Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt)
Friday, December 4th, 2020 8:30pm EST
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
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 76.30
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.74 points
Line: App State -2.5
Series: App State leads 8-0
Last Meeting: App State 45, Louisiana 38, Boone, NC December 7, 2019
It’s finally Louisiana week…. again. We had all hoped to do this for the third straight season, but this year is not the same as any other. So we settle to makeup a postponed game that was scheduled to have occurred two months ago. Although a trophy is not on the line in this edition, bragging rights remain like they always do. Louisiana is tired of it. They are tired of looking at 0-8, tired of hearing about it, and they want to do something about it. On the other sideline, a team wants to continue that streak and send out a fantastic group of seniors, if its their last game, out on the right note. Louisiana certainly does not want to think about a loss for two weeks before having to travel back to the east coast to play another conference championship game on the road. And the Mountaineers want to strive for another ten win season before playing their most hated rivals in the regular season finale. Both teams have reasons to look ahead, but don’t expect this game to lose one bit of luster because a trophy is nowhere to be seen.
The Ragin Cajuns win over then-ranked #23, now-ranked #12 Iowa State has been viewed positively, then negatively, and now again in a more beneficial light. Fact is, when that game was played in mid-September, it was the opening game for both teams, and it’s much easier to sneak up on a Power Five opponent fresh out of the gates. There is no doubt that Iowa State is a good team, probably a better team than they were nearly three months ago, but it’s hard to put much stock into a team you beat three months ago during a pandemic. Nonetheless, Louisiana beat Iowa State, and then proceeded to play four games that were decided by one possession, three in conference, and one out of conference. The Cajuns needed overtime to beat Georgia State, a 53-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Georgia Southern at home, lost to Coastal on a late field goal at home, and then edged UAB with a fourth quarter touchdown to win. The Cajuns trailed UAB after every quarter of that game, except the one that mattered, the fourth. Its arguable that every single one of those games could have had a different result. In the last month, the Cajuns have defeated Texas State, Arkansas State, South Alabama and UL-Monroe. Neither of those teams are exactly lighting the world on fire, as South Alabama has the best record at 4-6 overall. That’s the Sun Belt West for you.
Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis will be playing his sixth game in his career against App State on Friday night. It might not be his last one, as the senior announced his intentions to return to school in 2021, taking advantage of an NCAA rule. Lewis saw mop up time in the 2017 game in which App blistered that Cajuns for a 63-14 win. Like every other Cajun footballer, Lewis has never defeated App State. What has been asked of him in 2020, is slightly different than years past. The Cajuns have typically relied on a dominant running game, which has only helped Lewis throughout most of his career, but that ground attack has not been as fruitful. Lewis is throwing for about seven more yards per game in 2020 than 2019, and that’s really not a big deal one way or the other. However, his wide receivers have tailed off as well. Lewis had only thrown seven interceptions in his career in thirty-two games coming into 2020, but has thrown seven picks in just nine games this season. His accuracy has dropped a couple percentage points and so has his touchdown passes per game. In addition, Lewis is running the ball more than he has in the previous two seasons. which includes five rushing touchdowns.
These names are all so familiar. Elijah Mitchell is coming off back to back seasons with 1,100+ rushing yards and double digit touchdowns. Mitchell had four 100+ yard rushing games in 2018, five such games in 2019, but has only run for 100+ yards once in 2020. For his career, Mitchell has averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the ground, but that number is reduced to 4.7 yards per carry when you single out his performances against App State. He has never hit 100 yards in a game against the Mountaineers, but has come close. App State has contained him before and must do so again on Saturday. Trey Ragas and Mitchell look like nearly the same guy on the stat sheet, but they are different backs. Ragas is listed an inch shorter and about twelve pounds heavier than Mitchell. Ragas scored three of his seven touchdowns against Texas State, which also featured his only 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Ragas started the season slow, but has produced lines of 131-75-78-95 in the last four games. That is good for right at 95 yards average per game as the season closes.
If kickoff times are any indication of how well App plays, the night time has been the right time. Earlier this season, the Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State on a weeknight with 45 offensive points. Last week, App State added 47 more points in another game that was played mostly under the lights. And then comes the 8:30pm start, that will only bring more of a Boone chill to the night. It’s not the story, but it is a variable the Cajuns have to account for. Another would be a resurgent offense that put on a decent display last week. The first three offensive scores of the game were made by App State playmakers in Camerun Peoples, Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan. Peoples finished with 95 yards rushing after a 63-yard touchdown run. Williams caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score, and Hennigan had one of his more active games in a quite a while since nursing a leg injury, with six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Zac Thomas threw four touchdown passes on a pretty flawless night to four different receivers.
Besides the obvious lopsided nature to this series, it has always been intriguing how it has unfolded. The first four installments were surprising, yet validating wins by App State that proved to themselves and others they could compete in FBS football. The first game was the closest, a dominating 19 point win in Lafayette. Then App won by 21 points, 24 points and then 49 points. When Billy Napier was hired, things quickly changed. Since 2018, all four games have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Last year’s Sun Belt Championship game was a cakewalk of sorts for App State, but Napier kept them fighting until the bitter end. This year, a Sun Belt title will not be on the line, but you would expect a similar game to unfold as we have seen in three of the last four games. Both teams have taken a small step back on offense in 2020, but that is mainly because both teams were exceptionally good last season. The Cajuns averaged 257 yards a game last year on the ground while also scoring close to 38 points per game. Those numbers have decreased to 217 yards rushing a game and 35 points per game. The rushing drop off is most significant while the 2020 points average is buoyed by a 70-point outburst last week. Remove that game, and the Cajuns have scored just under 31 points per contest. That’s nearly a whole touchdown less from one year to the next. The reason is the Cajuns do not have a game changing wide receiver. They have spread the ball around a lot this season, as three pass catchers have eclipsed just 300 yards receiving on the season. It’s been more of a plodding offense compared to 2019. More plays run, but less points scored. The 2019 Cajuns possessed the ball for 30:24 a game and converted close to 48% of their third downs. In 2020, the Cajuns have lost nearly two minutes a game of possession, down to 28:28 on average, and converted just over 42% of their third downs. Likewise, App State has not been as dominant, but the falloff has not been as severe as it has for Louisiana. This one comes down to quarterbacks. We have veteran players who have played in a lot of big games, but one has been more accomplished, and that’s the difference. Zac Thomas has not had big passing yard games against Louisiana in the past, but he hasn’t needed it. In 2018, Thomas ran 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns in two games, and last season, backed it up with 28 carries for 88 yards and two more scores in two games. Levi Lewis can run too, but he won’t be asked to carry it like Thomas will.
The First Pick