Appalachian Football @ Louisiana-Monroe

Here we go with Week 6

Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) @ Louisiana-Monroe (1-4, 0-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 17th, 7 PM EST
TV/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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol

JPS Field at Malone Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf 
Capacity: 30,427
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 69.83

ULM: 55.84
Home: 2.76
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 17 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -11.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last Meeting: App State 31, ULM 29; November 8, 2014 (Boone, NC)
Weather: Mostly sunny and clear 77/51

          Business has suddenly picked up in college football. Behind us are the money games and out of conference matchups. From here on out, the games are all about  the business of winning a conference championship. No disrespect to Georgia State. We know that you are a considered a conference game, but it just doesn’t feel like it. At least not yet. What really feels like Sun Belt football is playing the Louisiana schools on the road. No disrespect to the Georgia Dome, it is a nice facility, but the Panthers are lost in there. The real work is now before Appalachian as they travel to a more hostile atmosphere, one  where Mountaineer fans will be more scarce than they have been at any point this season. The most difficult part of the week will be focusing on the present and not looking ahead. To this point in the season, Appalachian  has been able remain on task, taking care of every opponent, not named Clemson, with ease. Forget about whether or not this team has been tested. The test has been about making improvements from one game to the next while also getting valuable playing time for those whose names may be called on down the line. The Warhawks will provide the next test. A team that has played a tough schedule will be looking to turn the tide in front of their home crowd. Hopefully, the Mountaineers have done their homework. 

           Monroe faces an uphill battle most years in regards to how they arrange their schedule. Regularly, the Warhawks are forced to schedule multiple Power Five schools in the same season in order to be able to fund their programs. ULM is one of the smaller schools in Sun Belt, with enrollment below 9,000 and their athletic budget represents that. In the past they have played two and three of those schools in the same season. It does not help their record, but it does help the pocketbook. This season, ULM will collect checks from Alabama, Georgia and Hawai’i. Their lone win was FCS Nicholls State. 

          Since the last time Appalachian played ULM, the Warhawks have played Georgia Southern twice, losing both, and have beaten New Mexico State along with Nicholls State. Monroe and Appalachian seem to be heading in different directions, as Appalachian has now won ten of its last eleven games. Monroe appears to be a very similar team that Appalachian played last year, with an offense that has its moments, but sputters for the most part. The Warhawk defense still likes to play very physical, but has been on the field a tremendous amount of time this season and it has shown. Monroe is giving up 34 points a game and has let teams gash them on the ground to the tune 243 yards per game. 

          Monroe has been forced to start redshirt freshman Garrett Smith at quarterback who has had some struggles this season. A lot of the Monroe offense is based on short throws that are easy to help Monroe run the ball. The idea is to get Smith in rhythm and build his confidence. Smith has thrown all but eleven passes this year for the Warhawks, who as a team has only been able to muster 5.9 yards per pass attempt. Thats a miniscule number at any level of football. Smith is the least effeicient quarterback in the Sun Belt of those who are qualified. His nine touchdowns passes are good enough for fourth in the Sun Belt, but his seven interceptions are second to only South Alabama’s Cody Clements who has played an extra game. 

           Ajalen Holley is who the Warhawks will lean on in the passing game. The junior is second in the conference in several receiving categories including receptions (39), yards (480). Holley has stepped in nicely for injured wide out Rashon Ceasar, who was a favorite to be a first team all conference selection. Ceaser had 26 catches for 272 yards in three games before being lost for the season to injury. Holley will be the target of a lot of Smith’s passses. Outside of Ceaser and Holley, no other Warhawk pass catcher has eclipsed 100 yards on the season. The ULM running game isnt much to speak of. Kaylon Watson leads the team with 155 yards on the season on only 39 carries. Garrett Smith has more official carries with 55, but his sacks count toward his rushing total, which account for a lot of lost yardage. Smith has 136 yards on the season, and likes to get those on mostly quarterback draws with empty backfields and five wide receiver sets. 

          Mountaineer fans should not have been surprised to see Georgia State sell out to stop the run last weekend. After Marcus Cox rumbled for 250 yards and three touchdowns last season against Panthers, they had only one hope to stay close, which was stacking the box and forcing Tayloor Lamb to throw. Considering Lamb’s perceived struggles, more due to a rough patch of weather, that was not a bad gamble on the part of Georgia State. But Lamb made the Panthers pay with a 45 yard completion on the first drive, a 29 yard touchdown pass on the second drive, and another 49 yard completion on the third drive. All of those big plays set up points and a quick 17-0 lead that Appalachian never relinquished. Instead of Nick Arbuckle being considered the better passer, it was Lamb who lit up the dome for 314 yards and  three touchdown passes to three different receivers. Lamb also added 53 yards on the ground, on four carries, inlcuding a 41 yard scamper in the second quarter that got the Apps out of the shadow of their own goal line. 

          As has been the story all season long, the Mountaineer defense put on another show against Georgia State. The defensive backfield did a great mixing coverages and forcing Arbuckle to think twice before throwing. Arbcukle was sacked twice and only managed a pedestrian 166 yards in the air while the App front seven held the Panthers to only 59 rushing yards on the game. It was the third time this season the Apps have held an opponent to less than 60 yards on the ground. The Mountaineers lead the Sun Belt in total defense by almost a 100 yards and have only allowed 11.4 points per game, a category which they lead by nearly two full touchdowns. The list goes on, but the picture has been well painted. This defense is not a beneficiary of a somewhat weak schedule. This is a dominant defense. Enter Monroe and an offense that has lacked consistency and a young quarterback who leans heavily on one receiver. This is potential disaster waiting to happen for the Warhawks this weekend. Monroe’s chance to win this weekend will be to do what Georgia State did. Try and stop the run and hope that they can catch Taylor Lamb on a bad day. Betting against the most efficient quarterback in the league might not be wise, but Monroe is going to have to take away something from Appalachian. The start of this game will be very important. Appalachian has outscored oppponets 45-3 in the first quarter this season while the Warhawks have been outscored 41-10. If those trends continue look for the Mountaineers to make easy work of ULM for their second conference win. 


The First Pick:

Gold Beaks 10

Mountaineers 35

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