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

Appalachian Football @ Texas State

Appalachian State (6-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) @ Texas State (3-6, 1-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 10th, 2018 4:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN3

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

Jim Wacker Field at Bobcat Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf Duraspine Pro

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.41

Texas State: 45.68

Home: 2.44

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -20.5

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 20, Texas State 13,  September 16th, 2017, San Marcos, TX

WxCrum Forecast: Cloudy, chance of an evening shower, Temps hovering around 50

Nothing feels better than getting back in the win column. The losses have to happen in order for the wins to be appreciated to the fullest extent. Not only did the Mountaineers enjoy getting back in the win column, but they had to have enjoyed doing it in front a lot of their fans in a visiting stadium. That game felt like a flashback to the days in the Southern Conference when Mountaineer fans would pack the stadiums of opponents who were never prepared for the onslaught of concession requests. The lines for cold soft drinks moved about as efficiently as Coastal Carolina’s offense. The Mountaineer defense held the Chanticleers to a season low in total yards and were never really threatened. The win kept the Mountaineers in the Sun Belt East division chase with Georgia Southern falling in Monroe. That makes this week’s game so very important. Appalachian will play its final road game of the season, at a venue that gave the Mountaineers some trouble last year. The Mountaineers avoided disaster pulling out a seven point win last year in San Marcos. A scheduling anomaly sends Appalachian back to Texas in consecutive years and now the Mountaineers will be more familiar with their surroundings as they travel. It’s also looking like the weather will also be more comfortable considering the late summer heat the Mountaineers also had to endure last season. 

Since Appalachian has joined the Sun Belt, Texas State has been arguably the worst team in the conference. The Bobcats have just seventeen wins since the 2014 season, and that includes a seven win season in 2014, the last time they finished with a winning record. Back-to-back 2-10 seasons were the lowest points in 2016 and 2017, but Texas State appears to be turning it around a little bit, even if the results do not actually reflect their improvement. Currently with three wins, and three monster tasks ahead of them to close the season, the Bobcats might be pushing toward a bowl campaign next year. Until then, Texas State has App State, Troy and Arkansas State to close the 2018 season out. 

The true story behind the Bobcat season has been the quarterback play. It seems like from one week to the next, its been a guessing game as to who would take snaps prior to each game. Willie Jones III has played in seven games, sitting out against both Louisiana schools in non consecutive weeks. Tyler Vitt has played in six games, not playing in three of them, and neither of the last two games. Jones has taken advantage of his playing time, rushing for 172 yards in the last two weeks combined and scoring two of his three rushing touchdowns. Vitt is less of a runner, averaging less than three yards per carry on the season, but he did register a 92-yard day against the Ragin’ Cajuns. 

 Chances are pretty good the Mountaineers will see Willie Jones III on Saturday to start the game. Jones III easily had his best passing day of the season last week against Georgia State’s beat up secondary. Jones III completed 21/26 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. A lot the Texas State passing attack is of the shorter variety. The Bobcats like to get the ball to their skill players on the outside. But Georgia State is a “get well” game for a lot of opposing offenses. Jones III had a 93 yard touchdown pass against the Panthers, and another 69-yard completion that did not result in a score. On both attempts, a blown coverage by Georgia State led to the big plays. 

The Texas State defense is somewhat underrated as a unit. The are currently fourth in points allowed in the Sun Belt at 27.7 points per game, trailing three schools that all have winning records. It’s rare to see a team with just three wins lead in that category. The Bobcats are also third in total defense, allowing just 380 yards per game. It’s a balanced affair, as they rank in the top half against the run and the pass. The Bobcats only trail the Mountaineers in terms of defensive pass efficiency, highlighted by allowing just eleven passing touchdowns on the season. 

What happened in Conway last weekend was not any more or less than it needed to be. It was business-like beat down that was just not completely reflected on the scoreboard. The Mountaineer defense never let Coastal Carolina get comfortable on offense. The tandem of Darrynton Evans and Marcus Williams Jr moved the chains all night long as they combined for 262 of the Mountaineers 278 rushing yards. Both backs averaged over five yards per carry. In what appears to be a spot start for Jacob Huesman, the redshirt sophomore was useful, connecting with six different receivers. He had two very fluky interceptions, one that accounted for the only points in the game for Coastal. Huesman also flashed some touch with a beautiful touchdown pass to Corey Sutton. Seems just about every pass thrown to Corey Sutton near the end zone is a work of art.

