Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 8:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.77

ULL: 69.81

Home: 2.60

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.36 points

Line: Opened App State -2; Moved to ULL -2, Settling around ULL -1

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last meeting: App State 30, Louisiana 19; December 1, 2018, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Kickoff Temps in the low 80’s cooling to mid-70’s, muggy

Seems like it has been forever since App State football has been considered an underdog in a conference game. It’s been so long that most of us are not even sure how to think about it, or even what it felt like since the last time it happened. When was it? It wasn’t November 12th, 2016 when App played Troy on the road. That game was considered a dead heat, a pick’em. You actually have to go all the way back to November 22nd, 2014. The opponent was Louisiana. We have to go back to the first year App State was in the Sun Belt to find a game in which they were not favored. It’s been a fun ride. Might as well not even show up. Quite honestly, it is shocking, no matter how you look at it. It’s shocking that it has been that many games, and even more shocking that a three-time defending conference champion, who has never lost to their next opponent, who beat them twice last year alone, and is currently undefeated, on a ten game winning streak spanning over two seasons and two head coaches, is an underdog. Keep the chip indeed. But that is exactly what this program is all about. It was just this past December when App State was left for dead, with a skeleton crew of a coaching staff given basically no chance to win despite being favored by just a touchdown, in the state of Louisiana. We all know how that turned out down in the Big Easy. Continue to doubt this program haters. We’re here to prove you wrong.

We all saw this coming last season. Right after Louisiana’s loss to Coastal Carolina at home in 2018, something changed. The Cajuns had lost a couple lopsided games to Alabama and Mississippi State, but the cure came in the way of Texas State and New Mexico State. Two games in which Louisiana scored 108 points combined. Texas State actually had a decent defense. The Cajuns continued to score on every team remaining on the schedule not named Troy or Appalachian State. In 2018, Louisiana scored ten points against Mississippi State. A year later, they lost by just ten points. Scoring isn’t everything, but it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to play ahead, then play from behind. It also helps when you have an offensive line that is exceptionally big. Aside from the center, the Cajuns are 6’4″ or taller, 300 pounds or heavier at both tackle and guard positions. You don’t average 314 yards a game on the ground with just decent running backs. Improved offensive line play is a big part of the reason the Cajuns won the west division in 2018, and are off to a 4-1 start this year.

But hey, those running backs are still very good. They score touchdowns, and get tons of yards. That’s not even the impressive part. At 7.3 yards per carry, as a team, that’s good enough for second nationally. The 1,570 yards rushing is the most in the country. The 22 rushing touchdowns is also tops nationally. Elijiah Mitchell and Trey Ragas have touchdowns in every game this season. Mitchell has 402 yards rushing and Ragas is sixth in the country with 548 yards. Ragas also has a silly 9.8 yards per carry average. However, over half of those team rushing yards, and touchdowns came against Liberty and Texas Southern. The Cajuns abused those two opponents to the tune of 847 yards and eleven touchdowns, including eight against Texas Southern in a 77-6 win. The Cajuns ran for 9.7 yards per carry in those two games combined. In the last two games against Ohio and Georgia Southern, Louisiana amassed just 560 rushing yards total on 6.4 yards per carry, which still looks pretty good, especially on the road.

Cajun quarterback Levi Lewis has made tremendous strides since last season. It helps that he has this great running game behind him, and is not asked to do too much, but when his number is called, he has excelled. Lewis has completed 65% of his passes for 980 yards and has eight touchdown passes to just two interceptions. He’s mobile, and can buy time in the pocket, but doesn’t run the ball unnecessarily. Similarly to Coastal’s Fred Payton, his experience has helped his confidence and allowed him to play faster. A lot of Louisiana’s success will start and end with Lewis. If he can make some plays in the passing game, it could turn into a long night for the Mountaineer defense.

Nearly two weeks ago, we gushed about how well Zac Thomas played against North Carolina, and then all he did was follow it up with an even better performance. Thomas finished 19/ 23 for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The junior is now completing 71.4% of his passes on the season. His rushing statistics have kind of yo-yo’ed as the season has progressed. After a 57-yard rushing performance the previous game, Thomas was held to just ten yards on six attempts against Coastal. However, Thomas did find a tight end, Colin Reed for his first catch of the season, an 11-yard touchdown grab. He also spread the wealth among his top three receivers, Corey Sutton, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams. All three had five or more catches and no fewer than seventy-five yards.

For the first time in 2019, someone other than Darrynton Evans had the most yards for App State in the running game. Daetrich Harrington led the way with with 71 yards on eleven carries. It was a season high in both categories, which also included the Harrington’s first touchdown of the season. Evans carried fifteen times for 60 yards, which in enabled him to keep his wind, but also not get worn down in a game that included a two hour delay. This was likely a one-time deal, a forced hand, for lack of a better term. Don’t expect the split of carries to change any time soon. Evans is the lead back, and Harrington/Williams will get their opportunities as well. Both backs are getting work in every game, despite Harrington (28) slightly outpacing Williams (22) in the carries department.

Both squads have a lot good things going for them. Louisiana fell off the face of the earth in the waning years of the Hudspeth era, but have quickly rebounded after a really smart coaching hire. Sometimes, those good hires come with consequences. Billy Napier has already received a one year extension, which usually means, agents are talking, working for their clients and the school is looking for monetary protection. It’s a smart play. App State just went through that process. The reality is that the previous six games played between App State and Louisiana mean nothing. In the fans eyes, its been six dominating games in a short period of time. The current coaches have not faced off, and Napier has coached in just two of the six games. Eli Drinkwitz will be coaching just his fifth game as the head man. This will be his first true road trip, a journey outside of the borders of North Carolina. But, this will not be first time Drinkwitz has ventured to Louisiana, much less Cajun Field. In 2012, Arkansas State and their running backs coach, Drinkwitz, pummeled the Cajuns 50-27. The familiarity with the Sun Belt may have not been the sole reason App hired Drinkwitz, but it sure did not hurt. You want game analysis? We can do that for a little bit. The Cajuns and Apps will bring a lot of offense to the game. The question comes down to which defense makes a decent play at the right time. The Cajun defense gets a lot of help from their offense. They are not as good as where they are ranked nationally in many defensive categories. Likewise, App State’s defense is not as bad as where they are ranked in the same statistics. We’ve honed in on turnovers for multiple weeks, and it absolutely comes into play again. It’s not lazy, it’s just very important in games with high rates of offense. The Cajuns have fumbled eleven times this season and lost seven of them, including two last week at Georgia Southern on muffed punts. App State has yet to fumble this season, and has thrown just two interceptions. Louisiana’s turnover margin is in the red on the season, while App maintains a top fifteen ranking. If the turnovers happen, they will be huge, for either team. With all the offense this game features, it will be those defensive plays that win, and the Mountaineers have been more opportunistic than the Cajuns.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 38

Mountaineers 45

Appalachian Football vs Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (3-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. Coastal Carolina (3-1, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.32

CC: 58.28

Home: 2.46

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18.5 points

Line: App State -16

Series: App State leads 5-0

Last meeting: App State 23, Coastal Carolina 7; November 3, 2018, Conway, SC

WxCrum Forecast: Partly Cloudy, chance of rain, Temps Upper 70s to Low 80’s

Typically, after the Super Bowl is played, the season is over. Well, lets just say, most of the non-conference schedule over. As much fun as last week was, it will not amount to a Chapel Hill of beans if the Mountaineers do not keep the train rolling. It’s perfect timing that a conference opponent comes after such an important win like last week. The ability to focus should not be difficult. After all, the reason student-athletes come to Boone to play football, is for the rings. Coastal Carolina is ring game number one. You have our attention. The last instance a game of importance occurred, it was followed by Lenoir-Rhyne. So it’s easy to see how this is much different. Major news outlets are not crawling all over campus looking for the next big story about little App State. Why? Because this was not a Super Bowl. This was the expectation. This was just another game on the schedule. For every radio personality who attempts to validate a loss because the opponent wanted it more than your team, you are not doing yourself any favors. For every backhanded compliment in a newspaper, once again no favors. If we played every game on paper, we would not have any fun. Let’s keep playing the games on the field. It’s more fun that way.

