both of those games, special teams played a major role at the end of the game. A field goal lifted the Jaguars at the horn after their defense forced a turnover with less than two minutes remaining in the game. South trailed by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter. In the Louisiana game, the Cajuns scored the first 20 points, and the Jaguars the final 18 points. South failed to convert any of their point after touchdown attempts. Two kicks were either missed or blocked, and the two point conversion in the fourth quarter was also unsuccessful. The Jaguars also missed the go-ahead field goal with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter. Those games happened in the first month of the season, but the last five game have stayed true to form: win at home, lose on the road. The two home wins were to teams that are in last place of the respective divisions of the Sun Belt.

Outside of a short stretch in the second quarter, App State was dominant on both sides of the ball against Arkansas State. The Mountaineers jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, allowed the Red Wolves to tie the game briefly, and then scored 34 unanswered points to finish the game. The big highlights were provided by Steven Jones Jr., who recorded three interceptions on the day and returned two of them for touchdowns. Malik Williams added a 34-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Hennigan, and also led the team with five receptions for 58 yards. Both Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel eclipsed 100 yards rushing and added touchdown runs. Noel is now up to 889 yards rushing on the season. Williams and Corey Sutton are now separated by just two receptions and thirty-three receiving yards for the year. Both have five receiving touchdowns. The defense holding the Red Wolves to less than 200 yards of total offense while adding four quarterback sacks and the aforementioned three turnovers, made it an easy day for the Mountaineers.

As with other opponents App State has faced this season, the question always comes down to what version of that team we shall see. Monroe was very similar in that they were streaky, and their play was very dependent upon whether they were at home or away. Those similarities exist for South Alabama. Now we also have to ask ourselves another question about the Jaguars. How closely will they resemble the team they were in the first nine games with Jake Bentley, compared to this Saturday. Desmond Trotter and South Alabama won four games last year, over Southern Miss, Texas State, Monroe and Arkansas State. Oddly, the Jaguars lost to two of teams this year in Texas State and Monroe. It’s quite plausible that South passes the eye test, but when the numbers add up at the end of the season, the records might look fairly similar as last season. Most of this speculation refers to the offense. That is where those questions revolve around. Defensively, the Jaguars are solid. In most defensive statistical categories, the Jaguars rank in the upper half to upper third in the conference. They aren’t a brick wall, but they won’t give you much. It will be important for both teams to sustain drives and keep their defenses fresh. South Alabama leads the conference in time of possession and App State is third. South leads that category despite averaging 19.7 first downs a game, which is seventh in the league. App State converts its possession advantage to 24.3 first downs a game, which leads the league. Building off of that, this game might come down to what South Alabama can do with the ball. The Jaguars do run the ball, but they are not the best at it, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, going up against an App State defensive front that is third in the league against the run at 3.7 yards per carry. On a day where wind could be a factor, the team that can run the ball with the most consistency should have an advantage. The loss of Jake Bentley could neutralize Jaguar receiver Jalen Tolbert, who is by and far the biggest threat on the Jaguar offense.

The First Pick

Faux Cheetah 21

Mountaineers 35

App State Football @ Arkansas State

Appalachian State (6-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) vs Arkansas State (1-7, 0-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 6th, 2021 2:00pm 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

Centennial Bank Stadium

Capacity: 30,382

Surface: Geo Surfaces Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.71

Ark State: 52.90

Home: 2.10

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.71 points

Line: App State -21

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last Meeting: App State 45, Monroe 17, October 22, 2020, Boone, NC

Don’t look now, but Monroe just turned the ball over again. It was that kind of day for the Warhawks who were never really in it. The Mountaineers might have had something to do with that. After nearly every Monroe mistake, App State made them pay. That is the kind of stuff good teams are made of. The next challenge arises in one of the least familiar of conference opponents. The last couple games between Arkansas State and App State have not been particularly close. Saturday looks to be similar. There in itself is the challenge. On paper, this one looks fairly lopsided. Keeping your edge and competitive spirit alive for a road trip to face a team that has had some bad results can be difficult. Already, Red Wolves fans are saying that the battle in this game is not on the scoreboard. Luckily for App State, this is Homecoming for Arkansas State, so the atmosphere may not be completely dead for your typical one win team. However, playing the next ring game should be plenty motivation for the visiting team.

Where to start? The 2021 Red Wolves are really taking it on the chin this year. They have one win over Central Arkansas and three one possession losses to Memphis, Tulsa and Louisiana. Other than that, its been pretty bad in Jonesboro. Blake Anderson did all he could to keep that program afloat as long as possible, and Butch Jones is dealing with the fallout. The Arkansas State offense can be good enough to beat anyone on their schedule, but the defense is the main concern. If the game of football was a one-sided game, the Red Wolves can go toe-to-toe with any offense in the league. Even with glaring issues in the running game, the Red Wolves sport an offense that ranks 60th in the country, that is completely propped up by their Top-10 passing offense by yardage. For comparison purposes, consider Marshall, another school that has a Top-10 passing offense, but also had issues on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, Marshall has a running attack, and that is why they are 5-3. Arkansas State and Marshall are the only teams in the top ten in passing offense that have thrown double digit interceptions this season.

Just like Monroe, the quarterback position for Arkansas State is unsettled. The Red Wolves, known in the past for being unable to make their mind up when any quarterback was playing or going to play, have continued the trend under Butch Jones. It seemed that James Blackman, the Florida State transfer, had won the job, but Layne Hatcher, the long ago Alabama transfer was still getting playing time. Blackman’s injury designation was considered as being “out indefinitely”, after suffering a shoulder injury against Coastal. He did not make the trip last week to Mobile. It would seem unlikely that Blackman is cleared before Saturday, which means Layne Hatcher will get his third consecutive start. Hatcher has completed 55% of his passes this season with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in spot duty. These numbers are a fay cry from 2020, when Hatcher threw 19 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Hatcher threw three interceptions last week alone in the loss to South Alabama. App State accounted for one of Hatcher’s interceptions last year.

This is where it gets bad. Within the conference, Arkansas State is dead last running the ball and stopping the run. The Red Wolves are averaging less than three yards a carry on offense and giving up a mind boggling 6.9 yards per carry on defense. They have allowed 22 rushing touchdowns and have only scored three on the ground themselves. Those national ranks are 129th for rushing defense and 127th for rushing offense. Each facet of the football game has an effect on the next. A lack of rushing production typically finds teams who own poor records. If you cannot run the ball, it’s difficult to sustain drives, which has an impact on possession, and the number of plays your defense defends. It’s not a requirement of winning football, to have an offense than can churn out 200 yard rushing games consistently, but being effective when you do run is important. This game is all out about efficiency. All of this leads to Arkansas State giving up 42.4 points per game, which is also last in conference play and 128th nationwide. That is nearly five points more per game than UL-Monroe, who the Mountaineers just scored 59 points on.

With their second straight 500-yard game, the App State offense is humming. The Mountaineers scored touchdowns on five straight possessions in the first half and distanced themselves from Monroe before they knew what hit them. Chase Brice has 603 passing yards and six touchdowns in his last two games. More importantly, Brice has not thrown an interception or been sacked in the last two games either. Nate Noel continued his steady pace toward a 1,000 yard season. With his third 100-yard performance of the season, Noel needs to average just 46 yards a game with at least five games remaining in the season. Corey Sutton and Malik Williams are also on pace to clear 1,000 yards. Sutton has been more consistent and has touchdown catches in four of his last five games. Williams caught three passes for 72 yards and a touchdown following his outburst against Coastal. While the offense was scoring, the defense was getting off the field early. The first six Warhawk possessions ended in this order: punt, fumble, interception, downs, punt, punt. Those six drives consisted of twenty plays that covered 64 total yards.

It is incredibly easy to sit back, look at an opponents record or recent history and think you can take a weekend off. If anything this season has taught us across college football, you cannot take any opponent lightly. The Red Wolves have won five games the last two seasons. You cannot hide from that. In 2019, Arkansas State won eight games, but five of them were decided by one score. The demise of Arkansas State football was not a nosedive, it was slow descent. Everyone knew it was coming, but it was just a matter of when it hit rock bottom. That time is now. Could the Red Wolves have a couple more wins right now? Sure, but bowl eligibility was never a reasonable goal. Georgia Southern has not been able to get off the ground this year either, and they absolutely walloped this Arkansas State team. Focusing on a close result against Louisiana is doing nothing but searching. Those two teams play weird games all the time. Arkansas State is giving up yardage and points at historic levels. That does not change overnight. It’s likely it takes a couple seasons to get that unit to a respectable level. But in the meantime, the Red Wolves need a spark. South Alabama got back to business last week with a win over Arkansas St, after having Monroe beat them the week before. Arkansas State should show better this week at home after turning the ball over 4 times to the Jaguars. The 224 yards gained last week was a season low. Butch Jones should be able to motivate his team for a big game, and a strong finish to the season with some winnable games. It’s just very unlikely to come this weekend. Just about every weakness the Red Wolves have plays right into the hands of App State, who have found a rhythm on offense as of late. Expect a boatload of sacks from the App State defense.

