Appalachian Football @ Tennessee

Here we go with Week 1

Appalachian State (0-0) @ #9 Tennessee (0-0)

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 7:30 EST

TV/Video: SEC 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM  Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Neyland Stadium

Surface: Natural Grass

Capacity: 102,455

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 67.36

Tennessee: 87.46

Home: 2.61

Tennessee is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 22.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Tennessee -21

Series: First meeting

Last meeting: n/a

The Camellia Bowl feels like ages ago. The Mountaineers added another signature win to its resume at the end of 2015 in a season full of firsts. But finally, the honeymoon is over. After two strong seasons in the Sun Belt, playing in and winning their first bowl game, the real test is in front of the Mountaineer football program. Success at the FBS level of football is not defined by one flash in the pan, but by continued, prolonged periods of prosperity. The next big hurdle for Appalachian is to win a conference championship, and most pundits believe this year might be the year. The Mountaineers avoid 2015 Sun Belt champion Arkansas State in 2016, but do travel during the week to Lafayette and Statesboro, which appear to be the more trying of games to win during the conference schedule. Prior to the seasons end goals, The Mountaineers will face perhaps their toughest non-conference slate since 2005, the last time Appalachian faced off against two “Power 5” schools. It’s a been a while since Appalachian has knocked off a team it wasn’t supposed to. The Mountaineers are due for a win against one of the games more recognizable names in the sport. A triumph this week would go a long way towards building a program that has really big dreams. 
There are several thought processes behind the lull of really big wins since 2007. One, is that the win in 2007 was so big, no team was ever going to allow themselves to be the next guy.  They’ll never hear the end of it, because we literally haven’t either. The second idea is that Appalachian simply has not been as good as that 2007 team. Appalachian has fielded decent teams, but the right matchup has not presented itself. Finally, the opponents have had good timing and have been much better. That statement has some truth, when you consider Clemson, LSU and Tennesee, but that scenario isn’t always the case. 

Tennessee is everyone’s darling this season, as a favorite to win the SEC East, and potentially advance to the College Football Playoff. The Volunteers have their tougher games at home within conference play and most of the Big Orange faithful view Appalachian only as an afterthought. However, many Tennesee players and coaches have been quoted, giving Appalachian respect, regardless of the past, and treating this game just like any other. 

The Volunteers offense is built on a strong running game and minimizing their mistakes. The one-two combination of quaterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd are tough to slow down. Dobbs was responsible for 671 yards on the ground in 2015, while Hurd accounted for 1,288 yards. Throw in the elusive Alvin Kamara’s 698 yards and the trio accounted for 30 of the 32 rushing touchdowns and 92% of their rushing total for the Vols in 2015. Additionally, Dobbs is very protective of the football, throwing just five interceptions in thirteen games, giving him a 69:1 attempt to interception ratio. Kamara is threat to catch the ball out of the backfield when he spells Hurd, corralling 34 passes last season. 

Team 120’s defense is equally as talented as their offensive counterparts. Defensive end Derek Barnett returns for his junior season and he is only twelve sacks always from breaking a school record held by Reggie White. Barnett has posted back to back seasons with double digit sack totals, and also broke the Tennessee freshman record for sacks in 2014. Jalen Reeves-Maybin anchors the linebackers, posting consecutive 100 tackle seasons to go along with twenty-five tackles for loss over that same period of time. Senior defensive back Cameron Sutton has 26 pass breakups over his career and has  snagged six interceptions. All three players were named first team All-SEC by the league’s coaches entering the season. 

Much has been made about all the talent that Tennessee returns, but the same can be said about Appalachian. The Mountaineers returned 20 such players in 2015, and have have answered the bell again with 15 in 2016. The best part is that those starters return in all the right places. Appalachian is going to run the ball, and with three stalwarts on the offensive line and one of the deepest backfields in the country, that recipe shouldn’t change. If there is a hole on offense, it belongs to an inexperienced group of receivers. I’d guess that Scott Satterfield is quite aware of that perceived weakness and has done everything possible to prepare the group, while the players have also heard that talk as well for an entire offseason. 

The Mountaineer defense has a couple holes to fill as well, but are also very seasoned where it counts. One person will not be asked to replace Ronald Blair’s sacks or Doug Middleton’s leadership, but a collection will fill that role. Appalachian’s group of linebackers is by far the best in the Sun Belt. All four, John Law, Devan Stringer, Keenan Gilchrist and Eric Boggs have been starting since they were freshman. They have made the plays and seen it all. The defensive line will be underrated, even without Tyson Fernandez manning the middle, but the rotation of up to eight different lineman will keep Appalachian fresh on Thursday night and beyond. 
If we all remember prior to Clemson game week last season and the analysis that was tossed around, and then measure to Tennesee in 2016, there are a lot of equal comparisons. Two teams both on the rise, looking to break through into national prominence. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman compared nicely to Jalen Hurd. Two bigger backs that won’t kill you with speed, but you don’t want to get in their way if they have a head of steam. Hurd has a distinct size advantage over Gallman at 6’4 240 pounds, but they have similar power. Appalachian’s number one goal on Thursday will be to minimize Hurd’s effectiveness. He’ll get his yards, but the Apps must limit his big plays. Doing that will put more pressure on Joshua Dobbs to beat Appalachian with his arm. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson threw three really good touchdown passes over the App secondary last year that only Deshaun Watson can throw. Dobbs doesn’t possess that deep ball accuracy that Watson did. If Dobbs is forced to throw, that is a win for Appalachian. More importantly, if Dobbs can’t throw and wants to run, App needs to keep him contained in the pocket. Dobbs ability to scramble is uncanny, and he can turn those third and longs into first downs with ease. Appalachian’s opportunity to win falls in the hands of Taylor Lamb, who cannot have a repeat outing like he did in Clemson last year. If Lamb can avoid the turnovers, and gel with the new receivers, it bodes well for the Mountaineers on Thursday, and for the remainder of the season. 

The First Pick
Lil Smokies 34
Mountaineers 21

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