Here we go with Week 4
Appalachian State (1-2, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Georgia Southern (2-2, 1-0 Sun Belt)
Thursday, September 25th, 7:30pm EST
TV/LIve Video: ESPNU & ESPN3
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
Surface: Natural Bermuda Grass
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 56.20
Ga Sou: 64.15
Ga Sou is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 12 points
Sportsbook: Ga Sou 18.5, O/U 60
Series: Appalachian leads the all time series 15-12-1
Last Meeting: App State 38, Ga Sou 14, October 26, 2013; Boone, NC
Having only five days between games seems like a short time to remember why we all despise Georgia Southern. I feel robbed of the anticipation that is the the nastiest rivalry in the South that nobody knows about. But at the same time, only having the think about a blocked extra point to lose a game, on what was essentially the last play, for only five days seems like a deal compared the 2013 offseason. The last time it happened, we lost a head coach, and nearly two years later, we still have not recovered from that failed point after touchdown. That game the last true FCS game for Appalachian’s program, considering the Mountaineers were not eligible to win anything in 2013. Hopefully, the Illinois State and Southern Miss games serve as bookends to a dark time in Appalachian football history. Now, Appalachian officially begins its Sun Belt era, and luckily enough, Georgia Southern, and a nationwide audience are waiting. I can guarantee the memories of last Saturday night are forgotten by the players, painful as they might be. So many points were left on the field, yet the urge to continue the battle did not escape the black and gold. A freshman quarterback in his first start never wavered with his back to the wall and only two minutes to score. Taylor Lamb completed seven of twelve passes, accounting for all 75 yards of the final drive with his arm, while converting twice on third down and once on fourth down. Let me repeat. First career start. On the road. He had one job to do, which was put the ball in the end zone. Nothing fazed him. Paulson Stadium will not intimidate Lamb. He has been there plenty times before on the sidelines with his father. He’s hated Georgia Southern as long as he can remember, just like the rest of the Mountaineer faithful.
If you have not heard, Georgia Southern is all the rage in the Sun Belt. With their close losses on the road to ACC opponents NC State and Georgia Tech, they have become the new favorite to possibly win the conference. Considering their win over preseason contender South Alabama last weekend and their easy conference slate in which they avoid heavyweights Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, the Eagles have a real chance. The remaining potential speed bumps on their schedule include Louisiana Monroe late in the season and maybe Texas State can give them trouble. Oh wait. Nearly forgot about their game this week. Yep, those damn Mountaineers who have beaten the Eagles three times in a row and eight times in the last ten years. Those same Mountaineers that had no chance of beating the Eagles last year, but did. The same Mountaineers that nobody is giving a shot to win this year either.
The Eagles have changed their coach and their offense since the last time they tangled with the Mountaineers. Jeff Monken got out of Statesboro while he could, and went to West Point to lead the Black Knights of Army. Georgia Southern looked for their new head man in a similar way that Appalachian did back in late 2012. They wanted a guy that fit their current style offense. Willie Fritz, who was in this third stint at Sam Houston State was their guy. It was not a perfect fit, but the ideas were basically the same. Fritz prefers an option attack that spreads you across the field, compared to the old triple option attack with A-backs, B-backs, and flankers. In the end, the same principles apply defensively to control both offenses. Keep the offense off schedule, or behind the chains. Avoid the big runs and be prepared when the pass comes.
Speaking of the pass. Southern is doing a lot more of it under Willie Fritz than they have in years past. In eleven games in the 2013, the Eagles gained 36 first downs via the air. In only four games this season, Southern has already racked up 23 passing first downs. That is close to 2.5 more first downs per game from one season to the next, and for an offense built like Southern’s, that appears as almost a complete philosophy change. Kevin Ellison and former Appalachian recruit Favian Upshaw have split the quarterback duties, with most of Upshaw’s playing time coming against Georgia Tech. Upshaw was responsible for a errant late pitch against the Yellow Jackets that eventually cost the Eagles the game. Upshaw did not play at all against South Alabama last week while Ellison ran the ball sixteen times for ninety-six yards and a touchdown in the win over the Jaguars.
