App State Football vs Old Dominion

Appalachian State (5-5) vs Old Dominion (3-7)

Saturday, November 19th, 2022 2:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 68.45

Old Dominion: 56.85

Home: 2.00

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.6 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -15.5

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last Meeting: App State 31, Old Dominion 7, September 10, 2016, Boone NC

There was once a time when App State was one of the most difficult teams to beat when they visited opposing venues. After three road losses this season, it’s quite clear the Mountaineers are lacking that edge they used to have. To throw salt in the wound, in all three road conference losses, the home team wore black. Almost like they are mocking the Mountaineers. Do those psychological tricks work? Maybe it works for the fans, to give us something to talk about, and be annoyed by. But that is not why this season has unfolded the way it has. There is just a little bit missing this year. It’s difficult to explain. One possession here or there. Perhaps a missed a two point conversion. Or a penalty called incorrectly. But those are just excuses. If you want to win, you have to get on the field, figure it out, and earn it, no matter how it looks. Motivation should not be lacking in these final two games, with senior day on Saturday and your biggest rival next weekend. I have faith. I hope you’ll join me.

Old Dominion started their season with a difficult out of conference slate, facing Virginia Tech, East Carolina and Virginia. Old Dominion participated in Sun Belt September, when multiple teams in the conference knocked off Power 5 schools. But as it has been for those schools, the season did not continue as all had hoped. The Monarchs defeated the Hokies in Week 1, but since then have only managed two wins, at home against three-win Arkansas State, and the true mystery win over Coastal Carolina on the road. Since beating the Chanticleers four weeks ago, ODU has lost four straight conference games. The Monarchs scored 49 points on Coastal in that game, and have scored just 43 points since, with three of those games being at home. Prior to the Coastal game, ODU was averaging 21.6 points per game on offense, blew up for seven touchdowns on Coastal, and have managed just 10.75 points a game since. The Coastal game was the true peak of their season, and since, it has been downhill.

Most of the Monarchs opponents have attacked them with balance, but it seems a lot of the blame can be assigned to their offense, and their inability to run the ball effectively at times. Make no mistake, Old Dominion only has 928 rushing yards through ten games, and that’s pretty bad. Only seven teams in FBS are worse. But figure in that one game, where ODU ran all over Coastal, to the tune of 323 yards, and that number looks even worse. Seven times, the Monarchs have run for 90 yards or less. Let’s toss in the fact that Old Dominion has completed just 56% of their passes as a team. That leads to one of the more appalling and lopsided figures I have seen this season. Old Dominion almost never has the ball. The official ODU site says they average just under 24 minutes of possession a game. The NCAA site says its closer to 25 minutes a game. Discrepancies aside, it is one of the worst figures in the country. Possession is overrated if you can score, but the Monarchs are having a hard time there. For example, Ole Miss is a bottom-ten time of possession team, but they average 36 points a game.

Due to Old Dominion’s inability to move the ball, with only 15.5 first downs per game, their defense has to play a lot. Another major statistical oddity, the Monarch defense has defended 182 more plays than their own offense has run. One hundred eighty-two plays. If ODU is running about 60 plays a game, and their opponents run 18 more plays per game, it’s almost works out to the ODU defense playing three more games than their offense. Wondering why they have been outgained by 110 yards per game? It’s because they have been defending so many plays. And they really have not been bad despite this. Their defense gives up 5.6 yards per play, which is not great, but considering their exposure, it is somewhat fine. And they will give up those yards between the 20-yard lines, but once you get in the red zone, they wont let you score much. On forty red-zone drives, the Monarchs have allowed just eighteen touchdowns and twelve field goals. They have turned away 25% of their opposing offenses red zone drives, which makes them a top-12 red zone defense in the country.

Although the box score suggests the weather was sunny during the game, it was anything but that. It was a cold, wet, misty day in Huntington, WV with two struggling offenses that played down to the weather. The Mountaineers turned in their lowest offensive output of the season, with just 293 total yards. That resulted in two offensive scores in another road game where the Mountaineers trailed from start to finish. The two offensive touchdown drives went a total of 82 yards and took nineteen plays between the drives. App State averaged just 2.9 yards per run, 5.2 yards per pass, and 4 yards per play for the game. The defense created chances for the offense many times throughout the game, yet the offense was unable to capitalize. Eight Marshall drives went for 21 yards or fewer. Without sustained drives this weekend, Old Dominion’s very bad defense becomes just bad, giving up yards in the middle of the field, but holding steady in the red zone. The Mountaineers are due for some big offensive plays to go their way.

