Here we go with Week 5
South Alabama (2-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday, October 4th, 6:00pm EST
TV/LIve Video: 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
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 54.36
So Ala: 58.95
So Ala is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 8 points
Sportsbook: So Ala 4, O/U 48
Series: First Meeting
Last Meeting: n/a
After being left hung to dry by Sun Belt scheduling and the Georgia Southern option attack, Appalachian State will be well rested for South Alabama in its FBS home opener this weekend. If you recall, Appalachian had short rest to deal with last weekend with consecutive road tilts, playing two games in six days. This weekend, the Mountaineers have eight days of rest and will face a team that is playing its second road game in as many weekends. Last weekend, the Jaguars dominated Idaho in a 34-10 romp, all while traveling close to 5,000 miles round trip. They will log another 600 miles before making it to Boone on Saturday, and let me tell you, the seasons are changing quick in the North Carolina Mountains. The Jaguars will be experiencing close to 25-30 degree difference in high and low temperatures from when they depart the Gulf Shore to arrival in the High Country. Selfishly, I have been looking forward to those November afternoons when the Cajun schools came to Boone, awaiting to see them crumble like a dehydrated fallen maple leaf. We won’t have to wait. Mother Nature will greet our deep south colleagues with a frosty hello on Saturday morning.
South Alabama picked up their first conference win of the season last week in Idaho, posting their highest offensive marks of the season with a 426 yard effort. That number represents 30% of the Jags total offensive yardage on the season. South Alabama is not extremely explosive on offense, which will be a big difference for Appalachian compared to last week. The Jaguars are averaging 4 yards per rush and only 5.7 yards per passing attempt. Starting quarterback Brandon Bridge is passing for just under 178 yards per game, but has also ran for 134 yards this season. Bridge is a big quarterback at 6’5″ and 235 pounds, but does not appear physically imposing. Think about a taller, fatter Jamal Jackson from 2012. Bridge is completing just 52% of his passes, and has four interceptions compared to just three touchdown tosses on the season.
There are several offensive numbers that pop off the stat page for South Alabama. Most Mountaineer fans are pretty aware of the red zone inefficiencies. Several occasions in the last two games have most likely kept the Apps from contending in each games. Somehow, South Alabama is struggling more than the Mountaineers are. The Jaguars red zone scoring rate is acceptable, but not outstanding at 62.5%. Basically, thats five out of eight times, that the Jaguars score when in the red zone. However, the touchdown rate is abysmal. There is no other way to put it. The Jaguars are scoring touchdowns on only three of every eight chances they drive deep into their opponents territory. Thats 37.5% on the season, compared to the Mountaineers at 62%. So if you feel bad about how Appalachian has not scored when they were close, imagine being a South Alabama fan right now.
What this matchup seems to really boil down to is the defenses. Appalachian got gashed last week by the shifty backs from Georgia Southern, but had been fairly stout on the ground prior to last Thursday. The Eagles were able to run on the Jaguars as well, but did not control the ball like they did against the Mountaineers. South Alabama does not give up a lot on defense, if anything they are as equally as balanced as their offense. They don’t give up anything too flashy, and they keep the offense in front of them. Several times, Georgia Southern was able to run down the field for several yards without getting touched, but the Jaguars eventually swarmed. Appalachian’s defense was there against Georgia Southern, but missed a ton of tackles and could not hold on.
It is pretty painful to reminisce about a second straight performance by the Mountaineer offense that fell below expectations. The toughest thing to do is remind ourselves that Taylor Lamb is still just a freshman. A sputtering offense is to be expected with young leadership, but the opportunities have been there. This offense can move the ball until they get close and the field gets smaller. Appalachian fell into somewhat of a hole on Thursday, but it was not unmanageable. But, as a direct result, the Mountaineers abandoned the running game to an extent and left the burden on the arm of Taylor Lamb, who threw two interceptions for the second straight game. Lamb has attempted 82 passes in the last two games, and that is not a winning formula for a freshman quarterback, especially not on the road. The Mountaineers are going to need to mix in the run more often.
Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw need to start the game with an explosive attitude. I say that not knowing who will get the bulk of the carries. Cox, has had a pretty even distribution in the first four games, but Upshaw’s carries have been unpredictable. Upshaw was a bright spot at Michigan, but has since only gained 80 yards in three games on twenty-one carries. Lamb has run the ball some, but its not a consistent threat. His touchdown run on Thursday was more about making a good read, but he also had a couple sprint option plays that were not exactly productive.
We are going to go a little short this week. Why? Sometimes you just have to. Sometime it is pointless to keep rehashing the same problems from one week to the next. The Mountaineers are young, and they are going to continue to look like it until probably next season. There will be times where they look good for periods of time, and others where you wonder if they have ever played the game before. That is all a part of the maturation process. South Alabama will be well served to let their roster of mostly juniors and seniors play sound football and make the young guys beat them. The Jaguars should be able to bend without breaking on defense. Until Appalachian proves it can punch in some touchdowns, other opponents should not worry. South Alabama has just enough of a defense to do that. They may not be the fastest guys, but solid football should keep them close. The Mountaineer defense is going to need a turnover in this game to help their offense, especially with a home crowd to their advantage. If the Jaguars plays turnover free football on Saturday, the Mountaineers are likely beat. I like to think of South Alabama in the same sentence of the old James Madison teams. They will bore you to death until they hit a big play, and by then, its too late, the damage has been done. For the Mountaineers its all about correcting the little things. The penalties and the missed tackles are the biggest concern. Giving up free yardage and not finishing the play are the most frustrating. It’s like handing the game to your opponent on a silver platter. However, this seems like a time where Appalachian might be able to steal a game. The South Alabama offense is worrisome, especially on the road against a team who has been hungry to get back on the field for several days. Their ineptitude to score, except on the road in quiet stadiums, should be a major concern for the Jags. The Rock isn’t Kent State and its not Idaho. This game won’t be indoors and it wont be a comfortable 80 degrees. It will be another 800 feet higher in elevation than Idaho, just enough to get your ears popping and thinking about the surrounding mountains. The Jags are a four point favorite and have played all of their games under the total. I say this game hits the over and the Mountaineers sneak by late.
The First Pick