Here we go with Week 3
Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Southern Miss (1-2, 0-0 CUSA)
Saturday, September 20th, 7pm EST
TV: American Sports Network, full list of affiliates here
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville
Carlisle-Faulkner Field at Roberts Stadium
Surface: Matrix Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 56.73
Sou Miss: 54.49
Sou Miss is favored by the Sagrain Rating by 2 points
Sportsbook: Sou Miss -3, O/U 60.5
Series: Sou Miss leads the all time series 1-0
Last Meeting: Sou Miss 7, App State 0, 12/4/1937, Gulfport, MS
The bye week could not have come at a better time last week for Appalachian State. After dodging rain drops and McNeese State almost two weeks ago, the rest of the Sun Belt laid a big fat egg while the Mountaineers prepared for Southern Miss. You’ll remember the rain delay that sent the crowd home prematurely, while the opponent that Appalachian had scheduled years ago for the same weekend they eventually played Campbell, McNeese State, was giving Nebraska fits. Not only did the Sun Belt lose every game last weekend, they lost some ugly ones. Troy fell to Abilene Christian, who nearly beat Georgia State on the opening Thursday night of the season. Meanwhile, those same Ga. State Panthers and Idaho lost in offensive shootouts. Georgia Southern lost a heartbreaker at Georgia Tech in another one of their patented goof ups. Pitching the ball late in the fourth quarter is never a good idea. The rest of the bunch had games that had more predictable results. So what does all that mean for Appalachian? It represents a chance to garner some early respect from their conference peers. Out of conference games are where the Sun Belt and their peer conferences can gain a little attention and can increase their profile. Whoever is raking in wins over Conference USA teams will get some major love from the Sun Belt teams who have been around for a while. Southern Miss isn’t the cream of the crop in C-USA, but a win on Saturday will give the Mountaineers some Sun Belt credibility it cannot get from beating the Campbell’s of the world.
Southern Miss has had a similar set of opponents as Appalachian has to start the season. They sandwiched a win over FCS Alcorn State in between blowout losses to Mississippi State and Alabama. In those SEC games, the Golden Eagles managed four field goals on offense and allowed 101 points. Southern Miss was also outscored 13-6 in the second half to Alcorn State. The past twenty-seven games for Southern Miss are well documented. They have won two games while dropping twenty-five. When a team is this bad for this long, the weaknesses are usually pretty easy to find. In three games this season, the Eagles have surrendered 829 rushing yards to the tune of 6.6 yards per carry. On top of that, the Golden Eagles have scored all of two touchdowns in three games, both coming against an FCS opponent.
The Golden Eagles start a sophomore at quarterback in Nick Mullens, who is steady behind center, but not exactly flashy. Mullens started the last six games in 2013. He threw eleven touchdown passes as a starter last year and has added two touchdowns passes this season. So, in nine games as a starter, Mullens has thirteen touchdown passes. Mullens had a couple big games last year, which helped his average of 276 yards per game passing as a freshman, but has fallen off to an average of only 209 yards per game this season. Mullens will gamble sometimes, as he hit two receivers last week against Alabama in one on one situations. He wont be afraid to throw it up and give his receivers a chance to make something happen, so the Appalachian secondary must be ready to turn their heads and make a play.
We have already gone over how the Southern Miss defense cant stop the the run. Now we get to the part where the Golden Eagles cannot run the ball themselves. The have run 93 running plays this season, and are plowing the ball at 3.6 yards per carry. The epidemic affects the whole team. If it was not for Tez Parks, who has had a couple big plays to give him a 8.6 yards per carry average, the rest of the Golden Eagles average almost exactly three yards per carry. Running the ball thirty times a game with that little success cannot be fun for the running backs. Knowing a hole wont be there keeps them from running hard and leads to more dismal statistics.
The game plan seems simple for Appalachian, correct? The Mountaineers have two almost studly running backs, so the Mountaineers pound the ball all day. Wrong. This team is too early in its overall development to run the ball fifty times and ignore the passing game. Expect Appalachian to spread the ball around as usual. Whether the key back will be Marcus Cox or Terrence Upshaw remains the be seen. It was odd to see Cox carry the load as much as he did two weeks ago with his knee supposedly still recovering. Cox appears to be a fast healer which is good for the Mountaineers. Upshaw had an impressive debut against Michigan and should be fresh after all only rushing four times for 41 yards against Campbell. Cox and Upshaw have combined for 311 total rushing yards in two games.
At quarterback, Appalachian has used both Kam Bryant and Taylor Lamb in the first two games. Lamb relieved Bryant earlier in the Michigan game than most expected, and came in even earlier against Campbell. Lamb has been a little bit more efficient, but also did not play against Michigan as much as Bryant did. The feeling was that eventually, Lamb was going to supplant Bryant at some point this season. The skill level between the two seems fairly even. The main edge Bryant had was his game experience and his knowledge of the offense. Being a quarterback himself, Scott Satterfield might want to insert the guy he recruited as an FBS recruit over the FCS talent that Bryant has often been labeled.
Defensively, the Mountaineers will have a matchup that is similar to what they see in practice. Repeatedly, Southern Miss lined up against Alabama last week with five wide receivers. Occasionally the sets included some running backs mixed in with your typical wide receivers. Alabama defended Southern Miss with zone coverages on the trips (three receiver) side of the formation. Alabama rarely blitzed but still managed to force some throws from Mullens off of his back foot. The Mountaineers may choose to sit back in coverage and the onus will be on the defensive line to force Mullens into getting rid of the ball before he wants to.
This a rare matchup where both teams feel like they can get a win to hopefully provide some clarity for their fans. Southern Miss has been bad for some time now and Appalachian also has their concerns. Both teams have been beaten easily by Power Five schools and have taken care of business where they should have. This is one of the few chances Southern Miss has for a win this season and they want it bad. So badly, they started an hour long twitter smackfest on Tuesday morning with other Appalachian fans. Equally, Appalachian fans want to know where their team stands. There is a massive gap between Michigan and Campbell. Appalachian fans are looking for anywhere between four and six wins in their inaugural Sun Belt season. It does not matter if you are a four win guy or a six win guy, a part of that sum most likely includes a win this weekend in steamy Hattiesburg. Sagarin favors the Golden Eagles based purely on home field advantage. Vegas is also siding with Southern Miss by a field goal. If the home team has one advantage, it is their field goal kicker. He has already booted eight field goals through the uprights from all distances, including a long of 50 yards. For whatever reason, you have to circle the wagons and go back to the Golden Eagles inability to stop the run, or run the ball themselves. It may not be the entire Appalachian gameplan to run, but when the time is right in the fourth quarter, I feel more confident in Appalachian finishing a game by running the ball than I do Southern Miss. This game is a virtual dead heat and I could really see either team winning, but I see Appalachian pulling it out with a new starting quarterback.
The First Pick
Dixie Darlings 27