#20 Appalachian Football vs Alabama-Birmingham

Appalachian State (12-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Alabama-Birmingham (9-4, 6-2 C-USA)

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 9:00pm EST

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

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Capacity: 76,468

Surface: Act Global UBU Speed S5-M Synthetic Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 81.02

UAB: 59.86

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21.16 points

Line: App State -17

Series: First Meeting

WxCrum Forecast: N/A

Take a deep breath. We did it again. It was an agonizing, stressful and frustrating 60 hours, or was it minutes? It was both actually. App State sealed their fourth straight Sun Belt crown with their title game win over Louisiana on Saturday December 7th. The Sun Belt Championship game, also known as the Second Annual Boone December Football Invitational, was a wire-to-wire win for the Mountaineers that included little drama. Two teams battled to 24 total points earlier in the season, but combined for over twice that by halftime. And then, we had to do that other thing again. Appalachian had to find a new football coach, one who wanted to be here, and luckily we did not have to look far. Shawn Clark was already in town, and more than willing to become the 22nd head coach in App State history. It was by far the easiest coaching search in Doug Gillin’s tenure, and perhaps the most timely. After taking close to a year to find out who the new guy was, App State made the correct decision, and went back to the family tree, where the roots and foundation are as strong as they ever have been.

The fun part about bowl season is getting to play teams you have never played before. In 2015 and 2016, App State played Ohio and Toledo, and in both instances, it was the first time the schools had met. Alabama-Birmingham makes it three schools in five years that App will play for the first time in bowl season. This will be UAB’s fourth bowl game in their somewhat brief FBS history. Speaking of their FBS history, it is somewhat short, yet not as brief as App State’s FBS history. UAB started their football program in 1991, playing two seasons in Division III before the NCAA forced the Blazers hand and reclassified them to I-AA, or what is now FCS. After three seasons as an I-AA independent, UAB jumped to FBS in 1996. With the Blazers other sports already playing in Conference USA, Birmingham finally had a conference to call home in 1999. So if you are keeping track at home, UAB went from Division III football to FBS in less than a decade.

Throughout the season, we pick on opponents schedules to show strengths and weaknesses, why they may be good, or bad, or better than perception. Birmingham’s schedule might take the the 2019 cupcake. Now listen, nine wins is nine wins. You do not win that number of games accidentally, but you can schedule intentionally. You also can’t help it when your conference is super weak. The combined record of the Blazers nine opponents in which they beat is 29-78. Nine of those twenty-wins were by Louisiana Tech, a team that was without starters at quarterback and wide receiver, in a convincing 20-14 victory. Please note the sarcasm. The Blazers played seven teams from the bottom dozen in FBS, and got wins from all of them. That alone would have been enough to be bowl eligible. The two wins from teams not in the bottom dozen of FBS, you ask: FCS Alabama State and the aforementioned and handcuffed Louisiana Tech.

The Blazer offense has been their weakest leak all season long. It’s a unit that has managed to score just 23.6 points a game, which is just 100th nationally, and 10th in Conference USA. If the Blazers were in the Sun Belt, they would 9th in scoring. A few points ahead of South Alabama and Texas State, and a few points behind Georgia Southern. Conversely, the UAB defense has kept them afloat most of the season, with a unit that allows just 20.8 point per contest. That’s good enough for second in the conference and 26th in the country. That number would have been good enough for third in the Sun Belt. Once again, we have to go back to scheduling and who they played. UAB scored a total of 28 points in their four losses, against teams that were clearly better than they were. In their nine wins, the Blazers scored 31 points a game, against the absolute bottom of the barrel.

In 2018, we got a sneak preview of the Clark Era in this exact game, and now we have the whole deal. A new head coach at Appalachian used to be a rare scenario, but we now have our third head man in less than a decade. Believe this one might stick around for a little bit. The beauty is that Shawn Clark knows this team, and this program as well as anyone. He knows what his play makers can do, and he’ll put them in position to succeed. You’ll see all four primary running backs getting their chance with the ball in their hands. Darrynton Evans, Marcus Williams Jr, Daetrich Harrington & Raykown Anderson have combined for 2,507 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns. As a group they average 5.9 yards per carry. The Mountaineers run the ball on average 43 times a game. The wide receivers may not have the game breaking prowess they once did prior to Corey Sutton’s injury, but they’ll kill you at the intermediate level all day long. Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams have done most of the work all season catching 110 passes and eight touchdowns this season. Jalen Virgil has caught 11 passes for 153 yards in his last four games, which is nearly half of his seasons total.

It’s been quiet on the Birmingham front since the announcement of this game last weekend. Of course, it’s been a busy couple weeks on the mountain, but this is what happens when you lose your conference championship game by six touchdowns. The Blazers hardly put up a fight in their 49-6 defeat to Florida Atlantic. This Blazer team is a curious one. It really is hard to imagine a team that is so bad on offense be able to win nine games. Birmingham’s leading rusher has 527 yards on the season. As a team, they average 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. The Blazers do spread the love with carries, but only one back averages over five yards per carry, and he has just 83 carries on the year. Part of the UAB struggle on offense have been a inconsistency at quarterback. Injuries have kept the preferred starter out many games, and neither has been able to build a real chemistry. The quarterbacks as a group have thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes on the year and have completed less than 60% of their passes. However, the Blazers are not scared to take some shots down the field. The big play makes up for their running game that shuffles along. Of their three primary receivers, they average an insane amount of yardage per catch. Kendall Parham leads the group with 21 yards per catch, but only 46 yards per game. That guy needs the ball in his hands more, and UAB will need that kind of offense to keep it close. The Blazers are not a team that is going to score on you fast. On the season, averaging close to thirty-two minutes of possession a game, they want to grind you down, but as the field gets smaller, its tougher for UAB to score. The Blazers are just 49% (21/43) on the season on red zone touchdowns. One reason is the fourteen red zone field goals they have made, which works out to one per game. That has to be tough to watch as a fan, and it’s unlikely to be easy to flip that trend on Saturday.

The First Pick

Puffies 17

Mountaineers 38

#20 Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (11-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 7th, 2019 12:00pm

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

Sirius XM Channel 81

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 80.15

ULL: 74.69

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.78 points

Line: App State -6.5, opened -3.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last meeting: App State 17, Louisiana 7, October 9, 2019, Lafayette, LA

WxCrum Forecast: Cold, Lower to mid-40’s for game; mostly sunny

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. Or at least it seems like this show does not end, and honestly, who can complain. After the Mountaineers cruised to a Black Friday win over Troy, it set the table for a Sun Belt Championship rematch with Louisiana. The Cajuns are the most familiar of foes in the very brief history of FBS football for Appalachian. This will be the eighth meeting in six seasons and fourth in the last season and a half. That span stretches just 21 games and 413 days. Two teams that have now become so familiar with one another that they can nearly anticipate just about any move a player will make due to copious amounts of film consumed. This game might not come down to who had the most talented team overall, but who plays the best on one single Saturday afternoon. Both sides have what it takes to lift the trophy, but only one will. A battle will take place between schools who have been on this stage before, and another who is trying to get back.