Unlike the quick strike Tar Heels from a week before, Coastal Carolina is a ball control offense and they are not afraid to show it. They are averaging a whopping 35:18 of possession a game. That’s good enough for eighth in the country. That number is almost unheard of. They have controlled the ball for no less than 32:53 in each game. Part of that success is an offense that is perfect on fourth down conversions. Eight attempts, all successful. A third down conversation rate of 43% is also above average, good enough for 48th in the country. For the Chanticleers, its all about a very balanced offense that is averaging 245 yards on the ground, and 211 in the air per game. The Chants are also 4th in the country in first downs, with 109 through four games. That patience to move the ball one set of chains at a time is what has set them a part from their opponents this season.

Which, leads to their strength of schedule. Or shall we say weakness of schedule. I am sure they are happy to be 3-1 right now, and that helps build tons of confidence with a very young roster. But guys, they have played absolutely nobody. Now Eastern Michigan was a bowl team last year that Georgia Southern needed to beat with a late field goal down at the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery. But Eastern Michigan snuck by Coastal to give them their lone loss, and needed four interceptions to do it. Then, Coastal beat Kansas by a thrilling score of 12-7. Kansas might have Les Miles as their coach, but they still have Kansas football players. The Chants added lopsided wins over FCS Norfolk State, and UMass, who is the worst team in FBS.

Of the 981 net rushing yards that Coastal has gained this season, CJ Marable has gained 398, or just over 40% of the team’s total. Marable depends on the volume and is a very consistent runner. His average of 5.2 yards per carry is not deceiving. His longest run of the season is just 28 yards. He is going to get his yards if he gets his carries, which he will. He is averaging 19 carries a game, and his lowest total was last week against UMass, in which carried the ball 15 times. Last year against App, Marable was nowhere to be seen, garnering just three carries for minus-one yard. Marable is also the team’s leading receiver at 13 catches for 157 yards. He had seven receptions in the opening game against Eastern Michigan, and just six since. Marable also leads the team with six total touchdowns. Coastal’s second leading rusher is actually their backup/change of pace quarterback Bryce Carpenter. Most of his 179 yards on year came against UMass where he ran for 102 yards on twelve carries. Since we are talking about Carpenter, we’ll continue. His role has increased slightly as the season has wore on, especially as a passer. He is more efficient than their starter, Fred Payton, and has three touchdown passes to zero interceptions.

Payton has started every game for Coastal this season, and has had up and down stat lines throughout. After throwing the ball 43 times, including four interceptions, in the opener against Eastern Michigan, Payton has been asked to throw just 46 times since then, in three games. The game plan against Kansas seemed to be the reasoning against throwing the ball, and Norfolk State was a mismatch, where the passing game was not needed. However, Payton was asked to throw against UMass, where he was 16/18 for 203 yards, but still threw an interception. With Payton’s five interceptions to four touchdown passes, we might see more of Bryce Carpenter, especially considering his increased playing time of late.

There has not been enough talk about Zac Thomas from last weekend’s win. The star of the game was Demetrious Taylor for obvious reasons. In his fifteenth career start, Thomas engineered numerous scoring drives, was plenty accurate, flipped fields on a busted play, and kept the ball on a read play for a critical third down conversion late in the game. The numbers may not have eye-popping or jaw-dropping, but the body of work was exquisite. Thomas did not throw for a touchdown, but didn’t need to with Darrynton Evans scoring three of his own on offense. Thomas had a season high for completions, attempts and yards passing. But, more importantly, he had a season high in rushing yards. Thomas’s ability to run brings another weapon to the table that a defense has to account for. His 50-yard run on 3rd down and 7 set up the second field goal to narrow the deficit to 7-6. His five yard carry on 2nd down and goal from the seven yard line gave way to Evans, who punched it in and extended App State’s lead to 27-10 late in the second quarter. Finally, the twelve yard run on 3rd and 5 from the Mountaineer thirty yard line was a back breaker for the Heels, who had burned two timeouts on the previous downs.

Try to look past Coastal Carolina’s schedule and convince yourself how they are going to win on Saturday. First thing, control the ball, don’t turn it over, play error free and mistake free football. Coastal has been able to control the ball flawlessly. They know they are undermanned, and a beautiful way to combat that is to shorten the game. Turnovers were a big key last week for App State, and they took advantage. The Mountaineers increased their turnover margin on the season to +1.67, good enough for four-way tie for sixth in the country. Coastal sits dead even on turnover margin, which is 59th nationwide. Penalties are big. Appalachian has been atrocious this season, averaging eight flags per game for just over 85 yards. Coastal Carolina is sixth in the country in penalty yards for teams that have played four games. The Chants have been flagged eighteen times for 154 yards. Defensively, the Mountaineers absolutely cannot give a team cheap yards and extend drives to a team that likes to shorten the game and possess the ball. Cannot stress that point enough. This analysis might seem short and tidy, but I really believe that is what we are dealing with. A team that presents like an old school option oriented club that likes to lean heavily on their game plan. This game has some serious shootout potential. The App State defense has been around enough to make some plays here and there this season, and that has kept them afloat, but if Coastal plays to their strengths plays keep away, this one could be closer than expected.

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 22

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football @ North Carolina

Appalachian State (2-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. North Carolina (2-1, 1-0 ACC)

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: Fox Sports Southeast

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

Kenan Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 50,500

Surface: RootZone 3D Blend AstroTurf 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.40

UNC: 76.43

Home: 2.64

North Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.67 points

Line: North Carolina -3

Series: North Carolina leads 1-0

Last meeting: UNC 56, Appalachian 6; September 21, 1940, Chapel Hill, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Sunny with temps in the low to mid-80’s

So, we have a big football game on our hands? Is that what people are telling me? Last I checked, it’s still September. Hard to have a big game this early in the season. Important games are usually slated for December, or late October against some school from south Georgia. Rings and trophies are absent for this matchup. Oh, bragging rights, you say? We got bragging rights. It’s nothing but a few spoken words, but words that some have been waiting to utter their entire lives. Finally, the Mountaineers have a chance to pound their chests while both squads are on somewhat of an equal playing field. Even when App State played Wake in 2017, the scholarship count might have been equal, but a few of those men in black were FCS recruits. And for many of those who were not FCS recruits, they were still quite young. In early 2017, the FBS transition for App State was still in its infancy. Fast forward two years, and now the Apps have a full FBS cupboard. Athletic budgets aside, this is as equal a footing as App State has had against any of the Tobacco Four on the gridiron. Counting Duke, but probably should not. So yeah, this is finally about bragging rights. It certainly helps boost the confidence of App fans that we have had success at this level. It helps that we have that culture, and that expectation to win. It helps that we really really, want to beat the ever-living you know what out of those Heels, even if it isn’t at their signature sport. So, Mountaineer fans will load up the tailgate wagons and drive themselves to the destination of the next battle. They will give their ALL, and if it does not work out in their favor, they’ll try again the following week.