I’ll come clean about Texas State. They are the least interesting team in the conference to write about. A lot of it has to do with missing them in our first two years of Sun Belt play, and not being as familiar. Last year, it was App State’s first conference game, and I believe a lot of people underestimated them. In 2017, Texas State started a graduate transfer with SEC experience at quarterback. This year, you’ll see the sophomore in Willie Jones III and maybe even the freshman Tyler Vitt. By now, the Bobcats have the Mountaineers attention. Texas State will not have one of their better tacklers, Bryan London II for the first half of the game on Saturday due to an ejection for targeting last week in Atlanta. On the other hand, Appalachian will have the services of one Zac Thomas, who has advanced through concussion protocol and has been deemed healthy enough to play. Without Thomas the last two games, the Mountaineer offense was reserved at best. Thomas has the big arm and the mobility to extend plays which was somewhat lacking the last two games. It will be a tough test against an underrated defense for a quarterback who has not seen a meaningful game snap in over three weeks. I can see the first few drives setting the tone for both sides. The Bobcats have won two straight, but the likes of New Mexico State and Georgia State are not exactly top notch competition. 

 

The First Pick

Kitties 13

Mountaineers 35

Appalachian Football @ Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) @ Coastal Carolina (5-3, 2-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 5:00pm 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

Brooks Stadium 

Surface: Shaw Sports Powerblade (teal)

Capacity: 15,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.43

Coastal Carolina: 56.28

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 16.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -14.5

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 37, Coastal Carolina 29,  October 21st, 2017, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Dry, Temperatures near 70 for a high, lows in the upper 50’s

There is zero reason to dwell on the past, and although it has taken yours truly a lot longer than I expected to get over it, the time has come to move forward. Plenty is still at stake for the Mountaineers this season. The Sun Belt has shown time and time again, just when you expect things to go a certain way, that weird things can happen. Although App State no longer controls its own destiny for a conference title, that has been the norm for the past two seasons. In both title winning seasons, it was the Mountaineers who needed help down the stretch to accomplish their goals. All things considered, App is in a familiar spot. Now that all the distractions are out of the way, the Mountaineers can get down to the nitty-gritty business of playing football week to week. That is the expectation of every week, but it can be hard to block all that out when your school’s name is getting tossed around like it never has before. Everything that was lost last weekend can be regained at some point. Maybe not this week, or this season, but it can and will be. Last year was a perfect example. After two tough mid-season losses, the Mountaineers got healthy, and played their best football of the season in the last four weeks. We have four weeks remaining in the regular season, and there is no time like the present to start another streak. 

In 2017, Coastal head coach Joe Moglia sat out the season to attend to his health. In an announcement that was made late in fall camp, the Chanticleers were without their head coach heading into their first season of FBS play. The season ended predictably. The Chants finished tenth in the twelve team Sun Belt conference, tied with Georgia Southern. The Chanticleers won their last two games of the season, against FBS-exiting Idaho and Georgia Southern to finish 3-9. Five of their losses were decided by eight points or less, including their loss the App State. 

This season, the Chanticleers are doing their best to reverse the trend of close losses. Last week they opened the game with a 17-0 lead which they eventually relinquished to Georgia State. The Panthers scored 27 of the next 30 points to take a seven point lead into the fourth quarter. After surrendering three third quarter touchdowns, the Chants scored ten points in the final frame and held the Panthers scoreless to grab a 37-34 road win. In September, Coastal jumped out to a 16-7 halftime lead over Louisiana and held on to win 30-28 in another road game. Coastal has three other wins this season, over UAB, UMass and Campbell, which puts them on the doorstep of bowl eligibility, but they face a daunting stretch of App State, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern in their next three games. 