The First Pick

Huff but no Puff 14

Mountaineers 38

App State Football vs UL-Monroe

Appalachian State (5-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) vs UL-Monroe (4-3, 2-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 30th, 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

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.75

Monroe: 54.46

Home: 2.60

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21.89 points

Line: App State -27

Series: App State leads 5-1

Last Meeting: App State 31, Monroe 13, October 31, 2020, Monroe, LA

It’s hard to explain, why from one week to the next in football, a team can go from world beaters, to looking like they can’t beat anyone in the world. We presume to know what is going to happen from one week to the next, but we’ll never get there, and that is why we keep tuning in. Better than just tuning into the radio or television, is attending in person. Not everyone can do it every week, no matter the day of the week. The smallest crowd this year at Kidd Brewer Stadium was on a Thursday, when 28,377 attended. Intense crowd, great atmosphere. Elon on a Saturday: 30,224. Well darn, pretty good. Coastal Carolina on Wednesday: 31,061. Oh man. The stadium’s capacity is listed at 30,000. The Kidd Brewer average this year is 29,887. Athletics sent out an awesome tweet that included additional information. We are a football hungry school. We missed it last year, and are showing to the country what our team means to us. Just think about those numbers for a minute. Two of games were won by field goals and defense in the fourth quarter. That makes a huge difference in the outcome. We have not had those type of finishes often at The Rock, but it’s no surprise that when the team needed the help, we were there.

The resurgent Warhawks have been buoyed by improved coaching this season. Some were surprised that Terry Bowden found another job after the disaster at Akron, where he coached seven seasons and accumulated a 35-52 record. Fact is, Bowden had been a winner everywhere he coached, so success to date should not be all that newsworthy. Bowden did a decent job at Akron, just couldn’t get over the hump and stay there. That is the same challenge that Monroe faces for the remainder of the season. They are over .500 for the first time this late in the season since 2018, where they went 6-4 before losing their final two games. That was the last time the Warhawks had a legitimate chance of going to a bowl game. That road to a bowl game and six wins is possible, but it will be a long one. With five games remaining on their schedule, Monroe will be traveling for four of those games, and decided underdogs in three of them. Still, games at Texas State and back home for Arkansas State will be tossups.

Monroe began the season with Rhett Rodriguez as their starting quarterback. His father Rich Rodriguez is Monroe’s offensive coordinator. Father Rodriguez and Terry Bowden both played at West Virginia and coached at Salem College, but never at the same time. Rhett began his college career at Arizona, where his father was coaching prior to his dismissal. Rhett continued at Arizona and played sparingly before transferring to Monroe. During the win over Troy, Rhett was injured and suffered a punctured lung, and spent time in the ICU. He has yet to return to the field, which has paved the way for Chandler Rogers, who has appeared in every game this season. Despite starting Rogers against Coastal, Monroe still played backups Colby Suits and Jiya Wright. The same happened the following week against Georgia State. In the wins against Liberty and South Alabama, it was all Rogers. He took all the snaps in both games. All eight of Rogers’s touchdown passes have come in the last three games, along with averaging 267 yards passing in the last three. His 369 yards and four touchdowns were especially impressive against a South Alabama team that been known for a decent defense. Yet, the Jaguars have given up 33 to Texas State and 41 to Monroe in their last two road games.

The running game for the Warhawks can be deceiving when looking at statistics. Their offensive tempo leads to a lot of plays, and they have been scoring sporadically this season. Production has increased the last few weeks, but the first four contests of the season were especially rough. It’s almost hard to believe how bad they were during those games, yet still remained committed to it. Against Kentucky, Jackson State, Troy and Coastal, the Warhawks ran the ball 156 times for just 305 yards. That comes to less than 2 yards per carry. Two! Those next three games, Monroe ran 122 times for 570 yards, for a respectable 4.67 yard average. Conversely, yards gained via the pass also steadily increased in games five through seven. In the first four games, Monroe’s highest passing output was 168 yards against Troy. In the last three games, the fewest passing yards in a game was 225 against Liberty. Makes you wonder what caused the sudden increase in points and yards. The Rhett Rodriguez injury, scary as it was, may have been the catalyst for the offense. Or, Monroe has suddenly got things in gear after being beaten by Coastal, and playing three straight home games.

