Here we go with Week 8
Appalachian State (5-2, 3-0 Sun Belt) @ Georgia Southern (4-3, 3-1 Sun Belt)
Thursday, October 27th, 2016 7:30 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN
Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 70.59
Ga Southern: 62.73
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 5.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -5
Series: App State leads 17-13-1
Last meeting: App State 31, Ga Southern 13, October 22nd, 2015, Boone, NC
Robbed of anticipation and talk, both smack and small, is the main issue for fans when they deal with midweek football. Especially, when the next game on the schedule is your most hated rival, that time to relax before the next game does not exist. The last win was, literally, almost yesterday, and it’s time to get geared up for another one. But, this one is not just another, it’s Southern. Dust off all your cliche rivalry talk, because it all applies. Is there another rivalry that has been so intense in such a short amount of time? These two schools have only played thirty-one games in their history, and only twenty-five games in the modern era, yet it seems every time they tee it up, it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys. The faces may change, but the disdain remains. This group of Eagles are enduring the strife of a new coaching staff that wants to do things differently with the same ingredients and get the same results. It’s not working out like they wanted. Appalachian enjoys its snugness of a tight coaching staff that maintains their winning ways and the proof is in the pudding. The Mountaineers are a win away from being bowl eligible, and Southern needs this game even more, as their schedule just gets tougher down the stretch. Thursday night might not be a turning point in this rivalry, but the winds are blowing a different direction this season in the Sun Belt.
It’s hard to imagine a Georgia Southern team with three losses before the end of October. The first true sign that the Eagles were stumbling occured about a month ago. Southern was visiting Western Michigan, a team they had handled easily in Statesboro a year before. The Broncos suffocated the Eagles rushing attack, limiting the big plays and keeping Matt Breida and Kevin Ellison below four yards per carry on the night. Since then, Western Michigan continues to row the boat as they find themselves ranked 20th in the country this week. Perhaps, the ultimate “uh-oh” moment for Southern came in their loss to Arkansas State. The Eagles were thoroughly dominated by the Red Wolves, but were able to hold a two score lead into the fourth quarter, thanks to five turnovers committed by Arkansas State. The Eagles play calling was their ultimate demise, electing to pass late in the game with a lead compared to milking the clock. Arkansas State scored in the closing seconds for a stunning come-from behind win.
Southern picked up a win over NMSU last weekend, just like Idaho did the week before playing Appalachian, to end their three game losing streak. However, the road victory did not lack for excitement. The Eagles did just enough for a 22-19 win over the now 124th ranked defense in college football. Both Southern and NMSU turned the ball over three times while The Eagles were outgained by the Aggies by a 432-404 margin. Matt Breida was held to 41 yards on fifteen carries. Kevin Ellison completed all eight of his passes, seven to Southern receivers and one to NMSU.
The fact is that Southern is slowly moving away from Willie Fritz football, who bolted to Tulane, into the offensive style of Tyson Summers, which calls for less option based running plays and a more run-pass option dimension. It’s not Georgia Southern football. We all remember Chris Hatcher and Brian Van Gorder and their efforts of modernizing football down in east Georgia. It didn’t work and they didn’t have a job long. The Eagles have three 100-yard rushing efforts on the season, two by quarterbacks. Not LA Ramsby. Not Matt Breida. Not Wesley Fields. Demarcus Godfrey ran for 124 yards against Savannah State, but has not carried the ball since.
Southern still employs the two quaterback system, generally starting the game with Kevin Ellison, and working in Favian Upshaw and rotating the two as the game allows. Unfortunately, the Southern offensive line has dropped off severely and Ellison and Upshaw have taken many hits in the last few weeks. Arkansas State made a point to gang tackle Ellison at every chance, while Georgia Tech used Upshaw as a punching bag. Upshaw did not play against NMSU and Tyson Summers did not show any of his cards when updating the media on the health of his signal callers ahead of this week’s game. Summers went so far as to say he could play three quarterbacks on Thursday night.
The defensive strategy the Mountaineers rely on was on display, front and center. Idaho could only manage a late touchdown and four field goals. It was the exact struggle we mentioned last week regarding Idaho. Not enough touchdowns, too many field goals. Appalachian may have allowed 295 passing yards, but it was a very quiet 295 yards. Appalachian was constantly disruptive, picking off Linehan three times and sacking him on four instances. The secondary occasionally gets up a bad reputation, but they remain in the top thirty in the nation in passing efficiency defense, having only allowed eight passing touchdowns in seven games. The Mountaineers twelve interceptions are also good enough for seventh nationally.
Georgia Southern will return home to Paulson for the first time in forty days. The Eagles spent an extra day in New Mexico for some reason. You would think after all that time away from home, Southern would like to get back as soon as possible. Neither App or Southern resemble their squads from two years ago, when the two faced off in their first ever Sun Belt game, and they aren’t the teams from one year ago either. But, if anything, the one common denominator from 2015 to ’16 is the App defense. Generally, you look at any football team, averaging 265 yards on the ground and think you have a big challenge ahead. This is a regressing Eagle team, averaging just a mere 4.6 yards per carry, and forcing the issue, running the ball just over 57 times a game. The Southern staff wants to throw more, but they don’t have the pieces in place yet to fully commit. The fact that Matt Breida has 378 yards and only one touchdown rushing is criminal. The Eagles have scored 204 points this season, but over one-fourth of those points were scored in their opening game against Savannah State. Since then, the Eagles have been stuck in the twenties for five of their last six games. They have the talent to do much more than they have, but they have not been put in the situation to succeed. Meanwhile, Appalachian has a chance to get a big road win, and they may finally have the services of Marcus Cox back on the field. If Cox is near 100%, his fresh legs will be a huge advantage for the Mountaineers on Thursday, and for the rest of the season.
The First Pick
The Blues 21