The running game remains the bread and butter for this offense to the tune of 357 yards per game despite the uptick in the passing game. For the most part, one of three guys will carry the load. Leading rusher, and most recent winner of the Sun Belt offensive player of the week, Matt Breida has been the primary workhorse. Breida has fifty carries on the season for an astounding 445 yards and seven touchdowns. That comes out to insane 8.9 yards per carry. Breida is the type of back that will not go down on first contact and also has the wheels to take it the distance. Ellison has a quiet 7.0 yards per carry when compared to Breida. La Ramsby, (yes, thats his first and last names), is the plower. He basically gets carries to give Eliison and Breida a breather while he eats up 3.4 yards of dust on 40 carries this season.
Now that App has gotten past the issue of which quarterback should play, we can focus on Taylor Lamb as the present and future behind the center for the Mountaineers. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not impressed with Lamb in fall practice. He was almost too smooth, never hurried and everything about him seemed to be in slow motion. He appeared visually unappealing because he was so consistent. Lamb did not make the flashy play, but also never committed a shockingly bad play either. Looking back, he played a lot more in the first two games than I thought he would and it opened the door at the bye week for him to become the man. Right now, Lamb and Kam Bryant are just about even talent wise, but Lamb has the higher ceiling, so it was an easy call for the coaches to promote his development by awarding him with game experience.
Unfortunately the demons of 2013 reared their head for the Mountaineer offense at Southern Miss. The Mountaineers advanced the ball into Southern Miss territory on eight of their fifteen drives. Of those eight, three touchdowns were scored, three field goals were missed and twice the Mountaineers had goal-to-go scenarios and came up with nothing. It was about as brutal a game to watch as possible from that standpoint. Add to that the eleven penalties for 59 yards. Most of the time you commit that many penalties, you are well over the century mark in penalty yardage. Brutal. The Mountaineers converted eight of their sixteen third down conversions and possessed the ball for over thirty-five minutes of the game. Two more statistics that lean toward winning a football game, and still, the Mountaineers lost.
The Mountaineers were aggressive on defense. It was nice to the see the team attack the quarterback in the backfield. Although Appalachian was only credited with two sacks, I believe Nick Mullen was feeling the pressure in the second half. Outside of the missed assignment on the Eagles final touchdown drive, where the defensive end was supposed to pick up running back George Payne, the defense was dominant. Had the assignment been made, it was likely that Southern Miss would have at least got an attempt on a long field goal while also running clock, and not giving the Apps too much time to answer.
So the Mountaineers first win over an FBS program as an FBS program will have to wait another week, err, five days. Thursday night will pit strengths vs. strengths with the Georgia Southern run taking on the Appalachian run defense. Even after a bad game against Michigan, the Mountaineers have responded in back to back games, now only surrendering 155 yards a game on the ground for the season. Georgia Southern’s running game is well documented. If App wants to win, they have to contain it while also limiting the opportunities the Eagles have in the passing game. The best way to do that might be by keeping the Eagles off the field. The Appalachian style of offense calls for tempo and quickly getting plays off, but oddly enough, it has led the Mountaineers possessing the ball for close to 32 minutes on the season. Conversely, Southern’s offense has not been on the field much, holding the ball for under 29 minutes per game. It’s pretty simple, they cannot score when they are not on the field. Containment is the key. The Eagles are going to fumble. They always do. At this point they have ten fumbles on the season but have only lost three. Six of those fumbles were from Kevin Ellison and one from Favian Upshaw. Those two have accounted for every lost fumble. If they put two on the ground and lose them, the Apps have a real chance to win. I am befuddled by the Vegas line. I understand Georgia Southern being favored at home, but 18 points is just way to many. I believe that is an overcorrection from last week. I’ll give the Eagles the edge as much as I hate to, but I expect both teams to put on a show for Sun Belt.
The First Pick
The Stink 31