The Tar Heels have played three games this season, but arguably, they have only played three quarters of football. Of the seventy points the Heels have scored this season, thirty-eight of them have been scored in the final frame. That’s roughly 54% of their points scored in 25% of game action. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize that the other 46% of Carolina’s points occurred in 75% of play. Choose your narrative. The Heels can hang around long enough in games, stay within striking distance until they kick the offense into high gear late. Luckily for the Heels, they have been able to keep opponents under 30 points in all their games. Wake jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and held on for dear life, winning 24-18. Eventually a team will run away from them. But, they do have the ability to come back, and strike quickly. On their two touchdown drives against Wake, the Heels went a combined 160 yards on 11 plays in just 4:38 of game time. Similar situation against South Carolina. Two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, 14 plays, 193 yards, 5:37 of clock used. That’s getting it done.

All the talk in Chapel Hill this football season has been about Mack Brown, the former App State head coach from way back in 1983. Stop reading this if that is the first time you are hearing about this news. The rest of talk has been about freshman QB Sam Howell, the Sun Valley product who spurned Florida State late in recruiting. It’s early in his career, but he’s played well in spots, and has looked really bad in others. Howell has not taken every snap, but most of them. Howell has 701 yards and 6 touchdowns in three games. He has not thrown an interception, but he has been sacked twelve times. That’s a lot even if he had taken every snap. Overall, the Carolina quarterbacks have been sacked thirteen times on the season, which is 125th out of 130 teams in the country. App State head coach Eli Drinkwitz described Howell as a player who believes in his abilities and has a big, talented arm. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t look at the stat sheets and assume Howell doesn’t like to tuck and run. His sack yardage factors into his rushing totals. Take those out, and he has 20 carries for 62 yards.

North Carolina’s running back room is a mystery. You have two guys with somewhat identical statistics. They have combined for 77 carries and 440 yards between them, but just one rushing touchdown. All together, the entire rushing attack is just 79th in the country, at just under 160 yards a game, and 3.83 yards per carry. However, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have pretty much split carries in the first three games. In the first two games it was mostly Williams who looked like the better back. He had 28 carries for 178 yards against South Carolina and Miami. Then suddenly, against Wake, he was held to just 27 yards on nine carries. His fumble in the first quarter that set up a Deacon touchdown might have had something to do with his poor performance. Michael Carter received 16 carries against South Carolina, eleven against Miami, and then thirteen against Wake. Williams role kinda plunged, while Carter’s stayed consistent. Carter had 96 yards against Wake on thirteen carries, but fifty of those yards came on one play. Take that away and he had a 3.83 yard per carry average for the game, which is oddly the same average as Carolina’s season total.

We have finally reached that part of the career of Darrynton Evans. We are just past the midway point of his eligibility, yet he already holds a school record with three kickoff returns for a touchdown, a mark formerly held by Jimmy Watkins. We have only seen eight kickoff returns for touchdown in App State history since 1966. Evans has three of them, one in each full season he has played. He also currently holds the career kickoff return average record, which currently sits at 26.5 yards per return. That is an entire yard higher than Charles Fowler, who sits in second place. This is mentioned for one reason. Evans is special. We have seen phenomenal play makers at App State over the years, but Evans could be the best. Aside from kickoff returns, in Evans’ last eight games, he has 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

Looking for bright spots outside Evans’ game against Charlotte is somewhat tough. It’s been a long time since App State has played that poorly in a second half, and still managed to pull out a win. The warning shot was fired. The Mountaineers have given up five passing touchdowns in 2019, compared to only eight last season. Opponents yards per attempt is also up by nearly 2.2 yards per attempt. Defending third downs is easier when the offense you are facing has further to go. App State is just 70th in third down defense in 2019, allowing a .370 conversion rate, compared to just .317 a year ago. North Carolina is struggling mightily on third downs, and that has to be something App State takes advantage of on Saturday. Part of why Wake was able to win last week, is that the Heels had two first downs and were 0-8 on third down conversions in the first half.

Let’s try and remove the colors and letters from the jerseys for a moment. This game appears to be pretty even on paper. If anything sets these two teams apart, its experience. Appalachian clearly has the upper hand in that department. But is that experience occasionally a detriment? Are the Mountaineers too set in their old ways, or is this random sputtering on both sides of the ball a real concern. Mind you, this is the second straight game, where both teams have mostly a new coaching staff. Eventually the newness is no longer an excuse, because we are at the quarter pole of the season. There have been nearly as many practices in September, as there were in August, as there were in the spring. It’s time for both teams to step up if they want their seasons to extend past twelve games. Per usual, all the pressure is on the home team, North Carolina. They are supposed to win, right? The Heels have more resources at their disposal. It’s just a tuneup game. The Tar Heels have still yet to score thirty points in a game, despite their abundance of chunk plays with their offense. The problem is the red zone. Now, you can look up that Carolina has scored on every possession they have had in the red zone, and then also notice, they have only made 11 trips in three games, good enough for 109th in the country. You also notice they have scored just five touchdowns in those situations. The Tar Heels are tied for 3rd in the country in red zone field goals. That’s not a statistic you want to be good at. Sure, points are great, but most days, 6 > 3. You know what’s coming, It’s App red zone statistics. The Mountaineers have scored touchdowns on nine of ten red zone chances. Appalachian is one of three teams in the country(Baylor, Navy), yet to kick a red zone field goal. On one hand you have team that kicks a ton of field goals, and the other that has not kicked any. It’s not the deciding factor in football games, but it is a major situational variable in who has a better chance to win. Another key, turnovers. Again, I believe both these teams are pretty even, so something has to give eventually. North Carolina sits at +.33 on the season in margin, while App State is +1.50. The winner of this game likely also wins that pesky turnover battle, and I’ll take the more experienced offense that has played together over a patchwork offensive line with a true freshman quarterback.

The First Pick

Wethers 23

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. UNC-Charlotte (1-0, 0-0 CUSA)

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlote 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

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.19

UNCC: 49.81

Home: 2.25

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.63 points

Line: App State -21.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: Appalachian 45, UNCC 9, September 8, 2018, Charlotte, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Mostly Sunny with temps in mid-70’s during game.

The long awaited debut of the new coaching staff is now behind us. The 2019 opener played out exactly how it should have. The home team was happy with a big win and the weather was fantastic. That makes for a really solid day in Boone. We don’t ask for much around here. It’s going to rain in Boone, just keep it clear for six or seven Saturdays a year. The next test awaits. A semi-hungry UNC-Charlotte team, fresh off of a season opening win of their own, gets to visit the mountains for the first time. The animosity between fan bases speaks of a rivalry that has lasted decades, but has rarely intersected. This is the seventh season for 49er football and they have twenty-three wins to their name. App State has 617 wins all time. UNC-Charlotte had to fire their only coach after last season. They are basically starting over again. Happens to just about every startup football school. They still have a long way to go. Will Healy might get them there, wherever that may be. This will be last game in this series until 2026, and by then, it is likely that coaches on both sidelines will have moved on. But, this one is for all the chest thumping and online chatter until then. This game will set the table for the next decade of college football in western North Carolina, and neither school can afford to be on the wrong end of the score.

Benny LeMay is Charlotte’s bread and butter. However he goes, so do the Niners. Last year, he finished with 1,243 yards on 232 attempts. Last week against Gardner-Webb, I thought he looked hesitant, and perhaps a little slow. Last year, against App State, LeMay was held to 35 yards on seven carries. His performance last Thursday against Gardner-Webb looked really good on paper. He ran for 120 yards on 16 carries, and added a couple touchdowns. He also didn’t carry the ball in the second half. His last carry was a 65-yard touchdown. Prior to that, Gardner-Webb held LeMay to ten carries for 19 yards in the first quarter. Charlotte persisted and gave LeMay six carries in the second quarter, all combined went for 101 yards. As it all unfolded, it seemed reckless to give LeMay that much run early on, but it worked out in the end and Charlotte got their win .

The quarterback battle was one of the more interesting stories for UNCC during camp. Head coach Will Healy kept the starter a secret up until kickoff last week. Brett Kean, the graduate transfer from South Florida got the nod, but was mostly ineffective. He finished the night with two interceptions and a touchdown on just 4/8 passing for 50 yards. Chris Reynolds was the more effective signal caller. Reynolds was also most effective against App State last season. Reynolds passed for 136 yards and added 72 on the ground, but also threw an interception against Gardner-Webb. Last season against App, Reynolds threw for 108 yards, tossed an interception and was sacked three times. Neither quarterback is great, but they might be enough for UNCC to get to bowl eligibility. Expect to see both quarterbacks to get playing time this week. Alternating quarterbacks might just be a test in non-conference action before settling on a full time start later this month.

The Charlotte receivers are young but they do return some talent. A year ago, Victor Tucker caught four passes for 33 yards against App State. Last week, Tucker hauled in one pass for eleven yards. Sophomore Cameron Dollar grabbed five balls for 58 yards and freshman Noah Henderson corralled five passes for 49 yards. Charlotte took advantage of soft coverage to move the sticks, which led to their 6.6 yards per pass attempt they managed against Gardner-Webb.

The Eliah Drinkwitz debut went off without a hitch. He’ll admit to mistakes he made, and that’s a good sign. A five touchdown victory that included eclipsing forty points and Ted Roof’s defense holding their opponent to single digits is a good recipe for success. In all, the offense ran 66 plays, with 41 rushing attempts to 25 passing plays. That’s really not that far off from what we have seen in the past. Three touchdowns on the ground, and three in the air. Six different players scored. Outside of your typically dominant effort from familiar faces, we had flashbacks from players we didn’t see as often in 2018. Thomas Hennigan never disappeared, but his sophomore season was disappointing mainly due to the emergence of Corey Sutton. Hennigan hauled in seven passes for 79 yards and a score. Daetrich Harrington looked fully recovered in spot duty, carrying the ball six times for 48 yards.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle was a defense that played really well. It’s easy to look at the scoreboard and notice that ETSU scored just a touchdown. That’s simple. But the Bucs took the air out of the ball. App State’s conditioning was tested. They were on the field for eighteen minutes and nineteen seconds in the first half. That might not seem like much, but that’s important as a game wears on. Ten players combined for ten tackles for loss while surrendering just 3.5 yards per attempt on the ground. The defense also held the Bucs to under 300 yards of total offense. That’s quite good.

Let’s do one thing first. Forget what happened in 2018 in Jerry Richardson Stadium. That is not the barometer this weekend. We have two new head coaches with two completely different ideas about how to run a program from their predecessors. This will be different, but the score might not be. Both teams have a lot of players back. That’s a good thing for one, not so good for the other. Chris Reynolds should start for 49ers on Saturday. He looked better last year, and he looked better last Thursday night. I’m just not so sure that Will Healy sees it the same way. Personally, every snap that Brett Kean takes is one more step towards a loss for Charlotte. Just like settling for field goals. Charlotte needs touchdowns, plain and simple. On the other hand, there are a lot of players back for App State from last year. The Mountaineers didn’t run the ball well on Charlotte, yet won convincingly, thanks to big plays from the special teams and defense. I have a feeling that might be a point of emphasis this week in practice. App State will want to establish the ground game and make up for lost time. Charlotte will want to do the same, virtually copying the game plan from East Tennessee, to shorten the game, and keep the Mountaineer offense off the field. A shorter game might mean fewer possessions for both teams which will put an increased importance on situational football. On top of App State losing the time of possession battle to ETSU, Charlotte maintained a fifteen minute edge in the same category over Gardner-Webb. Expect that same strategy to be employed. Parts of me believes that we’ll see a slightly more expanded playbook this weekend, but not by much. The Mountaineers get an early season bye next week before the focus shifts to another in-state opponent and the stakes are also big in that one. The 49ers might hang around for a bit, but the depth and speed they face this weekend is too much to overcome.

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 13

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs East Tennessee State

Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. East Tennessee (0-0, 0-0 SoCon)

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlote WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte WAVO 1150 AM; Raleigh/Durham Buzz Sports Radio 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM, The Ticket 620 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.54

East Tennessee: 45.39

Home: 2.25

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 31.5 points (rounded)

Line: App State -32.5

Series: App State leads 31-14-1

Last meeting: Appalachian 21, East Tennessee 7, October 28, 2003, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Sunny, Mid 70’s thoughout the game

After an offseason of quotable quotes in the media and instagram stories from Willow Valley, it’s finally time to see what new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz can do in Boone. We have all been lucky. We have not done this that often. A new football coach. For this particular corner of the internet, it’s just the second time, even though the first time didn’t really feel like much of a change. Sure, Jerry Moore was an outside guy when he was hired, but nobody considers him as such today. Scott Satterfield was about as far away from being an outsider as you can get. Former player and assistant turned head coach. This was his school. Now it’s for time for Drinkwitz, who may be as much of an outsider as Jerry Moore was in 1989. Or perhaps not. Jerry Moore did not really have much of “mid-major” resume in college football outside a few years at Southern Methodist and North Texas. But hey, that’s Texas football. It’s a big deal in the Lone Star state. Drinkwitz has spent several years in Group of Five football, and he understands what he is up against. Additionally, Drinkwitz has spent time with coaches who know about App State, and coached in the state of North Carolina prior to his arrival, unlike Moore did thirty years ago. One thing is for certain. The expectations remain. The shelves are stocked. It’s just a matter of time before we see how a new piece of the puzzle fits.

Welcome back to the party, East Tennessee State. The last time Appalachian and ETSU met in 2003, it was the last season of football for the Buccaneers. In 2015, East Tennessee was back on the field after the Tennessee Board of Regents approved a $125 student fee in order to restart the program. After one season as an FCS independent, the Southern Conference welcomed back the Bucs like they also did with VMI when they left the conference for over a decade. The 2015 season for ETSU looked much like a typical startup football program. They played a bunch of schools whose names belong on the play-in game line of the NCAA tournament and they went 2-9. After two more seasons with better results, but still below .500, something clicked. In 2018, the Bucs went 8-4, shared the Southern Conference title with Furman & Wofford and advanced the the FCS Playoffs. That was just their second ever appearance in the FCS playoffs. The season included six wins over conference opponents by a combined 16 points.

Buccaneer head coach Randy Sanders is an old school Tennessee homeboy. Most of his coaching and playing career has been spent in the eastern part of the Volunteer State outside of a few years at Kentucky and Florida State. His hometown of Morristown is about halfway between Knoxville and Johnson City, so if anyone knows about the Blue Ridge area of Tennessee, it’s Randy Sanders. This will be Sanders second season at the helm for the Bucs, and also just his second as a head coach.

Most of the news out of Bucs camp this summer has been surrounding the quarterback battle. East Tennessee made headlines when it was announced that former Miami quarterback Cade Weldon and Coastal Carolina quarterback Chance Thrasher were transferring in to the program. Since, Weldon has been hurt, and Thrasher has won the job. Thrasher has worked through injuries throughout his entire collegiate career. Thrasher played sparingly last year against App State. And I mean, sparingly. Three plays. That’s it.

1st and 10 at APP38 Thrasher, C. rush for 1 yard to the APP37 (Diarrassouba, E).
2nd and 9 at APP37 Thrasher, C. rush for 4 yards to the APP33 (Flory, Anthony;Willis, Chris).
3rd and 5 at APP33 Thrasher, C. rush for 1 yard to the APP32 (Willis, Chris).

Quay Holmes is back for the Bucs. The sophomore returns after a really good redshirt freshman year where he did most of the work on offense. Holmes fell just short of 1000 yards rushing on the season, but was heavily involved in the passing game as well, catching 34 passes for 279 yards. He is a preseason SoCon first-team running back and also adds another dimension in the return game. Holmes had a long kick return of 69 yards, and sported a 27.3 yard average on ten total returns. And oh yeah, he scored fifteen! touchdowns last year.

Most of us are familiar enough with what App State returns, just about everyone on both sides of the ball. The team has had a spring and a fall full of practices and meetings. Learning the plays should not be an issue, but execution in live game action, against another opponent will be key. How will the players react when they look to the sideline, and an unfamiliar face is waiting. Of the losses that could impactful, many mention the defensive backs, mainly because of who is gone. The first two weeks of the season should be plenty of time to get adjusted to the pressure of a starting defensive back. I could have sat here and spouted off everyone’s names and stats from last year, but honestly, you have been doing that for nine months. No need to waste your time. We’ll dive into the statistics as soon as we have some.

Make no bones about it, Randy Sanders understands the difficult task his team has in front of him. He was quoted not once, not twice, but three times, saying that playing App State will be tough. Sanders also harked on the twelve years that ETSU didn’t have a program, and mentioned how App State has elevated just about everything about their program while the Buccaneers were without their own. He’s marveled about App State’s speed on defense, which just about every coach has done ever. Not exactly breaking news to the Mountaineer faithful. The real question before us, is what exactly can ETSU do to App State in 2019. Last season, the two schools had one common opponent, Gardner-Webb. I don’t believe you can take much out of one school beating a team by 65 points, and another beating that same school by 45 points. It is a wash. But, ETSU is unequal to 2017 Savannah State, 2015 Howard and 2014 Campbell. Those teams have been the FCS teams the Mountaineers have played since moving up. When this game was scheduled, ETSU was just bringing the program back, and it appeared like a fairly easy win. As we all know, a lot can change in a few short years. You either believe that ETSU will continue their winning ways from last year, or you believe that 2018 was a complete outlier. I believe the latter. They won too many close games for my liking. They are breaking in a new center, a new quarterback, and a middle linebacker. That is a lot of pieces missing in the middle of the field. Additionally, the Bucs will have freshmen manning the kicking and punting duties, and that’s a tough deal for a team that won six games by three points or fewer a season ago. A big part of that was with a decent defense that kept them in games a lot. The Bucs have a solid secondary, and nightmare at defensive end in Nasir Player, but other than a couple young running backs, these Bucs just don’t have the firepower to hang.

The First Pick

Easy Teezy 12

Mountaineers 42

2019 Tailgate Menu

You’ve been thinking about it for weeks. It always takes forever this time of the year, and the anticipation is killing you. Of course, you’ve been drooling thinking about what we are eating at tailgate this year, much less that football season is right around the corner. In 2019, we’ll be trying something out at tailgate for the first time. Hopefully by the time the season comes to a close, we’ll have a seventh home game in early December.

East Tennessee State – September 31st – Seafood Po’ Boys

 Why seafood for the first game? East Tennessee State is the home of the Buccaneers. It doesn’t make sense in a landlocked state to have a Spanish-American pirate as the mascot. Your guess is as good as mine.

 UNC-Charlotte – September 7th Whole Hog 

First time at tailgate for the entire pig. It’s a North Carolina thing, and its just a shame this has not been done yet. Come rub shoulders and ham it up with some of our neighbors from the Piedmont.  

Coastal Carolina – September 28th – Low Country Boil

As if one tailgate with seafood wasn’t enough, we’ll double dip in September with a crowd favorite. Shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes all go for a swim in big pot of awesomeness.

 UL-Monroe – October 19th – Homecoming

You all know the deal. Turkeys will be plentiful, brined and prepared three separate ways. Thankfully, this game is back in October where it belongs. The weather should be turning cooler by then, and it just feels right to have Turkey in October.

Georgia Southern – October 31th – Black Thursday?

Halloween Night. Georgia Southern. WOW. Weeknight games call for a quick meal, so we’ll fry up a couple hundred wings for our feathered rivals.

Texas State – November 23rd – Baby Back Ribs

One of the most sought after meals of the season. This will be a our second serving of pork on the year, so bring your moist towelettes and get sauced.

Sun Belt Championship – December 7th

Last year we got our Championship Chili fix in for the conference title game. Those are the rules. No trophy on the line, no chili. Winning the inaugural title game on our own turf last year was a huge deal, and this team has what it takes to contend again.

Appalachian Football vs Middle Tennessee (New Orleans Bowl)

Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Middle Tennessee (8-5, 7-1 C-USA)

Saturday, December 15th, 2018 9:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlote WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte WAVO 1150 AM; Raleigh/Durham Buzz Sports Radio 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM, The Ticket 620 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Capacity: 76,468

Surface: Act Global UBU Speed S5-M Synthetic Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.67

Middle Tennessee: 65.73

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -7

Series: Middle Tennessee leads 2-1

Last meeting: Middle Tennessee 35, Appalachian 10, November 28, 1992, Murfreesboro, TN

WxCrum Forecast: n/a

There is no reason to pretend like we have all been here before. Change is inevitable. What makes you a man is how you react to it. Due to the unchartered territory of success that App State football has experienced for the last several years, it steered them into other unknown waters. No matter what happens over the course of the next couple days, the Mountaineers will be led by a interim coach on Saturday, one who could very well be coaching his last game in the black and gold. A lot of things remain up in the air, and because of that, the focus of the remaining coaches and players is at a premium. For one last game week, travel day, and gameday, a group may convene for the final time together in their lives. Some might get new jobs, may retire, graduate or transfer. But one thing is for certain, they have an opportunity in front of them to prove the world wrong. Although they may be favored to win, a lot of experts will look at them like underdogs. Over the years of App State football, the experts have been critiquing this program over and over: “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never make it”, “You are making a mistake”. Every single time, this program has answered the bell, and proved all the doubters wrong. The never quit, never die attitude of App State football is ingrained in everyone who has come through the High Country, and it’s not stopping now. 

Middle Tennessee and App State have plenty in common. Both formerly of Division I-AA, the Blue Raiders and Mountaineers met twice in the playoffs, both meetings occurring in Murfreesboro, TN. The Blue Raiders won both of those games. Middle’s first year in FBS was 1999 and they spent fourteen seasons in the Sun Belt, winning the conference championship twice. In fact, the 2006 title was the last conference championship for Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders won Conference USA’s east division this year, but fell in the championship game to Alabama-Birmingham. Over the years, the Blue Raiders have faced many Sun Belt teams, beyond their involvement with the conference. Among those, Louisiana, Arkansas State, Troy, Georgia Southern, and plenty others. Despite the limited history between App and Middle, both schools have played a bunch of the same programs over time.

The Middle offense starts and ends with their quarterback Brent Stockstill who might go down as the best in program history. Stockstill is the son of head coach Rick, and has been a consistent player as a four year starter, take away a few games he lost to injury during his junior season. Stockstill is going to throw the ball anywhere from thirty to forty times in a game, and he is going to be on target. He has been sub-60% completing passes just once this season. Stockstill was injured in the Florida International game, and only threw seven times for twenty-eight yards. That was one of the five losses for Middle. In the other four losses, Stockstill threw at least one interception. Now, three of those fives losses were to SEC teams. The other two, Stockstill either didn’t play the whole game (FIU), or threw multiple interceptions (UAB). 

The Middle wide receivers are dangerous. The offensive staff does a good job getting players open with their creativity, which allows for the receivers to work well with the ball in their hands. Ty Lee is the leading receiver with 67 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught a pass in every game this season, and went over 100 yards twice, and all his touchdowns have come in the last seven games. Lee has 26 catches in his last four games, including 366 yards. Patrick Smith is a senior who is the second leading receiver, with 54 catches for 526 yards and six touchdowns. His lines are very up and down. Smith can have a one or two catch day, or he can catch eight or nine passes in a game. It doesn’t matter who they play, Smith can be active in losses or inactive in wins.  

The last time we saw the Mountaineers, some were wet, others perhaps covered in confetti, but all of us, were celebrating winning the first ever conference championship game in Sun Belt history. The second win of the season over Louisiana was a bit of a mudbath, you know had the field been made of actual grass. Neither team eclipsed a hundred yards passing, and both team rushed for 200 yards. There were eighty-eight running plays and thirty-five passes. The difference was App State turning over Louisiana twice, both on interceptions. Darrynton Evans ran for 111 yards, and added a 97-yard kickoff return on the Mountaineers opening possession. The Mountaineer defense turned in their tenth game of the season allowing fewer than twenty points, and gave up just one touchdown and four field goals. 

Bowl games are so much fun. Schools get an extra game to play against teams they do not typically get a chance to schedule during the regular season. App State and Middle are separated by just 340 miles. More games against peer schools should be scheduled, but it’s not that easy. Brent Stockstill is their Taylor Lamb, breaking tons of school records, including 300-yard pass games, completions, and touchdown passes. He seems to play well if he is on the field. He does not throw a lot of interceptions and scores points when they have the ball. If there one negative trait of the Middle offense, it’s that they do not score touchdowns enough in the red zone, at just a 57% clip. They have made up for it with sixteen made field goals in the red zone, which ups their total red zone conversion rate to 87.8%, which is good enough for 36th in the country. But, we all know about the App State defense. Despite allowing 81.8% of red zone possessions to end in a score, they are giving up just 2.25 red zones possessions a game. The touchdown conversion rate is just 48%. Appalachian will be just happy allowing the Blue Raiders to kick field goals all game long. Another key factor in postseason football is third down conversion rate. Middle is just 80th in the country converting third downs at a 37.8% clip, while App defends the third down at a 31.2% clip, which is tenth nationally. Couple that with App giving up only 3.58 yards per rush, and Middle coming in with the 104th ranked rushing offense. It appears that if App can continue what they have been doing all year long, being stout against the run, and forcing long yardage on third downs, it should be plenty to keep Middle out of the end zone in the French Quarter. 

 

The First Pick

Normalites 16

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana (Sun Belt Championship)

Appalachian State (9-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (7-5, 5-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 1st, 2018 12:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlote WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte WAVO 1150 AM; Raleigh/Durham Buzz Sports Radio 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM, The Ticket 620 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Satellite Radio: Sirius 119, XM 202

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.00

Louisiana: 58.94

Home: 2.28

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -17

Series: App State leads 5-0

Last meeting: App State 27, Louisiana 17, October 20, 2018 Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Rain chances increasing throughout day, Temps near 50

For the first time in Sun Belt history, two schools will be playing their ninth conference football game for a pretty huge trophy, and the right to play in the New Orleans Bowl. Our Mountaineers were good enough all season to be the first to ever host the conference championship game. That was the goal when the game was announced. It was the goal when the format for qualifying was announced. It was the goal prior to every conference game being played. App State lost a home game in September, but getting a make up date in December is almost as sweet. With another ten win season in reach, another trophy to place in the case, comes the ending of another record breaking season on the mountain. It’s been a great ride but it’s not over yet. We all have a duty to give this team our ALL one last time at The Rock.  

Since the last time these two teams played, the Cajuns have won four of their five games, with the only loss coming to Troy 26-16, a nearly identical score as the previous App State game. That stretch included a shootout victory over Arkansas State which helped propel the Cajuns to where we are today. That head-to-head win gave them the needed tiebreaker to advance. Wins over Georgia State and South Alabama were semi-expected, but both of these Sun Belt cats gave the Cajuns some fits. Georgia State trailed by just two points entering the fourth quarter and South Alabama had the game tied in the third quarter and the margin cut to ten points in the fourth. Both of those wins were at Cajun Field, while the ultimate clinching game against UL-Monroe included a buzzer-missing field goal by the Warhawks.

Louisiana is going bowling, which many experts did not project heading into the season. The Cajuns were 3-4 when they left Boone the last time, which did not leave much margin for error for bowl eligibility, much less an appearance in the conference championship game. Oddly, the Cajuns are playing for said title after allowing more points this season then they have scored. In their defense, they have allowed just 31.4 points per game in their last five contests, which is down from their overall season average of 34 points per game.

The Louisiana offense has not changed since the last time the Mountaineers have seen them. The three-headed rushing attack is led by Trey Ragas who has 1040 yards and eight touchdowns. Elijah Mitchell tacks on 866 yards and twelve touchdowns and Raymond Calais is not far behind with 711 yards and six touchdowns. Ragas got just four carries against Georgia State, making way for Calais, who had three touchdowns in that game to go along with 186 yards. Ragas also had a light day against South Alabama with ten carries for 53 yards. However, he bounced back with a season high twenty-three carry day last week vs. UL-Monroe which was also enough to give him his sixth 100-yard rushing day of the season. Calais seems to be the hotter hand of late, based on usage, but all three of these backs can get it done.

Senior Andre Nunez continues to rotate with sophomore Levi Lewis every fourth series. It’s something that Billy Napier has stuck with throughout the season. That leaves Nunez  with most of the statistics. In the first meeting, Nunez threw for 108 yards against the Mountaineers. No interceptions, no touchdowns. It was the first game of the season where Nunez did not throw a touchdown pass. Two games later, Nunez was unable to throw a touchdown pass against Troy. That’s the only two games all season that happened. Despite Nunez’s nineteen touchdown passes, five came against New Mexico State, the week before the Cajuns played the Mountaineers. Since the last meeting with App State, Nunez finished the season with eight touchdown passes to six interceptions, throwing a pick in every game except Georgia State. 

This game was not an offensive spectacle for the Mountaineers, but it also did not have to be. It was clear that controlling the clock was an important factor. The Mountaineers held an eleven minute edge in time of possession. Gaining 201 yards on the ground on forty-five attempts was plenty to keep Troy off the field. It was the most rushing yards the Troy defense had allowed all season, besting UL-Monroe’s 200-yard performance. Darrynton Evans’ 58 yard run was the longest run the Trojans had given up all year. App needed that because the 113 yards passing was the fewest Troy had given up all season. Really, this game belonged to the defense. The four turnovers the Mountaineers forced was the tied for the most of the season against Troy. The longest punt return Troy allowed, was to Clifton Duck. And it was the only game Troy threw two interceptions, and their fewest points scored (10) all season. 

At this point of the season, it’s pretty clear how both teams plan on winning the game. The Louisiana approach is to wear another team down with the running game, keep opposing offenses off the field and keep their thin defense as fresh as possible. The fewer plays they have to defend, the less points they give up. The Cajuns scored 31 or more points in their seven wins, for an average of 45.5 points per game. In their 5 losses, they averaged 19 points, never scoring more than 28. Look at those numbers and think about the game App State likes to play. They like to keep people from scoring (15.4 ppg). They like to stop the running game (3.4 ypc). That 3.4 yards per carry that App has given up all season long is exactly how many they allowed to Louisiana in the first game (41-140). The job the Mountaineers did on the Troy running game last week might have been a sneak preview for this weekend. If the App defense is dialed in, this could be a long day for the Cajuns. Although App State scored just three touchdowns last week, and just 27 points the last time out against Louisiana, I’m kind of expecting a statement game from the Mountaineer offense. The home field advantage is huge in a game like this, especially considering four of the five Ragin’ Cajun losses this season have come on the road. The Cajuns have also not left the state of Louisiana for a game in four weeks, while the Mountaineers will be playing their third straight home game. The conference championship trophy is already in Boone. It won’t be leaving any time soon. 

 

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 14

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs Troy

Appalachian State (8-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ Troy (9-2, 7-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 24th, 2018 2:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450AM/96.5FM Boone, Blowing Rock; WCGC 1270 AM Gastonia, Charlotte; 1150 AM Rock Hill/Charlotte, WRAL 101.5FM/600AM Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point; WHKP 107.7 FM/1450AM Hendersonville; WZGM 1350AM Asheville

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.41

Troy: 66.53

Home: 2.33

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10.5

Series: Tied 3-3

Last meeting: Troy 28, App State 24,  November 12th, 2016, Troy, AL

WxCrum Forecast: Cold rain becoming scattered showers, Temps hovering mid 40’s

Big games are what big time programs live for. Sometimes you win those games and sometimes you lose, but you always live for the big ones. The Mountaineers are hopefully facing three big games in a row. In the meantime, the App State redemption tour rolls on. Similar to South Alabama, and Arkansas State both winning in Boone the last time they faced the Mountaineers, Troy defeated them the last time they faced off in 2016. The Trojans converted a late fourth down for a forty-three yard gain that set up the go-ahead touchdown. At that point, the Mountaineers thought their chances were doomed for a conference title. Luckily, that was not the case. In 2018, a loss to Troy would ensure that App State will not win a conference title. A win moves them one step closer to the ultimate goal, playing the last conference football game of the season, and the inaugural conference championship game in their own backyard. This is the game that has been circled by both sides for months on end and we have finally made it. 

Troy has had a perfect season in conference play, winning all seven games, with only one scare, which just happened to be last week at home to Texas State. Besides that, the Trojans had won every game by at least eight points. It was not a surprise that Texas State gave Troy a game, but as to how the game played out. Coupled with the way Appalachian disposed of Texas State easily the week before, it turned into an alarming result. Troy turned six total turnovers by the Bobcats into just four field goals. Earlier in the season the Trojans were thrown around like a rag doll by Boise State in the opening weekend and committed the ultimate sin of losing to transitioning Liberty a week after starting quarterback Kaleb Barker was lost to an injury for the season. 

Troy head coach Neal Brown and Scott Satterfield are mirror images of each other. Both are always mentioned as possible replacements each time a college football job opens up. They both revived once proud programs who had a couple underachieving seasons. Both prefer balanced offenses and good defensive play and oh yeah, they both like to win. Brown is in his fourth season and has thirty four wins. Satterfield is in his sixth season, and is one win away from a coaching milestone, his fiftieth win. They are considered the class of the conference and both could be in line for Sun Belt coach of the year if they pull off a conference title after having to replace four year starting quarterbacks coming into the season. 

Current Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith looks the part of a backup. His statistics do not quite measure up to his predecessor in Kaleb Barker, but they both look the same on the field despite Smith listed as the bigger player at 6’3  and 220 pounds. Smith’s rushing statistics do not look great recently, but he has the ability to break a long run, as evidenced by a 63-yard run versus Georgia State and a 57-yard run against Nebraska. The most interesting part of his game is his up and down passing lines. He’s only thrown multiple touchdowns in a game once, against South Alabama. He does have a couple of big games to his name, like Georgia Southern and Louisiana, where he threw for 287 and 317 yards respectively. But then there are the Texas State, Liberty games where he was held under 150 yards passing. The up and down play begs the questions. Which Sawyer Smith will the Mountaineers see this Saturday?

Junior BJ Smith has been hauling the mail for the Trojans this season, especially since the Trojans lost Barker. Smith did not see twenty carries in a game until Liberty, the first with Sawyer Smith behind center. Since then, he has had twenty or more carries in every single game. He had a five game streak of 100-yard rushing games snapped two weeks ago. Georgia Southern and Texas State held Smith below the century mark and also kept his average under four yards for the game. Both Southern and Texas State have similar defenses to Appalachian, which mean’s Troy will be facing a tough defense for the third week in a row.

