Here we go with Week 8
Louisiana-Monroe (3-5, 2-2, Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (3-5, 2-2 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 8th, 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
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 56.99
App State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 4.5 points
Sportsbook: App State -3.5, O/U 54
Series: first meeting
Last Meeting: n/a
It has been some time since Mountaineer fans have experienced a winning streak. Nearly two years to be exact. Appalachian has a chance to extend its winning streak when it welcomes Louisiana-Monroe to The Rock for Black Saturday, which is always reserved for the best or toughest opponent on the schedule. Monroe was an easy choice for Black Saturday as its history in the Sun Belt dates back to 2001 and includes a Sun Belt Championship in 2005. Monroe played in their first bowl game in 2012 when they lost to Ohio in the Independence Bowl. The Warhawks left the division formerly known as I-AA in 1993 after winning a national championship over Marshall in 1987. This is the twenty-first season for Monroe in Division I and they have only generated one winning season, in 2012. Monroe went 6-6 three times in that same period of time. Getting to 6-6 this season would be a tall task, not only for Monroe, but also for Appalachian. Both teams certainly have their sites set on at least breaking even in 2014. Monroe would have to win on the road for the first time this season. Appalachian would most likely need to win both home games and steal one at Lafayette or Arkansas State. Chances are slim for either team to pull it off, but the race to six wins is a major accomplishment in the Sun Belt. Even if a 6-6 record is not rewarded with a bowl berth, just being able to tell recruits that you were bowl-eligible is a big deal. Before either team gets to six wins, one team has to get their fourth win this weekend, while the other will get that sixth loss. Monroe has dropped four straight games while the Mountaineers are feeling confident and hope to ride the momentum.
As previously noted, Monroe has risen through the ranks of college football like most Sun Belt schools. Similarly to Appalachian, Monroe had some success in the NCAA playoffs. The Warhawks made the playoffs four times from 1987-1993, with a 5-3 overall playoff record. That success vaulted the school into Division I where they were an independent, without a conference affiliation, for seven seasons before landing in the Sun Belt.
Fast forward to 2012, the year the Warhawks went 8-5 and made the headlines for their big win over #8 Arkansas on the opening weekend of the season. Monroe won that game in overtime before heading to Auburn the following week and losing in overtime. After Auburn, Monroe battled Baylor in a shooutout before falling by five points at home. Monroe then won five straight games, including three over Sun Belt opponents who are no longer in the conference. Monroe then split their final four games, losing to the Sun Belt stalwarts Lafayette and Arkansas State before defeating North Texas and Florida International. Monroe went 6-2 in conference play that year. Five of those six wins were over teams who have left the Sun Belt. Those two losses were in back to back weeks, just like Appalachian’s schedule stacks up after this weekend.
Much has been made about Monroe’s tough loss last weekend at Texas A&M, but I am not buying it. The Aggies were without sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill after a team suspension. Hill had over 2600 yards and 23 touchdown passes in his first eight games. Texas A&M had to start Kyle Allen who was seeing his first action as a college quarterback after being one of the most heralded recruits in 2013. Allen managed 106 passing yards on 13/28 passing and was responsible for two turnovers. Monroe’s game plan was to keep the ball away from the Aggies. They were successful, controlling the clock for close to 34 minutes despite only rushing for 78 yards.
Warhawk quarterback Pete Thomas ran the ball more times against A&M than he did in any game this season, although his nineteen carries only covered forty-four yards. Thomas also threw the ball more times than he had all season with forty-seven attempts. He is a big quarterback at 6’5 and 235 pounds and came to Monroe via NC State and Colorado State. Thomas started all twenty one games as a freshman and sophomore at Colorado State before being sidelined with an injury for the remainder of the 2011 season. He sat out the 2012 season and redshirted before heading to Raleigh where he appeared in nine games and made six starts. Thomas then took advantage of the NCAA rule allowing graduate students to transfer and play their fourth year of football at another school without having to sit out, a move made popular by Greg Paulus of Syracuse football via Duke Basketball and Russell Wilson currently of the Seattle Seahawks, who transferred to Wisconsin after leaving NC State. Wherever Thomas has played collegiately, he has been an accurate quarterback and has had decent passing yards, but his touchdown numbers are low. In his career, he has 7,744 yards and holds a 29/35 touchdown to interception ratio. His yards per pass, completion percentage and QB efficiency rating are all at career lows in this season.
The Monroe rushing attack is nearly not worthy of a mention. On the season, the Warhawks have rushed for 729 yards. In comparison, Appalachian has dropped back to back four hundred yard rushing games in its last two contests. Leading rusher Centarius Donald is a big back at 6’1 and 223 pounds but is a complete plodder after three knee surgeries. Donald’s 469 rushing yards have come primarily at home. Donald has only thirty carries on the road this season for 113 yards, at 3.8 yards per carry. As a team, the Warhawks average only 2.7 yards per carry and 91 rushing yards per game on the season. Against Troy on September 27th at home, Monroe managed just 29 rushing yards.
Appalachian had every answer last Saturday against Georgia State. The physical plant dominated the turf in convincing fashion, moving about four inches of heavy snow prior to kickoff, which paved the way for Marcus Cox. The sophomore from Dacula, Ga ran for a career high 250 yards and three touchdowns. Ricky Fergerson added another 130 yards on the ground which was aided by an 84 yard run in the third quarter. Appalachian converted three turnovers into twenty-one points en route to their second shutout of the season. Only Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State, Stanford and yes, Appalachian State have two shutouts in FBS football this season.
So, after three games with big offensive numbers, Appalachian gets the Sun Belt’s top defense, in terms of yards allowed. But Monroe has yet to face three of the top five rushing offenses and total offenses in the Sun Belt this season. Monroe has played Texas State, who ran for 229 yards on the Warhawks and Arkansas State who rushed for 288 yards, but Monroe has games against Appalachian, Lafayette and Georgia Southern looming before the end of the season. My guess is Monroe will not be at the top of the conference in defense in four weeks. The Monroe secondary is also suspect over the top. Troy completed pass after pass where the Trojan receivers simply beat the defenders deep. The issue when playing the awkward 3-3-5 defensive formation of Monroe is protecting the quarterback. If Appalachian can keep Taylor Lamb’s pass attempts around twenty, the Mountaineers will be looking good. I can see a couple deep shots to Malachi Jones or Shaedon Meadors if the line can protect. Monroe’s offense is very similar to Troy. They like getting the ball in their receivers hands and allow them to make plays in the open field. Monroe will force you to make one-on-one tackles in space. Even though Pete Thomas runs a bit, he is somewhat of a statue if his first read is covered. The Mountaineer secondary will be tested if Appalachian cannot get some pressure on the quarterback. The spread is just about perfect for this game. For Monroe, it is a good number considering their solid kicking game and strong defense. But if the Warhawks want to win they have to get to twenty points. They are 1-5 scoring under twenty points and 2-0 scoring more than 20 points. They are gonna need at least 24 to beat the Mountaineers.
The First Pick: