App State Football @ Louisiana (Sun Belt Championship Game)

Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (11-1, 8-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 4th, 2021 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.21

UL: 74.88

Home: 1.71

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by .62 points

Line: App State -3

Series: App State leads 8-2

Last Meeting: App State 13, Louisiana 41, December 12, 2020, Lafayette, LA

We all saw this coming, didn’t we? When the Sun Belt released its preseason poll for the 2021 season, Louisiana was a near unanimous pick to win the west. Someone voted for Arkansas State. App State and Coastal were tied in total points, but Coastal managed six first place votes to App State’s four. Still pretty well done by the coaches, except for maybe one or two guys. Regardless, nobody is surprised we are here again, with App State and Louisiana playing for the conference title, the only two schools to ever play in a Sun Belt Championship game. For the first time, this game is being played in Lafayette. The home team has won both such contests, and also lost their head coach to a Power Five school. For Billy Napier, this is his third appearance. This will be App State’s third different coach in the game. These teams are pretty familiar with one another and pretty much know what to expect from the other side. It all comes down to playing ball.

Since the last time we saw the Cajuns, they have not lost. Same goes for the Mountaineers. On the season both teams have had six common opponents. Both are 6-0 against those teams. Louisiana played those opponents tighter than App State did. The Cajuns outscored those teams 153-119, while the Mountaineers took those games a little more personally. App State outscored those teams 258-75. Five of those six, Louisiana played their foes within one score, with Troy being the outlier. App State closest game came last week, a 24-point win over Georgia Southern. That has been what Louisiana has done most of the year outside of a couple games. Sure, they handled a few teams with ease, but its these six games that are most interesting. Not all of these games have the exact same circumstances. Such as, App played Southern late, against a third-string quarterback, where the Cajuns faced the Eagles during the last game of the Chad Lunsford era in September. App State also avoided Jake Bentley from South Alabama. The Cajuns had to mount a comeback against Georgia State, where App finished the Panthers off in the second half.

From bad quarterbacks and backup quarterbacks to one of the most successful in school history. That is the challenge for App State’s defense this week, when they face Levi Lewis for the eighth time. We discussed it earlier this season, and although he has not started all of those games, he has played a lot against App State. Keeping Lewis in the pocket is a must. Although he is not typical dual threat, he can and will run when he sees the opportunity. Lewis has four rushing touchdowns this year, in four different games. Three of those came against three of the better defenses in the conference, including App State. Since the last meeting against the Mountaineers, Lewis has been really effective in the air, with ten touchdowns passes to just two interceptions. In two of the four games in which Lewis did throw an interception, against Georgia State and Arkansas State, the Cajuns were really challenged. The last game Lewis threw a pick and was not challenged on the scoreboard, was against App State. It appears the Cajuns have been intentional in taking care of the football as the season wound down.

The Cajuns have done a good job spreading the ball among their offensive skill players all year long. In the matchup earlier this season, nine different Cajuns caught a pass, and four players received rushing attempts outside of Levi Lewis. On the year, eleven Cajuns caught ten or more passes and the leading receiver, Peter LeBlanc led the team with 33 catches for 350 yards. He was consistent for eleven of twelve games. Outside of the Georgia State game, where LeBlanc caught nine passes for 118 yards, he was held under 43 yards receiving in every other game. Freshman Kyren Lacy scored on a two-yard catch in the previous matchup against App, and was an end zone favorite. Despite just 21 receptions all season long, Lacy found the end zone five times on the year, and in each of the last three games to end the season. Similarly with the running backs, not one back has a majority of the carries. Chris Smith has 144 carries for 834 yards and Montrell Johnson has 135 carries for 776 yards. They have combined for nineteen touchdowns. In the last two games, Smith has 19 carries and Johnson has 16 attempts. That’s down from their season average. Those carries went to Emani Bailey, who was averaging roughly eight carries a game. Bailey had thirteen attempts in each of the last two games. Wisely the Cajuns have conserved their top two backs for this weekend while giving more work for their third back.

Familiarity in football is super important. It’s the reason why you see teams like BYU struggle with Georgia Southern a week ago. Same reason App State slowly killed off the Eagles last week. Eventually talent wins out. App and Southern know each other all too well. The game was never in doubt, just the final. In the end, App State let up a field goal, which broke their second half scoreless streak. Still, that is four games giving up just three second half points. A continuation of that trend would be quite welcome on Saturday. Thomas Hennigan, Malik Williams and Jalen Virgil were responsible for the touchdowns, all coming on big plays. Virgil going back-to-back on kickoff returns in consecutive years against Southern will become highlights we see for years to come. Yet, it’s the App State defense that has stolen the show for the last several weeks. The Mountaineers have allowed 240 yards rushing in the last four games combined. In October, the Mountaineers gave up a season-high 246 yards rushing to the Cajuns. It is clear that Louisiana wants to run, and App State needs to continue its recent dominance in defending the run.

There are two train of thoughts here. You either believe the first matchup mattered, or it did not. Mattered as in, that data can be used as a predictive indicator of future matchups. Or, it was an absolute fluke, or as some football types would say, just one of those days. App State had a lot of those days this year that were completely opposite of what happened that night. Louisiana, in turn had a couple games this year that resembled that night. But, that game was abnormal. Both teams have played half of a season since then. App State has looked good enough since that night to make me a believer. Both teams have had their offenses struggle at times, but have been carried by their defenses. The Cajuns seem to struggle offensively for longer periods of time. It might take the App State offense some time to wake up, but when they do, it comes in bunches. Despite that, over the course of the season, the Mountaineers scored 100 or more points in every quarter this season. App State scored 223 points this year in the second half. Their opponents scored 227 points all year. This is not an argument for most points scored in the other twelve games wins this weekend, but more to state that several weeks ago, the App offense never got it going. Those are just facts. Had the Mountaineers turnover margin been -2 in that game, it might have had a chance. Being down -4 in that category is undoable. Many statistical models over time have come to a consensus that winning the turnover battle is the easiest path to win a football game. A minus-four turnover margin in a single game sets your chance of winning any game at about 10%. Louisiana is a top five team nationally in turnover margin, but that has more to do with turning the ball over themselves just eight times all year. The Cajuns were +12 on the season in turnover margin, and one-third of those turnovers gained, happened in one game. What is the likelihood of another one-off game like that happening again? Smaller than you can imagine. App State has shown all year it can fight off a turnover or two in hole, depending on the opponent, but anything more than that on Saturday will be too much. We all want to see a game decided on the field between two elite defenses. The Mountaineers have found ways down the stretch to score anyway they need to, whether by special teams or defense. They’ll find their way to lifting another trophy soon after.

The First Pick

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 24

App State Football @ Arkansas State

Appalachian State (6-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) vs Arkansas State (1-7, 0-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 6th, 2021 2:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Centennial Bank Stadium

Capacity: 30,382

Surface: Geo Surfaces Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.71

Ark State: 52.90

Home: 2.10

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.71 points

Line: App State -21

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last Meeting: App State 45, Monroe 17, October 22, 2020, Boone, NC

Don’t look now, but Monroe just turned the ball over again. It was that kind of day for the Warhawks who were never really in it. The Mountaineers might have had something to do with that. After nearly every Monroe mistake, App State made them pay. That is the kind of stuff good teams are made of. The next challenge arises in one of the least familiar of conference opponents. The last couple games between Arkansas State and App State have not been particularly close. Saturday looks to be similar. There in itself is the challenge. On paper, this one looks fairly lopsided. Keeping your edge and competitive spirit alive for a road trip to face a team that has had some bad results can be difficult. Already, Red Wolves fans are saying that the battle in this game is not on the scoreboard. Luckily for App State, this is Homecoming for Arkansas State, so the atmosphere may not be completely dead for your typical one win team. However, playing the next ring game should be plenty motivation for the visiting team.