With his sixth multi-passing touchdown game of the season, Zac Thomas made light work of Georgia State. Since his return from injury, Thomas has completed 75% of his passes for 529 yards and five touchdowns, zero interceptions, and throw in 103 yards on the ground for fun. When his number has been called in 2018, he has answered it every single time. Thomas is an absolute gamer who loves the when the ball is in hands. The more he is involved, the better he plays. Darryonton Evans has quickly sprung into action as a near every down home run threat. When he gets a crease, he hits it and finishes. Evans is just 140 yards away from a 1,000 yard season, which seems likely no matter the number of games he has to accomplish it. Corey Sutton nabbed another four passes and registered his second career one-hundred yard game. 

So what does all this add up to? We have a game between two really good teams, the top ranked defenses in the conference in what could potentially be a bad weather game with a ton at stake. Troy’s wide receivers were notably absent from much of the game last week against Texas State. Expect some of them to be back on the field this weekend, but there is no way they will be at full health. BJ Smith has also been battling a knee injury, yet continues to get heavy usage in the run game. Despite all this, Troy has persevered, and relied heavily on their defense to keep them in games while their offense figures out the best way to attack the opposing defense. In five full games post-Barker injury, Troy is averaging just 25.2 points per game, which is down from their season average of 31.5 per contest. Now, when your defense is only allowing 16.6 in that same five game stretch, scoring like they have been is plenty, but it might not be plenty to beat the Mountaineers. It has been three full years since App State last lost a Sun Belt home game. Likewise, Troy is on a thirteen game conference win streak, their last loss to rival South Alabama. If a team gets a two score win this weekend, it’ll be hard for the trailing team to make a comeback. Both teams have mostly lived off getting ahead early and letting their defense finish off their opponent. Essentially, I don’t think Troy has enough offense at this point of the season to keep pace with App State who seems to be hitting their stride at the right time. 

 

The First Pick

T-Roy 19

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs Georgia State

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) @ Georgia State (2-8, 1-5 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 17th, 2018 2:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.52

Georgia State: 51.97

Home: 2.41

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 26 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -28.5

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 31, Georgia State 10,  November 25th, 2017, Atlanta, GA

WxCrum Forecast: Clear and sunny, warming to the lower 50’s and lows in the mid 30’s

The Mountaineers are back to looking like their old selves. The Mountaineers have their best quarterback at the helm. The Mountaineers are back…. in Kidd Brewer Stadium, hopefully for the next three weeks. The road map to a championship has been laid out. Win the next two games, host the inaugural Sun Belt conference championship game. Win the third game, and lift the Sun Belt conference trophy up over your heads on your field in front of your fans. If that does not get you fired up, nothing will. Before the confetti and hardware, App State must face Georgia State in the first leg of this college football fortnight. The Panthers have underwhelmed most of the season except for one game, when they blew out current Sun Belt West leader UL-Monroe. Besides that, Georgia State has been on the wrong end of a bunch of lopsided scores and at this point of the season, they have nothing to lose. The Mountaineers could have lost focus the last couple weeks, but held serve against weaker conference opponents on the road. The return of the Zac helped the Mountaineer offense look as complete as they have all season in their win at Texas State and they look to continue that trend for the fifth straight time against their friends from Atlanta. 

The Panthers are a super young team, and they got younger and younger as injuries mounted on their defense. They faced one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the league and many figured they would take a step back this season. They just didn’t think they would take that big of a step back. They snuck by Kennesaw State in their opener, but then lost three straight to NC State, Memphis and Western Michigan. The 46-14 win over UL-Monroe was easily the highlight of the season, but since, the Panthers have dropped five more games in a row. Georgia State is 0-5 on the road this season, and have lost every one of those games by fourteen or more points. 

It might be the Black Saturday game for App State, but the Panther head coach Shawn Elliott might feel like it will be homecoming. The second year skipper will be making his first trip back to Boone as coach on the opposing sideline. The former Appalachian player and coach might feel different on the east side of the stadium, but every other part of gameday might feel eerily familiar. Elliott said on the Sun Belt teleconference that his team would need to prepare, have really good mental focus, and to play four quarters in order to compete on Saturday. Elliott might have a better feel about App State than any other coach in the conference because you just know he is chomping at the bit to get a chance to beat his former roommate on the football field. 

Panther starting quarterback Dan Ellington is expected to be back this week after sitting out last week’s game against Louisiana due to a concussion. The junior transfer from Itawamba CC was a NJCCA second team all-american in his final season at the junior college level. In his first year starting at Georgia State, he leads the team not only in passing, but is also second in rushing yards. He actually led the team in rushing going into the Louisiana game in which he did not play, before he was taken over by running back Tra Barnett, who is on a tear of late. Barnett has 42 carries for 328 yards on the ground in his last three games. 

The Georgia State defense typically has eleven players on the field when they lineup, but they do not play well together. The Panthers are being outscored by 11.3 points per game, which only trails South Alabama in the conference. In terms of yards allowed, the Panthers are dead last, by over 37 yards. The are giving up 7.7 yards per play. They are dead last in rushing defense, getting gashed for 6.6 yards per carry and over 250 yards per game. 

With Zac Thomas back at the helm, the Mountaineers produced another workmanlike performance against Texas State. Thomas completed twenty-five passes, his most since Penn State, on thirty-six drop backs, also his most since Penn State. His eleven rushing attempts were also the most since Penn State, and somewhat unexpected for someone playing in the first game back from a concussion. But his runs were mostly smart, as he skipped out of harms ways on a high majority of his attempts. Thomas has combined for nineteen touchdowns on the season and tacked on two more to his total last weekend. Besides Thomas’ 76 rushing yards, a 79-yard touchdown sprint by Darrynton Evans, and Camerun Peoples running for 42 late fourth quarter yards, the rushing attack was actually held in check for most of the day. Jalen Virgil exploded for five catches and fifty-one yards against Texas State. Virgil had just seven catches for the season coming into the game. 

Last week, I mentioned my unfamiliarity with Texas State compared to other conference schools. This week’s opponent is on the other end of the spectrum. When scouting the upcoming Mountaineer foe each week, I always tend to watch their game against Georgia State. For some reason I am drawn to them. I’ve seen a lot of them this year. They were pretty bad early on, got a little worse, but have rebounded recently on offense. That still does not take away from the fact that they have given up at least 34 points in every loss this season. In the last five games they have surrendered 201 points, just a tick over 40 points in each game. The Mountaineers have allowed 142 points, all season long. It’s not difficult to see, that this matchup has ugly written all over it. One key statistic that might be worth keeping an eye on is penalty yardage. The Panthers are the least penalized team in the conference while officials throw fewer flags on Mountaineer opponents than any team. That might lead to a couple drives being extended by Georgia State, but after a bad week in the special teams game by App State, I would expect the Panthers to have to drive long distances to score. Let’s also keep in mind that over the course of this series, Georgia State has scored one touchdown and sixteen total points in four games. As much as a late meaningless Panther score wouldn’t surprise me, I do not see the Mountaineers letting their guard down too much. 

 

The First Pick

Blue Kitties 14

Mountaineers 42