Appalachian State (5-3, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana-Monroe (3-5, 3-3 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 4th, 2017 3:00pm 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
JPS Field at Malone Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf Revolution
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 64.28
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -9.5
Series: App State leads 3-0
Last meeting: App State 42, Monroe 17, November 19th, 2016
What is they say about winning? Plenty of people have said many things about winning over the years. Vince Lombardi called it a “habit”. Lombardi called it the “only thing”. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar said you can’t win unless you learn how to lose. Mia Hamm was quoted, “Whoever said winning isn’t everything, never won anything”. All those are great, but my favorite line ever is by Vin Scully: Losing feels worse than winning feels good. That nails it every time. As Mountaineer football fans, over the years, we have walked out of a lot more stadiums with a smile on our face, than we have with a frown. But those frowns, they are the worst. They can ruin a lot more than the next few minutes, but sometimes the next few hours, and sometimes it can linger for a couple days even. Luckily, there are more games to play. Strike that. Thankfully there are more games to play. Truth is, the Mountaineers have been tight roping it for the last month. All it was going to take was a slight lean one way or the other, and it was going to come crashing down. But, there is plenty left at stake. Plenty of time to pick up the pieces, and plenty of time to figure out how to get back up and start the next streak. The pride of Appalachian will not allow this little bump in the road to get the best of us.
Although the Monroe season started with losses to Memphis (7-1), and Southern Miss (5-3), they looked good in those losses and it appeared that Matt Viator was turning it around. A game with Florida State was cancelled as well, and is doubtful to be played unless the Seminoles need a win for bowl eligibility. After that start, the Warhawks followed with three straight wins in Sun Belt play, most notably over Louisiana, and were averaging nearly 51 points per game in those contests. But then, the bottom fell out. Three straight losses followed and the Warhawks were scoring less than 28 points per contest. Their defense was allowing fewer points, but the offense was not sustaining their earlier success.
The story for Monroe is their offense, plain and simple. The Warhawks are at the top of Sun Belt in many offensive categories, including 2nd in scoring, total offense, and rushing offense. They rank third in the Sun Belt in passing offense. Freshman Marcus Green is second in the conference in all purpose yards, and is the only freshman in the top ten of that category. He does it all, returning kickoffs and punts, and has carried the load in the air, leading the team with 455 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Not far behind Green is quarterback Caleb Evans, who has 1,710 yards passing, and nine touchdowns to just two interceptions. Where Evans gets you is on the ground. He’s their leading rusher with 412 yards and nine more touchdowns. Evans makes them go, but is not perfect. He an be found lobbing up passes lazily, and its a wonder more have not been intercepted. Balls floating around in the secondary could mean big plays for the App State secondary.
For all the good that Monroe delivers on the offensive side of the ball, their defense is the exact opposite. They are gruesomely bad. They are 12th of twelve teams in pass defense, and total defense and opponents first downs. They are 11th in run defense and 9th in scoring defense. In two specific games I was able to watch, the Warhawk defenders appeared uninterested in pursuing ball carriers and their inability to tackle was almost embarrassing. In the past, Monroe was actually decent on defense, but it was their offense that was the reason they struggled.
With eight games played this season, four on the road, and four at home, an ugly trend has reared its head with the App State offense. In road games, the offense has become incredibly predictable. How predictable you ask? Although Taylor Lamb has only attempted 16 more passes at home than on the road this season, he’s completed just three more passes. The difference is the kind of passes. Lamb’s yards per attempt at home is four whole yards higher than his road split. It’s hard to explain how the play selection could be that different. Last year that difference was one yard, which is still a huge discrepancy. But, Lamb also threw for over 300 more yards on the road last season than at home. In 2017, Lamb has thrown for nearly 600 more yards in home games, which is a 900 yard swing from one year to the next. This is not the result of a one game or two skewing the data. This is a complete flip in philosophy.
So here we are again. The Mountaineers will take to the road for the second straight week for the only time this season. In every road game, the Mountaineers have failed to score first. Opponents have scored 71 combined points before the Mountaineers in such games. Monroe is not the type of team you want to chase all afternoon. They will wear you down. You have to get them uncomfortable, getting them away from their ground game. If the Mountaineers cannot find some offense this weekend, I’m not sure when they will. Last week was another example of fantastic adjustments by the defense to give the offense a chance to climb back, but they fell short in the final two minutes, allowing UMass to drive 54 yards in twelve plays for the tying field goal. It was the longest scoring drive the defense gave up. The defense will give up some points this weekend. That’s not in doubt. The question is whether or not the offense can score enough. Sure, thats the backbone of every game in any sport that is ever played. For me, Taylor Lamb and the Mountaineer passing game has to step up and extend the field. Monroe runs a 4-2-5 defensive set, that likes to pressure the line of scrimmage, more out of annoyance than to make a big play. Those passes App dropped out of the backfield last weekend need to be caught. Obviously the ugly parts of the game, penalties, and turnovers can’t be like last weekend either. This is as big as it gets this weekend for the Mountaineers as far as confidence goes for the rest of the season. I expect App to respond in a big way,
The First Pick
Former Indians 20