Where to start? The 2021 Red Wolves are really taking it on the chin this year. They have one win over Central Arkansas and three one possession losses to Memphis, Tulsa and Louisiana. Other than that, its been pretty bad in Jonesboro. Blake Anderson did all he could to keep that program afloat as long as possible, and Butch Jones is dealing with the fallout. The Arkansas State offense can be good enough to beat anyone on their schedule, but the defense is the main concern. If the game of football was a one-sided game, the Red Wolves can go toe-to-toe with any offense in the league. Even with glaring issues in the running game, the Red Wolves sport an offense that ranks 60th in the country, that is completely propped up by their Top-10 passing offense by yardage. For comparison purposes, consider Marshall, another school that has a Top-10 passing offense, but also had issues on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, Marshall has a running attack, and that is why they are 5-3. Arkansas State and Marshall are the only teams in the top ten in passing offense that have thrown double digit interceptions this season.

Just like Monroe, the quarterback position for Arkansas State is unsettled. The Red Wolves, known in the past for being unable to make their mind up when any quarterback was playing or going to play, have continued the trend under Butch Jones. It seemed that James Blackman, the Florida State transfer, had won the job, but Layne Hatcher, the long ago Alabama transfer was still getting playing time. Blackman’s injury designation was considered as being “out indefinitely”, after suffering a shoulder injury against Coastal. He did not make the trip last week to Mobile. It would seem unlikely that Blackman is cleared before Saturday, which means Layne Hatcher will get his third consecutive start. Hatcher has completed 55% of his passes this season with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in spot duty. These numbers are a fay cry from 2020, when Hatcher threw 19 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Hatcher threw three interceptions last week alone in the loss to South Alabama. App State accounted for one of Hatcher’s interceptions last year.

This is where it gets bad. Within the conference, Arkansas State is dead last running the ball and stopping the run. The Red Wolves are averaging less than three yards a carry on offense and giving up a mind boggling 6.9 yards per carry on defense. They have allowed 22 rushing touchdowns and have only scored three on the ground themselves. Those national ranks are 129th for rushing defense and 127th for rushing offense. Each facet of the football game has an effect on the next. A lack of rushing production typically finds teams who own poor records. If you cannot run the ball, it’s difficult to sustain drives, which has an impact on possession, and the number of plays your defense defends. It’s not a requirement of winning football, to have an offense than can churn out 200 yard rushing games consistently, but being effective when you do run is important. This game is all out about efficiency. All of this leads to Arkansas State giving up 42.4 points per game, which is also last in conference play and 128th nationwide. That is nearly five points more per game than UL-Monroe, who the Mountaineers just scored 59 points on.

With their second straight 500-yard game, the App State offense is humming. The Mountaineers scored touchdowns on five straight possessions in the first half and distanced themselves from Monroe before they knew what hit them. Chase Brice has 603 passing yards and six touchdowns in his last two games. More importantly, Brice has not thrown an interception or been sacked in the last two games either. Nate Noel continued his steady pace toward a 1,000 yard season. With his third 100-yard performance of the season, Noel needs to average just 46 yards a game with at least five games remaining in the season. Corey Sutton and Malik Williams are also on pace to clear 1,000 yards. Sutton has been more consistent and has touchdown catches in four of his last five games. Williams caught three passes for 72 yards and a touchdown following his outburst against Coastal. While the offense was scoring, the defense was getting off the field early. The first six Warhawk possessions ended in this order: punt, fumble, interception, downs, punt, punt. Those six drives consisted of twenty plays that covered 64 total yards.

It is incredibly easy to sit back, look at an opponents record or recent history and think you can take a weekend off. If anything this season has taught us across college football, you cannot take any opponent lightly. The Red Wolves have won five games the last two seasons. You cannot hide from that. In 2019, Arkansas State won eight games, but five of them were decided by one score. The demise of Arkansas State football was not a nosedive, it was slow descent. Everyone knew it was coming, but it was just a matter of when it hit rock bottom. That time is now. Could the Red Wolves have a couple more wins right now? Sure, but bowl eligibility was never a reasonable goal. Georgia Southern has not been able to get off the ground this year either, and they absolutely walloped this Arkansas State team. Focusing on a close result against Louisiana is doing nothing but searching. Those two teams play weird games all the time. Arkansas State is giving up yardage and points at historic levels. That does not change overnight. It’s likely it takes a couple seasons to get that unit to a respectable level. But in the meantime, the Red Wolves need a spark. South Alabama got back to business last week with a win over Arkansas St, after having Monroe beat them the week before. Arkansas State should show better this week at home after turning the ball over 4 times to the Jaguars. The 224 yards gained last week was a season low. Butch Jones should be able to motivate his team for a big game, and a strong finish to the season with some winnable games. It’s just very unlikely to come this weekend. Just about every weakness the Red Wolves have plays right into the hands of App State, who have found a rhythm on offense as of late. Expect a boatload of sacks from the App State defense.

The First Pick

Huff but no Puff 14

Mountaineers 38

App State Football vs UL-Monroe

Appalachian State (5-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) vs UL-Monroe (4-3, 2-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 30th, 2021 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.75

Monroe: 54.46

Home: 2.60

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21.89 points

Line: App State -27

Series: App State leads 5-1

Last Meeting: App State 31, Monroe 13, October 31, 2020, Monroe, LA

It’s hard to explain, why from one week to the next in football, a team can go from world beaters, to looking like they can’t beat anyone in the world. We presume to know what is going to happen from one week to the next, but we’ll never get there, and that is why we keep tuning in. Better than just tuning into the radio or television, is attending in person. Not everyone can do it every week, no matter the day of the week. The smallest crowd this year at Kidd Brewer Stadium was on a Thursday, when 28,377 attended. Intense crowd, great atmosphere. Elon on a Saturday: 30,224. Well darn, pretty good. Coastal Carolina on Wednesday: 31,061. Oh man. The stadium’s capacity is listed at 30,000. The Kidd Brewer average this year is 29,887. Athletics sent out an awesome tweet that included additional information. We are a football hungry school. We missed it last year, and are showing to the country what our team means to us. Just think about those numbers for a minute. Two of games were won by field goals and defense in the fourth quarter. That makes a huge difference in the outcome. We have not had those type of finishes often at The Rock, but it’s no surprise that when the team needed the help, we were there.

The resurgent Warhawks have been buoyed by improved coaching this season. Some were surprised that Terry Bowden found another job after the disaster at Akron, where he coached seven seasons and accumulated a 35-52 record. Fact is, Bowden had been a winner everywhere he coached, so success to date should not be all that newsworthy. Bowden did a decent job at Akron, just couldn’t get over the hump and stay there. That is the same challenge that Monroe faces for the remainder of the season. They are over .500 for the first time this late in the season since 2018, where they went 6-4 before losing their final two games. That was the last time the Warhawks had a legitimate chance of going to a bowl game. That road to a bowl game and six wins is possible, but it will be a long one. With five games remaining on their schedule, Monroe will be traveling for four of those games, and decided underdogs in three of them. Still, games at Texas State and back home for Arkansas State will be tossups.

Monroe began the season with Rhett Rodriguez as their starting quarterback. His father Rich Rodriguez is Monroe’s offensive coordinator. Father Rodriguez and Terry Bowden both played at West Virginia and coached at Salem College, but never at the same time. Rhett began his college career at Arizona, where his father was coaching prior to his dismissal. Rhett continued at Arizona and played sparingly before transferring to Monroe. During the win over Troy, Rhett was injured and suffered a punctured lung, and spent time in the ICU. He has yet to return to the field, which has paved the way for Chandler Rogers, who has appeared in every game this season. Despite starting Rogers against Coastal, Monroe still played backups Colby Suits and Jiya Wright. The same happened the following week against Georgia State. In the wins against Liberty and South Alabama, it was all Rogers. He took all the snaps in both games. All eight of Rogers’s touchdown passes have come in the last three games, along with averaging 267 yards passing in the last three. His 369 yards and four touchdowns were especially impressive against a South Alabama team that been known for a decent defense. Yet, the Jaguars have given up 33 to Texas State and 41 to Monroe in their last two road games.

