Appalachian Football @ Georgia State

Appalachian State (6-4, 5-1 Sun Belt) @ Georgia State (6-3, 5-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 25th, 2017 2pm est

TV/Video: ESPN3

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

Georgia State Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 62.72

Ga State: 55.16

Home: 2.31

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 5.25 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -7

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 17, Ga State 3, October 1st, 2016

Back in late August, on the opening Thursday night of the college football season, Georgia State lost their season and stadium opener to FCS Tennessee State 17-10. At that point in time, just about everyone had written off the Panthers. It seems nothing had really changed in previous seasons, but it was also the head coaching debut of one Shawn Elliott. That night has not defined the Georgia State season. It was likely exactly what they needed. They knew they had to get to work. Since, they have won every winnable game, and lost each one in which they were decided underdogs. Penn State and Troy are heavy hitters, and the Panthers were outscored 90-10 in those two games. The tilt with Appalachian was seemingly the toughest part of the schedule remaining. This season is already a success for Georgia State, getting to six wins and becoming bowl eligible, perhaps ahead of schedule. But suddenly, they have tripped into a dream scenario. They control their own destiny for a piece of the conference title and play their final two games in their home venue. Oddly, this will just be the Panthers fourth game at home this season, and are only 1-2 in the previous three games. Their tilt with Memphis was cancelled due to the fallout of Hurricane Irma. For Georgia State, a lot of things surrounding football have been new this season, and now they find themselves in another new spot; competing against a team that has had their number for the chance to play for their first conference trophy.

Georgia State did a little more than stumble into this situation. We should give them a little more credit than that. They do have a win in Monroe that App could not match. Otherwise, both App and State share wins over all other common opponents in Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina and Texas State. Neither of those schools have had good seasons to say the least, with Coastal and Southern picking up their first conference wins last weekend. The Panthers have just one comfortable conference win, beating Monroe by ten points, as the remaining games were decided by just one possession. The same can be said for App this season. Way too many close games, not enough domination, and a whole of newness in some critical places.

When glancing at Georgia State, not a lot jumps off the paper. They are an above average passing offense, below average on the ground, and their defense plays good, and not great or spectacular. Their punting is bad, and they lose just about all of their fumbles. They have missed over half of the field goals they have attempted and have a hard time converting red zone chances for touchdowns. Yet, you do not become 6-3 by accident. Sure, there is some bad football in the Sun Belt this season, and neither Georgia State or Appalachian has been immune to the lackluster play.

Georgia State does have a couple tells when it comes to them playing well. This statistic does not mean everything, but it does mean something. Sophomore wide receiver Penny Hart is an all-Sun Belt caliber receiver, and he is a big reason why the Panthers are in the position they are in. However, they need him to be on, and involved from the start. The Panthers are 6-0 when Hart hits at least 85 yards receiving and averages over ten yards per catch. Conversely, Georgia State is 0-3 when Hart has fewer than 56 yards in a game and averages less than ten yards per reception. Containing Hart is a big key for Appalachian. The Mountaineers have contained Hart so far in his career, holding him to a 3/13 line last year, and 5/47 line in 2015. Hart played in just a few games in 2016 and redshirted after an injury.

Panther signal caller Connor Manning has had an improved season over 2016, where he threw thirteen interceptions to just sixteen touchdown passes. His accuracy has improved by nearly ten percentage points from one season to the next, which has helped his yards per attempt average by nearly a whole yard. Despite only throwing six interceptions this season, four of those came in the losses to Troy and Penn State. The Panthers have won every game in which Manning has more touchdown passes than interceptions, and threw just one TD pass combined in the three losses. Last season Manning threw a touchdown pass in every game except one, against Appalachian State, where he was picked off four times.

The win over Georgia Southern feels like decades ago, although it was nice to get some time off for team that severely needs to heal some wounds. The game against the Eagles was not remarkable by any stretch. It was pretty basic, and workmanlike. The Apps got the job done, sending Georgia Southern back down the mountain for the fifth time in a row with a loss. The game was not really decided until the fourth quarter, but the Eagles never really threatened, managing just a pair of field goals. Marcus Williams Jr. rumbled for 130 yards on twenty-eight carries. The freshman is up to 395 yards on the season, with all but 52 of those yards coming in the last four weeks.

What we have is two teams that are even in the standings, but have had two completely different seasons. They have both had some close games, but the expectation of each program and their respective win-loss records could not be further apart. Georgia State is in the midst of their first season finishing with a winning record. They are not there yet, and they didn’t quite get there in 2015 either. For Appalachian, we all know that 6-4 is below the expectations set for this season, but once again, there is still plenty to play for. We have not seen the Mountaineers on the field since November 9th, two days prior to when South Alabama did their part in beating Arkansas State and opening the door for others to claim a share of a conference title. This is different than in 2016, when an Arkansas State loss opened the door for the Mountaineers before their game at New Mexico State. This time around, the Mountaineers have had time to let that scenario simmer. Georgia State was also on bye last weekend, but this team has never been there. That coaching staff and that team have never prepared for a game that has so much up for grabs. How will they handle that moment is yet to be seen. What we do have for Appalachian is a team that has been there before. It has played in big games, with an occasional loss, but mostly wins over the last two-plus seasons. That experience is invaluable. What App cannot do is play from behind like they have in every road game this season. A quick start is a must, and possession for both teams is critical. Georgia State will not wow you with their running game, but they know it is necessary to attempt to run. The threat must be there, or else the App defense will begin teeing off. A turnover in the second half will turn the tide in this game, and I think its the App defense that is due for a score.

The First Pick

Still Southern’s Daddy 17

Mountaineers 28

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