So what has happened since the last time App and Louisiana played. The Cajuns have not lost for one. They have won by double digits in every game they have played outside of last week against Monroe. That game is somewhat of a blip on the radar. You could also look at the South Alabama game as being another outlier. A game where the Cajuns won, but also gave up some yards and points. As much as some defensive and offensive numbers for App and Louisiana have mirrored each other, they are just that, averages. Let’s break down the first half and second half of Louisiana’s Sun Belt season. The Cajuns played four opponents with a combined record of 28-20, three of which are bowl eligible, and gave up 64 points, an average of 16 points per game. That was the first four games with two played at home, and two on the road. In the second half, with equal home and road games, the Cajuns gave up 67 points in four games, for a 16.75 points per game average. None of those four teams are bowl eligible and their combined record is 16-31.

We know just about all we need to about Louisiana. We have have heard about their glorious running game, the Cajun Trinity, as they like to call them. Louisiana wanted to get all three to 1,000 yards rushing on the season, but they failed to reach that mark. Elijah Mitchell finished seventh in the conference with 1,007 yards on 6.0 yards per attempt and 14 rushing touchdowns. Mitchell had scored touchdowns in every game until he played App in October, when he was held out of the end zone and to just 68 yards on 13 carries. Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas carried the ball for 104 times each in the regular season, but Ragas missed the Texas State game with an injury. Both have averaged right at 70 yards a game for the season, with Calais finishing the year with 818 yards and six touchdowns. Ragas concluded the season with 777 yards and eleven touchdowns. Quarterback Levis Lewis remains a threat to run, but has depended up on his arm much more down the stretch of the season.

Another thing that has changed for Louisiana since October 9th is their passing game. For a majority of the year, the Cajuns and Levi Lewis threw for under 200 yards a game. The lone exception was a 267-yard performance in the opening game. But in three of the last four weeks, Louisiana has eclipsed that threshold. First it was 296 yard effort against Coastal. The passing game took a week off against South Alabama, until it went for 273 yards against Troy and 270 yards against Monroe. Lewis also recorded nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions in those final four games, including two games where he threw three touchdown passes each. Lewis has only thrown three interceptions all year long, and is also on a five game streak without throwing a pick. Two of his three interceptions came away from Cajun Field, against Arkansas State, and the neutral site game against Miss. State in New Orleans.

A team effort on Friday dispatched Troy, mostly led by Zac Thomas who set career marks all night long in several categories. Thomas tossed for 326 yards and four touchdowns, with 140 yards going to Thomas Hennigan on eleven receptions.The game pushed Thomas to 2,427 yards and 24 touchdown passes on the season. Darrynton Evans had a light night of work with just 16 offensive touches, but made the most of them with 109 total yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers pushed Evans to a very square 1,250 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on the season. Evans was honored as the Sun Belt offensive player of the year on Wednesday afternoon, along with Akeem Davis-Gaither being honored as the Sun Belt defensive player of the year. Davis-Gaither did a little bit of everything all season long, with 85 tackles, 13.5 for loss, including 6 pass break ups, one interception and one blocked kick.

The series between App State and Louisiana took a turn in 2018. After four fairly one-sided scores, the Cajuns made a change at head coach, and it paid off. Billy Napier was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year after a three game improvement in the won-loss record. It was an interesting selection as there were easily three other challengers. Napier, in his press conference, sort of downplayed playing at Kidd Brewer Stadium by saying “It’s not like we are going to play at Lambeau Field”. He later corrected/caught himself and went on to say it was a great environment and its a great place to play football. Napier will always be reminded, wink wink. But still, in the last three games between the Mountaineers and Cajuns, the margins have all been ten points or more. A few weeks back, the game was dominated by defense and field position. It was a game you rarely see in college football anymore. It’s a game I do not think we’ll see on Saturday. One team is going to score some points. The Mountaineers have put up some serious digits this season on home Saturday games. In all those games they had one week since the prior game, which resulted in a scoring average of 48.2 points per game, and eclipsed 50 points in three games. They will have had one extra day to prepare. In games where App has had more than the traditional game week to prepare, all they did was knock off ETSU, these same Cajuns, Monroe and South Carolina. They gave up just 36 points in those four games. Long story short, the Mountaineers will be prepared to win this game because all of the preparation has led them to this moment. Most importantly, they have been there before and know what it takes to win this game. Louisiana’s moment might come in the near future, but it’s not this weekend.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 28

Mountaineers 42

#22 Appalachian Football @ Troy

Appalachian State (10-1, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ Troy (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt)

Friday, November 29th, 2019 6:00pm

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

Veteran’s Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: ProGrass

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 79.00

Troy: 61.82

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 14.86 points

Line: App State -12.5

Series: App State leads 4-2

Last meeting: App State 21, Troy 10, November 24, 2018, Boone, NC

Forecast: Mostly Sunny with temperatures in the mid-60’s

Last Saturday was an emotional day of sorts. A fine group of seniors could have played their last game in Boone, but they took care of business and received help from across the conference. Now the door is open to potentially play another game at home. That’s music to you ears. Tuesday evening was also emotional, as the Mountaineers were once again passed over in favor of your Power Five Flavor of the Week, and dropped one spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. What’s that motto again? Keep the Chip. The season’s goal is now directly in front of App State. Their destiny is in their hands. Win at Troy. Play at home for the conference title. One more game in Boone, in December. But you cannot look ahead, because its all about being 1-0 this week. Troy has plenty to play for. They are looking to get their sixth win, and potentially play in a bowl game. After all they went through this season on the injury front, that would be a great way to finish their season. No offense to Troy, but App State is not in the business of making friends. They have goals to accomplish of their own and they have come too far to let it all go to waste.

Troy is arguably the most interesting story in the Sun Belt this season. Like Appalachian, the Trojans lost their former head coach due to success. Neal Brown fled to the Big XII and West Virginia, in what seemed like a pretty easy fit for the other Mountaineers. In comes Chip Lindsey, which gives App back to back weeks with new head coaches as their opponent. Lindsey and Eliah Drinkwitz are pretty familiar with each other. Both spent times on the plains of Auburn around Gus Malzahn. Despite their years of employment not directly overlapping, you can probably assume these two know each other just as much as any two sets of coaches in the Sun Belt. They have been mentioned at least once over the years in the same coaching search at places such as Tennessee. Had Lindsay landed the Tennessee job while at Auburn, Drinkwitz was being rumored as a potential Lindsay replacement at Auburn. Chances are more likely these guys have shared a cup of coffee, er cinnamon bun, er Diet Mountain Dew, in many diners across the southeast on more than one occasion.

Two years ago, when App State and Troy were slated for a end of season game, the Sun Belt surely had one thing in mind: Set up the drama prior to the championship game. That worked in 2018, when App knocked off Troy and it set up the inaugural championship game in Boone. Nobody in 2019 expected Troy to be fighting for bowl eligibility on the last weekend of the season. But, here we are. Troy lost one of the best running backs in the conference in BJ Smith just two games into the season during the loss to Southern Miss. That was the double whammy that should have keyed many into what Troy would be dealing with. That loss also shed light on a very vulnerable secondary that has been eaten alive by just about everyone in the Sun Belt. Southern Miss threw for 514 yards. Two weeks later, Arkansas State, 455 yards. Coastal Carolina, 285 yards. Louisiana last week, 344 yards. It was a season high for Southern Miss, Louisiana and Arkansas State, and the third highest total by Coastal on the season.

Many of you were probably really surprised to see Troy’s humiliating loss to Louisiana last week. Hard to understand how a team with bowl eligibility on the line would get sucker punched by a score of 53-3. It was likely Troy’s worst game of the season outside of Missouri. Troy has been able to run or throw the ball for at least 212 yards in every game this season, so they can beat you in a number of ways. The Louisiana and Missouri games were the only ones where that magical 212 yard run/pass mark was not achieved. The Trojans scored a combined 13 points in those two games. Both of those games were on the road. In home games, Troy has not had a let down. They have been downright nasty at home, in a good way. The Trojans have amassed a whopping 518.6 yards per game and scored on average 42.8 points per game at home this season.

The App State defense held Texas State to its lowest output of the season in another bad weather game at Kidd Brewer. The Bobcats had put up back to back 400+ yard offensive games, but the Mountaineers cut that total in half. Over one-fourth of the yards Texas State gained was on one play, the touchdown pass right before the half. The Bobcats had thirteen possessions in the game, and nine of them went for 13 yards or fewer. You cannot ask for much more. Meanwhile, the offense played it somewhat close to the vest, which was all that was necessary. The Mountaineers churned out 280 rushing yards, led by Darrynton Evans with 154 yards and three touchdowns. Marcus Williams Jr added 78 yards. The bad news however, came when Corey Sutton suffered a season-ending injury. That obviously has a serious impact on the passing game, as Sutton is a transcendent weapon in this offense, and was always a threat to take the top off a defense.

Last year’s game between Troy and App State was an absolute classic game. It was billed by some as the real conference championship game. Whoever would come out of that game was sure to beat whatever came out of the west division. That same scenario will not play out this time around. Troy remains a dangerous team, with plenty of weapons and enough defense to beat a team if they are not having their best game. Troy is still the third highest scoring offense in the conference at 35.7 points per game. They have gained the second most yards on offense in the Sun Belt. They have the third best rushing defense, and are tied for the most interceptions. But the Trojans record remains a game below .500 because they have had trouble stopping teams. They have the worst pass defense in the league and give up 33.5 points per game. They have played in a lot of shootouts. They let several teams embarrass them up and down the football field. And that might be what we are in store for this weekend. Don’t be surprised to see a back and forth affair between two offenses who know how to get in the end zone. The difference will be those few precious possessions that one defense is able to stop an offense with a turnover, whether on downs, or by giving up the football. Those turnovers will be huge in a game like this where momentum will be of the utmost importance. Whichever team can establish the run, and force their tempo upon the opposing defense also stands a great chance of winning. In the end, App State’s defense will get more stops than Troy.

The First Pick

T-roy 21

Mountaineers 35

#23 Appalachian Football vs Texas State

Appalachian State (9-1, 5-1 Sun Belt) @ Texas State (3-7, 2-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019 2:30pm

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: 78.60

TS: 48.83

Home: 2.31

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 32.08 points

Line: App State -30

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 38, Texas State 7, November 10, 2018, San Marcos, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Rain with temperatures creeping close to 50 for a high.

By late Saturday night, App State had worked their way into a rout of Georgia State by doubling them up on the scoreboard. The day did not start that way. After a late morning report that indeed Dan Ellington would suit up and start for Georgia State, questions were bouncing off all social media walls. It had not exactly been reported what Ellington’s injury was, but if you had watched football before, you knew it was serious. And then, we move onto the actual game itself. The Mountaineers fall into a 21-7 hole and things appeared bleak. Luckily for App State, Corey Sutton and Shaun Jolly can catch football in a variety of ways, and can also score touchdowns. Most of the day was spent in slight disoriented panic until order was restored moments before halftime. The Mountaineers do not win games like that often, and that is a true testament to the resiliency of this team. This was not trailing by a touchdown out of the gate at North Carolina, or by a field goal at South Carolina. This was a two touchdown deficit. Thankfully, the Mountaineers got it together and return home for hopefully the second of the last time of the season.

New Texas State head coach Jake Spavital is in charge of starting over in San Marcos. Since the Mountaineers have joined the Sun Belt, no team has more permanent head coaches than Texas State, with three. The Statesboro Eagles have also had three head coaches, but one left for greener pastures. So, let’s rephrase. The previous two head coaches at Texas State, prior to Spavital, resigned and were fired, respectively. All in all, not good. Texas State did not give Everett Withers a full recruiting class. Now Spavital is a really young offensive mind, which is all the rage at any level of football right now. Digging deeper, administrations and front offices love the Air Raid concepts that Spavital learned from Dana Holgorsen, Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury. Spavital has coached a long list of successful college quarterbacks in his coaching career that has lasted just over a decade. They include Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, and Johnny Manziel who spent time in the NFL, and Kyle Allen, Kyler Murray and Will Grier, who remain rostered by NFL teams.

What you see, is what you get with the Texas State schedule and won-loss record. Not sure Bobcat fans could have expected anything else. Texas State won their FCS game against Nicholls State, edged South Alabama in a coin flip game, and beat a full strength Georgia State squad back in September in triple overtime at home. All three of their wins have come at home. But its those road games where Texas State doesn’t show up. In those four games, the Bobcats have been outscored 157-41, but to some decent teams in Texas A&M, Southern Methodist, Louisiana and Arkansas State. Yet, this will be the Bobcats longest road trip of the season by a lot. With nothing to play for except pride, can the Bobcats mount an effort that would send shockwaves through the conference?

The reason Jake Spavital was hired was to find and develop a quarterback at Texas State. That has been their sore spot for years. Spavital might still be looking. Tyler Vitt started the season for the Bobcats, but eventually gave way to Gresch Jensen. During the UL-Monroe game, Jensen was concussed and Vitt was back to being the starting quarterback. Neither Jensen nor Vitt have appeared in every game. That leads to part of the struggles of this Texas State offense, which is averaging just 18.7 points per game. The two have combined for 18 interceptions on the year and just 13 touchdown passes. The twelve picks thrown by Vitt is really mind boggling when you consider he has played in just seven games. Both quarterbacks have completion percentages in the low 60% range. Jensen is a transfer from Fullerton College in California, while Vitt is a sophomore at Texas State. Last year, Vitt threw for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the loss to App State.

After scoring just one offensive touchdown against South Carolina the Mountaineers exploded for eight touchdowns against Georgia State. The first two offensive series for App State were three and outs that resulted in -5 yards of offense. After a first quarter touchdown, another punt and interception resulted, and then the touchdowns flowed. While the offense was lighting up the scoreboard, the defense turned away Georgia State on eleven straight possessions. By that time, the game was firmly in hand. Both sides of the ball looked ugly early on, but as soon as App State made their adjustments, it was light outs. Corey Sutton and Darrynton Evans were responsible for two insane plays, one a juggling pinball catch, and the latter a heads up, hand on the ground touchdown run after the appearance of being down by contact. For a game that began with so much angst and anxiety, the Mountaineers cruised to their fifth road win of the season.

The spread for this week’s game is the biggest of the season in Sun Belt play for the Mountaineers. The difference between this spread and the South Alabama game is all about where the game is being played – in Boone. Texas State does not do many things well on the football field. They cannot convert or defend well on third downs. They are one of the worst teams in the country as far as moving the ball on offense, and they just don’t score enough. Because of their inability to move the ball and score, their defense is eventually worn down as a game progresses. Now regardless of their struggles, they will throw the ball around a lot. Despite their hideous touchdown-interception ratio, the Bobcats are third in the league with 244.6 passing yards per game. Yet, they are on the low end in the conference with just 6.6 yards per attempt. Texas State throws a lot of short passes and they are second in the conference in completions and attempts. Running the ball just does not suit them. They are dead last in the conference by a large margin with just 83 yards per game on the ground. Ninth place Arkansas State has Texas State cleared by 50 yards per game. They’ll struggle to get to 1,000 yards rushing as a team over twelve games. That’s a tough way to win football games in college, where having a running game does matter. The Mountaineers will have their way with Texas State in an old fashioned “name your score” type game.

The First Pick

TeisCats 10

Mountaineers 42

Appalachian Football @ Georgia State

Appalachian State (8-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) @ Georgia State (6-3, 3-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 16th, 2019 7:30pm

TV/Video: ESPNU

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

Georgia State Stadium

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.23

GSU: 62.06

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 12.74 points

Line: App State -16.5

Series: App State leads 5-0

Last meeting: App State 45, Georgia State 17, November 17, 2018, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Sunny day turns into a clear night. Temps mid-50s to low 40s

This literally should not be happening, but you’ll hear no complaints. App State continues to make school history, and conference history, by finalizing their non-conference slate with 4-0 record. And yes, that includes wins over both major conferences in the south. On top of that, App State was ranked for the first time in the College Football Playoff rankings that were released earlier this week. Most were concerned about being ranked in the AP and Coaches Poll, but its the CFP rankings that really matter. Those fifteen committee members can decide your postseason fate prior to the conference doing so. But before we get there, we must get through the conference first. Beating both brands of Carolina is nice, but all they count for is a resume and program booster. At App State, they play for rings, and the next three games will decide whether the Mountaineers are worthy enough to play for that right again. This team has responded well after big wins already this season, and they will once again be quizzed on focus this week down in Atlanta.

Last week, this game had a high interest and plenty of significance. For App State to keep hopes alive to play in the Sun Belt Championship game, they had to get a win over Georgia State, and then potentially get help down the road from the Panthers. However, as most reading this were waiting on App State and South Carolina to kick off, both Georgia schools, the Eagles from Statesboro and Georgia State went on the road and lost. That put the Mountaineers back in the drivers seat for the east division. App State now finds itself a full game ahead of both schools with only three regular season conference games remaining. The game remains a must win, but the luster wore off a little bit of the nationally televised game.

The main reason for that? Panther senior quarterback Dan Ellington sprained his knee last week in the loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Ellington was the engine that made the Georgia State offense move. An above average passer with elite mobility, Ellington served as an excellent facilitator and secondary threat to one of the nations best rushing attacks. Without him, Georgia State will turn to a true freshman will little experience. Cornelious “Quad” Brown has played in all of two games for the Panthers this season. He is virtually an unknown besides looking at a roster card and two box scores. He also played in the blowout loss Georgia State was handed by Western Michigan. From what limited tape that exists, Brown appears to use his arm to throw the ball, more than he does his body. Most of his throws against Monroe were to the sideline against a defense that was laying back, trying to protect a lead.

Georgia State figures to lean heavily on their running game, especially more so considering their quarterback situation. The Panthers will miss Ellington’s ability to run. That’s not saying that Quad Brown will not, or can not run, but the Panthers are super thin at that position. They’ll likely try to keep Brown out of harms way. Ellington had run for 603 yards on the season, which is a large chunk of their offense missing. In the meantime, Tra Barnett looks to carry an even larger load than he has this season. Barnett is averaging just under twenty attempts a game, and carried 32 times against Monroe, with the majority of those coming in the second half after Ellington’s injury. Barnett also carried 34 times against Troy in the Panthers previous game. Barnett fumbled for the first time on the season against Monroe, which was a huge turning point in that second half.

Setting the final result aside, the App State offense was still underwhelming at times on Saturday in the win over South Carolina. The difference in the last two games, is getting those big plays in all facets of the game. That is what separates winning and losing. Nick Ross’ interception return for a touchdown was the defensive highlight, and Jalen Virgil’s 57-yard kickoff return was a huge play made by the special teams. Those plays helped springboard the Mountaineers to reach the end zone, one way or another. Because of those momentum swings, your offense is not required to do all the heavy lifting. Regardless, Darrynton Evans had a fabulous game with 117 total offensive yards on twenty-three opportunities. It was the defense, however, that completely shut down the Gamecock running game. South Carolina gained just 21 yards on 27 attempts.

Over the course of the brief App State-Georgia State history, the games have been severely lopsided in favor of the Mountaineers. Every game has been decided by at least two touchdowns. It seems Georgia State has always had a few decent pieces of a team, but never the whole puzzle. One year, a good offense, the next a pitiful defense, and everything in between. In 2019, it seemed that the Panthers had enough offense to overcome a very suspect defense. And then the injury to Dan Ellington happened. Now the offense is an unknown, which does not mix well with a defense that is 116th nationally, giving up 463 yards per game, and 6.8 yards per play. The Panther defense is not Louisiana-Monroe level bad. But something is to be said about a Panther offense that scored just seven points in the second half against the Warhawks last week. It looks like it could be a long night for the home team. The Panthers still control their own destiny despite being a full game behind App State in the standings. It seems like a tall task, but Georgia State is in the midst of their best season in their brief history. The Panthers have hit 6 wins for just the third time, and they have three games, and perhaps even a bowl to build on. Six wins makes you bowl eligible, but it does not guarantee you a postseason. With App State this week, South Alabama and their rivals from down south remaining, nothing is certain. A seventh win should be plenty to secure an Alabama bowl game. In the meantime, they are going to have to play the game of the season in order to beat Appalachian this weekend. That might sound odd considering they knocked off Tennessee. It’s not. They are not the same team that won on the road in Knoxville, in August. Especially not without their quarterback. Ellington was that important.

The First Pick

Tabby Cats 14

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs South Carolina

Appalachian State (7-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) vs. South Carolina (4-5, 3-4 SEC)

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 7:00pm

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

Williams-Brice Stadium

Capacity: 80,250

Surface: Natural Grass

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.01

USC: 75.15

Home: 2.36

South Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 1.5 points

Line: South Carolina -5

Series: South Carolina leads 8-1

Last meeting: South Carolina 35, App State 9, October 1, 1988, Columbia, SC

WxCrum Forecast: Clear skies, Temps falling from mid-50s to mid-30s

With each passing year, dealing with losses does not get easier. We are supposed to get older and wiser with age, but it just does not happen. Going undefeated in conference play is tough. It’s even tougher to go undefeated for an entire season. It has not happened in this great state many times. And then you have nights last like last Thursday. The perception was that all the stars had aligned for picture perfect revenge. It was not to be. Everything that App had lost last year, it had gained back, and then some. But a typical Boone day did not provide the backdrop that the Mountaineers needed. Yep, we are all probably still down in the dumps a bit. There is only one way to fix that. There are at minimum five more opportunities to watch the Mountaineers play football in 2019 and you love to see it. We wait all year long for this glorious season and every Saturday or Wednesday or Thursday is another chance to watch the team we all love. Time to pick yourself up and get dressed. Load the coolers and fly the flags. This team is not done yet.

South Carolina and Appalachian have not played a game against each other since 1988. A lot has changed for both programs since then. A lot has also changed since the opening week of college football this season. The Gamecocks faced off against North Carolina down in Charlotte. That game had a lot of interest from the App State fan base as both opponents were on the schedule for the Mountaineers. Mostly, we were interested in North Carolina at that time. South Carolina blew an improbable lead in the fourth quarter and allowed the Heels to win. Since then, both teams have floundered back and forth throughout their respective seasons. Now we cant be too hard on South Carolina. They play in the SEC, but they also have SEC players, one would imagine. In typical Gamecock fashion, they have satisfied their fans and disappointed them on a week to week basis. For each win over #2 Georgia on the road, there is an inexplicable loss to Tennessee or North Carolina. Because of that, this weekend is a must win, as South Carolina needs two more wins to become bowl eligible, with games against Texas A&M and Clemson to end their season.

South Carolina started the season with Jake Bentley as their quarterback, but he broke his foot in the opener against North Carolina which ended his season. Since then, Ryan Hillinski has guided the Gamecocks in his true freshman season. Hillinski enrolled at South Carolina in the spring and was considered the heir apparent to Bentley and many publications had him ranked as high as the #2 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school. Hillinski is 4-4 as a starter and has had his moments, as true freshman typically do. Hillinski is 3-0 as a starter when he has not been sacked, two of those games coming in SEC play. However, in the five games in which he has been sacked, he has gone down fourteen times, and has just a 1-4 record. Sacks are not ultimate indicator, but it sticks outs. Two of Hillinski’s higher passing totals of the season have come in losses to Tennessee and Alabama. In both games, Hillinski threw the ball over fifty times. Removing the Charleston Southern game, Hillinski has averaged a pedestrian 5.85 yards per passing attempt.

The strength of the South Carolina squad lies with their running game, which is aided by a big offensive line. Across the board, you’ll see guys who are 6’4 or 6’5 and easily over 300 pounds. Even their centers are 290 pounds. The line has mostly paved the way for Clemson graduate transfer Tavien Feaster, who is the Gamecocks leading rusher in carries, yards and touchdowns. Feaster suffered a groin injury against Vanderbilt and Gamecock coach Will Muschamp unofficially declared him “questionable” for Saturday. That will open the door for Rico Dowdle, a senior from Asheville, who is also coming off his own sprained knee injury in which he did not play the last couple weeks. Deshaun Fenwick looks to garner some carries after rushing for 102 yards last week, his first significant action of the season. If there are any issues beyond those three, senior Mon Denson, who has played in every game this season, could also get some work. In all, South Carolina averages 184 yards per game on the ground and has rushed for eighteen touchdowns at 5.1 yard per carry clip.

The App State offense has a big challenge in front of them. They face another veteran defensive line with tons of experience in South Carolina. The difference between the last few weeks and this week is that the Gamecocks have NFL talent. So what can the Mountaineers do to keep the opponent at bay? Last week, the Mountaineers ran for a season low 152 yards on a season low thirty carries. The game also featured the first time the Mountaineers failed to rush for a touchdown this season. Perhaps having an extra day or so to prepare and coming off a crushing loss to will help everyone regain focus for the stretch run of the season. Whatever it is, Zac Thomas will need a big game from his offensive line. They’ll need their best effort of the season to beat South Carolina. The offense has lacked some rhythm recently and it needs to be found quickly.

South Carolina is still an SEC team. That’s what their fans and their conference mates will tell you. When you grow up in the state of South Carolina, you want to play football at one of the two larger in-state schools. Some choose orange and others choose garnet. South Carolina’s leading receiver Bryan Edwards is from Conway. It’s doubtful he grew up wanting to be a Chanticleer. However, that aura is what you have to deal with. College football legends have played and coached in Columbia, with the likes of Joe Morrison, Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier. Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks and Alshon Jeffrey highlight a trio of South Carolina wide receivers that played a long time professionally. Then there is Sandstorm, a decade-old student section dance tradition that was birthed when the Gamecocks knocked off #4 Ole Miss in 2009. The player entrance to the tune of 2001: A Space Odyssey is another featured attraction. What is the purpose of all this? There will be a huge difference in atmosphere than what App State saw when they played the other Carolina. Columbia is not any Chapel Hill tea party. This will be different, and likely so will the game. Watching the Gamecock season unfold, you knew the situation that they are in would certainly be possible. They were chasing six wins from the first weekend. Dropping that game to North Carolina hurt early on, and then they had to play with a true freshman quarterback. They have been waddling on their quest for that sixth win. They really need to beat Appalachian State. Likewise for the Mountaineers, they really want to avoid a second straight loss. That has not happened often in school history. Usually, they have always bounced back pretty quickly, but rarely has an SEC foe been in the rebound game. That makes this game even more fun. Not only is South Carolina trying to avoid that so-called embarrassing loss, they are trying to prolong their season, while the Mountaineers want to get back to their winning ways. Neither team is peaking right now, but this game has some added juice that some may not have expected a few weeks ago. Both teams playing at their best are capable of winning this game and the Mountaineers will do just enough to steal one from the Sandlappers.

The First Pick

Piedmont Chickens 25

Mountaineers 28

#20 Appalachian State vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (7-0, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs. Georgia Southern (4-3, 2-1 Sun Belt)

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 8:00pm

TV/Video: ESPNU

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: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.62

GS: 61.70

Home: 2.54

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.46 points

Line: App State -16.5

Series: App State leads 19-14-1

Last meeting: Georgia Southern 34, App State 14; October 25, 2018, Statesboro, GA

WxCrum Forecast: Rain and cooling temperatures

We’ve been through this plenty of times. This is the most underappreciated and intriguing rivalry in college football. This will be the thirty-fifth installment that might need a little seventy proof to get through it all if the weather forecasters call it correct. Nothing is more right in the world than when Georgia Southern comes to the Southern Appalachian mountains and the first good bite of winter just happens to coincide with it. They hate to see it. But before or after the chill comes, a football game needs to be played and revenge must be sought. Now one could probably say that after every game these two have played over the course of the years. So many times, has the team that was favored to win actually lost. So many times the best team, was not the best team for one night. And whether those teams have had to experience the sticky humidity of Statesboro, or bone-chilling winds of Boone, the battle between these two schools has rarely been short on drama. From Georgia Southern jumping into the Southern Conference in 1993, to the Eagles thumbing a ride to the Sun Belt with Appalachian in 2014, the home teams rarely treat the opponents with warm wishes. All Hallow’s Eve 2019 will bring out all the tricks, and maybe, they will even play a football game.

Scanning through the Eagle schedule in 2019, looking for quality wins is a tough task. Southern’s best win of the season might have been their triple overtime win at home to Coastal Carolina. After that, you see South Alabama, New Mexico State and FCS Maine. The fact that the Eagles needed five overtimes over two games to beat the worst team in the conference in South Alabama and bottom half Coastal Carolina suggests one thing. Are the Eagles also in the bottom half of the conference, or are they just finally settling into their slot after two up and down years. We can all agree that Southern was not a 10 loss team in 2017, but they also were not a 10 win team in 2018, but that’s not what the history books will reflect. As weak as the wins have been for Southern, their losses are all to really good teams. Louisiana State, Minnesota and Louisiana are all going bowling baring a collapse, and all three could be playing in their conference championship games.

The Georgia Southern offenses of old are known for high scoring, high yardage, lots of possession and frustrating defenses with their patient ways of keeping the other team off the field. That’s not the way things in 2019 are going for the Eagles. Now, they have had a semi-difficult schedule, but they are not blowing away inferior teams like they should. Forget what happened in their 41-7 win last week against New Mexico State, a team without a conference or much hope. Southern is still just 92nd in the nation in scoring at 25.1 points per game. Even if the Eagles hit their average on Thursday night, that would be enough to beat App State just once this season. Limit these numbers to just conference games, and Southern is averaging 24.6 per game. Removing points scored in two games that went to overtime and you have the Eagles scoring just 17 points per game in regulation conference games, with two of those coming against Sun Belt bottom dwellers.

Due to suspensions and injuries, Georgia Southern has had many people carry the ball this season. As we all know it starts with Shai Werts, the leader, the quarterback, and primary ball handler. Werts has played in five of seven games, and has 303 yards rushing on 68 attempts, but interestingly, no rushing touchdowns. Oklahoma State transfer JD King has played in all seven games, and leads the team with 435 yards on 107 attempts, which works out to 4.3 yards per carry. Wesley Kennedy has played in just three games, but has 38 carries, nearly thirteen totes a game, and has quickly amassed 312 yards. Kennedy had a 71-yard touchdown run last week. However, most of Kennedy’s work came against Coastal Carolina where he had 24 of this 38 carries on the season. He’s one of their better backs despite getting less work. Logan Wright has chipped in 294 yards in five appearances and Matt LaRoche has played every game and added 267 yards. With Werts’ injury history, its possible we see backup quarterback Justin Tomlin at some point, who is equally capable from a talent standpoint, just lacks the experience of Werts.

If ever there was a time for a bad day, the App State offense chose a good day to have one. South Alabama did not offer much of a challenge for the Mountaineers, who won handily 30-3. App State ran for 313 yards as a team, with most of the work coming from Marcus Williams Jr and Raykwon Anderson. The two combined for 193 yards on just fifteen carries. Thomas Hennigan was the leading receiver with 6 catches for 58 yards and the lone touchdown reception. It was a sluggish game in regards to red zone and third down performance, where App State has been extremely effective all season. Still, the defense was spectacular, limiting South Alabama to just one third down conversion and just 139 total yards. For the second straight week, App State forced the starting quarterback of the opponent out of the game.

The most talked about event for this Thursday night absolutely has been about weather. When is it getting here? What will it be? Wind? Cold? Delays? SNOW? If you are reading this, you are aware. Boone weather is unpredictable. Been that way forever, and it is not changing. A huge advantage would seemingly play into the team that runs the ball better. That’s what most people would say. The difference is the weather is actually more on the minds of Georgia Southern than it is the home team. They only have to think about it every couple of years. App State coaches, players and staff are immune to it. It is a part of the every day life of being a Mountaineer. So, let us go back to this whole, running teams play better in the rain mess. Southern has been a running football team whenever they have been good, and they have been good a lot. No denial there. Now App State likes to run the pigskin quite a bit as well. Also, have been good at that quite often. Southern is 7th in the country in rushing offense at 260 yards per game, give or take a tenth. Appalachian is 14th in the nation at 244 yards per game. But, it is App State that has a higher yards per carry average as a team by over six-tenths of a yard, and only trail Southern in total rushing yards by 110 yards, and have done that on 62 fewer attempts. Now ask yourself, which team does the weather favor in inclement conditions. The key plays in this game will be third downs. Both teams are exceptional in their third down defense, so the onus will be on the offenses to convert in what might sub-optimal conditions. Especially considering both offenses are toward the back end in first downs in the nation. Now the reason Georgia Southern is 129th in the country in first down offense is mainly due to their third conversion percentage and their yards per play. The Eagles have converted just 28.2% of the time on third down, which is 128th out of 130 teams. Conversely, the Mountaineers have absolutely crushed opposing offenses this month. Their third down defense allows just a 29.9% conversion rate. Consider that the Southern offense is just averaging 308 yards of total offense a game, which is 121st in the country. This is a bad looking Georgia Southern offense. They are not getting anywhere with the ball, and it shows on the scoreboard, which is the most important measure. The Mountaineers keep the Eagles off the field and roll to a big win.

The First Pick

Gnats 14

Mountaineers 35

#21 Appalachian State @ South Alabama

Appalachian State (6-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) vs. South Alabama (1-6, 0-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 26th, 2019 12:00pm

TV/Video: ESPNU

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

Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Capacity: 33,471

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.92

USA: 44.01

Home: 2.52

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 32.39 points

Line: App State -25.5

Series: App State leads 2-1

Last meeting: App State 52, South Alabama 7; September 29, 2018, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Muggy with a chance of rain, Temps hovering around 70

The season is at its halfway mark and App State has held three opponents to just seven points, allowed a few more points than they should have in two games, and grabbed their first power conference win in twelve years. Plenty has happened but there is still yet, so much more to do. It seems the Mountaineers are hitting their stride at just the right time. After playing four home games in the first half of the season, playing well on the road will be paramount. Having played two consecutive games against the leaders in the west division, the Mountaineers are faced with the task of avoiding being complacent and not playing down to their competition in a game which they are highly favored. It’s the games like these that can worry a fan base, especially right before playing a big rival on a short week. There will be a time to worry about the rest of the schedule and that time is not now. A loss will not derail the season, but it sure would be disappointing. So let’s avoid any letdowns and play ball this week, because this is the most important game of the year, the one that’s directly in front of us.

The Jaguars will be returning to the field after a ten-day hiatus. South Alabama has played two weeknight games in consecutive weeks. App State has no reason to feel bad for South Alabama, as they will also have played just one Saturday home game in the month of October. Additionally, South Alabama has not played a home Saturday game since September 14th, having played three of their last four on the road. It probably does not matter where South Alabama is actually playing. They are far and away the worst team in the conference. Many will point to a competitive game against Nebraska in Week 1, and a double overtime loss to Georgia Southern as reasons why they are better than their record indicates. The Cornhuskers just got waxed by Minnesota, who also snuck by Georgia Southern. This five game losing streak the Jaguars are on, have included five straight games scoring under 20 points.

Whereas last week, App State was dealing with a bad defense, on paper, South Alabama does have better statistics. But we all know that statistics are not everything. The Jaguars give up roughly 5.9 yards per play, which is just under a yard better than Monroe. App State was able to run for over 300 yards on Monroe, the worst rushing defense in the conference. South Alabama is a bit better, surrendering just 4.6 yards per carry. That puts them directly middle of the road in conference play, but they still allow over 200 yards rushing per contest. There are many other statistical categories where South Alabama is better than Monroe defensively. The Jaguars are an FBS defense, which one cannot say about Monroe.

The reason why South Alabama is not as good a team as Monroe is on the offensive side of the ball. They have very few play makers and are very inconsistent. The offense depends a lot on Tra Minter, the team’s leading rusher and receiver. Most of Minter’s receptions are in the flats, as evidenced to his 7.6 yards per reception. Minter averages about fifteen carries a game, and probably deserves more, if he were on a better team. Cephus Johnson is the quarterback who also demands a lot of work in the running game. Johnson’s rushing statistics are skewed to sack yardage, as he has lost 92 yards on the season in that fashion. Still Johnson remains a mobile quarterback who can extend plays, much like Lewis from Louisiana and Evans from Monroe. Kawaan Baker is arguably one of the best talents on the roster, and South Alabama likes to get him the ball in a lot of ways. Baker is utilized on deep passes and jet sweeps. He is a threat when he is on the field and must be accounted for.

For the second week in a row, the App State defense gets the leading mention. That happens when you shut down the entire state of Louisiana to the tune of fourteen points over two football games. This week, it was all about turnovers and suffocation. Jordan Fehr and Sean Jolly snagged a couple interceptions and Josh Thomas had a big return on a fumble recovery. Fehr’s interception was in direct response to an interception thrown by Zach Thomas. Josh Thomas’ fumble recovery led to a Mountaineer touchdown as the first quarter was coming to a close. Monroe could only convert two of their thirteen third down conversions, including 0/6 in the second half. Every single Monroe drive was four plays or fewer except their first one, where they scored their only points. That helped that Mountaineer offense possess the ball for over nine minutes in each of the last three quarters.

Here is what a lot of people are potentially going to struggle with. South Alabama is a bad team, and they are a worse team than UL-Monroe. But the evidence of a lopsided score against UL-Monroe was right in front of us. They had given up loads of points to teams like Memphis and Iowa State. Now South Alabama might not have the offense that Monroe does, but that does not keep that defense from competing night in and night out. South Alabama fought like crazy against their Yellowhammer State rival Troy, but eventually the failures in the red zone did them in. They competed against Georgia Southern in a double overtime loss despite being massively outplayed all night long. They have been in every game at halftime in five of their six losses, the 28-3 halftime deficit to UAB notwithstanding. All of this brings back memories of when App State visited Mobile in 2015. App led 24-7 at halftime, but had to hold on for a 34-27 win. The Mountaineers were an 18-point favorite in that game. This game will be played a long way from home with the earliest kickoff of the season. Although it will be a homecoming crowd for the Jaguars, the university had to scramble to move around a bunch of events to accommodate the noon kick off for television. Because of high school football, App will not get their typical Friday afternoon walk through at the stadium. A lot of little things being different add up to one big inconvenience. You have to play well to win on the road in conference play, and being thrown off your schedule could impact that. Now let’s get down to the statistics. South Alabama is 121st nationally in turnovers, with seven fumbles and nine interceptions. The Jaguars had a chance to take a lead on Monroe in the early moments of the second quarter, but tossed an interception in the end zone. App State has turned the ball over just four times all year, which includes two from last week. Still, the Mountaineers are 4th in the country in that category. The Mountaineers are scoring nearly 43 points a game while the Jaguars have just managed 16.3 per game. Here is a stat you won’t believe. App State is just 111th in the nation in first downs while South Alabama is 113th. Short fields due to great special teams play has aided the Mountaineers all season. Look for a lot of deep shots down the field by the Jaguars, but the Mountaineers will be expecting them.

The First Pick

Salamanders 10

Mountaineers 42

#24 Appalachian Football vs UL-Monroe

Appalachian State (5-0, 2-0 Sun Belt) vs. UL-Monroe (3-3, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 19th, 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: 77.53

ULM: 58.25

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21.71 points

Line: App State -14.5

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last meeting: App State 45, UL-Monroe 52; November 4, 2017, Monroe, LA

WxCrum Forecast: Pleasant, Temps warming to mid-60s by kickoff

Let’s call it a hurdle cleared. Zac Thomas sure looked he was surpassing the last obstacle of the evening when he pranced over the goal line to silence all the Louisiana ladies in attendance on Wednesday night. A big conference road win was secured with bookend plays by the Mountaineers that summed up the evening. Demetrious Taylor’s pushover sack on the opening offensive series for the Cajuns began a night of a relentless App State defense that was finalized by the Lafayette leap into the night by Thomas. This result was extra rewarding, considering it was a spot where some skeptics perceived a potential Mountaineer loss. It was also rewarding in that the win vaulted App State to complete control of the east division of the conference. And then Saturday came, and the scoreboard watching commenced. A couple results bounced the Mountaineers way, and by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, it was inevitable. App State was ranked again. Barely a year since it happened before, here we are again, recognized by the coaches and writers of college football. However the number isn’t the goal, it is just along the path to achieve the goal. Absolutely nothing has been accomplished after five games. The Mountaineers have plenty of work in front of them and it starts with getting some revenge against Monroe.

The last time the Warhawks started conference play at 2-0 was in 2017, a year in which their season ended with a 4-8 record. That season also marked the last time these two schools played, and Monroe defeated an injury-plagued Mountaineer team in a shootout. App State missed Monroe on the 2018 schedule, which means we have to remind ourselves what they have been up to since the last time we played. Monroe has a record of 9-12 combined over the end of 2017, all of 2018, and six games this season. Those twelve losses are as follows: Five conference games, six power conference games and one upper echelon group of five game. The wins consist of six conference games (South Alabama and Texas State twice, Coastal and Georgia Southern), two FCS games and one average group of five team. That’s the predicament that UL-Monroe has always been in. Never beating anyone as an underdog, and winning most of the games they were supposed to. Six of their nine wins have come to bottom of the barrel FBS schools and FCS schools, and we all know those two designations are separated in name only.

Still, games have to be won, and Caleb Evans has essentially done that for Monroe for what seems like forever. A true dual-threat quarterback, Evans is the reason the Warhawks sit at 2-0 in the Sun Belt, and find themselves as the leader in the West Division. Evans has thrown for 1,397 yards with ten touchdowns to just four interceptions. Evans also has 341 rushing yards on the season, which puts him third in the conference in total offense with 289 yards per game. His production is not based on a couple good games here and there. He is a consistent performer. Evans has tossed for at least 176 yards in every game, and rushed for no less than 22 yardsin each contest. He is currently on a three game tear where he has averaged 265 yards passing and 65 yards on the ground. However, Texas State last Thursday night was the first game where he failed to throw a touchdown pass.

The Warhawk defense is not the best in the world. They will give up some yards, first downs and allow opposing offenses to move the ball. What they lack in stoutness, they make up plenty for in aggressiveness. Out of ten Sun Belt teams, Monroe is ninth in total defense and last in rushing defense. However the Warhawks are tied for the lead in the conference with seven interceptions. If you are trying to guess what game plan App State might try to employ, perhaps look no further back than last week. Why test a defensive backfield that is known to jump routes? Because double moves and pump fakes work. Any time Eli Drinkwitz sees a challenge, he embraces it. App State has the most efficient passing game in the Sun Belt for a reason, despite having the fewest touchdown passes in the league. That is all thanks to league-low number of interceptions and league-leading completion percentage. So as enticing as it may be to run the ball on a defense that struggles in that area, do not be surprised if Monroe gets challenged all over the field.

Last Wednesday night was not the best display of two powerful offenses. But that’s not to say that good offense was not at work. The most amazing part of the nineteen play drive to seal the game was that every single play went for positive yardage except one run play. Another incredible part of that drive was that it included four conversions for first downs on either third or fourth down. Two of those conversions gained exactly the yardage needed in order to move the chains, and one conversion was gained via penalty. On top of that, the throw to end zone on fourth down from the twenty-five yard line is simply a great play call. More times that not, a college defender is going to interfere on those plays, especially on a back shoulder throw. It’s just up to the officials to throw the flag, and there was precedent earlier in the game with pass interference calls that were thrown with minimal contact. Prior to the final first down being gained, App State had just moved into field goal range, and gave the ball to Evans twice, while also forcing Louisiana to use their final two timeouts. Once those timeouts were gone, the game was firmly in the hands of the App State offense, and they finished the drive.

Welcome back, App State defense of yesteryear. That was a sight for sore eyes. Louisiana was more of a one-dimensional team than Monroe will be this week, but the linebackers answered the call with excellent play all evening. The running game on both sides of the ball was a complete push. Each team ran for 3.7 yards per carry. The difference was keeping Louisiana uncomfortable. Five of the top six tacklers for the Mountaineers were linebackers, accounting for 35 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. When it wasn’t the linebackers, the defensive line was equally responsible for limiting the Cajuns. Another blocked field goal and an additional 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks were contributed by Demetrious Taylor, George Blackstock and E.J. Scott.

That’s just a distraction. In so many words, that was what Eli Drinkwitz exclaimed regarding App State’s inclusion into the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches poll. Now most of us have been here before, but it did not last long. Many coaches on this staff have been ranked before, and they know how to handle it. App State did not have that luxury last year. It was unchartered territory for basically everyone involved. With ten days between games compared to just five days in 2018, things are different. However, the buzz does not feel the same. Everyone remembers the first time, but the second time, it’s almost old hat. Speaking of distractions: Homecoming. It means more for the older crowd than it does for most students, but it also invites a crowd that is more interested in the social setting compared to the game being played. Maybe that fresh shiny number next to App State’s name will keep few more eyes glued to the product. Speaking of, the Mountaineers have shown they can win in all types of situations in just five games. High-scoring, low-scoring, and one-possession games have all happened before the leaves have changed. Last week’s game was supposed to be high scoring but we were all duped into falling in love with the statistics. Monroe will be jacked to play this game. Matt Viator will not admit it, but he has a crush on App State football. He’s beaten App State twice, once with Monroe, and the other with McNeese State. He is also embracing a challenge, and that will certainly spread to his team. Yet, Monroe has an ugly defense that will give up some field, and a penalty ravaged team that is currently is the 7th-most penalized team nationwide. The Warhawks are giving up over 75 yards per game to the yellow handkerchief. App State continues to convert on third (50%) and fourth (100%) downs at a ridiculous rate on the year, both which are top marks in the Sun Belt. The Mountaineer offense does not need much more help from opponents to score points, so if Monroe plays sloppy, most of the patrons will leave Kidd Brewer Stadium happy.

The First Pick

Where they at tho? 25

Mountaineers 41

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