The running game for the Warhawks can be deceiving when looking at statistics. Their offensive tempo leads to a lot of plays, and they have been scoring sporadically this season. Production has increased the last few weeks, but the first four contests of the season were especially rough. It’s almost hard to believe how bad they were during those games, yet still remained committed to it. Against Kentucky, Jackson State, Troy and Coastal, the Warhawks ran the ball 156 times for just 305 yards. That comes to less than 2 yards per carry. Two! Those next three games, Monroe ran 122 times for 570 yards, for a respectable 4.67 yard average. Conversely, yards gained via the pass also steadily increased in games five through seven. In the first four games, Monroe’s highest passing output was 168 yards against Troy. In the last three games, the fewest passing yards in a game was 225 against Liberty. Makes you wonder what caused the sudden increase in points and yards. The Rhett Rodriguez injury, scary as it was, may have been the catalyst for the offense. Or, Monroe has suddenly got things in gear after being beaten by Coastal, and playing three straight home games.

Flip the page. We are going from not talking about the game from two weeks ago to not being able to avoid the conversation this week. The running game put up the quietist 228 yards in recent memory. No back eclipsed 100 yards, but they didn’t need to. The night belonged to Chase Brice and Malik Williams. Brice provided a huge bounce back game with 347 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also added a very robust 34 yards on the ground on five carries. Malik Williams had a career night with ten receptions for 206 yards. Once the Mountaineers found the matchup they wanted, they exploited it time and time again. Corey Sutton tacked on a perfect night with six catches on six targets for 113 yards and a touchdown. Beyond that 575 yard output by the offense, it was the defense that kept the Mountaineers within striking distance after falling behind. The specials teams obviously played a role with the onside kickoff recovery that completely flipped momentum. The defense stood tall after App turned the ball over on downs, and fumbled in the second quarter, holding the Chants to just two field goals. Coastal scored just one touchdown in the second half, and were held to 30 yards on four possessions outside of that scoring drive.

So, who exactly are these Warhawks that App State will face on Saturday? They have been completely stymied by teams such as Kentucky, which can be expected. The Jackson State win by a 12-7 score was certainly interesting. But it was the Troy game that got the attention of the conference. Then the next two weeks, we saw the Monroe that everyone expected, getting beat handily by Coastal and Georgia State. Really the only outlier on their entire schedule to date is the Georgia State game. It represents their only home loss. Among peer games, there is an argument that Georgia State may be one of the more well-rounded teams in the conference, even though their record does not reflect. And Georgia State might also be the team that most resembles App State, that the Warhawks have played. As in, teams that prefer to establish the run and play sound defense. Among all opponents, every team that Monroe played were able to put some numbers on their defense. Kentucky, Troy and South Alabama all went for over 300 yards passing. Coastal, Georgia State and Liberty ran for 250 or more yards on Monroe’s 114th ranked defense that gives up over 6.27 yards per play this season. Some of those yards have been made up by turnover margin, as the Warhawks are +1.29 turnovers a game this year, which is fifth in the nation. Perhaps it takes App State a possession or two to figure out how to attack Monroe? Or the Mountaineers could come out slow like they did for Elon. App State has lost the turnover battle a couple times this season, which has kept games like East Carolina, Marshall, and Coastal maybe closer than they should be. Finally, the kickoff temperatures of the last three Monroe home games have been 81, 68 and 83 degrees respectively. The forecast is looking pretty icky on Saturday in Boone, with a high temperature in the mid-40s, with rain showers expected. A less than ideal situation for the visiting Warhawks.

The First Pick

ChickenHawks 16

Mountaineers 35

App State Football vs #14 Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (4-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (6-0, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.98

Coastal: 76.86

Home: 2.75

Coastal is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.13 points

Line: Coastal -4.5

Series: App State leads 6-1

Last Meeting: App State 23, Coastal 34, November 21, 2020, Conway, SC

It’s been a long time since a game has played out like that. That could be a blessing and a curse. We all know that was not normal, and App State could not possibly play that poorly again if they tried. The most important part, is that not one player or coach will let that happen again. Another interesting aspect, is that several players on this team have actually been in this position before. They know what it is like to somewhat have their backs against the wall, knowing that the next loss, could derail any conference championship dreams. Last week was not everything, but this week has become that. After last week, its welcoming to play such a high stakes game in your own house. Only four Sun Belt teams have ever won at Kidd Brewer Stadium in seven seasons. It’s not been a welcome place to play for any opponents for decades. Coastal’s rise to fame will eventually end. Whether it ends against App State is yet to be seen, but they’ll have to earn it, because the Mountaineers will not go quietly.

A lot of fans have been yelling from the top of the mountain, “Coastal has not played anyone!!”. National pundits have said the same, “We’ll see what happens when Coastal is tested.” That time has come. The Chants benefitted from playing four games at home in their first five games. Coastal has also played some rather subpar teams, and that’s not hard to determine just glancing at their current resume. But, how bad is it? Excluding The Citadel, every single one of Coastal’s opponents currently sports a total defense that ranks 98th or worse in the country among 130 teams. On the other side of the ball, Coastal has faced just two top-65 offenses, with the three other teams ranking 116th or worse. Those two offenses were Buffalo and Arkansas State, which just happened to be the two teams that Coastal played on the road this season. The Red Wolves top-40 offense to date is only going to carry them so far, with the worst defense in the country. Buffalo is the school that gave Coastal the most fits, and are easily the best team the Chants have played this season. That’s not scoreboard reasoning, its statistically accurate. The Bulls are the only team Coastal has played with a top-100 offense (64) and defense (98).

Chanticleer quarterback Grayson McCall continues to lead a very explosive offense. In 2020, McCall did it with his arm and legs. McCall accumulated 569 rushing yards last season on 111 carries, seven going for touchdowns. In the first six games of 2021, McCall has just 82 yards on the ground this season on 32 carries. His yards per carry have been cut in half, down from 5.1 yards per tote last season. However, McCall has more than made up for that with his efficient passing. McCall has thrown just 22 incomplete passes this season, completing just shy of 80% of his passes. Numbers like that are completely unheard of. Against Buffalo, McCall threw his only interception of the year, and misfired on six passes, the most in any game this year. Last season, McCall completed 69% of his passes, but was just 12/21 (57%) against the Mountaineers. The sophomore has increased his passing yards per game by about 20 yards per game, but outside the rushing statistics, looks very much like the player from a year ago.

Shermari Jones and Reese White were valuable members of the ground game in 2020, but they were not in the spotlight with CJ Marable getting the majority of carries. Marable exhausted his eligibility and ended his final campaign in Conway with 887 yards on the ground and another 228 yards receiving. Jones and White are now the feature backs for Coastal and have provided the production lost from Marable, and to an extent, McCall. White has played in all six games this year, gaining 455 yards to date and has scored seven times. Jones has played in four games, and has accumulated 401 yards. Neither Jones or White have shown receiving chops on a consistent basis so far this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen Wednesday. As far as pass catchers, most of it comes from two guys. Javon Heiligh works as a traditional wide receiver role, and has three 100-yard games this season with four touchdowns. Heiligh also works as a punt and kick returner. Isaiah Likely is a major threat from the tight end position. Likely can block and run, and is a high end NFL prospect. He had a monster game last time out against Arkansas State, who did not realize he was on the field. Likely caught eight passes for 232 yards and added four touchdowns.

There is not much to review from last week. It’s very apparent it was just a bad day for the Mountaineers. Turning the ball over and failing to convert on any third down is going to put your team in a bad spot more times than not. Seems App State had the ability to get by the tired Marshall defense and Georgia State without the full compliment of running backs, but that just won’t fly against everyone. Getting healthy at certain positions is key. The need for a one-two running back punch was never more apparent than last week. Plain and simple, everyone needed to better. If you think losses are hard on fans, just think about how the coaches and student-athletes feel. When the bar is set high, and the expectations are to win each week, those losses can bring you down hard. But losses are needed to appreciate the winning, to remind us all, you cannot have good times without the bad. The Mountaineers will respond appropriately. There is no question they are ready for the task in front of them directly, and for the remainder of the season.

Last week, statistics went out the window. Statistics are not predictive, but can sway anyone’s opinion into how something might play out. Once again they are not absolute. Just about everything that was highlighted last week was a waste of time and space. It happens. That really makes a perfect transition for predictive measures regarding Coastal Carolina. Most of the time, they are one of the more explosive teams in the country. Also, most of the time, in this sample size, six times this season, they have not played offenses or defenses that are explosive. That collectiveness is what Coastal thrives on. The Chants thrive on teams that have difficulties scoring and stopping their opponents. Seems simple, but it can be more complicated. Stay with me here. The term “triple-option” in college football has historically meant a heavy emphasis on running the football, with a quarterback lining up under center, handing off to an upback, or showing a fake handoff and sprinting to the edge with another flanker or wingback in tow. Coastal’s version is a lot different. Sometimes the first and third option is the same player, and often a pass option is used. It’s nearly like the run based triple option and pass oriented RPO were meshed. Occasionally, the mesh point (handoff point between running back and quarterback) is enhanced to further stress the defense, making them stop and think, while the offensive players continue their attack. What we are getting at, is that winning on third down is not enough when you defend Coastal. You have to win on first and second down equally as much. Sure, Coastal is first in the country on third down conversions at nearly 62%. But, they have only attempted 55 third down conversions in six games. That is the lowest mark in the country as well. App State’s job on Wednesday night is too force inefficiency, or to borrow an old triple option term, keep them behind the chains. Offensively, the Mountaineers also provide a tough test for the Coastal defense. Once Coastal gets ahead in games, their defense typically sits back in zone coverage, and plays a “no doubles” defense, to avoid big plays. Against Arkansas State, who has no running game, you saw Coastal let everything happen underneath, and then they attacked the ball. Coastal will have to play downhill against App State, just like they had to when they went on the road at Buffalo. The Bulls ran 47 times for 262 yards on the Chanticleers and were 9/16 on third down. They gave themselves a chance by keeping the ball out of Coastal’s hands. If the Mountaineers can play that patient on offense, I like their chances.

The First Pick

Surf but no Turf 31

Mountaineers 34

App State Football @ Louisiana

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

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.31

Louisiana: 70.17

Home: 2.55

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.59 points

Line: App State -5

Series: App State leads 8-1

Last Meeting: App State 21, Louisiana 24, December 4, 2020, Boone, NC

For a special group of super seniors, Tuesday’s game is a day they have looked forward to for over ten months. The implications of the App State-Louisiana game have been clear for a couple seasons, 2020 aside. If you want to host the conference championship game, you have to win this game. Reminder, a championship game did not take place last year. Doubt anyone needed reminding. For App State, this is the second game of the so-called revenge tour. Marshall was handled. Louisiana stands in the way next. Similar to App State, the Cajuns returned a lot of from last season’s team, but had some coaching turnover. Louisiana’s season to date from a win-loss perspective was expected, but it’s been a somewhat rocky journey. But really that does not matter. Just about every team in college football in 2021 has their flaws, and the clich√© of taking one game at a time might have more meaning than ever. Both teams taking the field on Tuesday night will gladly walk away with a win of any sort.

When reviewing Louisiana’s schedule this season, you will see that the Cajuns are 4-1 with a loss to Texas. A game where some experts thought that Louisiana would give the Longhorns the game, actually turned into a twenty point blowout as Texas pulled away in the second half. The experts may have expected the Cajuns to compete due to their win over Iowa State last year, which was mostly fueled by special teams play. More on special teams later. However, it is difficult to look at Louisiana’s four wins and say, you know what, that game was a coin toss, and they pulled it out. First, we see that they squeaked by Nicholls State at home. Louisiana was up 27-10 late before allowing two fourth quarter scores to Nicholls. Then the Cajuns smacked around once proud Ohio 49-14, just five days after Ohio lost to FCS Duquesne. Not sure what Ohio was thinking with that scheduling, playing a tough road game on a Thursday after playing the previous Saturday. The following wins over Georgia Southern and South Alabama were both tight games. Louisiana held off Southern 28-20 and edged the Jaguars 20-18. Two conference road wins will never disappoint a coach. It’s not easy to win in Paulson, no matter how much longer a coach is hanging around. The South Alabama game was also played in a downpour. However, in both conference wins, the opposing team scored very early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to one possession, yet Louisiana found a way.

Tuesday night will be the seventh time that Levi Lewis has dressed for a football game against App State. Even in 2017, when Lewis appeared in just four total games, one of those games was against the Mountaineers. There has not been another opposing quarterback in the history of this blog, that has been written about more times. We know who he is, what he is capable of, and also, what he is not capable of. Lewis remains a dual-threat quarterback, averaging 24.4 rushing yards per game. That figure is down slightly from last year when he ran more than any other season in which he was a full time starter. Lewis is passing for close to 220 yards per game which is negligibly different from previous seasons. Basically, Levi Lewis has been a very steady quarterback for several years. He has not improved greatly, nor has he regressed either. The Cajuns need him to play well to win, and he usually does.

For teams like Louisiana who spread the ball among three running backs, it helps to look at the overall picture instead of breaking down one player at a time. Those three have 131 carries for 712 yards and have added nine touchdowns. That works out to 5.4 yards per carry between the trio. Chris Smith has the most carries (52), but the fewest yards (231). Emani Bailey has more yards (249), and the fewest carries (34). Montrell Johnson is a freshman, and leads the group with four touchdowns, all those coming against Ohio. All three had light workloads against South Alabama last week. They combined for just 23 carries, but amassed 170 yards. Not long ago, Louisiana was eyeing to have three 1,000 yard rushers in a season. That lofty goal was not achieved, but the Cajuns are a long way from getting there in 2021. As a team, the Cajuns are 59th in the country in rushing offense at 166 yards per game. That’s a rather pedestrian ranking compared to what Louisiana had been accustomed to.

The tone was set from the opening drive last weekend. The Mountaineers were expecting Georgia State to run the ball and shorten the game, but they also knew at some point, they were going to have to score touchdowns. So the Panthers attempted that strategy on the first drive of the game. Incompletion. Interception. The Panthers had a turnover before they gained a yard. Three and a half minutes of game time later, the Mountaineers punched it in the end zone and never looked back. The Mountaineer defense finished the game with three interceptions, and added four sacks. Most importantly, Georgia State was held to a 20% conversion rate (3/15) on third down, and three red zone drives resulted in just three made field goals. The Mountaineers did not run wild, but managed 4.1 yards per carry. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Chase Brice, who arguably had his best day in the black and gold. His 326 passing yards was a career mark and his three touchdown passes were the most in a game since 2018, when Brice helped Clemson beat Louisville 77-16.

Much like last week, deferring any information from the previous years game lends absolutely zero direction as to how this year will play out. If you remember, last year’s game was played in a torrential downpour, both quarterbacks played poorly, and numerous mistakes were made on both sides of the ball. Tuesday night should be clear and mild for mid-October. So just because the Cajuns were able to finally get a win over the Mountaineers last December, does not mean they have figured out App State. The injury bug has settled in around the Cajuns this year, which has decimated their offensive line. That is as much to blame for the struggles, or lack of consistent success Louisiana has had on the ground compared to years past. Those struggles have put the Cajuns in unfavorable third down situations. On the season, Louisiana has converted third downs just 31.7% of the time, which is 111th in the country. The Mountaineer defense has been downright nasty on third downs all season, allowing opponents a paltry 29.7% success rate, which ranks 17th nationwide. On the flip side, Louisiana is one of the worst in the country from stopping their opponents on third downs, allowing a 45% success rate. Staying on the field is important in football, because if you have the ball, and can drive, chances are you can score more points. That leads us into the next telling statistic that derives from said conversions. App State averages 32 minutes of possession a game. That’s the best figure in the conference. Louisiana is the exact opposite, maintaining possession for just 27 minutes a game. That’s the worst figure in the conference. Starting to sound like Marshall a little bit huh? The Cajuns have outscored their opponents in the first half this year 78-50, but are dead even in the second half. Add the kickoff return threat from running back Chris Smith, and you see where this is going. A defense that fades in the second half due to being on the field too much, but has been buoyed by special teams, which gives the illusion of a great team. Marshall has more talent, but Louisiana plays better situational ball, turning the ball over less, and playing within themselves. A lowing scoring 2019-type game would not be surprising, but the Mountaineers might have a better defense than two years ago, and the Cajuns definitely do not have the same defense as then.