The Chanticleers have their own issues with their starting quarterback. Kilton Anderson remains the leader in passing yardage even after only playing in five of the team’s eight games. Anderson has not played at all in three of the last four games, and played just sparingly against UMass. Anderson was having a career year before going down with an ankle injury. He was on pace to eclipse his junior season in terms of yards, touchdown passes, completions and completions percentage and yards per attempt. In his place, Fred Payton got in on a few plays against UL-Monroe and UMass and played almost exclusively last week versus Georgia State. 

Coastal’s offense is not about passing however. They are team that likes to run the ball, and run in very interesting ways. The base offense is labeled as a spread option, but their variations with motions and pirouettes by their quarterback is something that is rarely seen outside of the service academies. Marcus Outlow leads the Chants with 649 yards on 126 carries, but he has also been somewhat absent recently. Outlow only had nine carries for twenty-five yards against Georgia State while CJ Marable had a bigger day. Marable only had 20 carries in the season’s first three games, but has seen sixty-one carries in the last five games, nearly doubling his usage. Marable had an eighty yard touchdown run against Georgia State, hitting the century mark in yards for the first time this season. 

The Mountaineer defense got a glimpse of Marcus Outlow last year, as he carried seven times for thirty-seven yards. Equally, the Chanticleers were able to lay their eyes on Marcus Williams Jr, who had seventy-two yards and two touchdowns in a game that Taylor Lamb dominated with his arm. Williams Jr, appeared to these eyes to have a better fit than Darrynton Evans as your typical zone running back last week. Against a porous defense, such as Coastal’s, I would expect both backs to have success, but in different places on the field. Evans can certainly burn you outside the hashes and Williams Jr. seems to be running better behind the offensive line. 

In an interesting twist, Coastal Carolina made Appalachian its Homecoming opponent. These are the type of games I like to call, “We’re taking a picture”. Certainly a homecoming crowd will bring plenty of fans, and App Nation is also certain to show well. Joe Moglia has never lost a homecoming game, (5-0) as coach, but this will be his toughest test. Coastal Carolina has the second best rushing offense in the conference, but App State has the second best rushing defense. Being brutally honest, this game might not really come down to what the Coastal offense does or the App defense is able to do. Nope, this one comes down what the Mountaineers can do with presumably a new quarterback taking snaps. It’s the biggest story of the week. A slow process that does not need to be hurried. Is there a chance you see Zac Thomas on Saturday? Yes, but its doubtful in my mind that he’ll be dressed. The reins will be handed to Peyton Derrick or Jacob Huesman. Maybe both will get their shot at playing time. Whoever it is, they need to be able to move the ball, sustain drives, and finish in the end zone. If the App offense is anywhere as close to anemic as it was last week, eventually the Coastal offense will wear down the Mountaineers. I’m expecting a low scoring game this week. Lots of running, minimal passing on both sides and a game that will fly by. 

 

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 21

Mountaineers 28

#25 Appalachian Football @ Georgia Southern

#25 Appalachian State (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) @ Georgia Southern (6-1, 3-0 Sun Belt)

Thursday, October 25th, 2018 7:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPNU

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

Paulson Stadium 

Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.66

Georgia Southern: 63.90

Home: 2.47

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 12.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -8.5

Series: App State leads 19-13-1

Last meeting: App State 27, Georgia Southern 6,  November 9th, 2017, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Rain chances increasing through the evening 

We are all so lucky that we get to have this experience once a year. No matter which team is up or down in any given year, nothing really changes. App State and Georgia Southern teeing it up always brings out the best and worst of both fan bases. Whether App fans want to believe it or not, we have somewhat missed the Eagles feeling good about themselves. At the end of day, that is what makes this rivalry. It can be argued that the stakes could not be any bigger this week than they have before between these two schools. Multiple times, one has knocked off the other while they were the top-ranked team in FCS. Multiple times these teams have met with the inside track to a conference championship on the line. Multiple times, one team had more riding on the game than the opponent. It’s a bit different this time, because as much as things stay the same, they also change. Never have App and Southern played with a conference championship game potentially in the balance. Never have they played with a school ranked in the AP Top 25 and never has the slimmest of chances of a New Years Day bowl even been slightly considered. This game might be different, it might be the same, but none of that is considered when these teams are between the lines. It’s all about beating Georgia Southern. 

The last time we saw Chad Lunsford, he was still the interim coach for Georgia Southern. A long time assistant, but never once a coordinator earned the right to lead the Eagles based upon his five week audition. He signed a four year contract nearly double the base salary of the fired Tyson Summers and went to work quickly on getting back to the Georgia Southern basics. Lunsford first hired Scot Sloan away from App State to be his defensive coordinator, and then quickly followed that up by hiring his offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse away from New Mexico. With DeBesse’s hiring, the Eagles were somewhat getting their option offense back. 

Like Louisiana, the Eagles have been sliding for a couple years, but appear to getting things turned around. The Eagles of the last few seasons would not be 6-1 even with the schedule they have played to date. They easily returned the favor to UMass, who had waxed the Eagles in Amherst last year. Following a loss to Clemson, Southern pulled off the early shocker of the Sun Belt slate with a last minute comeback over Arkansas State. That’s when most began to take notice. Their next three opponents were not exactly intimidating, and they took care of business, which a included a close win over perennial Sun Belt cellar dweller Texas State. Southern pulled away from South Alabama in the second half in Statesboro and benefited from three New Mexico State turnovers in their win last weekend. 

With the option being back, you get to see more things like, the leading rusher being the quarterback. The majority of the offense does run through Shai Werts, but his production has declined since the beginning of the season. After 75 carries in the first four games, Werts has just 29 carries in the last three contests. He suffered an injury to his chest in the Texas State game but did return later in that tilt. His rushing average dipped from 95 yards a game in the first four, to 57 yards per in the last three. Werts might have been limited by design last week, as the Eagles still rolled up a season high 389 yards on the ground. 

Southern’s second leading rusher Wesley Fields sat out against New Mexico State with an injury after having his most usage in a game against Texas State with 26 carries for 93 yards. Fields has 472 yards and four rushing touchdowns in six games. Filling in for the injured Fields was redshirt freshman Logan Wright, who ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns on seventeen carries. Wright only had nine carries prior to last week. Senior Monteo Garrett also saw a season-high seventeen carries which he converted into 76 yards vs New Mexico State. Sophomore slot back Wesley Kennedy III, who also handles kickoff returns, added 97 yards on sixteen carries. 

Now that we mentioned every Eagle running back, it’s time to mention our own. Darrynton Evans stepped right in and scampered his way to 183 rushing yards and two total touchdowns in his first action as the main ball carrier. That performance was good enough to be named the Sun Belt’s co-offensive player of the week. Evans now leads the team with 425 rushing yards. In his last two games, Evans has toted the ball 42 times for 298 yards including three total scores. His style is completely different to what fans have been accustomed to for several years. Visually, it will take some getting used to, but arguing with the results will get you nowhere.

The biggest cliche in games where the intensity and emotions are heightened has something to do with “throwing out the records.” It might be old and tired, but generally, it is pretty dead on. It can be tough to look at a bunch of statistics with a run heavy team such as Georgia Southern to get a read on them. Most of time when Georgia Southern is a really good football team, they have been at or near the top team in the nation running the ball. Insert the fifth ranked rushing team in terms of yards per game. On the other side, App State is the seventh best in the same category. Southern has about ten more yards per game, while the Mountaineers boast a better yard per carry average by almost a whole yard (0.95). Otherwise, when you play a run heavy team, and that team is 6-1, their statistics are going to look good. They don’t give up a ton of rushing yards because teams are playing from behind.  They’ll have a ton of rushing yards, and they’ll throw the ball around when you least expect it and they’ll be pretty efficient when they do it. If this game will be affected by wetter than usual weather, it will be the team that is better passing the ball that will prevail. Yeah, you read that right. The beauty of that is the offense knows where they are going, and the defense has to react. I expect a bounce back performance by the Mountaineers in the passing game, despite the conditions. The first team to thirty points will take this one. 

 

The First Pick

The Stink 20

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (3-3, 1-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 3:30pm 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 

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 80.79

Louisiana: 57.04

Home: 2.47

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

Sportsbook: App State -25.5

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 63, Louisiana 14,  December 2nd, 2017, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Mostly Cloudy, AM drizzle possible, Winds increasing, Temps in the 50’s

Major test number one is out of the way. It took some time for the cold engine to start, but once it did, it ran like a charm. The Mountaineers fell behind 6-0, but responded on the next drive to take the 7-6 lead. Immediately following another Red Wolves field goal, the Mountaineers responded again, to take a 14-9 lead. From that moment, it was cruise control, and Arkansas State is still looking for answers. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers march on to another conference game, with another extended break. Besides the fallout from losing a great team leader and star running back, to the scuttle of trying to crack the Top 25 for the first time in school history, a lot will have happened between playing games. Focus could be tough when your mind is racing several different directions. Last week’s game is over and the team can’t rest on just one big win. Several more games are ahead of us, all against teams that want their shot against the Mountaineers. The Cajuns are 0-4 against App State. Georgia Southern has lost three straight in the series. Coastal is 0-4, Texas State 0-3 and Georgia State 0-4. From here on out nothing will be easy, and the week to week approach is paramount to this team’s success. 

New Louisiana athletic director Bryan Maggard did not waste any time firing Mark Hudspeth. He informed the once popular coach that he would no longer be the head coach the following morning after App State’s seven touchdown win last season. By the end of the next business week, Maggard tabbed one Billy Napier to the Cajuns’ 26th head football coach. Napier is the former Furman quarterback who was infamously involved in one of the most memorable plays and radio calls in Kidd Brewer stadium history. That result from sixteen years ago has nothing to do with this weekend, but it just had to be mentioned.

The Cajun’s were sliding for the past three years under Hudspeth and his ouster was imminent. The program that was considered on of the top teams in the Sun Belt is no longer. Currently, the Cajuns hold the top spot in the Sun Belt West but that seems like they are just renting space. A porous defense with no depth is unlikely to hold up against the some of the stronger offenses in the conference. The schedule does not  do any favors for the Cajuns either for the next few weeks. After travelling to Siberian North Carolina they return to Lafayette for Arkansas St and then hit the road to Troy. If the Cajuns plan to go bowling, they cannot afford any missteps. 

Louisiana was tabbed to finish fourth in the West division when the coaches cast their ballots back in July, but nobody expected the type of dominance we have seen from the East Division. The Cajuns lost at home to second year Sun Belt opponent Coastal Carolina about a month ago in a game that the Chanticleers dominated at every statistical level including possessing the ball for over 38 minutes. But the Cajuns have had a couple “get right” games the last two weeks against two of the worst teams in FBS; hapless Texas State and a very young New Mexico State.

The Cajuns sport a three headed rushing attack in Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais. They have combined to run 185 times for 1,355 yards. They make up 90% of the Cajuns rushing total for the season. All three are averaging well over 6.5 yards a carry and have combined for thirteen touchdowns. Ragas and Mitchell are similarly sized weighing in right around 220 points, while Calais is smaller at 180 pounds. Quarterback Andre Nunez is one of the more accurate passes in the country, completing 68.3 % of his passes. Nunez has eleven touchdown passes on the season, but five of those came last week against New Mexico State in their lopsided win. 

The Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State last week but it came with a huge cost. Jalin Moore suffered a severe ankle injury that will cost him the remainder of his Black and Gold career. Enough words cannot be said about Jalin Moore, and I’m not going to try, but it will be tough not talking about his performances for the remainder of this season. However, it opens the door for others to step forward and show they can handle a bigger load. Several different backs will get their shot to fill the absence, and it might take some time to figure that all out offensively.

Besides Moore’s injury, the story of last Tuesday night was the Mountaineer defense. The Red Wolves were limited to 117 yards on the ground on thirty-seven attempts. Justice Hansen was 25/40 passing, but was held to just 209 yards and App State picked him off three times.  Three field goals are not going to beat the Mountaineers. UNC-Charlotte tried that same strategy and it did not work. 

Louisiana will be a formidable opponent this weekend. Probably more so than Arkansas State was last week. The Red Wolves are trending down, but have not bottomed out as of yet. Louisiana hit rock bottom last year and are working their way back up the Sun Belt ladder. The Cajuns have their limitations this season, but are trying to minimize those weaknesses with their offensive style. They simply do not have the horses on defense to run the offense Napier would like. In turn, the Cajuns will try to shorten this game on Saturday significantly because they have to. They cannot afford to have the nations 116th ranked rushing defense and 103rd ranked passing defense on the field for a long time. The Cajuns are giving up close to seven yards per play. Their best defense will be their offense. Speaking of offense, everyone is curious to see what kind of changes, if any, that the Mountaineers make considering the running back situation. I think everyone gets a chance, and it would not seem prudent to let one man carry the entire load. Considering the issues the Cajuns have in the secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mountaineers decided to air it out a little more than usual and put pressure on Louisiana to score every time they have the ball. That would give the running game some live game experience to work out any kinks and potential rhythm issues. Eventually the Mountaineers will fail to cover a spread, as they have in eight straight games, but I’m not doubting them this weekend. 

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 20

Mountaineers 48

 

Appalachian Football @ Arkansas State

Appalachian State (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) @ Arkansas State (3-2, 0-1 Sun Belt)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 8:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Centennial Bank Stadium 

Surface: GEO Surfaces Field turf

Capacity: 30,406

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.48

Arkansas State: 64.77

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11.5 points (rounded)

VegasInsider: App State -9

Series: Tied 1-1

Last meeting: Arkansas State 40, App State 27, November 5th, 2015, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Partly cloudy with light wind, Temps in upper 70’s

It’s been almost three years. Over a thousand days. A budding rivalry that has barely gotten off the ground will finally go up, on a Tuesday. For the Mountaineers, it will be their first game played on the second night of the work week. Arkansas State is no stranger to Tuesday’s, having played eight such games. This game sits out on an island, or a cape, perhaps an isthmus, as App’s only game in twenty calendar days. Whichever your water feature of choice, this game has been landlocked as a premier match up in conference play. Both schools want to host the initial conference championship game and a win by either would go a long way in securing that honor. Only one of the two can host the game, but both could potentially participate. Beyond the importance of Tuesday night, is the possible chess match that could unfold if both teams played again. Before we get ahead of ourselves, we’ll remind you how both teams have won on each other’s field in the two games that have been played, and although not many players remain on each side, the head coaches do. That’s a feat in itself. Their conflicting styles will factor into this result. Whether it be slow and steady or uptempo and aggressive, one team will be ahead of the curve by the time that Tuesday is gone

The feeling in Jonesboro, is that Arkansas State has their most talented offense ever, led by a senior quarterback that throws for a lot of yards and touchdowns. The Red Wolves have been abysmal in non-conference play since Appalachian joined the conference, but that changed in 2018. Arkansas State grabbed peer wins over Tulsa and UNLV that looked good on paper. However, Tulsa is now 1-4 with their only win over, (laughs) Central Arkansas who, famously beat Ark State in 2016. UNLV is currently 2-3, with a wins over Prairie View A&M and 0-5 UTEP. You get the idea. Arkansas State grabbed a couple non-conference wins, but not much to write home about. 

Those wins were enough to keep everyone calm in Jonesboro for the time being, and then they played Georgia Southern, looked the same as they did in their previous two games, and lost. Then all heck broke loose. Hit the panic button. Something has to change. It’s possible that loss was the perfect wake up call for the Red Wolves. They get to play at home, sleep in their own beds for an odd gameday, and they got a couple more days to prepare. 

The conference tabbed Justice Hansen as its preseason offensive player of the year. Hansen also won the award in 2017 with just shy of 4000 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In 2018, his completion percentage is at the highest its been in his career and his interceptions are down, but his yards per attempt (7.5) is at a career low. Hansen has also run the ball 43 times for 152 yards in his last three games, a 3.5 yard per carry average. He’s on pace to be sacked more times than any other year in his career as well. What does all this mean? Hansen has been asked to do a lot and his team has not responded well to it. 

The Red Wolves rushing attack is spread out. Hansen leads the team in carries with 54, but is fourth on the teams with 189 yards.  Three other backs have carried the load. Marcel Murray, a freshman, has the most yards at 261 and has added a couple touchdowns. Warren Wand, who stands all of 5’5″, has 204 yards on the ground. Armond Weh-Weh is the bigger back and has carried for 190 yards on the season. Arkansas State has three receivers with over 200 yards receiving. Omar Bayless average 16.6 yards per catch and has a 54-yard touchdown to his credit. Kirk Merritt and Justin McInnis have combined for 52 of the teams 127 receptions.  

In a game that many were uneasy about coming in, App State throttled South Alabama 52-7. It had the same look and feel as the win over Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineers pounced the Jaguars early and cruised to an easy win with 348 rushing yards, led by Jalin Moore’s 123 yards and two touchdowns. Zac Thomas pitched in with an electrifying 54-yard touchdown run to highlight his 77 yards. Darrynton Evans had a 42 yard burst to boost his 61 yard effort. Marcus Williams Jr added 59 yards on 6.6 yards per carry. As a team, the Mountaineers have run for 1078 yards in just four games, and 780 of those yards have occurred in the last two games. 

Zach Thomas had an easy day, but was pushed in the third quarter by his own coach to see what he could handle. That eventually led to a couple of interceptions that were thrown when the game was well in hand. Typically a time to give repetitions to younger bench players, Scott Satterfield challenged his sophomore quarterback which provided an opportunity for live in-game teaching moments. Thomas had the help of his defense most of the day, as the Mountaineers shut down South Alabama’s run game to the tune of 2.4 yards per carry. 

Eventually, the “Who did you beat?” game wears off. Appalachian has three lopsided wins and a close loss at a top ten team. Nobody is asking Alabama if they have beaten anyone. I’m not comparing App State and Alabama, but if you continue to destroy teams, your resume speaks for itself. The same can be said about Arkansas State. Their wins are not very impressive, but they are wins. It is the losses that get nitpicked. Arkansas State had plenty of chances to score points against Georgia Southern, but couldn’t execute when the field got smaller. That’s been the case all season. Arkansas State has just eight touchdowns in fourteen trips to the red zone. Their red zone scoring percentage on the season is just .786, tied for 101st in the country. The only Sun Belt teams worse? South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe. Offense is not the problem for Arkansas State. They have nearly 400 more yards than their opponents. The issue is the inefficiency. The Red Wolves are averaging just 6.0 yards per play, while their defense is giving up 6.1 per snap. On the flip side, Appalachian has given up just 12 red zone scoring chances, allowing nine scores, which is good enough for 29th nationally. The team that finishes their drives will prevail. The Mountaineers will finish a few more drives than the Red Wolves and will take home their second conference win of the season. 

The First Pick

Lil’ Red Riding Hood 23

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs South Alabama

Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs South Alabama (1-3, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 3:30pm 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 

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.03

South Alabama: 53.08

Home: 2.70

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 26.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -26

Series: Tied 1-1

Last meeting: App State 34, South Alabama 27, December 5, 2015 Mobile, AL

WxCrum Forecast: Partly cloudy to mostly cloudy, Temps in the mid to upper 60’s

We are back on track, playing games and no longer fretting about the past. Although a good old-fashioned whipping lacks the drama and intrigue of the conference slate, it was the perfect medicine for what cured the ailments of the App State faithful. Now the attention turns to the most important part of the season: ring games. The hardware is a big reason why you play, the reward at the end of a successful season. Appalachian has aspirations that include winning a title and the first hurdle is South Alabama, one of the five Sun Belt schools to beat the Mountaineers once. Not only are the Jaguars one of the five, they were the first of five schools to beat Appalachian, and one of only two schools to win in Boone. Those small facts are just enough to have the fan base on the edge of their seats for this game. That’s the kind of game you long for. Having just enough butterflies floating around to get you feeling a little funny. But never fear folks, it’s not 2014 anymore, and the Mountaineers are a much more talented group than what they fielded in their FBS infancy. The Jaguars are still trying to find solid ground in what is now their tenth season of football in school history and for the first time, they have a new head coach leading the charge. 