Flip the page. We are going from not talking about the game from two weeks ago to not being able to avoid the conversation this week. The running game put up the quietist 228 yards in recent memory. No back eclipsed 100 yards, but they didn’t need to. The night belonged to Chase Brice and Malik Williams. Brice provided a huge bounce back game with 347 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also added a very robust 34 yards on the ground on five carries. Malik Williams had a career night with ten receptions for 206 yards. Once the Mountaineers found the matchup they wanted, they exploited it time and time again. Corey Sutton tacked on a perfect night with six catches on six targets for 113 yards and a touchdown. Beyond that 575 yard output by the offense, it was the defense that kept the Mountaineers within striking distance after falling behind. The specials teams obviously played a role with the onside kickoff recovery that completely flipped momentum. The defense stood tall after App turned the ball over on downs, and fumbled in the second quarter, holding the Chants to just two field goals. Coastal scored just one touchdown in the second half, and were held to 30 yards on four possessions outside of that scoring drive.

So, who exactly are these Warhawks that App State will face on Saturday? They have been completely stymied by teams such as Kentucky, which can be expected. The Jackson State win by a 12-7 score was certainly interesting. But it was the Troy game that got the attention of the conference. Then the next two weeks, we saw the Monroe that everyone expected, getting beat handily by Coastal and Georgia State. Really the only outlier on their entire schedule to date is the Georgia State game. It represents their only home loss. Among peer games, there is an argument that Georgia State may be one of the more well-rounded teams in the conference, even though their record does not reflect. And Georgia State might also be the team that most resembles App State, that the Warhawks have played. As in, teams that prefer to establish the run and play sound defense. Among all opponents, every team that Monroe played were able to put some numbers on their defense. Kentucky, Troy and South Alabama all went for over 300 yards passing. Coastal, Georgia State and Liberty ran for 250 or more yards on Monroe’s 114th ranked defense that gives up over 6.27 yards per play this season. Some of those yards have been made up by turnover margin, as the Warhawks are +1.29 turnovers a game this year, which is fifth in the nation. Perhaps it takes App State a possession or two to figure out how to attack Monroe? Or the Mountaineers could come out slow like they did for Elon. App State has lost the turnover battle a couple times this season, which has kept games like East Carolina, Marshall, and Coastal maybe closer than they should be. Finally, the kickoff temperatures of the last three Monroe home games have been 81, 68 and 83 degrees respectively. The forecast is looking pretty icky on Saturday in Boone, with a high temperature in the mid-40s, with rain showers expected. A less than ideal situation for the visiting Warhawks.

The First Pick

ChickenHawks 16

Mountaineers 35

App State Football vs #14 Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (4-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (6-0, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.98

Coastal: 76.86

Home: 2.75

Coastal is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.13 points

Line: Coastal -4.5

Series: App State leads 6-1

Last Meeting: App State 23, Coastal 34, November 21, 2020, Conway, SC

It’s been a long time since a game has played out like that. That could be a blessing and a curse. We all know that was not normal, and App State could not possibly play that poorly again if they tried. The most important part, is that not one player or coach will let that happen again. Another interesting aspect, is that several players on this team have actually been in this position before. They know what it is like to somewhat have their backs against the wall, knowing that the next loss, could derail any conference championship dreams. Last week was not everything, but this week has become that. After last week, its welcoming to play such a high stakes game in your own house. Only four Sun Belt teams have ever won at Kidd Brewer Stadium in seven seasons. It’s not been a welcome place to play for any opponents for decades. Coastal’s rise to fame will eventually end. Whether it ends against App State is yet to be seen, but they’ll have to earn it, because the Mountaineers will not go quietly.

A lot of fans have been yelling from the top of the mountain, “Coastal has not played anyone!!”. National pundits have said the same, “We’ll see what happens when Coastal is tested.” That time has come. The Chants benefitted from playing four games at home in their first five games. Coastal has also played some rather subpar teams, and that’s not hard to determine just glancing at their current resume. But, how bad is it? Excluding The Citadel, every single one of Coastal’s opponents currently sports a total defense that ranks 98th or worse in the country among 130 teams. On the other side of the ball, Coastal has faced just two top-65 offenses, with the three other teams ranking 116th or worse. Those two offenses were Buffalo and Arkansas State, which just happened to be the two teams that Coastal played on the road this season. The Red Wolves top-40 offense to date is only going to carry them so far, with the worst defense in the country. Buffalo is the school that gave Coastal the most fits, and are easily the best team the Chants have played this season. That’s not scoreboard reasoning, its statistically accurate. The Bulls are the only team Coastal has played with a top-100 offense (64) and defense (98).

Chanticleer quarterback Grayson McCall continues to lead a very explosive offense. In 2020, McCall did it with his arm and legs. McCall accumulated 569 rushing yards last season on 111 carries, seven going for touchdowns. In the first six games of 2021, McCall has just 82 yards on the ground this season on 32 carries. His yards per carry have been cut in half, down from 5.1 yards per tote last season. However, McCall has more than made up for that with his efficient passing. McCall has thrown just 22 incomplete passes this season, completing just shy of 80% of his passes. Numbers like that are completely unheard of. Against Buffalo, McCall threw his only interception of the year, and misfired on six passes, the most in any game this year. Last season, McCall completed 69% of his passes, but was just 12/21 (57%) against the Mountaineers. The sophomore has increased his passing yards per game by about 20 yards per game, but outside the rushing statistics, looks very much like the player from a year ago.

Shermari Jones and Reese White were valuable members of the ground game in 2020, but they were not in the spotlight with CJ Marable getting the majority of carries. Marable exhausted his eligibility and ended his final campaign in Conway with 887 yards on the ground and another 228 yards receiving. Jones and White are now the feature backs for Coastal and have provided the production lost from Marable, and to an extent, McCall. White has played in all six games this year, gaining 455 yards to date and has scored seven times. Jones has played in four games, and has accumulated 401 yards. Neither Jones or White have shown receiving chops on a consistent basis so far this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen Wednesday. As far as pass catchers, most of it comes from two guys. Javon Heiligh works as a traditional wide receiver role, and has three 100-yard games this season with four touchdowns. Heiligh also works as a punt and kick returner. Isaiah Likely is a major threat from the tight end position. Likely can block and run, and is a high end NFL prospect. He had a monster game last time out against Arkansas State, who did not realize he was on the field. Likely caught eight passes for 232 yards and added four touchdowns.

There is not much to review from last week. It’s very apparent it was just a bad day for the Mountaineers. Turning the ball over and failing to convert on any third down is going to put your team in a bad spot more times than not. Seems App State had the ability to get by the tired Marshall defense and Georgia State without the full compliment of running backs, but that just won’t fly against everyone. Getting healthy at certain positions is key. The need for a one-two running back punch was never more apparent than last week. Plain and simple, everyone needed to better. If you think losses are hard on fans, just think about how the coaches and student-athletes feel. When the bar is set high, and the expectations are to win each week, those losses can bring you down hard. But losses are needed to appreciate the winning, to remind us all, you cannot have good times without the bad. The Mountaineers will respond appropriately. There is no question they are ready for the task in front of them directly, and for the remainder of the season.

Last week, statistics went out the window. Statistics are not predictive, but can sway anyone’s opinion into how something might play out. Once again they are not absolute. Just about everything that was highlighted last week was a waste of time and space. It happens. That really makes a perfect transition for predictive measures regarding Coastal Carolina. Most of the time, they are one of the more explosive teams in the country. Also, most of the time, in this sample size, six times this season, they have not played offenses or defenses that are explosive. That collectiveness is what Coastal thrives on. The Chants thrive on teams that have difficulties scoring and stopping their opponents. Seems simple, but it can be more complicated. Stay with me here. The term “triple-option” in college football has historically meant a heavy emphasis on running the football, with a quarterback lining up under center, handing off to an upback, or showing a fake handoff and sprinting to the edge with another flanker or wingback in tow. Coastal’s version is a lot different. Sometimes the first and third option is the same player, and often a pass option is used. It’s nearly like the run based triple option and pass oriented RPO were meshed. Occasionally, the mesh point (handoff point between running back and quarterback) is enhanced to further stress the defense, making them stop and think, while the offensive players continue their attack. What we are getting at, is that winning on third down is not enough when you defend Coastal. You have to win on first and second down equally as much. Sure, Coastal is first in the country on third down conversions at nearly 62%. But, they have only attempted 55 third down conversions in six games. That is the lowest mark in the country as well. App State’s job on Wednesday night is too force inefficiency, or to borrow an old triple option term, keep them behind the chains. Offensively, the Mountaineers also provide a tough test for the Coastal defense. Once Coastal gets ahead in games, their defense typically sits back in zone coverage, and plays a “no doubles” defense, to avoid big plays. Against Arkansas State, who has no running game, you saw Coastal let everything happen underneath, and then they attacked the ball. Coastal will have to play downhill against App State, just like they had to when they went on the road at Buffalo. The Bulls ran 47 times for 262 yards on the Chanticleers and were 9/16 on third down. They gave themselves a chance by keeping the ball out of Coastal’s hands. If the Mountaineers can play that patient on offense, I like their chances.

