Liberty @ Appalachian State

Here we go with Week 6

Liberty (3-3, 0-0 Big South) @ Appalachian State (1-4, 0-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 11th, 3:30pm 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

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 51.27

Liberty: 53.69

Home: 3.44

App State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 1 point

Sportsbook: n/a

Series: Appalachian leads 7-2

Last Meeting: App State 29, Liberty 22, September 21, 2002

The Mountaineers got their Sun Belt reality check on Saturday. The Apps did not have to wait for the traditional heavyweights like Arkansas State, Lafayette or Monroe. The Mountaineers were pounded by a well aged program in only their sixth year of football in South Alabama. Forget the tradition and the atmosphere and weather. South Alabama is perhaps the best team to ever visit Boone. There are plenty of teams that have played at Kidd Brewer that have been fabulous FCS or Division 1-AA programs. Marshall, Georgia Southern and Furman come to mind as programs over the last few decades that been most consistent. Some FCS playoff opponents also come to mind, but none hold a candle to what South Alabama came to Boone with last weekend. The Jaguars opened each half with twenty unanswered points. They posted 582 yards of offense despite ten penalty flags for 124 yards. The Jaguars ran for 5.3 yards per carry on forty-seven rushing attempts, but it was quarterback Brandon Bridge who had a career passing day with 339 yards on only nineteen completions. Bridge averaged close to 18 yards per completion and accounted for four total touchdowns. Two of his touchdown passes were big plays, one from 43 yards out and another from 67 yards. The Mountaineers could not sustain any offense to counter. Multiple times, Taylor Lamb overthrew his receivers, a trend that continued from nine days earlier at Georgia Southern. The running game consisted of Lamb scrambling from the pocket as the bellcows of Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw were mostly held in check. Offense is where this season has started and ended. The Mountaineers have scored exactly two meaningful fourth quarter touchdown this season, both against Southern Miss in Lamb’s first start, which seems like ages ago. The offense might wake up momentarily this weekend and give the fans some hope, but gloomy days are ahead until this team learns that games start in the first quarter.

Liberty is not your average Big South team. They have dreams for FBS football just like many FCS teams across the country who want a piece of the television pie. But for Liberty, FBS football isn’t a dream, it is a vision. They have courted the Sun Belt on several occasions as a possible travel partner for Appalachian. From that perspective, they are somewhat appealing, but the rest of the Sun Belt is not buying it. In the meantime, on the football field, Liberty has had an up and down season, but one that is not exactly surprising. They have held serve against the schools they should have beaten and have fallen short to the FBS and upper FCS programs. North Carolina pulled away late in the fourth quarter in their season opener before Liberty captured three straight wins. Indiana State and Richmond have defeated the Flames in the last two weekends. Richmond held on last week to spoil the Liberty homecoming in double overtime.

The Liberty offense is a true three-headed machine. The Flames may have shown their hand last week unleashing quarterback Josh Woodrum in a pistol running attack that was very effective against Richmond. Woodrum ran eighteen times for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Prior to last week, Woodrum had not run for more than 36 yards in a game this season. Woodrum has the look off a pocket passer at 6’3 and 225 pounds. He has averaged a solid 257 yards per game while throwing eleven touchdowns to five interceptions.

Darrin Peterson is more than just Woodrum’s go-to receiver; he is just about the only guy he looks for. Evidence to that is the 11 catches that Peterson hauled in against Richmond of the fifteen completed passes that Woodrum completed. Peterson was an all Big South performer last year as a sophomore and has four straight games with over 100 receiving yards this season. Peterson has already hauled in 45 receptions for 709 yards and five touchdowns. If that pace continues, he’ll surely contend for the Big South player of the year award, and might also be named to the midseason Walter Payton Watch list.

DJ Abner is leading rusher for the Flames with 493 yards and five touchdowns. He is almost a guarantee to get about fifteen carries a game. Abner has two games this season with over 100 yards this season against Bryant and Richmond. Abner has caught exactly one pass out of the backfield in the each games this year with mixed results. Three catches went for a total of five yards, while the other three covered 64 yards and a touchdown.

Eventually, Appalachian is going to have to wake up and understand that scoring in the first quarter is paramount to success. The Mountaineers have been outscored 41-10 in the opening frame this season. That has led to Appalachian trailing at the half in all four of their losses. In the last three losses, the games were not out of reach at halftime. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers have also been outscored in the third quarter this season 34-21. As the time goes on in a game, the defense wears thin and their breaks become shorter and shorter due to offensive inefficiency. Nate Woody’s defensive scheme was accustomed to Wofford teams controlling the clock and usually maintaining a lead. Without that luxury, Woody’s scheme is getting exposed.

Obviously talent is there on offense , but Taylor Lamb and many of his weapons are still very young. It makes one wonder if Lamb would not be better suited to sit back and watch more than he did last weekend. It was evident that Lamb was not on his game early on, yet it was well into the fourth quarter before Kam Bryant saw the field. Finding a balance between good experience and bad experience for a freshman quarterback is difficult for a coaching staff. Finding a balance between believing in a process and making every effort to win a game is difficult for fans. For the good of team, coaches and fans, all the hard work is going to have to start showing some results. Hopefully, a return to a more familiar and conventional kickoff time for a game will help with that process.

As far as how the running game looks for Appalachian, it has been somewhat of a mixed bag. I believe most fans would have imagined the numbers to be slightly higher for Marcus Cox (71/344/5) and Terrance Upshaw (51/244/1). Both are averaging over 4.5 yards a carry, but it has been the running of Lamb that might be the most surprising. Lamb’s carries have gone up in every game, but that is not great formula when Cox and Upshaw and more than willing to carry the load. The last two games, Appalachian did not record a 100 yard rusher like it had in the first three games. Part of that is Cox/Upshaw getting only thirty carries in the last two games, compared to over thirty carries per game in the previous three.

It all comes down to an incredibly slow three hour domino effect. The lack of early scoring leads to the defense getting worn out and falling behind. When the team is behind, they are forced to abandon their running game and play away from their strengths. It is basically that simple. Last weekend Liberty played one of their bigger games of the season, despite it being an out of conference game. The Flames had another record setting crowd and their fans are becoming infected with Liberty football. Reports are that Liberty fans are coming in droves to the High Country this weekend, and add that on top of normal High Country tourists and Appalachian’s Homecoming and it should be a busy weekend. Hopefully the Mountaineer offense will get back to basics this weekend with a steady diet of Cox and Upshaw. Liberty has given up over 200 yards rushing a game defensively and has also allowed fifteen rushing touchdowns in six games. In the last two games, Liberty has allowed 300 yard passers in each game. I don’t want Taylor Lamb anywhere near 300 passing yards. I want him down near 225 and maybe throw in another 40 yards rushing. Can Cox and Upshaw go over 100 yards each? I’d love to see it but I don’t think it will happen. One of them will have the hot hand and will put up a big number as the Mountaineers pull away in the second half.

The First Pick

Mountaineers 34

Sparks 20

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