Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Texas State (1-1, 0-0 SBC)
Saturday, September 16th, 2017 7pm 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
Jim Wacker Field at Bobcat Stadium
Surface: Fieldturf Duraspine Pro
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 68.77
Texas State: 46.29
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -23
Series: App State leads 2-0
Last meeting: App State 35, Texas State 10, November 5th, 2016
College football’s preseason is over and its time to for the real games to start. The games that determine a conference champion and defines where your team plays in the postseason if they deserve it. For the first time in Appalachian’s history, they will play a football game in the state of Texas. It was not long ago, the Mountaineers had not won a game east of the Mississippi River, but it’s inclusion in the Sun Belt has allowed for wins in Idaho, New Mexico and Louisiana. Hopefully that trend continues for the Mountaineers in conference play. Texas State is on an upswing, but its been a slow process for Appalachian alum Everett Withers. They’ve installed an offense and defense that resembles what the Mountaineers are currently running. The talent is not completely there, but similarly to what Appalachian faced a few years ago, they are playing younger players who just lack experience. Eventually they’ll catch up, but it will take a lot of work to learn how to win, especially for a program whose last winning season was in 2014. That season did not result in bowl berth for the Bobcats, and the bottom fell out in the last two seasons, winning only five games in that span. Appalachian looks to stay the course and keep piling up wins in Sun Belt play as the season wears on. Before 2017 concludes, the Bobcats will likely trip someone up, just not this weekend.
Texas State started off the season with a win over Houston Baptist, an FCS school in the Southland Conference, which includes the likes of McNeese State, Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas. That game was a little closer than it should have been, as the Bobcats edged out the Huskies by nine points. Houston Baptist had a Sagarin rating in the twenties, and Texas State should have won more comfortably. Colorado disposed of Texas State with ease last weekend. The Buffaloes were 36 points favorites, but failed to cover in a 37-3 final. Texas State only trailed 14-0 at halftime before Colorado got serious and put them away with seventeen third quarter points.
In both games, Texas State managed to eclipse the 150 yard rushing mark. They ran the ball 41 times vs Houston Baptist and 47 times versus Colorado. Last year, the Bobcats couldn’t run the ball if they wanted to. App held them to 14 rushing yards on 28 carries. This sudden improvement is noticeable. Where Texas State continues to struggle is passing the ball. With only 262 yards in the air in two games, to go along with two interceptions thrown and zero touchdown passses, the Bobcats are still a work in progress on the offensive side of the ball.
Damian Williams is one of the Bobcat quaterbacks, transferring in from Mississippi State as a graduate. He appeared in six games in both 2013 and 2014, redshirted in 2015, and played in five contests in 2016. Williams is dual-threat quarterback who is fourth on the team with 47 rushing yards and is the only quarterback to throw in both contests this season. Freshman Willie Jones III, has also played in both contests, but stuck to running the ball vs Houston Baptist. Jones completed both his passes vs Colorado, but was also sacked twice.
The Bobcat running backs are a mixed bag. A quick look shows three backs are getting the majority of the carries. Anthony Taylor has 85 yards on sixteen carries, with a long of 55. Take out that long run, and you have fifteen carries for thirty yards, or two yards a carry. It’s the same story for Anthony Smith, 82 yards on 12 carries, with a long of 48. Take out the max, and you have eleven carries for 34 yards, which equates to just over three per carry. Robert Brown Jr does it a little differently, with the most carries among running backs with 22 for 73 yards. His ten yard long does not affect his average of 3.3 yards per tote.
Taylor Lamb nearly had a perfect game in the air (12/15 327 yards, 5 TD’s). Sometimes you don’t complete 80% of your passes in practice. Just to put this performance in perspective, Lamb threw a touchdown pass for every three attempts he dropped back, and every 2.4 attempts he completed a pass. The five touchdown passes were a career high, eclipsing games versus Texas State (oh!) in 2016, Old Dominion and Arkansas State in 2015 in which he threw for four touchdowns in each game. It was only his fourth 300-yard passing game of his career, but we know he is as equally dangerous on the ground. However, Lamb was quiet on the ground, likely by design, with only 9 yards vs Savannah State. Lamb had averaged 71 yards per game on the ground over the last seven games. Last week also gave Lamb 18 straight games with at least 100 yards passing. The game propelled Lamb over 7500 yards passing in his Appalachian career.
The Mountaineer defense was incredibly impressive. Savannah State managed just 114 total yards and only converted one of its thirteen third down attempts. The Tigers ran fifty-one plays and gained roughly 2.2 yards per play, while earning just six first downs. Twenty-nine Mountaineers assisted on a tackle over the course of the game and three sacks were recorded by four relatively unknown Mountaineers. Caleb Spurlin and Demetrius Taylor each had one, while Cameron Pack & Josh Houser combined for another.
Moving the ball on a stout Mountaineer defense will be the biggest challenge for Texas State on Saturday. The commitment to the run for Texas State is admirable, but faces a hungry front seven from Appalachian. Outside of a couple long runs given up at Georgia, the Mountaineers have been extremely steady in the early going. The Apps have held its first two opponents to a combined 3.9 yards per rush, and are likely better than that this weekend. Getting Texas State in a long yardage situation on third down seems like a good strategy for a team that struggles to throw downfield and has converted just six of its twenty-nine third downs on the young season. Coach Withers mentioned earlier this week that he wants to makes teams one dimensional as a defefensive strategy, so their focus will be on trying to stop the Mountaineer running game, and forcing Taylor Lamb to throw the ball. If I were coach, I would be careful trying to sneak up a safety in run support. Lamb showed last week what happens when you get overzealous and give him an open throwing lane or a free running tight end. Lamb finished and did so in quick order. Just when you expect both tight ends to stay in and block, one of them releases and the coverage doesn’t have time to rotate. The wishing well at the San Marcos Outlets might be full of Coach Withers maroon pennies this week if he thinks he can slow down a team that ripped his group for 303 ground yards and four passing touchdowns a season ago.
The First Pick