The First Pick

Surf but no Turf 31

Mountaineers 34

App State Football @ Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.31

Louisiana: 70.17

Home: 2.55

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.59 points

Line: App State -5

Series: App State leads 8-1

Last Meeting: App State 21, Louisiana 24, December 4, 2020, Boone, NC

For a special group of super seniors, Tuesday’s game is a day they have looked forward to for over ten months. The implications of the App State-Louisiana game have been clear for a couple seasons, 2020 aside. If you want to host the conference championship game, you have to win this game. Reminder, a championship game did not take place last year. Doubt anyone needed reminding. For App State, this is the second game of the so-called revenge tour. Marshall was handled. Louisiana stands in the way next. Similar to App State, the Cajuns returned a lot of from last season’s team, but had some coaching turnover. Louisiana’s season to date from a win-loss perspective was expected, but it’s been a somewhat rocky journey. But really that does not matter. Just about every team in college football in 2021 has their flaws, and the cliché of taking one game at a time might have more meaning than ever. Both teams taking the field on Tuesday night will gladly walk away with a win of any sort.

When reviewing Louisiana’s schedule this season, you will see that the Cajuns are 4-1 with a loss to Texas. A game where some experts thought that Louisiana would give the Longhorns the game, actually turned into a twenty point blowout as Texas pulled away in the second half. The experts may have expected the Cajuns to compete due to their win over Iowa State last year, which was mostly fueled by special teams play. More on special teams later. However, it is difficult to look at Louisiana’s four wins and say, you know what, that game was a coin toss, and they pulled it out. First, we see that they squeaked by Nicholls State at home. Louisiana was up 27-10 late before allowing two fourth quarter scores to Nicholls. Then the Cajuns smacked around once proud Ohio 49-14, just five days after Ohio lost to FCS Duquesne. Not sure what Ohio was thinking with that scheduling, playing a tough road game on a Thursday after playing the previous Saturday. The following wins over Georgia Southern and South Alabama were both tight games. Louisiana held off Southern 28-20 and edged the Jaguars 20-18. Two conference road wins will never disappoint a coach. It’s not easy to win in Paulson, no matter how much longer a coach is hanging around. The South Alabama game was also played in a downpour. However, in both conference wins, the opposing team scored very early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to one possession, yet Louisiana found a way.

Tuesday night will be the seventh time that Levi Lewis has dressed for a football game against App State. Even in 2017, when Lewis appeared in just four total games, one of those games was against the Mountaineers. There has not been another opposing quarterback in the history of this blog, that has been written about more times. We know who he is, what he is capable of, and also, what he is not capable of. Lewis remains a dual-threat quarterback, averaging 24.4 rushing yards per game. That figure is down slightly from last year when he ran more than any other season in which he was a full time starter. Lewis is passing for close to 220 yards per game which is negligibly different from previous seasons. Basically, Levi Lewis has been a very steady quarterback for several years. He has not improved greatly, nor has he regressed either. The Cajuns need him to play well to win, and he usually does.

For teams like Louisiana who spread the ball among three running backs, it helps to look at the overall picture instead of breaking down one player at a time. Those three have 131 carries for 712 yards and have added nine touchdowns. That works out to 5.4 yards per carry between the trio. Chris Smith has the most carries (52), but the fewest yards (231). Emani Bailey has more yards (249), and the fewest carries (34). Montrell Johnson is a freshman, and leads the group with four touchdowns, all those coming against Ohio. All three had light workloads against South Alabama last week. They combined for just 23 carries, but amassed 170 yards. Not long ago, Louisiana was eyeing to have three 1,000 yard rushers in a season. That lofty goal was not achieved, but the Cajuns are a long way from getting there in 2021. As a team, the Cajuns are 59th in the country in rushing offense at 166 yards per game. That’s a rather pedestrian ranking compared to what Louisiana had been accustomed to.

The tone was set from the opening drive last weekend. The Mountaineers were expecting Georgia State to run the ball and shorten the game, but they also knew at some point, they were going to have to score touchdowns. So the Panthers attempted that strategy on the first drive of the game. Incompletion. Interception. The Panthers had a turnover before they gained a yard. Three and a half minutes of game time later, the Mountaineers punched it in the end zone and never looked back. The Mountaineer defense finished the game with three interceptions, and added four sacks. Most importantly, Georgia State was held to a 20% conversion rate (3/15) on third down, and three red zone drives resulted in just three made field goals. The Mountaineers did not run wild, but managed 4.1 yards per carry. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Chase Brice, who arguably had his best day in the black and gold. His 326 passing yards was a career mark and his three touchdown passes were the most in a game since 2018, when Brice helped Clemson beat Louisville 77-16.

Much like last week, deferring any information from the previous years game lends absolutely zero direction as to how this year will play out. If you remember, last year’s game was played in a torrential downpour, both quarterbacks played poorly, and numerous mistakes were made on both sides of the ball. Tuesday night should be clear and mild for mid-October. So just because the Cajuns were able to finally get a win over the Mountaineers last December, does not mean they have figured out App State. The injury bug has settled in around the Cajuns this year, which has decimated their offensive line. That is as much to blame for the struggles, or lack of consistent success Louisiana has had on the ground compared to years past. Those struggles have put the Cajuns in unfavorable third down situations. On the season, Louisiana has converted third downs just 31.7% of the time, which is 111th in the country. The Mountaineer defense has been downright nasty on third downs all season, allowing opponents a paltry 29.7% success rate, which ranks 17th nationwide. On the flip side, Louisiana is one of the worst in the country from stopping their opponents on third downs, allowing a 45% success rate. Staying on the field is important in football, because if you have the ball, and can drive, chances are you can score more points. That leads us into the next telling statistic that derives from said conversions. App State averages 32 minutes of possession a game. That’s the best figure in the conference. Louisiana is the exact opposite, maintaining possession for just 27 minutes a game. That’s the worst figure in the conference. Starting to sound like Marshall a little bit huh? The Cajuns have outscored their opponents in the first half this year 78-50, but are dead even in the second half. Add the kickoff return threat from running back Chris Smith, and you see where this is going. A defense that fades in the second half due to being on the field too much, but has been buoyed by special teams, which gives the illusion of a great team. Marshall has more talent, but Louisiana plays better situational ball, turning the ball over less, and playing within themselves. A lowing scoring 2019-type game would not be surprising, but the Mountaineers might have a better defense than two years ago, and the Cajuns definitely do not have the same defense as then.

The First Pick

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 31

App State Football @ Georgia State

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

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021 2:00pm 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

Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.98

Georgia State: 61.65

Home: 2.77

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.56 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last Meeting: App State 17, Georgia State 13, November 14, 2020, Boone, NC

In light of the recent trend that the coolest, most important event that just occurred being the most significant, we’ll say this: Last Thursday night, with Kidd Brewer Stadium covered in black and gold and sprinkled in kelly green, brought back so many emotions, it was hard to contain. It legitimately felt like a big time event. Seeing the Herd run out in all white, just like a quarter century ago, was icing. Seeing the trash talk commence early was exactly what that rivalry was all about years ago. It was special. Now we transition from a rivalry of decades ago, to a friendship that has lasted decades. With each game this friendly competition gets overplayed, overtyped and overanalyzed. The two head coaches just want their players to succeed. The internal battle of Shawn vs. Shawn will be reminisced about around campfires in the Blue Ridge mountains in due time. This weekend is all about getting conference play off on the right foot. In a super competitive eastern division, getting the first win, is the most important.

There is going to be a lot, and I mean a lot of, emphasis placed on Georgia State narrowly losing to Auburn. Talk like that is good to motivate players, and keep them from downplaying an inferior opponent. Georgia State did not suddenly figure it out last weekend. They capitalized on an Auburn team that had their feelings hurt the week before at Penn State. Also, an Auburn team that is working with a new head coach. The Panthers other three opponents were not working with new head coaches in 2021, and those games were ugly for more reasons than one. Army pummeled Georgia State 43-10, and outgained the Panthers 356-177. The next week was worse. North Carolina beat down the Panthers 59-17. The Heels more than doubled up Georgia State in total yards, 607-271. The following game, the Panthers took care of Charlotte by a score of 20-9. The 49ers and Panthers combined for 78 rushing attempts. The difference was that Georgia State was able to run against Charlotte, and stop the 49ers ground game. Georgia State outrushed Charlotte 298-118. After three games, the Panthers were averaging less than 16 points per game.

The Panthers bumrushed Auburn in the second quarter last week, scoring three touchdowns and leading 24-12 at the half. Auburn managed just four first half field goals. Georgia State put together a non-scoring 44-yard drive on their first possession of the second half, but then proceeded to go 3 downs and out on their next four possessions. Their next drive lasted five plays but only consumed twenty yards. Their final two possessions also only covered twenty yards. In all, the Panthers gained 85 second half yards, with over half coming on one drive. Zero points were scored. Auburn woke up, and finished them. Georgia State cannot afford to go scoreless in the second half and expect to beat any SEC school, much less the Sun Belt. At minimum, the Panthers needed to allow fewer possessions to Auburn just by grinding out a few more first downs in the second half, and that might have altered the final score. That is asking a lot from a team ranked 111th in first downs, averaging just 17.5 per game.

The ground game is there for Georgia State, but they are running well for one reason. They have be good at it. It’s just about their only option right now. Quarterbacks Cornelius “Quad” Brown IV, and Darren Grainger have combined to lead one of the worst passing attacks in the country. The Panthers enter this weekend ranked 119th in passing efficiency, 125th in passing yards per game, and 123rd in completion percentage. This is not an option team. You would expect teams like Navy and Georgia Southern to be down there. Brown showed promise last year, throwing for over 2200 yards with seventeen touchdown passes. He also averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. That figure is down to 4.3 yards per pass in 2021, and he has not played the last two weeks. Grainger has appeared in every game, but has started the last two, and his production shows the direction that the Panthers are going. Grainger has 34 rushing attempts for 111 yards the last two games. Add to that, he has dropped back to pass 36 times in those two games, and has been sacked five times.

There were a lot of things that happened in the win against Marshall. When the offense runs 92 plays, your result is a stat padding game. Usually those games are blowouts, and this was not. That Thursday night will be remembered for a long time. Perhaps the most memorable performance came from Nate Noel. After a first half that saw just 18 yards on three carries for Noel, he exploded in the second half. Noel ran for 65 yards in the third quarter, and 104 yards in the fourth quarter. But more than anything, we will remember what Noel did not do. He did not score a touchdown in the closing minutes. In that scenario, possession was more vital than points, as Noel secured a first down, and fell to the ground at the five yard line. That play allowed the Mountaineers to kill the clock and secure the win. Can you say enough about Corey Sutton? It’s possible. Sutton was targeted 17 times by Chase Brice, catching ten balls for 127 yards, while also adding another toe-tapping highlight reel catch for a touchdown. Lest we forget Thomas Hennigan, who also turned in a 123-yard performance on nine catches. And of course, we could not go on with mentioning a tough effort by Cam Peoples, carrying the ball 25 times for 78 yards in just two and a half quarters of playing time. Peoples punched in three touchdowns, and really set the table for Noel in the game’s final twenty minutes.

We all know the series record. Seven games played, and seven games won by App State. The closest games in this series were both played in Boone. In 2016, App State scored a late touchdown for the final margin in an otherwise uneventful 17-3 win. Last year, Jacob Huesman willed the Mountaineers down the field with a late fourth quarter score that gave App State its first lead, and eventually App State held on to win 17-13. That’s it. Those are the two closest games this series has had. Those also represent the fewest points (17) App has scored in the series. Otherwise, the Mountaineers have averaged 42.6 points per game in the five other contests. Additionally, there has not been a close game played in Atlanta, regardless of which former professional stadium or park it was played in. The Mountaineers have averaged 41.3 points across three games in Fulton County. All of this is the past. The 2020 game has no bearing on this Saturday, and neither does Georgia State’s close call with Auburn. This is a completely different game. Unimpressive football is unsustainable for continued success. That is exactly what Georgia State’s offense has shown this season. Listen, the Panthers are going to lean on the running game behind a very experienced offensive line, but until they develop a more consistent passing attack, they will struggle. A lot of the reasons why App State and Georgia State played so close last year are gone. One, obviously being Corey Sutton, and a less than healthy Thomas Hennigan. Those guys are now in peak form, and the App State offense has all the confidence in Chase Brice to get the ball to them. Despite playing three run oriented teams in Army, Charlotte, and Auburn, the Panthers rank just 117th in team passing efficiency defense nationwide. The Panther defense has registered zero interceptions, but have allowed 915 passing yards and eight touchdown passes. The fifteen yards per catch allowed is also eye-popping. The Mountaineers will not forget the way they played last year offensively, and you can expect a little more firepower than what you saw in 2020. I highly doubt Georgia State can score twenty points in this one, and the Mountaineers will score plenty more.

The First Pick

Blue Kittens 17

Mountaineers 34