Appalachian State (6-5) @ Georgia Southern (5-6)
Saturday, November 26th, 2022 6:00pm EST
Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App
Surface: Shaw Legion HP synthetic turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 68.42
Georgia Southern: 61.89
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 4.67 points
VegasInsider Line: App State -4.5
Series: App State leads 21-15-1
Last Meeting: App State 27, Georgia Southern 3, November 27, 2021, Boone NC
Having difficulties conjuring up the energy to get excited about this game should not be the case. That might change on Saturday morning, when you’ve had plenty of turkey, and you maybe went shopping in a store on Friday. Sorry, that will change on Saturday morning. Turkey Day provides a distraction that’s not needed in this rivalry. It takes away from the message board and social media trash talk that has been hashed out and regurgitated for years. For instance, we’ve all heard that 6 is greater than 3. And finally, we can tell Southern fans about their series record against Georgia State. But seriously, you’ll wake up on Saturday morning, wherever you are, and one of the first things on your mind will be, “It’s a long time until 6pm”. The game will be on your mind just about every time you look at the clock. It will dictate just about every decision you make. And although we may not feel it during the week, that excitement will be there on Saturday.
The most interesting part regarding this matchup is that we have a “new” Georgia Southern. It is more than just first year head coach Clay Helton being new. Most noticeably, we have pass heavy Georgia Southern. They have a quarterback that has thrown for more yards than any other quarterback in the conference, but also leads the conference in interceptions by a significant margin. This dramatic shift has not eliminated the Southern ground game, but they are a middle of the road attack, in a conference where most teams have not run the ball well all year. The Eagles will find a way to score some points, but they have been playing catch up against their own defense all season long. In their first nine games of the season, Southern eclipsed 20 points in every game, but have managed just 17 and 10 points respectively against Louisiana and Marshall in their last two games. Since defeating Old Dominion on October 22nd, the Eagles have lost three conference games in a row.
The name of that quarterback is Kyle Vantrease, a sixth year player who transferred in from Buffalo, and is having a career year in Statesboro. Who knows what the Eagles look like without him. Clay Helton came to town to get Georgia Southern back to respectability, and he might be ahead of schedule if it were not for the last three weeks. Vantrease has had easily his worst three weeks of the season in November. Having completed under 60% of his passes in three straight games, throwing just four touchdown passes, and suffering four of his six sacks on the season, it seems that defenses have finally adjusted to the new offensive scheme. Yet, this is not all on Vantrease. South Alabama turned the ball over three times against Southern and the offense could not run in order to stay on the field. The defense gave up over 500 yards to both Marshall and Louisiana. Marshall converted over 50% of its third downs in a thirteen point win and Louisiana was just 3/14 on third downs and won by nineteen points. Make it make sense!
The Mountaineers rolled up a solid 498 yards against one of the worst defenses they have played all year in Old Dominion. If it is possible, the Southern defense is much worse. The Eagles have a bottom five defense nationally, mainly because they are a bottom five defense against the run. They have allowed 227 yards a game on the ground, this after Marshall rolled up 255 yards on the ground last week. In fact, Marshall’s struggling offense could be coming around, because they torched the Eagles for 529 total yards. Seven times this season, opponents have run for over 200 yards on Southern, which includes in each of the last three weeks. In fact, you can attack the Eagles in just about any way you want. In ten of the their eleven games, excluding their opener against Morgan State, Southern has allowed 240 or more yards either passing or rushing. Some weeks they gave up the pass, others the run, and on a couple occasions, they did both. The Eagles record is 1-5 in games where they allowed 240 or more yards rushing, with the only win coming against Nebraska.
It appeared the Mountaineers wanted to take the ball straight to Old Dominion last week with a patient and hard nosed running game. The Mountaineers ran the ball ten times for 44 yards in the first quarter, which also opened up some big passing plays that led to a 10-0 lead after one period of play. App State ran for another 60 yards in the second quarter on seven carries, and eclipsed 300 yards of offense by halftime while heading to the halftime break with 24-0 score. From there, it was basically cruise control. That’s pretty much the App State program we are accustomed to. On top of taking the game to the opponent early, you crush their will to compete with a vanilla game plan in the second half. Ahmani Marshall did not log a carry in the first quarter, got three carries in the second quarter, and then finished the game as the teams leading rusher with 137 yards on nineteen carries. Marshall ran for 56 yards in the third quarter and 58 yards in the final frame. Old Dominion tacked on two late scores for the backdoor cover, but it was mostly a relaxing afternoon.
When these two teams play, something is supposed to be on the line more than just bowl eligibility. That is not supposed to be the prize at the end of this game. The reward should be the inside line to winning the conference championship or winning the division. The last couple years, as this game has been played on a Saturday, at the end of the season, there was nothing on the line. Last year, the Eagles were playing out the season with an interim coach. Two seasons ago, people were tired of a pandemic and also looking forward to just getting to the end of the season. But 2018 and 2019 were different. Those games had some significance, as much as it pains to even mention it. Has this series begun to lose what it has been made of? Does it lack the punch it once had? Was moving it to Saturday a good move, but also a poor decision now that it has found Thanksgiving weekend? Is the cure simply about having games of significance? The more this sport evolves with the transfer portal and immediate success with quick trigger coaching moves, do you lose the importance of a rivalry? When there are 40 or so players on Georgia Southern’s roster that did not get their introduction to college football in Statesboro, are they as endeared to school buses and drainage ditches as the freshmen they play with? Clay Helton was one of the lucky ones to get a second chance coaching at an FBS school. Butch Jones at Arkansas State did the same. There is so much of this Southern team that reminds me of what happened in Jonesboro a year ago. A house cleaning of sorts that came with a much needed philosophy change, with new presidents and athletic directors charged with the task of fixing it. The early results are in, and those defenses at both schools are terrible. A quick glance at Southern’s roster, and you see a lot of guys with experience starting on both sides of the ball, yet they have fives in late November. And will they have to start over again next year? Vantrease will move on and their current backup played last year against App. Lot of questions going forward, but in the meantime, we play Saturday. This game comes down to the big plays, such as third downs and red zone scoring. This shapes up like last week does, but Southern’s offense is in better shape that Old Dominion. On the year, Southern is 18th in the country converting third downs into first downs, doing so 47.3% of the time. The Mountaineers are 98th in stopping third downs, allowing a 41.9% conversion rate to its opponents. And both ODU and Southern are decent red zone defenses, and App State converted 2 of 4 chances against the Monarchs. Still, this Southern defense is really bad, and I think the Mountaineers score from deep like they did last weekend. Southern has allowed 33.25 points per game at home to FBS opponents and that trend will continue.
The First Pick