The First Pick

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 31

App State Football vs Elon

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Elon (1-1, 0-0 CAA)

Saturday, September 18th, 2021 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.47

Elon: 38.55

Home: 3.00

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 41.92 points

Line: no line

Series: App State leads 32-9-1

Last Meeting: App State 31, Elon 21, September 21, 2013, Boone, NC

Chalk another one up in the “Close, but no cigar category.” A loss to Miami was probable, but a gut wrenching loss decided in the final moments was not what App State fans had in mind. Have we not suffered this fate enough? The close calls can kill you. They stick for awhile. Almost to the point that nothing matters as we stare into a campfire for moments on end trying to comprehend what your eyes just witnessed. Well, that’s at least what I did. Truth is the last close calls we had actually went our way. How quickly we forget needing to block a field goal at North Carolina to avoid overtime. Remember when everyone’s heart stopped beating as a football fluttered out of the back of a Columbia end zone. That pendulum has swung both ways. We all want them all, but these things have a way of evening out. Doubtful anyone would trade either Carolina game for Miami, or the others. Yet, the result brings outs a complicated range of emotions, and of wanting more. The only way to get past it, is to play ball.

It has been eight years since App State and Elon played, way back in 2013, when the star of the game was some freshman running back named Marcus Cox. It was the final year in the Southern Conference for both schools. Elon has been in the Colonial since 2014, and it was not a pretty start. Elon went 7-27 from 2014-2016. Elon then hired Curt Cignetti, who improved the Phoenix to 14-9 over two seasons before Cignetti was hired by James Madison to the same position. In 2019, Elon elevated Tony Trisciani to head coach after a stint as defensive coordinator. Trisciani was the defensive backs coach at Elon in 2006 when Armanti Edwards made his third career start and totaled 263 yards and added two touchdowns. That stat had little to do with Elon 2021, but why not mention Armanti when you can. Elon went 5-6 in 2019, did not play a fall season in 2020, but did play an abbreviated schedule this past spring, winning one game over Davidson, and losing five games. Among those five losses were a three point loss to #1 James Madison, and two losses to Richmond, and a 42-20 loss to Gardner-Webb. Almost forgot how weird FCS football can be.

Elon stands at 1-1 entering the renewal of the rivalry that never was. The Phoenix have played two barnburners, suffering a two point loss to Wofford, and securing a one point win over Campbell. The Phoenix warded off a two point conversion attempt by the Camels with 11 seconds left in regulation as Campbell went for the win. Campbell also attempted such a feat at Georgia Southern last season. Campbell still has dual threat Hajj-Malik Williams playing quarterback, and he burned Elon for 220 total yards and three touchdown passes. Wofford’s quarterback is Peyton Derrick, who spent his first two years of his career in Boone. Derrick was responsible for a 4th and 2 pass to Dominique Heath at Penn State that set up a touchdown. Derrick ran for 67 yards on just five attempts against Elon and threw for 155 more. After two weeks of mobile quarterbacks, the Elon defense will see a more pocket-oriented Chase Brice. Wofford averaged six yards a carry on the Phoenix defense, and four players logged rushes of over twenty yards. Wofford also completed passes of 33 yards and 71 yards.

Senior quarterback Davis Cheek is in his fourth season for Elon, and he brings plenty of experience with him. He will be playing in his 32nd career game on Saturday, and has thrown for 6,205 yards, with 38 career touchdown passes to just 17 interceptions. His sophomore campaign was cut short due to an injury, but Cheek has started every game in which he has appeared. In 2017 and 2019, Cheek surpassed 2,000 passing yards in each season, and had career highs in touchdown passes both years with fifteen total. He is well on his way to a career year, with four touchdown passes and 581 yards passing in just two games. Cheek did not play in the spring season of 2021. The ground game is not the forte of the Phoenix, as they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on the young season. Three receivers have caught 33/51 completed passes from Cheek and all of his touchdowns. Jackson Parham leads in yardage with 168. Chandler Brayboy has pulled in 12 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Kortez Weeks touts a 10/121/1 line.

With two games under our belt, the App State offensive and defensive leaders are beginning to take shape. The running back race is a figurative dead heat. Camerun Peoples has 195 yards and three touchdowns. Nate Noel has 177 yards on the season. Both have carried the ball exactly thirty-one times. Peoples is better downhill runner, and is tough to stop once he gets wound up. Noel was bottled up mostly by Miami, but found better running room in the second half. The trio of Thomas Hennigan, Corey Sutton and Malik Williams continue to lead the Apps in receiving, catching 25 of the 41 completed passes from Chase Brice. Each have a touchdown and have at least seven catches. DeMarco Jackson leads the team with 18 total tackles, with 11 unassisted. Steven Jones also has also 11 solo tackles, and is second on the team with 13 combined stops. TD Roof and Caleb Spurlin follow closely behind with 11 tackles each, with Roof sporting 2 sacks. Trey Cobb and Nick Hampton also have ten tackles each.

This will be the 997th football game in Elon history, and their 246th game as an FBS program. Elon has never defeated an FBS program in their history. Elon has not defeated App State since 1964, covering a span of 18 games. When Elon joined the Southern Conference in 2003, they were very bad. From 2007-2009, the Phoenix were actually decent, but still could not beat App State. Even as their time together in the SoCon dwindled, Elon’s success waned, but they still played tough games against the Mountaineers. It was just never meant to be. Now we find ourselves back down memory lane again in 2021, and we all hope its ends up just like it always has. It seems over the years, when Elon can hire a decent head coach, at some point, that coach will win a few games, and then head elsewhere. Nothing says that Tony Trisciani can’t become that next guy, but he has not had the time yet at Elon to make that happen. Maybe that’s why they decided to play a spring schedule without their starting quarterback. Eight games were scheduled, and six were played. One would figure that would give you an advantage, playing a spring schedule, but those affects on players and coaches at this point is relatively unknown. Elon’s inability to run the ball should be a major concern, especially this week. The Mountaineers have allowed 3.9 yards per game to FBS opponents, while Elon has gained 3.4 yards in the fall compared to just 3.0 yards per carry in the spring. Expect to see the Phoenix in a lot of 3rd down and long situations. Those will play into Cheek being harassed in the pocket. The App State defense already has six sacks in two games against above average mobility quarterbacks. Elon has only defended 41 pass attempts as a defense in two games. Part of that is playing Wofford, but even the Terriers and Peyton Derrick threw the ball around a little more than most of us remember seeing. That could be a real issue going from SoCon/Big South wide receivers to App State’s super senior quartet. Not sure how quickly this one gets decided, but the margin should be considerable by halftime.

The First Pick

Resurrectionists 14

Mountaineers 56

App State Football @ #22 Miami

Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Miami (0-1, 0-0 ACC)

Saturday, September 11th, 2021 7:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL

Capacity: 64,767

Surface: Bermuda Grass

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.58

Miami: 75.80

Home: 2.37

Miami is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.59 points

Line: Miami -9.0

Series: Miami leads 1-0

Last Meeting: Miami 45, App State 10, September 17, 2016, Boone, NC

If you were lucky enough to be in attendance at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday or Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday evening, you were treated to some pretty fantastic performances. Attend both? Bucket list weekend. Obviously the win on Thursday is what we are here to talk about. Hey look, we beat East Carolina for the first time in 46 years. We all knew we were a better program, but you need that scoreboard to back it up. The score is what gets etched into the history books forever. Another opportunity exists this weekend. Miami is reeling a little bit. Fans are super disappointed about not being able to compete with one of the best dynasties in all the sport. It almost feels like the shoe is on the other foot circa 2016. App State wanted to beat Miami five years ago. There was hope, and Miami was down, but they were still Miami with little ol’ App State on the schedule, in just their third full year of FBS football. Now, App State can beat Miami? Are we trying to convince ourselves of that again, or does there exist optimism with facts to support it? Miami is not going to hand it to App State — they’ll have to have to earn it. Just the way we like it.

We venture back to the time machine in Week 2 to complete a two games series that came together out of nowhere nearly 6 years ago. It was a first of its kind scheduling event for App State, to host their initial Power 5 opponent in Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Apps are returning the favor almost five years later. That series potentially opened the door for the Mountaineers to schedule the likes of other directional “Carolina” schools to eventually, maybe not, come to Boone. Looking at you, Gamecocks. Regardless, this return trip to Miami was scheduled before App State played in its first Camellia Bowl, which tells you exactly how quickly things can change in college athletics. In 2015, Miami was not performing, but they were still the Hurricanes, Despite that, they were able to roll the Mountaineers pretty easily in 2016, who were still working with FCS-type talent at many positions.

If you thought comparing the one opponent that App and ECU had in common last week was wild, just hang tight. Based on the ACC’s decision to play one nonconference game in 2020, the opportunity for common opponents was minimal. Miami chose to play UAB in its opening game last year, and won 31-14 over the Blazers. The week before, UAB beat Central Arkansas 45-35, but the last game UAB played prior to that was their 31-17 loss in the 2019 New Orleans Bowl to App State. Now those games were a long time ago, and likely do not mean much, but they remain interesting. Last year Miami was 8-3, and played six games against teams sporting a record over .500, and went 3-3 in those games. All of their 2020 losses were to bowl eligible teams in Clemson, North Carolina and Oklahoma State. Coupled with the opening week loss to Alabama, the Hurricanes have lost three straight football since last season. Enjoy the irony here, in that Miami’s last win in football was over Duke. Certainly those dots have been connected by now.

The Miami offense goes through their Heisman candidate D’Eriq King, who is in his second season with the school since transferring from Houston. A major offseason story for King and the ‘Canes was his recovery from an ACL injury he suffered in the bowl game against Oklahoma State. King had no issues moving around in the pocket, and using his legs to escape the pass rush when pressured against Alabama. Still, King was sacked four times, lost a fumble on one sack, and had two interceptions. One of the interceptions was a tipped pass, and the other, King just threw into too much traffic. Only twice did King throw passes over twenty yards against Alabama. King netted ten yards on his nine carries against Alabama, and rushed more times than any other Hurricane in 2020. His receivers are really good, top to bottom, but none are head and shoulders above the rest. That’s not intended as bulletin board material, but more as a compliment. Several of them can hurt you. More importantly, Miami is really good at tight end with Will Mallory who was fifth on the team in receptions in 2020, while backing up Brevin Jordan who was a fifth-round selection of the Houston Texans. In all, Mallory and Jordan accounted for 60 receptions for 905 yards and eleven touchdowns for offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee last season.

For an opening weekend of college football, App State could not have asked for much better. Defeating an in-state rival on a neutral field in front of a national audience is the kind of stuff memories are made of. Old friends made new friends in downtown Charlotte on a perfect day and night for football. The new guy, Chase Brice, probably thinks he could have played better, but you will not find any complaints here. Forget the pedigree, expectations or uncertainty, Brice helped choreograph an App State win. The newspaper article might not land on the refrigerator door, but it was the first step in the right direction for the entire offense. A very balanced attack looked nearly unstoppable in the second quarter when the Mountaineers rallied from a 6-0 deficit to lead by two touchdowns at halftime. Ten players caught passes with Thomas Hennigan and Corey Sutton leading with four receptions and one touchdown each. The Mountaineers run defense allowed just 86 yards on the ground and Pirates committed one, two, or too many penalties to hang with App State.

This could be one of the tougher matchups to predict. Miami played the defending national champion last week, and one the best programs in college football history that remains in the middle of a historic run. Alabama has been making a lot of programs look bad on any given day. Can we actually read anything into that game? Does it tell you anything about Miami? Just because Miami could not keep up with Alabama last week does not mean that they cannot have a successful season, and make a lot of teams look bad. It’s almost like it is Week 1 all over again for Miami. The Hurricanes response this week will be critical. Manny Diaz and staff really need a win. We know how this works for App State. Not a must win, but in order to take the next step as a program, beating Miami will go a long way. It’s not often that the Mountaineers get their opportunities to play a game like this after having one under its belt. Prior to 2019, games against Georgia, Tennessee and Penn State were on opening weekend. In 2019, App State took advantage of having worked out some kinks to knock off North and South Carolina. Is that the recipe for P5 success? We’ll see. But we do know, that in 2020, Miami secured double digit margins of victory over five opponents. Those opponents were UAB, Louisville, Florida State, Pitt and Duke. Those teams were a combined 21-30 last season. There might not be much to this, but it does seem to be worth noting. Manny Diaz has long been known as a good defensive coordinator, but the Canes surrendered 27ppg last year and 408 yards per game in total offense. The Hurricanes scheme tends to use their overall speed to create havoc for opposing offenses. They tout their tackles for loss and turnovers in the media guide. That could be a major key for App State on Saturday. Limit negative plays, such as penalties, and take care of the ball. But is the havoc defense enough? If those negative plays are limited, and the turnover jewelry stays in its trunk, does a good defense exist? One last thing on D’Eriq King. He is 24 years old, and six projected starting NFL quarterbacks are younger than he. At Houston he played wide receiver in his first two seasons before moving to quarterback on a more full time basis in his later years, while still running the football quite a bit. He’s played a lot of football, yet has appeared in just sixteen games in his last three years of football, while also rehabbing an injury.

The First Pick

Depressions 30

Mountaineers 21

App State Football vs East Carolina (Duke’s Mayo Classic)

Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs East Carolina (0-0, 0-0 AAC)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, NC

Capacity: 75,412

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.55

East Carolina: 62.31

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11.24 points

Line: App State -10.5

Series: App State leads 19-12

Last Meeting: ECU 35, App State 13, September 1, 2012, Greenville, NC

And we are back. As in college football is back, but most importantly, fans in the stands are back. Hopefully we are past limited attendance and other measures that kept that lifeblood out of college athletics last season. Also back, is a matchup between App State and East Carolina for the first time in nine seasons. For the first ever, these two schools on the opposite ends of the state, will face off on the gridiron as FBS institutions. This will be the first game of a scheduled four game series, with App State hosting the first game in Bank of America Stadium this year and concluding with alternating games on campus sites from 2024-2026. As is normal practice in scheduling college football games way in the the future, this series was announced in early 2017. Since then, East Carolina has fired and hired another coach, while App State has just hired two coaches. The two programs have somewhat gone in opposite directions since the agreement was made, which surprises nobody considering their fans barbecue preferences.

East Carolina and App State were in different places nine years ago. That was the last time these two in-state rivals met. In 2012, East Carolina went 8-5 and lost the New Orleans Bowl to Louisiana. Their regular season schedule included games against North & South Carolina, Southern Miss, UAB and Marshall. Those were the schools App State wanted to play, and at that time, moving to FBS was in the works. In nine short years, App has now played those schools, and beaten most of them. East Carolina was in Conference USA, and App State wanted to be in a conference with the Pirates. But as the college football world turns, now both schools are in difference conferences and their trajectories have changed immensely. The Pirates have played in just two bowls since the 2012 season, defeating Ohio in 2013, and losing to Florida on January 3rd, 2015, after the culmination of the 2014 season. Since App has been bowl eligible in FBS, East Carolina has not appeared in a bowl game.

East Carolina and App State have not shared many common opponents in the last two seasons, and using data from 2020 games for comparisons sake might not make the most sense. Nonetheless, we do have one opponent from last year that was certainly eyebrow raising for both schools. It’s not often you can glean much from many Georgia State games, but its what we have. East Carolina got slapped around by the Panthers last year in Atlanta, to the tune of a 49-29 final score. The Pirates scored first to lead 7-0, but Georgia State answered with four unanswered touchdowns and won going away. The biggest takeaway from this game is how easily Georgia State moved the ball compared to how difficult it was for East Carolina’s offense to get going. The Panthers averaged 3 more yards a play on offense. But this game had a little bit of everything, with six combined turnovers, a punt return touchdown, two interception return touchdowns, and twenty accepted penalties between the two teams.

