Here we go with week 8
Troy (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (6-1, 3-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 31st, 3:30 PM EST
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
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 73.49
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -24
Series: Series tied 2-2
Last Meeting: App State 53, Troy 14; October 18, 2014 (Troy, AL)
Weather: Sunshine early with building clouds, High: Upper 50’s, Lows: Upper 30’s, South winds 5-10mph
It was more than just a night to remember. It was a night that put things back in their proper order. A little smack talk never hurt anyone leading up to last Thursday night, as long your team can back it up. The Mountaineers backed it up and then some, by rolling their nemesis into the ground with a 31-13 drubbing that looked a lot worse. But in the end, those Eagles will never run out of excuses. They have never lost a game; it is always someone else’s fault for their poor play. Hopefully for Georgia Southern, all that complaining will come to an end. Who are we to kid? That’ll never happen. In the meantime, Appalachian looks to continue their quest for a ring in 2015, and the Troy Trojans are the next team in the way. Just a little over a year ago, the turnaround started with a trip to Troy. Appalachian was an underdog, coming off what could be argued as the worst loss in recent memory. Suddenly, on that Saturday afternoon 375 days ago, the switch was flipped. Something happened, and the Mountaineers have not looked back since. In the last thirteen games, the Mountaineers have shut down their opponents, surrendering just 15.6 points per game, including three shutouts. The brevity of such dominance is rare in this modern football game, where scores can resemble the college basketball game more often. That consistency has spanned over a year, not just a spurt of games. This what we are all accustomed to. The plan has worked and the swagger and spirit has returned to the top of the mountain in a scary way.
As much as last year was a turning point for Appalachian, it was in a very different way for Troy. Their beloved coach, Larry Blakeney, who spent 23 years manning the sidelines was in his final year. Blakeney won eight conference titles and two bowl games while transitioning Troy out of Division II, through I-AA and eventually to the FBS ranks. Enter Neal Brown, the second youngest coach in all of FBS football for his first head coaching job of his career. Brown was a former offensive coordinator at Troy before moving on to the same role at Texas Tech & Kentucky. Brown is finding his way as a head coach, much like Scott Satterfield did a couple seasons ago. It is a difficult balancing act to play upperclassmen when there are younger guys who you like for your system. Brown is doing just that right now. Slowly, Troy will be a force once again in the Sun Belt.
The Trojans have been looking for balance throughout the 2015 season, and it all came together last weekend at New Mexico State. You might say, well, a lot of teams have found balance against New Mexico State. That is correct, they have, but occasionally, a team needs a confidence booster to realize what it is that they can achieve. The Troy defense is a vastly improved bunch from 2014. The Trojans have decreased opponents scoring by close to ten points in just one season. They are allowing 76 fewer yards per game and have slowed the ground game of their opponents by 1.5 yards per carry. One last boring statistic: In 2014, Troy gave up 2.9 rushing touchdowns a game, and in 2015, 1.5 per game.
Troy’s offense is led by its three-headed monster in Brandon Silvers, Brandon Burks & Teddy Ruben. Silvers had his best game of the season last weekend, throwing for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the thumping of New Mexico State. Coming into the game, Silvers had eclipsed the 200 yard mark in only one other game, in the Trojans other win of the season against Charleston Southern. Seven of his nine touchdowns on the season came in the two wins, while Silvers has two touchdown passes and three interceptions in four losses in which he appeared. Silvers was injured in the loss at Mississippi State , suffering a high ankle sprain and a concussion. In his absence, Troy used two quarterbacks in the loss to Idaho, neither which were very effective. Dallas Tidwell threw for 168 yards and one touchdown on 50% passing while Dontreal Pruitt combined for 111 total yards (70 passing, 41 rushing) and threw two interceptions.
Brandon Burks is the senior running back who lives and dies off of his big play ability. His 621 yards on the season are good enough for 5th in the Sun Belt, while his 88.7 yards per game puts him at seventh. Burks has totaled 313 of his 621 yards on the longest carry in each of his respective games this season. Unbelievable right? Over half of his yards on seven carries. The Trojans depend on Burks to break a big one. Burks means almost as much to Troy as Matt Breida does for Georgia Southern. They need him to be fantastic. Last Thursday, the Mountaineers kept Breida in check, and thus kept the Eagles in check.
Teddy Ruben is an extremely versatile wide receiver He does a little bit of eveything for the Trojans. He is 5th in the Sun Belt in receiving yards and receptions per game, 5th in kick returns, and 2nd in punt returns. In his last two games, Ruben has gone over 100 yards and snagged three touchdown passes. After only catching twelve passes in his first three games of the season, Ruben has hauled in twenty-one passes in the last four games. Similarly to Burks, most of Ruben’s yards have come on the big play. Of his 468 yards, 221 have occured on his longest reception in each game this season.
One would have never guessed Appalachian was facing the second best defense in the conference in Georgia Southern last week. If anything, the offense was its usual balanced self. Taylor Lamb patiently surveyed the field for open receivers and was completely satisfied by throwing the ball away instead of forcing it into coverage. The Mountaineers leaned on one receiver for really the first time all season. Simms McElfresh caught six passes for 66 yards, the most of any Mountaineer receiver in a game this year. Marcus Cox took advantage of his 21 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the bigger story was Jalin Moore, who received a carry high in carries with eleven in the game which he turned into 53 yards. It was the sixth time this season that the Mountaineers ran the ball 40 times or more in a game as a team.
It is easy to understand that Troy is excited about what they were able to accomplish against an 0-7 team last weekend, getting their first win against an FBS opponent this season. So much that one of their players spouted off to the media that they are about to dominate their next game. Makes one wonder if said player even checked the schedule. It’s fun to be excited, because you can ignore facts. Realistically, this game is a complete mismatch. Troy, with their third ranked Sun Belt defense believes they will keep Appalachian from scoring, something only Clemson has done this season. The best way for Troy to do that is to keep the Mountaineers off the field. That will be a chore in itself. The Trojans have given up 6 minutes of possesion to their opponents this season. Two minutes on the season, is a lot to give up, and six is enormous. Six minutes of a game is ten percent, so that is a pretty big deal. Part of the reasoning behind that is their lack of a run game. Last week, Appalachian took away the running game of Georgia Southern, by cutting their season rushing average in half, and then some. Troy is ninth in the conference at 123 rushing yards per game, ahead of Georgia State and Monroe. The longest carry the Mountaineers have given up all season is 30 yards. It will be tough for Troy to break a long run against this stout Mountaineer defense. Appalachian will force Troy into being one dimensional on offense and make them pass against the best secondary in the conference. That’s not a good idea against Latrell Gibbs and company. The Mountaineers win this one going away.
The First Pick: