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

Appalachian Football vs Coastal Carolina

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

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.32

CC: 58.28

Home: 2.46

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18.5 points

Line: App State -16

Series: App State leads 5-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 22

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football @ North Carolina

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

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: Fox Sports Southeast

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

Kenan Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 50,500

Surface: RootZone 3D Blend AstroTurf 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.40

UNC: 76.43

Home: 2.64

North Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.67 points

Line: North Carolina -3

Series: North Carolina leads 1-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Wethers 23

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs UNC-Charlotte

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

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.19

UNCC: 49.81

Home: 2.25

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.63 points

Line: App State -21.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 13

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs East Tennessee State

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

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.54

East Tennessee: 45.39

Home: 2.25

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

Line: App State -32.5

Series: App State leads 31-14-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Easy Teezy 12

Mountaineers 42