Here we go with Week 3
Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Old Dominion (2-1, 0-0 CUSA)
Saturday September 26th, 3:30 PM
TV/Video: American Sports Network
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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol
S.B. Ballard Stadium
Surface: Astroturf GameDay Grass 3D
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 60.99
Old Dominion: 51.31
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -7.5
Series: first meeting
Last Meeting: n/a
Weather: Mostly cloudy to cloudy and breezy. Rain likely throughout the day. Low 70’s
According to Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson, games like this weekend’s are the ones the conference needs to win. After a couple weeks of paying the bills, Appalachian travels to Norfolk for more than just a football game, but for an audition of what could be at the end of the regular season. Appalachian and Old Dominion have the same mindset when it comes to games between fellow members of the Group of Five conferences. The games are highly important to each program’s place within the Group of Five. Each win is one game closer to getting to six wins, which is the minimum requirement to be considered for the post season. When bowl committees are looking for schools to invite to their game, they want to know who wins on the road and who sells tickets. Neither team wants to be sitting at 6-6 hoping for a telephone call that may never come. Old Dominion and Appalachian are both in their first year of bowl eligibilty and it would mean a lot for both schools to reach that goal this season. Both schools fan bases expect to win. Anything short of that will be a disappointment and leave their team sitting with an even win-loss record or less.
Old Dominion has arguably fielded the best startup program in recent memory. In only their 7th season of football, the Monarchs have accomplished just about all you can ask for in that short period of time. In the two years they were eligible for the FCS playoffs, they qualified. Honestly, Old Dominion has been spent more time transitioning their program as a startup in FCS and later into FBS than they have been eligible for any conference title or postseason game. In 2014, the Monarchs finished 6-6, their fewest wins in program history. They have done it right by winning games throughout their short history, but FBS football is a different animal. The Monarchs endured a five game losing streak last season before finishing with three wins to close the season.
Along with getting the transition to FBS football behind them, Old Dominion is now transforming its once pass happy offense to a style that is more run heavy. Part of that is due to redshirt freshman quarterback Shuler Bentley. Once an offense that would routinely pass the ball 40-50 times a game, Bentley has only dropped back seventy-seven times this season in three games, an average of just under twenty-six passes per game. Bentley is only completing 53% of his passes and averages under six yards per attempt. Fortunately, Bentley has managed the game well only turning the ball over once in those three contests.
Luckily, Shuler Bentley has Ray Lawry to help take the heat off of him in the backfield. Lawry was leading the country in rushing yards prior to Old Dominion’s game against NC State last week. But Lawry was held in check by the Wolfpack defense to the tune of 15 yards on eleven carries. Much like what Clemson did to Appalachian the week before, they focused on the Monarch strength, completely took it away and forced a young quarterback to make some throws with pressure in his face. Even after last weekend, Lawry is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has 453 yards on the season. Seven of the ten Monarch touchdowns this season have come form Lawry. Old Dominion goes as Lawry does. If he is getting his yards, it bodes well for the Monarchs to run him behind a very big offensive line.
The Monarch defense has never really been one to write home about, but they believe they are making strides in that department. It does not seem to show in the statistics. Old Dominion has left their defense on the field for over 32 minutes a game on average. NC State held a 2-1 time of possession advantage over the Monarchs. The two FBS opponents ODU has faced have scored 34 and 38 points, respectively. Eastern Michigan has been one of the worst FBS programs for a very long time and NC State is not close to contending in the ACC this season.
Appalachian will have had two weeks to recover and stew over their lopsided loss to Clemson when the ball is teed up this Saturday. The team was so ready to get back to work on Tuesday after a long weekend, that Scott Satterfield called it the best practice of the season. The bye week appears to have been a highly needed repose from the grind of practice that has been continuous since early August. Many newspaper articles have cited the bad taste after what happened in Clemson. The defense played better than the final score, but the offense had one of their worst games since last season. Turnovers are the undoing for any football team at any level. It was going to be tough for Appalachian to pull off a win, and nearly impossbile being -3 in the turnover battle.
The first two games have served as an exhibition of sorts. Appalachian has faced both ends of the spectrum of college football, the good and the really bad. The next ten games will all be played against Group Of Five teams. This is the time for Appalachian to prove who they really are. Old Dominion will be playing their third straight home game, and Appalachian could serve as a swing game for them. Next week Old Dominion faces Marshall on the road in their Conference USA opener. I hate using the term, but this game has some “trap”-like tendencies. Defined as the game between two very big games, Old Dominion may not be done licking their wounds from a very physical game against NC State. If anything, the Mountaineers will be fresh and looking to enact some frusturation on their next opponent. They key to this game is simple. Whichever team is able to stop the opposing running game the best will likely win. Ray Lawry is the guy that carries the ball for Old Dominion with 70 carries in three games. The Monarchs substitute him out sparingly. Appalachian will rotate Marcus Cox(36-204) and Terrance Upshaw(18-115) in effort to keep both players fresh, not only for this game, but for the remainder of the season. So not only do I feel that Appalachian can run better, but I think they can stop the run better from ODU. The edge at quarterback also leans the way of the Mountaineers with Lamb having an extra year of expeience, and hungry to get on the field to attone for his miscues at Clemson. Regardless of what the weather does this weekend, I just think Appalachian is better this Saturday.
The First Pick: