Appalachian Football @ Arkansas State

Here we go with Week 10

Appalachian State (4-5, 3-2 Sun Belt) @ Arkansas State (6-3, 4-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 15th, 3:00pm 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

Centennial Bank Stadium

Surface: GEO Surfaces FieldTurf

Capacity: 30,406

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 55.34

Ark State: 70.37

Home: 3.15

Arkansas State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 18 points

Sportsbook: Arkansas St -14.5, O/U 65

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Stop for few seconds, close your eyes, and remember that feeling you had after Appalachian defeated Monroe last weekend. It was not just a feeling of relief, but of validation. The Mountaineers previous wins over Troy and Georgia State were not flukes over the Sun Belts lesser talented teams. It was a building block towards the future. Now, Monroe isn’t the best in the conference, but that win garnered some attention. Prior to the game, Monroe was the best defense in the conference. Monroe is a Louisiana school, which is the home state to the conference headquarters in New Orleans. But, before you get any respect in the Sun Belt, you must defeat the two longer tenured schools in Arkansas State and Lafayette. Georgia State and South Alabama also played Ark St and Lafayette in consecutive weekends this season, and both came away with two losses each. The next two weekends are a tall task for the Mountaineers, but I would not want it any other way. The Mountaineers want to be the best in the conference, and in order to do so, you got to beat the best. In its first year of transition, Appalachian will have the chance to really see how they measure up with the Sun Belt powers. Even better, the Mountaineers get to test themselves on the road in a stadiums with good atmospheres, despite lacking a couple thousand camouflaged hunters.

Arkansas State is the three-time defending Sun Belt champion and have gone to three straight Bowls , winning the last two. Somehow, the Red Wolves have accomplished all of this with three different head coaches in the last three seasons. Current head coach Blake Anderson is the fourth head coach in as many years. Hugh Freeze was the head coach in 2011 before being hired by Ole Miss. Gus Malzahn was head coach in 2012 after spending the prior three years at Auburn as offensive coordinator. After Gene Chizik was fired at Auburn, Malzahn went back to the plains and is now the head coach for Auburn. Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired for the 2013 season, where he also stayed for one year before heading west to his alma matar, Boise State, where he had played quarterback and spent ten years as an assistant. Blake Anderson is a first time head coach at Arkansas State and has spent time on the staffs at North Carolina, Southern Miss, and Middle Tennessee in the last decade.

Anderson has been known as an offensive guru at every stop he has made throughout his coaching career and the same holds true for Arkansas State in 2014. The Red Wolves are second in the conference in total offense and third in scoring. Quarterback Fredi Knighten leads the conference in total yardage with over 290 yards per game. Knighten is second in the conference in rushing yards by a quarterback, only trailing Georgia Southern’s Kevin Ellison. Most of his rushing yards come on zone reads and sweeps. He is a very excitable player, as he nearly sprints back to the offensive backfield after each run. He is very jittery in the pocket, quickly bouncing on his toes as he looks through his reads.

Michael Gordon is the leading running back for Arkansas State behind Knighten, who is responsible for 36% of the Red Wolves carries. Gordon only has 100 carries on the season, but is also very active in the passing game. Arkansas State will usually spread out the defense with four wideouts in the formation, leaving Gordon in the backfield beside Knighten. Gordon will shift from one side of the quarterback to the other in the shotgun formation. More often than not, Gordon will run the opposite side of the formation for which he is lined up and rarely will he take the ball between the tackles. That attack had allowed Gordon to average 7.6 yards per carry.

The Red Wolves pummeled South Alabama last week 45-10, but it was not the same Jaguar team the Mountaineers saw in Boone over a month ago. South Alabama started junior Matt Floyd, who was making his first career start. Floyd threw for less than 100 yards, was sacked three times and intercepted twice. This will make the second straight weekend, that Appalachian’s opponent saw a first time quarterback starter in their previous game. If you remember, Monroe faced Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen two weeks ago. Much like Monroe, Arkansas State’s defense lives off making big plays. Appalachian committed one turnover last weekend, and it led to quick seven points for the Warhawks. South Alabama committed four turnovers last weekend, and it seemed Arkansas State capitalized on all of them. The Red Wolves defense flys around and forces the action toward the sidelines. They hit hard and get after the quarterback. Occasionally, when the opposing offense is in a third and long situation, Arkansas State will line up in a stack formation with their lineman and linebackers in a look that is meant to confuse. That has helped them to lead the conference in opponents third down conversions. Appalachian did a good job last weekend protecting Taylor Lamb and gave up zero sacks to the team that led the league in sacks. This week, Arkansas State now leads the conference in sacks.

Monroe and Appalachian played a classic last weekend. Neither running game could really get going, as both teams held each other to under three yards per carry. The difference was in the quarterback play. Monroe’s Pete Thomas continued his decline, completing under 50% of his passes for only six yards per attempt. Thomas was sacked six times by the Mountaineer defense, a number not seen in several years. Appalachian’s Lamb was much more efficient despite a vaselined interception in the first quarter. Lamb connected on 71% of his passes, including a dime he dropped for Shaedon Meadors late in the second quarter that was caught with one hand by the freshman wide receiver. For the first time this season, a Mountaineer kicker was the difference in the closing moments of the game, as Bentlee Critcher nailed a 39-yard field goal for the game winning points.

Although Marcus Cox was held in check on the ground for the most part, he was effective in the passing game. Cox caught five passes for 56 yards. Coming into the game, Cox had only managed nine receptions for 71 yards. Cox added another touchdown to give thirteen on the season and eight touchdowns in his last four games. He is now up to 913 rushing yards on the season

In the last three games, the weather forecast has been a concern leading into the weekend. Obviously, the Georgia State game will be unforgettable for the snow that fell throughout the day, Last weekend started cool, but for a local, it turned out to be a pretty nice day with the kickoff temperature being 52 degrees and sunny, but quickly dipped into the 40’s as the game wore one. A Monroe player was quoted as saying that is was cold and trying to stay warm might have gotten to them. This is something I thought might be an issue in the South Alabama game, but it was not to be. This weekend, the Mountaineers will take some early winter weather to Jonesboro as the high temperatures are not expected to reach forty degrees.

These two teams are mirror images on paper offensively. Both teams are extremely balanced. Arkansas State has passed for almost 200 more yards than they have run for while, Appalachian has rushed for a little more than 200 yards than they have passed. Exactly 18 yards of total offense separate the second ranked (Ark St) and third ranked (App St) offenses in the Sun Belt. Both teams have scored exactly 39 touchdowns. The Mountaineers have totaled five more points than the Redwolves. The difference is the defenses. Although Appalachian has held teams to 11 fewer yards per game over the course of the season, Arkansas State holds the points allowed edge by four points. The Red Wolves are undefeated at home, a place where they have only surrendered 48 points all season. The Red Wolves offense is also on a roll in the past four weeks, scoring over 45 points per game over Sun Belt opponents, compared to just 25 points per game in the first five contests of the season. The key for Appalachian will be to keep the game close in first quarter. It will be important to take the crowd out of the game with some long drives and to avoid a momentum changing turnover at all costs. Once Arkansas State smells blood on defense, they pounce and do not let you up. Their linebackers are huge and make it really difficult around the line of scrimmage. Thats where the difference will be made in this game. If Appalachian allows the Red Wolves to dictate the middle of the field, and can neutralize the Mountaineer rushing attack, it could be a long day. This will be the biggest test for this young Mountaineer offense. I could see a game similar to the Lafayette-Ark St game from a few weeks ago. Lots of scoring, but a couple plays will decide how this one ends.

The First Pick:

Mountaineers 31

More Indians 44

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