Appalachian State (7-4, 6-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (5-6, 4-3 Sun Belt)
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017 2:30pm 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
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 64.88
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 14.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -15
Series: App State leads 3-0
Last meeting: App State 24, Louisiana 0, October 12th, 2016
On Saturday, Appalachian will play its 32nd game in the Sun Belt Conference, completing its fourth year since leaving the Southern Conference. Those were four quick years. To this point, the Mountaineers have compiled a 26-5 record in conference play, which is only matched by Arkansas State as the best record in conference play during that stretch. Appalachian has finished no lower than third in the conference standings every year. The only time Louisiana finished above the Mountaineers was in 2014, handing the Cajuns their only conference loss that season. The Mountaineers dominated that day, and have ever since in this short three game series. When the Mountaineers entered the Sun Belt, Louisiana was the top dog. They have a winning record against six current conference opponents, have a .500 record versus two opponents, and have a 7-8 record against Troy. Appalachian remains the only team the Cajuns have not defeated. The beatings have also continued to get worse each season, beginning with a nineteen point win in 2014, a 21 point victory in Boone the following season, and a 24-0 shutout by the Mountaineers a season ago. A win on Saturday would give App its second straight share of a conference title, and leave the Cajuns watching the bowl games from their couches.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have had their chances in 2017 to improve their record, but the warning signs came very early in the season. A close 51-48 win over SE Louisiana in an FCS tune up was the just the start. Three straight losses followed to up tempo Tulsa, UL-Monroe, and Texas A&M. The Monroe loss was an absolute shocker. Louisiana had won three straight and eight of nine games in the series. The Cajuns had to score thirty second half points just to hang with Monroe and tie the game at 43 before the Warhawks prevailed in OT. Louisiana surrendered 215 points in the first four games. The Cajuns then rallied for wins in three of their next four games, and kept their opponents from scoring 20 points in those three wins. But, its been ugly lately as the Cajuns have given up big numbers in their last three games; 50 to Ole Miss, 34 in a win over New Mexico State, and 34 to two-win Georgia Southern.
The Cajuns have had to use three different quarterbacks for significant stretches of the season. None of them are particularly good. Jordan Davis has played the most this season, and missed two games in there entirety due to injury. Davis has 1,281 yards, 9 TD’s and six interceptions and has been sacked ten times. Andre Nunez played decently in the four games he appeared in, take away the 47-3 whipping by Arkansas State. Nunez has not played since and has been concussed at least once this season. Freshman Levi Lewis inexplicably played in his third game last week against Georgia Southern, jeopardizing his redshirt status. Lewis was a prized recruit as a dual threat quarterback who played basketball and ran track in high school.
As the Cajuns could start a freshman at quarterback, they will definitely start a freshman running back in Trey Ragas, who is a load and a half. Just like all bigger running backs, you cannot allow them to get started. It will be a tall task for Appalachian. Ragas has one-third of the carries this season for the Cajuns, and he has toted the ball for 799 yards at a 5.9 yard per carry clip. He probably deserves more carries. He has only carried twenty or more times on one occasion, against New Mexico State, and he showed that he deserved it with a season high 132 yards and two touchdowns. Equally as dangerous is senior running back Darius Hoggins. He is a lot smaller than Ragas but provides a good change of pace. Hoggins is another candidate for more work, as he has not topped eight carries all season in a game. Equally surprising, Hoggins had a 75 yard touchdown run against Georgia Southern early on and carried just once more in the game.
This game comes down to Louisiana’s defense. They are downright atrocious. I couldn’t believe the difference when researching why they win, and why they lose. In their 6 losses, the Cajun have given up 49.6 points per game. In their wins, they have allowed 23.8 points per. That is less than half. Not sure I have ever seen such a discrepancy. Their five wins include zero teams at this point that are bowl eligible and their road wins include South Alabama, the most confusing team in the conference, and three win Idaho.
A healthy Jalin Moore is a very welcome sight. Moore might have been as healthy as he was all season last weekend. He received a season high 32 carries vs Georgia State, which topped his previous season high he had in the last game he played in at UL-Monroe. Moore has gone over 100 yards nine out ten times in his career when he received more than nineteen carries. The only exception was Miami. Four times he has reached the 200 yard mark in those same situations. Over a third of his carries have come in his last two games. He is now within striking distance of rushing for 3,000 yards in his career and only six other Mountaineers have accomplished that feat.
We all know why programs like UL-Monroe and South Alabama schedule multiple games against the SEC. They need the money from a pay game to support their programs. Louisiana choosing to play two road SEC contests does not make sense for a school with plenty of resources and facilities. Had they had a lighter schedule, they would not be fighting for bowl eligibility so late in the season. In 2016, it was Boise State and Georgia that littered the Cajun schedule and they needed wins in their final two games to go bowling. The nine win seasons are now a thing of the past, and mediocrity seems to be the goal anymore in Lafayette. So Saturday, Hudspeth and his Cajuns will hope to overcome a long hard trip to the mountains and try pull off another last game victory to throw current bowl projections in the shredder. Meanwhile, Appalachian has its eyes on a rather big prize. This game could certainly affect where the Mountaineers are heading later in December. A win on senior day coupled with another ring of the hand of a star studded graduating class is the goal. The Mountaineers likely have prepared for two different quarterbacks starting for Louisiana on Saturday. Coach Hudspeth wouldn’t tip his hand at his news conference, so the Apps will be pulling double duty in the film room. Regardless of who starts for Louisiana, they’ll have to take care of the football. Interceptions have been big in their losses, but so has their defense. The Cajuns will be facing their toughest defensive challenge of the season. The Mountaineers have improved dramatically in the last two games with the return of Devan Stringer and rank 33rd nationally. The top three defenses that Louisiana has faced this year are just inside the top sixty and they averaged just 15 points per game against those opponents. As much as the onus is on the Cajun offense to score, its reciprocal with their defense to keep their opponents off the board. They have not done that consistently enough this season and I don’t expect that balance to come together this weekend.
The First Pick
Green Peppers 16