The Pirates return of a slew of offensive skill talent for the 2021 season. Holton Ahlers returns at quarterback and will be in his fourth year at ECU. Ahlers has 25 career starts under his belt. He started every game in 2019, and all but one game in 2020 due to pandemic protocols. Ahlers is a dual-threat left-handed passer that saw some of his numbers dip in 2020 after a stupendous year in 2019, where he passed for 3,387 yards and ran for another 359 yards. Ahlers has run for over 1,000 yards in his career, but the majority of that was accumulated during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In 2020, Ahlers ran for just 109 yards. Wide receivers CJ Johnson and Tyler Snead are the top returners at the position. Johnson caught 54 passes for 908 yards during his freshman campaign in 2019, but was limited somewhat in 2020 to nineteen receptions. However, Johnson did average 21.3 yards per receptions last year and remains a serious weapon for Ahlers. In the slot, Tyler Snead is a workhorse, logging 134 career receptions in twenty-five games. Snead isn’t much to look at, standing all of 5’7″ and weighing in at 174 pounds, but he is reliable and gets the job done. Snead also serves as the Pirates punt returner and kick returner.

It has been a long offseason, but not a lot has changed, thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted to collegiate athletes. That led to a flurry of graduating seniors deciding to come back and play another year for the Mountaineers, mainly because, last year did not turn out how they wanted, and they did not want to be remembered that way. So when the depth chart was officially released on Monday, you saw a lot of the same faces. Seemingly, four positions groups had little to no change at the top. But new faces have emerged in key spots, and fans and media have talked about them for months. Quarterback Chase Brice and the “new” guys on the offensive line have dominated those conversations. Sure, Brice is new, but he has been here since the spring with “new” offensive coordinator Frank Ponce. The left side of the offensive line is not new to App State, just to the starting roles, with true freshman behind them. Does live game chemistry need to be developed for some of these players? Sure, but we have to stop acting like all of these faces are, well, new.

Under Mike Houston, the Pirates have typically had enough offense to win football games. East Carolina averaged 26.8 points per game in 2019, and 30.2 points per game a season ago. The real issue comes down to defense. In 2019, the Pirates allowed 33.7 points a game and 35.4 last year. The point differential shrunk, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. East Carolina has the same defensive coordinator from a season ago, and they have stressed forcing turnovers. There is trendy train of thought in some football circles that turnovers, and not yards allowed or other metrics, are the key to a successful defense. Obviously turnovers are big, and East Carolina forced 18 turnovers in nine games a season ago. That was good enough for 25th in the country in total turnovers gained. Yet, gaining turnovers only goes so far, when a team also turns it over themselves. The Pirates gave away 21 turnovers, which was 122nd in the country, which is not good. Eventually, you have to stop the opposing offense. The Pirates were not good at that in 2020 either. East Carolina allowed 6.2 yards per play, and 447 yards per game. When you think about all these big numbers allowed on defense, forcing turnovers is just about the only option to give your team a chance to win. Not to mention, that of that 447 yards allowed per game, over 200 yards were given up on the ground. App State eclipsed that mark in eight games last season. With the Mountaineers breaking in a new quarterback, what better way to make him feel comfortable than to hand it off forty times. That’s not my suggestion, and honestly feel that is semi-lazy. It’s the first game, but that does not mean we have time to keep things simple. I’m expecting a balanced attack from the Mountaineers, with a lot of intermediate passing with well-timed deep shots down the field. If East Carolina wants to contend, they are going to have to be better on both sides of the ball after halftime. The Pirates were outscored in the third quarter 79-27 last season.

The First Pick

Scallywags 20

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs North Texas (Myrtle Beach Bowl)

Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs North Texas (4-5, 3-4 CUSA)

Monday, December 21st, 2020 2:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.19

North Texas: 54.14

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.05 points

Line: App State -19.0

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

It has taken a little longer than usual, but we have made it to the end of another college football season. This season was long haul for a lot of people involved. Many were responsible for making sure we could be entertained with this game in the safest way possible. In as much as we all want a break from all the stress, there are others who do not want it to end for plenty of reasons. We get to this point of the season annually. The mixed of emotions of the season being over for fans, but careers over for good, for a lot of great players. We are all fortunate that Zac Thomas, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams’ last game was in 2020, and not last year. It’s likely, for one last time we get to cheer for some players who first made memories in Happy Valley, and then New Orleans twice with a stop in Chapel Hill in between. Its surreal that this journey ends just miles from the Grand Strand, where many were heartbroken just weeks ago. For one last time, give your all in 2020, and hope we do not have to do it like this, ever again.

For the third straight season, the Mountaineers are matched up against an opponent from Conference USA in their bowl game. Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham were dismissed in New Orleans and now comes North Texas. This will be App State’s third Conference USA opponent in 2020, all with green as their primary color. North Texas lost to UNC-Charlotte by a score of 49-21, and did not play Marshall. Now, App played Charlotte a long time ago. Comparing those games are impossible. Some players that played in those games in September, are not playing now. But that game, in a nutshell can be one that describes the North Texas season. They lost by four scores. In their other four losses, the Mean Green lost by ten points or more in each game. Twice they lost by thirty points. The losses gut ugly fast. The wins, became less impressive as the season wore on. Four wins total, with one over relative FCS newcomer Houston Baptist. The remaining three wins were over Middle Tennessee, Rice and UTEP, who combined for an 8-14 record.

Although quality wins are lacking for the Mean Green, their offense does not lack for firepower. A lot of that offense was due to Jaelon Darden, who decided to not play in the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Darden was impressive in nine games, catching 74 passes for 1,190 yard and 19 touchdowns. He will be missed by North Texas. The next best receiver had 25 catches for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s a major drop off. Still, this offense averaged 515 yards per game, which was seventh nationally. The Mean Green passed for 284 yards per game, which was 22nd in the country, and 230 yards a game on the ground, which is 13th across the land. Darden may have been a large piece of that, but he was not everything. But the problem for North Texas is a very bad defense. How bad? How about 126th out of 127 teams bad. UL-Monroe went 0-10 this year, and still have gave up 45 fewer yards per game than did North Texas.

For most of the season, North Texas used has used two quarterbacks and they could not be more different. Austin Aune has played in eight games and started three. Aune is a redshirt sophomore, but was born in 1993. He was a second round draft pick by the New York Yankees out of high school. He enrolled at North Texas in 2018 and sat out after transferring from Arkansas. Aune had a career high five touchdown passes in the most recent win over UTEP. Jason Bean has played in seven games, starting in six of them. He’s also a redshirt sophomore, but can not rent a car like his teammate. The simple comparison is that Aune is the passing quarterback and Bean is the runner. However, both share similar statistics as far as touchdown-interception ratio and completion percentage. The ball comes off of Aune’s arm effortlessly, as one would expect from a former minor league outfielder. Bean is a former high school track star and has piled up 336 yards rushing and 7.8 yards per carry on the season.

For much of last week, it looked like App State might fall again to their bitter hated rival, but the Mountaineer defense stood tall late and gave Nate Noel and Jalen Virgil the opportunity to make plays. It was a satisfying, chippy win, regardless of how it unfolded. Zac Thomas bounced back from a pick-six to throw touchdown passes to Virgil and Thomas Hennigan. App State scored twenty-seven second half points and rallied from 14-0 deficit. Winning is hard enough, and its more difficult to win in Statesboro. It may have acted as a springboard into the bowl game, where the Mountaineers landed a geographically friendly bowl location, even if the start time is undesirable. Still, the Mountaineers might have one of the better crowds it will have all season rooting them on. Some streaks have been broken this season, but one that remains is an unblemished mark in bowl games. Finishing the season with a win, and more hardware, is the goal this week.

