Here we go with Week 10
Appalachian State (7-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) @ Idaho (3-6, 2-4 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 14th, 5:00 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
Surface: RealGrass Pro
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 70.33
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -19.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last meeting: App State 45, Idaho 28 Saturday November 29th, 2014, Boone, NC
The tune might have changed slightly over the course of the last week or so, but the final chorus remains the same. Change a few notes, or even a word or two, and it will not matter. When the finals lyrics are sung, they include something like “compete for a conference championship and go to a bowl game.” That’s probably the words to a terrible song, but it works pretty good as a mission statement for a football program. Let us not forget how difficult winning football games can be. Even more trying, is completing a regular season with only one or two losses. Some of the best teams Appalachian has ever fielded have even had their troubles getting tripped up along the way. The seasons of 1995 and 2006 come to mind. In 1995, App finished 11-0 in the regular season, fell in the second round of the playoffs to Stephen F Austin, and finished 12-1. Disappointing end to the season, but a darn good season overall. In 2006, the Apps fell to NC State in the opener, but won the next 14 games. Pretty good season most would say. The difference of those two examples is simple. How you finish will be how you are remembered. That’s the chore for Appalachian over the next three weeks. Responding to adversity or a loss and forgetting it, putting it behind you and playing the guy who in front of you. All you can control is the future and and present, not the past. The past may define you, but learning from it is the greatest accomplishment.
At this point last season, this weeks opponents were on two different paths. Appalachian was in the midst of a program defining stretch of games, while Idaho couldn’t beat anyone, outside of New Mexico State. The Vandals appeared to look like the same team at the start of the 2015 season as they did in 2014. Idaho began with an 1-4 start, only edging the mighty Wofford Terriers by three points at home. After a bye week, Idaho looked like a completely different team for two weeks. The Vandals battled a bad connection on a flight to Troy in which they landed in Alabama five hours prior to kickoff, yet still managed to beat the Trojans 19-16. That Troy team was without the services of quarterback Brandon Silvers, but regardless, it was a shocking result. The following week, Idaho took care of Monore, 27-13 in a game that was only kept close by three Vandal turnovers. Suddenly, Idaho was 2-2 in Sun Belt play, and thinking about contending for a bowl bid.
The next two games on Idaho’s schedule were totally winnable, even though the Vandals had to hit the road. New Mexico State and South Alabama were struggling and it gave Idaho a chance to make some noise in the Sun Belt. Idaho led New Mexico State 20-0 late in the first half, and eventually 23-7 at halftime. A touchdown run by Matt Linehan extended the Vandal lead to 40-21 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. From that point on, New Mexico State outscored Idaho 27-7 to force overtime. Idaho gave up 311 fourth quarter yards before falling in extra time.
That was the first collapse. South Alabama might have been worse from a special teams perspective. After leading 24-7 at halftime, Idaho gave up the opening kicoff in the second half for a touchdown. Later in the third quarter, an Idaho fumble was scooped up by South Alabama and returned for a touchdown. On the ensuing possession, the Vandal punt was blocked deep in their own territory. The Jaguars would score on the next play. The teams traded scores before Idaho fumbled a kickoff return and allowed South Alabama to open up a 38-31 lead. Idaho then threw an interception on their next drive, which led to another score for the Jaguars. Idaho would continue to fight, but when they needed a stop the most, down 45-38, they let South Alabama score on a one play drive to put the game out of reach. There was enough ridiculousness in those two games to last a season, but Idaho was able to squeeze it into two halves of two football games.
Much has been said regarding former Idaho receiver Dezmon Epps, who was leading the team in receptions and yards. We say former because Epps has been dismissed from the team this week. Epps was on a very short leash after some trangressions that occured during the offseason. Epps could not follow the rules set out by Paul Petrino, and he was shown the door. Since then, Epps’s dismissal has opened the door for two receivers. Callen Hightower has taken the opportunity and run with it. Hightower has 38 receptions and 390 yards on the season, but half of that production has occured in the last two games. Hightower has 19 catches and 200 yards in the last two games, including his only touchdown of the year. Deon Watson had season highs last week with 7 catches for 109 yards, which makes up for 25% of his season receptions and just under one third of the yards.
Matt Linehan has played in every game this season for Idaho except for Arkansas State. Besides that, he has taken nearly every snap for the Vandals. Linehan is second in the Sun Belt in passing yards per game, but just fourth in efficiency. His troubles come from having the second most interceptions in the conference and being only fifth among qualified quarterbacks in the conference in touchdown passes. Idaho’s inabilty to have a consistent running game has put a lot of pressure on Linehan. Elijah Penny has carried the majority of the load for Idaho in the running game, and when he is in the backfield, defenses have sold out on stopping him. His 4.7 yards per carry isn’t terrible, but its by far the worst of the Sun Belt’s leading backs. Idaho does not run a lot of read option, and when the tailback is behind the quarterback in the formation, it is a dead giveaway of a run.
It would be overkill, to pile on and speak to injuries that have occured on the Mountaineer offensive line. We all know about, and it has obviously affected the offensive chemistry. The Appalachian defense, despite giving up half their seasons points in the last two weeks, has still played pretty well considering the circumstances. Arkansas State could have easily made last week look even worse had Appalachian not stood tall and forced three second half field goals. After giving up two touchdown runs in the third quarter early, the Apps kept the offense in the game with those late stands. The defense easily could have folded, but kept on. The defense is the best side of the ball the Mountaineers have going for them, but will need some help from the offense to sustain a drive or two to keep the defense fresh late in the game.
Forget the point spread, and all the other nonsense. This game against Idaho is going to be a tough one. Idaho’s strength plays right into the weaker part of the Appalachian defense. Any team that can pass the ball and protect their quarterback just a little bit is going to be a threat every weekend. The Vandals have cut down on their sacks allowed from last season nearly in half. Idaho leads the conference in first downs per game and is tied for first in third down conversions. The Idaho defense has been so awful the last two games, thay they are bound to make some improvements. But, if they can not adjust and their defense continues to play matador in the second half, this is a game that Appalachian should win with ease. The Mountaineers took a hit when they lost one offensive lineman. When the Apps subsequently lost their center, the offense stalled and was not able to produce points until the game was out of reach. The hope is that Appalachian can take advantage of a good matchup. With the running game against Idaho’s depleted defense to sustain drives and eventually wear out the defense, all while keeping Idaho’s offense of gaining any type of flow. I want to see Appalachian at least resemble what it looked like in the first half of the season. I fully expect the new starters on the line to take advantage of their opportunity and play well enough to get the Mountaineers their eighth win of the season.
The First Pick: