Appalachian State (6-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) vs. South Alabama (1-6, 0-3 Sun Belt)
Saturday, October 26th, 2019 12:00pm
Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM
Surface: Field Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 78.92
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 32.39 points
Line: App State -25.5
Series: App State leads 2-1
Last meeting: App State 52, South Alabama 7; September 29, 2018, Boone, NC
WxCrum Forecast: Muggy with a chance of rain, Temps hovering around 70
The season is at its halfway mark and App State has held three opponents to just seven points, allowed a few more points than they should have in two games, and grabbed their first power conference win in twelve years. Plenty has happened but there is still yet, so much more to do. It seems the Mountaineers are hitting their stride at just the right time. After playing four home games in the first half of the season, playing well on the road will be paramount. Having played two consecutive games against the leaders in the west division, the Mountaineers are faced with the task of avoiding being complacent and not playing down to their competition in a game which they are highly favored. It’s the games like these that can worry a fan base, especially right before playing a big rival on a short week. There will be a time to worry about the rest of the schedule and that time is not now. A loss will not derail the season, but it sure would be disappointing. So let’s avoid any letdowns and play ball this week, because this is the most important game of the year, the one that’s directly in front of us.
The Jaguars will be returning to the field after a ten-day hiatus. South Alabama has played two weeknight games in consecutive weeks. App State has no reason to feel bad for South Alabama, as they will also have played just one Saturday home game in the month of October. Additionally, South Alabama has not played a home Saturday game since September 14th, having played three of their last four on the road. It probably does not matter where South Alabama is actually playing. They are far and away the worst team in the conference. Many will point to a competitive game against Nebraska in Week 1, and a double overtime loss to Georgia Southern as reasons why they are better than their record indicates. The Cornhuskers just got waxed by Minnesota, who also snuck by Georgia Southern. This five game losing streak the Jaguars are on, have included five straight games scoring under 20 points.
Whereas last week, App State was dealing with a bad defense, on paper, South Alabama does have better statistics. But we all know that statistics are not everything. The Jaguars give up roughly 5.9 yards per play, which is just under a yard better than Monroe. App State was able to run for over 300 yards on Monroe, the worst rushing defense in the conference. South Alabama is a bit better, surrendering just 4.6 yards per carry. That puts them directly middle of the road in conference play, but they still allow over 200 yards rushing per contest. There are many other statistical categories where South Alabama is better than Monroe defensively. The Jaguars are an FBS defense, which one cannot say about Monroe.
The reason why South Alabama is not as good a team as Monroe is on the offensive side of the ball. They have very few play makers and are very inconsistent. The offense depends a lot on Tra Minter, the team’s leading rusher and receiver. Most of Minter’s receptions are in the flats, as evidenced to his 7.6 yards per reception. Minter averages about fifteen carries a game, and probably deserves more, if he were on a better team. Cephus Johnson is the quarterback who also demands a lot of work in the running game. Johnson’s rushing statistics are skewed to sack yardage, as he has lost 92 yards on the season in that fashion. Still Johnson remains a mobile quarterback who can extend plays, much like Lewis from Louisiana and Evans from Monroe. Kawaan Baker is arguably one of the best talents on the roster, and South Alabama likes to get him the ball in a lot of ways. Baker is utilized on deep passes and jet sweeps. He is a threat when he is on the field and must be accounted for.
For the second week in a row, the App State defense gets the leading mention. That happens when you shut down the entire state of Louisiana to the tune of fourteen points over two football games. This week, it was all about turnovers and suffocation. Jordan Fehr and Sean Jolly snagged a couple interceptions and Josh Thomas had a big return on a fumble recovery. Fehr’s interception was in direct response to an interception thrown by Zach Thomas. Josh Thomas’ fumble recovery led to a Mountaineer touchdown as the first quarter was coming to a close. Monroe could only convert two of their thirteen third down conversions, including 0/6 in the second half. Every single Monroe drive was four plays or fewer except their first one, where they scored their only points. That helped that Mountaineer offense possess the ball for over nine minutes in each of the last three quarters.
Here is what a lot of people are potentially going to struggle with. South Alabama is a bad team, and they are a worse team than UL-Monroe. But the evidence of a lopsided score against UL-Monroe was right in front of us. They had given up loads of points to teams like Memphis and Iowa State. Now South Alabama might not have the offense that Monroe does, but that does not keep that defense from competing night in and night out. South Alabama fought like crazy against their Yellowhammer State rival Troy, but eventually the failures in the red zone did them in. They competed against Georgia Southern in a double overtime loss despite being massively outplayed all night long. They have been in every game at halftime in five of their six losses, the 28-3 halftime deficit to UAB notwithstanding. All of this brings back memories of when App State visited Mobile in 2015. App led 24-7 at halftime, but had to hold on for a 34-27 win. The Mountaineers were an 18-point favorite in that game. This game will be played a long way from home with the earliest kickoff of the season. Although it will be a homecoming crowd for the Jaguars, the university had to scramble to move around a bunch of events to accommodate the noon kick off for television. Because of high school football, App will not get their typical Friday afternoon walk through at the stadium. A lot of little things being different add up to one big inconvenience. You have to play well to win on the road in conference play, and being thrown off your schedule could impact that. Now let’s get down to the statistics. South Alabama is 121st nationally in turnovers, with seven fumbles and nine interceptions. The Jaguars had a chance to take a lead on Monroe in the early moments of the second quarter, but tossed an interception in the end zone. App State has turned the ball over just four times all year, which includes two from last week. Still, the Mountaineers are 4th in the country in that category. The Mountaineers are scoring nearly 43 points a game while the Jaguars have just managed 16.3 per game. Here is a stat you won’t believe. App State is just 111th in the nation in first downs while South Alabama is 113th. Short fields due to great special teams play has aided the Mountaineers all season. Look for a lot of deep shots down the field by the Jaguars, but the Mountaineers will be expecting them.
The First Pick