Over the years, the Jaguars seasons have been defined by their week in and week out inconsistencies. They can beat any team in the conference on any day, and can also be beaten any day. That is what eventually got former coach Joey Jones fired. Enter Steve Campbell, a lower division lifer, with stops all over the deep south, including Central Arkansas and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. Campbell has never had a losing season in nineteen years as a head coach. He grew up on the Gulf Coast and although South Alabama may have not been a dream job, it is a job that makes him very comfortable. He is flanked with numerous coaches on his staff that he has coached with prior which creates a very cohesive group. 

One area that has drastically improved for South Alabama is their offense. A stagnant group in 2017 which averaged under twenty points per game, has increased their output by nine points. The problem is, their defense has done the same. The Jaguars allowed 26.5 points per contest in 2017, and that number has ballooned to 42 points per game. Scoring more points should put your team in position to contend for more wins, but for a team that has allowed thirty or more points in every contest, they likely are not very excited to see a team this weekend that is averaging 51.7 points per game in App State. 

Jaguar starting quarterback Evan Orth has played in every game this season, but only recently became the starter. Orth was listed fourth on the depth chart in the spring, but has outlasted his competition with his resilient nature. One quarterback decided to transfer, another was suspended, and the third was plain out inefficient. The UAB transfer has finally found a home and seems to be running the offense that Steve Campbell likes. A good mix of power reads, options, and the deep ball have kept the Jaguars in a lot of games. Orth has completed 69% of his passes for 789 yards, and six touchdowns to only one interception. Orth also has 113 rushing yards to his credit. Kawaan Baker has been the beneficiary of the option game from the slot. Baker leads the team with 134 rushing yards on just twenty-one attempts, but has crossed the goal line four times. Jamarius Way has over a third of the team’s catches for over half the team’s receiving yards. Way is a big receiver who does not have gamebreaking speed, but enough to be effective

In what eventually amounted to as game to pad statistics, Appalachian played just about everyone in their 72-7 win over Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineer offense was dominant from the start, scoring in just three plays on their opening drive and never trailing. It was an expected result that was inflated due to two blocked punts, one recovered for a touchdown, and the other where the Mountaineers scored on the following play. Long touchdowns by Jalin Moore from 81 yards, and D’Andre Hicks from 73 yards including a 62 yard punt return by Clifton Duck highlighted the day. Of the ten touchdown drives, only two of them took longer than five minutes to complete and the Mountaineers punted just once. 

The rushing attack led the day, with 432 yards coming on the ground, with Hicks going for 150 yards on eleven attempts and Moore ending his day with 119 yards on just eight carries. Moore now has 253 yards and three touchdowns on the year, all on just 37 carries. His low usage should keep him fresh for later in the season. Zac Thomas had a light day, with 185 yards passing to up his total to 750 yards on the season. Thomas added one passing and one rushing touchdown. Thomas has had a hand in nine touchdowns for the Mountaineers this season. 

South Alabama has had a difficult schedule to this point. They have fallen victim to always tough Louisiana Tech, and the high octane offenses of Oklahoma State and Memphis. All three are in the top 20% of all NCAA offenses this season. As are the Mountaineers. What those three schools cannot claim is top ten defense. Memphis is 23rd, La Tech is 37th and Oklahoma State is 70th. Having a couple lopsided games certainly can skew some of this data, but eventually, your team starts resembling what they actually are. South Alabama has a rather inexperienced interior of their offensive line. Even with an offense that likes to get rid of the ball quick, I’d expect Appalachian to send pressure up the middle to test a young offensive line. With an offense such as the Jaguars, who are only averaging 3.62 yards per rushing attempt, the Jaguars could be in plenty of long yardage scenarios on third down. That is where the Mountaineers break the soul of South Alabama. The Mountaineers can clog the running lanes with their rangy linebackers who have surrendered just 2.93 yards per carry. I’ve been back and forth on this pick all week long, and although the Jaguars might score some points, the Mountaineers might just be too much to overcome this weekend. 

The First Pick

Spotted Cats 17

Mountaineers 41