Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs South Alabama (1-3, 1-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday, September 29th, 2018 3:30pm 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: 77.03
South Alabama: 53.08
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 26.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -26
Series: Tied 1-1
Last meeting: App State 34, South Alabama 27, December 5, 2015 Mobile, AL
WxCrum Forecast: Partly cloudy to mostly cloudy, Temps in the mid to upper 60’s
We are back on track, playing games and no longer fretting about the past. Although a good old-fashioned whipping lacks the drama and intrigue of the conference slate, it was the perfect medicine for what cured the ailments of the App State faithful. Now the attention turns to the most important part of the season: ring games. The hardware is a big reason why you play, the reward at the end of a successful season. Appalachian has aspirations that include winning a title and the first hurdle is South Alabama, one of the five Sun Belt schools to beat the Mountaineers once. Not only are the Jaguars one of the five, they were the first of five schools to beat Appalachian, and one of only two schools to win in Boone. Those small facts are just enough to have the fan base on the edge of their seats for this game. That’s the kind of game you long for. Having just enough butterflies floating around to get you feeling a little funny. But never fear folks, it’s not 2014 anymore, and the Mountaineers are a much more talented group than what they fielded in their FBS infancy. The Jaguars are still trying to find solid ground in what is now their tenth season of football in school history and for the first time, they have a new head coach leading the charge.
Over the years, the Jaguars seasons have been defined by their week in and week out inconsistencies. They can beat any team in the conference on any day, and can also be beaten any day. That is what eventually got former coach Joey Jones fired. Enter Steve Campbell, a lower division lifer, with stops all over the deep south, including Central Arkansas and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. Campbell has never had a losing season in nineteen years as a head coach. He grew up on the Gulf Coast and although South Alabama may have not been a dream job, it is a job that makes him very comfortable. He is flanked with numerous coaches on his staff that he has coached with prior which creates a very cohesive group.
One area that has drastically improved for South Alabama is their offense. A stagnant group in 2017 which averaged under twenty points per game, has increased their output by nine points. The problem is, their defense has done the same. The Jaguars allowed 26.5 points per contest in 2017, and that number has ballooned to 42 points per game. Scoring more points should put your team in position to contend for more wins, but for a team that has allowed thirty or more points in every contest, they likely are not very excited to see a team this weekend that is averaging 51.7 points per game in App State.
Jaguar starting quarterback Evan Orth has played in every game this season, but only recently became the starter. Orth was listed fourth on the depth chart in the spring, but has outlasted his competition with his resilient nature. One quarterback decided to transfer, another was suspended, and the third was plain out inefficient. The UAB transfer has finally found a home and seems to be running the offense that Steve Campbell likes. A good mix of power reads, options, and the deep ball have kept the Jaguars in a lot of games. Orth has completed 69% of his passes for 789 yards, and six touchdowns to only one interception. Orth also has 113 rushing yards to his credit. Kawaan Baker has been the beneficiary of the option game from the slot. Baker leads the team with 134 rushing yards on just twenty-one attempts, but has crossed the goal line four times. Jamarius Way has over a third of the team’s catches for over half the team’s receiving yards. Way is a big receiver who does not have gamebreaking speed, but enough to be effective.
In what eventually amounted to as game to pad statistics, Appalachian played just about everyone in their 72-7 win over Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineer offense was dominant from the start, scoring in just three plays on their opening drive and never trailing. It was an expected result that was inflated due to two blocked punts, one recovered for a touchdown, and the other where the Mountaineers scored on the following play. Long touchdowns by Jalin Moore from 81 yards, and D’Andre Hicks from 73 yards including a 62 yard punt return by Clifton Duck highlighted the day. Of the ten touchdown drives, only two of them took longer than five minutes to complete and the Mountaineers punted just once.
The rushing attack led the day, with 432 yards coming on the ground, with Hicks going for 150 yards on eleven attempts and Moore ending his day with 119 yards on just eight carries. Moore now has 253 yards and three touchdowns on the year, all on just 37 carries. His low usage should keep him fresh for later in the season. Zac Thomas had a light day, with 185 yards passing to up his total to 750 yards on the season. Thomas added one passing and one rushing touchdown. Thomas has had a hand in nine touchdowns for the Mountaineers this season.
South Alabama has had a difficult schedule to this point. They have fallen victim to always tough Louisiana Tech, and the high octane offenses of Oklahoma State and Memphis. All three are in the top 20% of all NCAA offenses this season. As are the Mountaineers. What those three schools cannot claim is top ten defense. Memphis is 23rd, La Tech is 37th and Oklahoma State is 70th. Having a couple lopsided games certainly can skew some of this data, but eventually, your team starts resembling what they actually are. South Alabama has a rather inexperienced interior of their offensive line. Even with an offense that likes to get rid of the ball quick, I’d expect Appalachian to send pressure up the middle to test a young offensive line. With an offense such as the Jaguars, who are only averaging 3.62 yards per rushing attempt, the Jaguars could be in plenty of long yardage scenarios on third down. That is where the Mountaineers break the soul of South Alabama. The Mountaineers can clog the running lanes with their rangy linebackers who have surrendered just 2.93 yards per carry. I’ve been back and forth on this pick all week long, and although the Jaguars might score some points, the Mountaineers might just be too much to overcome this weekend.
The First Pick
Spotted Cats 17