Appalachian State (7-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) vs. South Carolina (4-5, 3-4 SEC)
Saturday, November 9th, 2019 7:00pm
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: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 76.01
South Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 1.5 points
Line: South Carolina -5
Series: South Carolina leads 8-1
Last meeting: South Carolina 35, App State 9, October 1, 1988, Columbia, SC
WxCrum Forecast: Clear skies, Temps falling from mid-50s to mid-30s
With each passing year, dealing with losses does not get easier. We are supposed to get older and wiser with age, but it just does not happen. Going undefeated in conference play is tough. It’s even tougher to go undefeated for an entire season. It has not happened in this great state many times. And then you have nights last like last Thursday. The perception was that all the stars had aligned for picture perfect revenge. It was not to be. Everything that App had lost last year, it had gained back, and then some. But a typical Boone day did not provide the backdrop that the Mountaineers needed. Yep, we are all probably still down in the dumps a bit. There is only one way to fix that. There are at minimum five more opportunities to watch the Mountaineers play football in 2019 and you love to see it. We wait all year long for this glorious season and every Saturday or Wednesday or Thursday is another chance to watch the team we all love. Time to pick yourself up and get dressed. Load the coolers and fly the flags. This team is not done yet.
South Carolina and Appalachian have not played a game against each other since 1988. A lot has changed for both programs since then. A lot has also changed since the opening week of college football this season. The Gamecocks faced off against North Carolina down in Charlotte. That game had a lot of interest from the App State fan base as both opponents were on the schedule for the Mountaineers. Mostly, we were interested in North Carolina at that time. South Carolina blew an improbable lead in the fourth quarter and allowed the Heels to win. Since then, both teams have floundered back and forth throughout their respective seasons. Now we cant be too hard on South Carolina. They play in the SEC, but they also have SEC players, one would imagine. In typical Gamecock fashion, they have satisfied their fans and disappointed them on a week to week basis. For each win over #2 Georgia on the road, there is an inexplicable loss to Tennessee or North Carolina. Because of that, this weekend is a must win, as South Carolina needs two more wins to become bowl eligible, with games against Texas A&M and Clemson to end their season.
South Carolina started the season with Jake Bentley as their quarterback, but he broke his foot in the opener against North Carolina which ended his season. Since then, Ryan Hillinski has guided the Gamecocks in his true freshman season. Hillinski enrolled at South Carolina in the spring and was considered the heir apparent to Bentley and many publications had him ranked as high as the #2 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school. Hillinski is 4-4 as a starter and has had his moments, as true freshman typically do. Hillinski is 3-0 as a starter when he has not been sacked, two of those games coming in SEC play. However, in the five games in which he has been sacked, he has gone down fourteen times, and has just a 1-4 record. Sacks are not ultimate indicator, but it sticks outs. Two of Hillinski’s higher passing totals of the season have come in losses to Tennessee and Alabama. In both games, Hillinski threw the ball over fifty times. Removing the Charleston Southern game, Hillinski has averaged a pedestrian 5.85 yards per passing attempt.
The strength of the South Carolina squad lies with their running game, which is aided by a big offensive line. Across the board, you’ll see guys who are 6’4 or 6’5 and easily over 300 pounds. Even their centers are 290 pounds. The line has mostly paved the way for Clemson graduate transfer Tavien Feaster, who is the Gamecocks leading rusher in carries, yards and touchdowns. Feaster suffered a groin injury against Vanderbilt and Gamecock coach Will Muschamp unofficially declared him “questionable” for Saturday. That will open the door for Rico Dowdle, a senior from Asheville, who is also coming off his own sprained knee injury in which he did not play the last couple weeks. Deshaun Fenwick looks to garner some carries after rushing for 102 yards last week, his first significant action of the season. If there are any issues beyond those three, senior Mon Denson, who has played in every game this season, could also get some work. In all, South Carolina averages 184 yards per game on the ground and has rushed for eighteen touchdowns at 5.1 yard per carry clip.
The App State offense has a big challenge in front of them. They face another veteran defensive line with tons of experience in South Carolina. The difference between the last few weeks and this week is that the Gamecocks have NFL talent. So what can the Mountaineers do to keep the opponent at bay? Last week, the Mountaineers ran for a season low 152 yards on a season low thirty carries. The game also featured the first time the Mountaineers failed to rush for a touchdown this season. Perhaps having an extra day or so to prepare and coming off a crushing loss to will help everyone regain focus for the stretch run of the season. Whatever it is, Zac Thomas will need a big game from his offensive line. They’ll need their best effort of the season to beat South Carolina. The offense has lacked some rhythm recently and it needs to be found quickly.
South Carolina is still an SEC team. That’s what their fans and their conference mates will tell you. When you grow up in the state of South Carolina, you want to play football at one of the two larger in-state schools. Some choose orange and others choose garnet. South Carolina’s leading receiver Bryan Edwards is from Conway. It’s doubtful he grew up wanting to be a Chanticleer. However, that aura is what you have to deal with. College football legends have played and coached in Columbia, with the likes of Joe Morrison, Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier. Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks and Alshon Jeffrey highlight a trio of South Carolina wide receivers that played a long time professionally. Then there is Sandstorm, a decade-old student section dance tradition that was birthed when the Gamecocks knocked off #4 Ole Miss in 2009. The player entrance to the tune of 2001: A Space Odyssey is another featured attraction. What is the purpose of all this? There will be a huge difference in atmosphere than what App State saw when they played the other Carolina. Columbia is not any Chapel Hill tea party. This will be different, and likely so will the game. Watching the Gamecock season unfold, you knew the situation that they are in would certainly be possible. They were chasing six wins from the first weekend. Dropping that game to North Carolina hurt early on, and then they had to play with a true freshman quarterback. They have been waddling on their quest for that sixth win. They really need to beat Appalachian State. Likewise for the Mountaineers, they really want to avoid a second straight loss. That has not happened often in school history. Usually, they have always bounced back pretty quickly, but rarely has an SEC foe been in the rebound game. That makes this game even more fun. Not only is South Carolina trying to avoid that so-called embarrassing loss, they are trying to prolong their season, while the Mountaineers want to get back to their winning ways. Neither team is peaking right now, but this game has some added juice that some may not have expected a few weeks ago. Both teams playing at their best are capable of winning this game and the Mountaineers will do just enough to steal one from the Sandlappers.
The First Pick
Piedmont Chickens 25