Here we go with week 9
Arkansas State (5-3, 4-0 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (7-1, 4-0 Sun Belt)
Thursday November 5th, 7:30 PM EST
TV/Video: ESPNU & 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
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 73.57
Arkansas State: 63.06
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -11
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last Meeting: App State 37, Arkansas State 32; November 15, 2014 (Jonesboro, AR)
Weather: Partly to mostly cloudy with drizzle possible late, High: Mid 60’s, Lows: Upper 50’s
Turns out that Halloween night at The Rock was a little more scary than anyone was accustomed to. The Trojans had several tricks up their sleeve, but it was the Mountaineer fans who were treated to a thrilling triple overtime victory. Troy played just about their best game of the season, and Appalachian was just good enough to hold on. The proverbial “trap” game was just that. The Mountaineers managed to eek out a game that many were not expected to be that much of a contest. Fortunately, Appalachian outscored the Trojans despite being outplayed and outcoached for much of the game. That result has allowed Appalachian to regroup. When a team plays poorly, there is nothing more they want to do than get back out on the field and prove themselves. For the second time in a few weeks, Appalachian has to make a quick turnarond and play on Thursday night, with only five full days of rest between games. The Mountaineers have practiced without pads part of the week in an effort to allow their bodies to heal before what will be an epic battle with Arkansas State. Both teams sit atop the Sun Belt standings with unblemished 4-0 records at the midway point of the conference season. The winner gets a full game lead in the standings with only three games left to play, and a little breathing room. Everyone involved in a college football program, from cheerleaders and fans, trainers and the marching band lives for games like Thursday night, in front of a national audience with everything on the line. It’s time to show the world once again what Appalachian State is all about.
Arkansas State has strung together four straight wins after a brutal stretch to start the season. The Red Wolves played two Power Five opponents and upstart Toledo, games which they lost, to start the season 1-3. Southern California and Toledo were both ugly losses on the road, where Arkansas State only managed 13 points in the two games combined. Arkansas State hosted then 21st ranked Missouri and took a lead at halftime, but could not hold on, being outscored 17-3 in the second half.
Even though the Red Wolves have taken care of business in conference play, it has not been pretty. They have conceded 127 points in their last four games, three of those being at home, which averages out to 31.75 points per game, which is slighty higher than their season average of 31.6 points per game. I can hear you asking, how is that “not pretty”. Three of those four schools, Idaho, Georgia State and South Alabama all scored more points on Arkansas State than their own season averages. All three scored at least seven more points in those games than their current scoring averages to date. Louisiana scored three fewer points than their average, but still managed to roll up 485 yards of offense, which is almost 70 yards more than their season average of 415 yards. The point: The Red Wolves defense is ripe for the picking.
The flip side of the defensive argument is how good Arkansas State is on the offensive side of the ball. The offense is healthy this season, unlike last years matchup between the two teams. Senior Fredi Knighten is the most important cog for this team. If he is in a rhythm, the Red Wolves are diffcult to stop. Knighten is another signal caller that has missed some time this year with injuries so his statistics are low by comparison. He has only played in five or six games, depending which website you trust, and has totaled 631 passing yards and nine touchdowns. His biggest threat is his abilty to run, not only to by time in the pocket, but to scramble for first downs. Knighten has the fourth most rushing yards on the team even with missing those games, totaling 216 yards.
What Arkansas State wants to do is the run the ball. They make no bones about it, but they are not a traditional power running team. They love to get the ball outside to their backs in hopes they can make a play in the open field. Michael Gordon is the leader of the bunch with 622 yards and six touchdowns, but has made the most of it, with less than 13 carries per game. Freshman Warren Wand is listed third on the depth chart, but is second on the team in carries and yards. Wand is only 5’5″ but can burn rubber, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. JD McKissic is the leading receiver with 38 receptions and 392 yards, but is also used in the running game. His twelve attempts are not a ton, but McKissic embodies what the Red Wolves want to do on offense by getting athletes open and let them run. Coverage and tackling will very important for the Mountaineer defense on Thursday night.
The Mountaineer offense was not spectacular, but it was just good enough when it counted. Thirteen tough points were scored in the overtime periods. The way overtime works creates a lot of highs and lows. One minute, the calls are a bit conservative while playing with your back to the wall, while the next, you can play a bit more loose. In a game where points were important, Zach Matics was nothing but perfect, hitting all of his extra points and field goal attempts. Matics has completely redeemed himself in 2015 in a big way. His opening field goal against Georgia Southern may be the most underrated points of the season, answering the Eagles opening drive. Matics will be trusted again Thursday night in a game that appears to favor a shootout where points will be at an ultimate premium.
Arkansas State is extremely fortunate to be in the position they are in at this point in the season. Back on October 13th, they trailed South Alabama by 11 with thirteen minutes to play in the game. Suddenly, the Jaguars folded up and played not to lose, and Arkansas State managed to score 29 points in the next six minutes of game time, and won going away. A similar situation occured in last years game between App and Ark. State. The Mountaineers clawed back from a 14 point deficit in the first half to lead 37-20 late in the game and Arkansas State scored two late touchdowns to draw within five points. The Red Wolves do not give up. The 145 points they scored last year in the fourth quarter were the most points they scored in any quarter for the entire season. The fourth quarter this season is where Appalachian has scored the fewest points, only 38. Last week against Troy, Appalachian could not hold a lead and were shutout in the final period of regulation. In order to combat a comeback attempt, Appalachian must establish the tempo of the game from the opening kick. The Mountaineers were schooled on pace of play last week by Troy and will likely have worked hard in practice to defend an Arkansas State team that also likes to run a lot of plays. I expect Taylor Lamb to work well out of the play action game and make the Red Wolves secondary chase some deep passes, which in turn wll help the running game. The Mountaineers won’t cover, but they’ll win and remain in first place.
The First Pick:
Lil’ Red Riding Hood 23