Just like how last weekend was odd in that App State and Georgia Southern were playing on a Saturday, this will be the first time in six appearances that App State will play its bowl game on a non-Saturday. Not just any day either, a Monday afternoon. Luckily, the date only has an effect on the fans, and typically not the players and coaches. However this is an inaugural bowl game, in a year unlike any other, so why not Monday afternoon football? Unfortunately, the last time the Mountaineers played in this stadium, they lost the chance to achieve one of their goals. Yet, an opportunity to continue an unprecedented streak still exists. North Texas will be playing in their eleventh NCAA-sanctioned bowl game in program history. They have just managed two wins. This will be the fourth time that Seth Littrell is taking the Mean Green to a bowl game and they have yet to win one yet. Their last two losses were exceptionally lopsided, losing to Troy 50-30, and by thirty-nine points to Utah State last year. A trend has seemed to develop. North Texas can score some points sometimes, and occasionally, when they do not score, they get beat pretty bad. Seems simple enough. App State is by far the best defense that North Texas will have played this season. Rice played the Mean Green close, but eventually fell 27-17 after blowing a 10-0 lead on the road. Rice might be the next best defense that North Texas played, and that is asking a lot. Never thought 2020 would bring Rice football to this corner of the internet. North Texas is going to have to do better than their season average of allowing 4.5 touchdowns per game in order to give themselves a chance to win. App State has scored 31 points or more in every bowl game in their history, while allowing just 11.33 points per game in their last three bowls. It’s a mismatch on paper, and that should carry over to the scoreboard on Monday afternoon.

The First Pick

Green with Envy 20

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football vs #21 Louisiana

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt)

Friday, December 4th, 2020 8:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.30

Louisiana: 76.59

Home: 1.03

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.74 points

Line: App State -2.5

Series: App State leads 8-0

Last Meeting: App State 45, Louisiana 38, Boone, NC December 7, 2019

It’s finally Louisiana week…. again. We had all hoped to do this for the third straight season, but this year is not the same as any other. So we settle to makeup a postponed game that was scheduled to have occurred two months ago. Although a trophy is not on the line in this edition, bragging rights remain like they always do. Louisiana is tired of it. They are tired of looking at 0-8, tired of hearing about it, and they want to do something about it. On the other sideline, a team wants to continue that streak and send out a fantastic group of seniors, if its their last game, out on the right note. Louisiana certainly does not want to think about a loss for two weeks before having to travel back to the east coast to play another conference championship game on the road. And the Mountaineers want to strive for another ten win season before playing their most hated rivals in the regular season finale. Both teams have reasons to look ahead, but don’t expect this game to lose one bit of luster because a trophy is nowhere to be seen.

The Ragin Cajuns win over then-ranked #23, now-ranked #12 Iowa State has been viewed positively, then negatively, and now again in a more beneficial light. Fact is, when that game was played in mid-September, it was the opening game for both teams, and it’s much easier to sneak up on a Power Five opponent fresh out of the gates. There is no doubt that Iowa State is a good team, probably a better team than they were nearly three months ago, but it’s hard to put much stock into a team you beat three months ago during a pandemic. Nonetheless, Louisiana beat Iowa State, and then proceeded to play four games that were decided by one possession, three in conference, and one out of conference. The Cajuns needed overtime to beat Georgia State, a 53-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Georgia Southern at home, lost to Coastal on a late field goal at home, and then edged UAB with a fourth quarter touchdown to win. The Cajuns trailed UAB after every quarter of that game, except the one that mattered, the fourth. Its arguable that every single one of those games could have had a different result. In the last month, the Cajuns have defeated Texas State, Arkansas State, South Alabama and UL-Monroe. Neither of those teams are exactly lighting the world on fire, as South Alabama has the best record at 4-6 overall. That’s the Sun Belt West for you.

Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis will be playing his sixth game in his career against App State on Friday night. It might not be his last one, as the senior announced his intentions to return to school in 2021, taking advantage of an NCAA rule. Lewis saw mop up time in the 2017 game in which App blistered that Cajuns for a 63-14 win. Like every other Cajun footballer, Lewis has never defeated App State. What has been asked of him in 2020, is slightly different than years past. The Cajuns have typically relied on a dominant running game, which has only helped Lewis throughout most of his career, but that ground attack has not been as fruitful. Lewis is throwing for about seven more yards per game in 2020 than 2019, and that’s really not a big deal one way or the other. However, his wide receivers have tailed off as well. Lewis had only thrown seven interceptions in his career in thirty-two games coming into 2020, but has thrown seven picks in just nine games this season. His accuracy has dropped a couple percentage points and so has his touchdown passes per game. In addition, Lewis is running the ball more than he has in the previous two seasons. which includes five rushing touchdowns.

These names are all so familiar. Elijah Mitchell is coming off back to back seasons with 1,100+ rushing yards and double digit touchdowns. Mitchell had four 100+ yard rushing games in 2018, five such games in 2019, but has only run for 100+ yards once in 2020. For his career, Mitchell has averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the ground, but that number is reduced to 4.7 yards per carry when you single out his performances against App State. He has never hit 100 yards in a game against the Mountaineers, but has come close. App State has contained him before and must do so again on Saturday. Trey Ragas and Mitchell look like nearly the same guy on the stat sheet, but they are different backs. Ragas is listed an inch shorter and about twelve pounds heavier than Mitchell. Ragas scored three of his seven touchdowns against Texas State, which also featured his only 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Ragas started the season slow, but has produced lines of 131-75-78-95 in the last four games. That is good for right at 95 yards average per game as the season closes.

If kickoff times are any indication of how well App plays, the night time has been the right time. Earlier this season, the Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State on a weeknight with 45 offensive points. Last week, App State added 47 more points in another game that was played mostly under the lights. And then comes the 8:30pm start, that will only bring more of a Boone chill to the night. It’s not the story, but it is a variable the Cajuns have to account for. Another would be a resurgent offense that put on a decent display last week. The first three offensive scores of the game were made by App State playmakers in Camerun Peoples, Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan. Peoples finished with 95 yards rushing after a 63-yard touchdown run. Williams caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score, and Hennigan had one of his more active games in a quite a while since nursing a leg injury, with six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Zac Thomas threw four touchdown passes on a pretty flawless night to four different receivers.

Besides the obvious lopsided nature to this series, it has always been intriguing how it has unfolded. The first four installments were surprising, yet validating wins by App State that proved to themselves and others they could compete in FBS football. The first game was the closest, a dominating 19 point win in Lafayette. Then App won by 21 points, 24 points and then 49 points. When Billy Napier was hired, things quickly changed. Since 2018, all four games have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Last year’s Sun Belt Championship game was a cakewalk of sorts for App State, but Napier kept them fighting until the bitter end. This year, a Sun Belt title will not be on the line, but you would expect a similar game to unfold as we have seen in three of the last four games. Both teams have taken a small step back on offense in 2020, but that is mainly because both teams were exceptionally good last season. The Cajuns averaged 257 yards a game last year on the ground while also scoring close to 38 points per game. Those numbers have decreased to 217 yards rushing a game and 35 points per game. The rushing drop off is most significant while the 2020 points average is buoyed by a 70-point outburst last week. Remove that game, and the Cajuns have scored just under 31 points per contest. That’s nearly a whole touchdown less from one year to the next. The reason is the Cajuns do not have a game changing wide receiver. They have spread the ball around a lot this season, as three pass catchers have eclipsed just 300 yards receiving on the season. It’s been more of a plodding offense compared to 2019. More plays run, but less points scored. The 2019 Cajuns possessed the ball for 30:24 a game and converted close to 48% of their third downs. In 2020, the Cajuns have lost nearly two minutes a game of possession, down to 28:28 on average, and converted just over 42% of their third downs. Likewise, App State has not been as dominant, but the falloff has not been as severe as it has for Louisiana. This one comes down to quarterbacks. We have veteran players who have played in a lot of big games, but one has been more accomplished, and that’s the difference. Zac Thomas has not had big passing yard games against Louisiana in the past, but he hasn’t needed it. In 2018, Thomas ran 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns in two games, and last season, backed it up with 28 carries for 88 yards and two more scores in two games. Levi Lewis can run too, but he won’t be asked to carry it like Thomas will.

The First Pick

LaLa 24

Mountaineers 28