There exists a couple different dynamics in play they are hard to measure in a game such as this. One team needs a win more than another. Last week, Old Dominion lost their seventh game of the season, which will exclude them from postseason play. The Monarchs started last season at 1-6, but reeled off five straight wins to gain bowl eligibility, before falling to Tulsa in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. That after the Monarchs did not play a season in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Sun Belt is a different animal week to week compared to Conference USA, where they played previously. Many out of conference, in-state games are set for Old Dominion, that gives them the look of the UL-Monroe of the Sun Belt East. Virginia Tech, Virginia and East Carolina are mainstays on the Monarchs future scheduling. In what appears to be a strong East Division moving forward, they may reconsider playing the Power Five games that have been scheduled. It’s great when you can get an upset, but as App State has also learned this season, the long term effects can have a substantial impact. Old Dominion has two bowl appearances in their FBS history and their region is always hailed as a fertile recruiting ground, yet the year to year results have not been there. As it stands, Old Dominion has three main offensive contributors, and nobody else stands out. Their quarterback Hayden Wolff has played just about every snap. Running back Blake Watson has 130 carries on the year, while the next closest player has thirty carries. Ali Jennings III has hogged 54 receptions and nine touchdowns, while no other receiver has more than 24 catches and two touchdowns. Between Watson and Jennings III, they have scored 15 of the 25 offensive touchdowns this season. Switching back to the other side of the ball, in the last four games, Old Dominion’s opponents have ran at them at a higher rate than at any point this season. The Monarch’s had not defended 50 rushing plays in a game this season until they ran into Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Marshall and James Madison. Old Dominion defended 219 attempts and allowed 927 yards on the ground in those four games, while giving up nine rushing touchdowns. Somehow, Marshall ran for 298 yards and failed to get in the end zone! If the Mountaineers stay with it, they’ll get some yards on the Monarchs and can hopefully find several touchdowns in their home finale.

The First Pick

Royals 16

Mountaineers 30

App State Football @ Marshall

Appalachian State (5-4) @ Marshall (5-4)

Saturday, November 12th, 2022 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Joan C Edwards Stadium

Capacity: 38,227

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 69.88

Marshall: 67.16

Home: 2.09

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by .63 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -1

Series: App State leads 15-9

Last Meeting: App State 31, Marshall 30, September 23, 2021, Boone NC

After a trip to the almost beach in Conway, App State will travel the opposite direction to the banks of the Ohio River to face Marshall in a conference game for the first time since 1996. It’s hard to believe it has been over a quarter century since the last such meeting. These teams have played some very memorable games over the years against one another. This series is tied at 6-6 in games played in Huntington, and the last time the Mountaineers visited, Marshall knocked the Mountaineers out of the Top 25 rankings. A previous game in Huntington included the Mountaineers winning a tough game to remain undefeated in their magical 1995 season. Last season, the Mountaineers broke a three game losing streak to Marshall by scoring ten unanswered points in the fourth quarter. After back to back games in this series with a national audience, these teams will clash looking to find their way into bowl eligibility. Both teams need two wins, and neither wants to head into their final two games of the regular season needing to win both contests.

If you thought Coastal and App are turning into a big deal, may I introduce App State and Marshall. This rivalry was a big deal, and will continue to be a big deal. These two teams have traded home wins the past two seasons, and both games were thrilling and tight from start to finish. Saturday looks to be the same, with two teams struggling with inconsistent parts of their team. The App State offense can look unbeatable at times, and at other times, look downright boring. Marshall struggles on offense, but has a stingy defense that keeps them in every game. Both teams gained Power 5 wins earlier in the year, but have not resembled those teams for some time now. Marshall scored a 12-0 victory over Old Dominion last week, that basically sums up their entire season. Plenty of defense, and enough offense. The Herd kicked four field goals in their shutout win while recovering three Old Dominion fumbles. They controlled the game, possessing the ball for 38 minutes, but failed to score touchdowns with five trips in the red zone.

One might look at the Marshall schedule further, and see that they defeated James Madison a few weeks ago. Madison did not have quarterback Todd Centeio that game, and their backup threw four interceptions and was sacked seven times. The Dukes were also 0-17 on third down in that contest. That accounts for two of Marshall’s five wins. The other three were over Norfolk State, Notre Dame and Gardner Webb. One of those three schools does not belong with the other two. That’s right, Marshall beat Notre Dame back in September, the same weekend that App State beat Texas A&M. Two Notre Dame quarterbacks combined to throw three interceptions against the Herd. Hopefully you noticed the trend. In Marshall’s three FBS wins, they have received a lot of help via the turnover. It’s a large part of their success, having gained 21 turnovers all season long, ranking 5th in FBS in that category. But then again, half of those turnovers gained occurred in just three games.

The Herd have used two quarterbacks this season. In the the first six games, Henry Colombi handled most of the snaps. The Texas Tech transfer was largely ineffective as a passer with just six touchdown passes, but was pretty accurate overall, completing well over 70% of his passes. However, he has not played since the Louisiana game, when he completed just nine of his thirteen passes for 68 yards. Redshirt freshman Cam Fancher has been inserted in the starting lineup the last three games, using his feet as a runner to complement the Marshall run game. Fancher has just one touchdown pass and four interceptions since he has been starting, while completing around 50% of his passes. The Herd is averaging 17 points per game since Fancher took over. Let us remove the blowout win over Norfolk State from consideration. Marshall managed 26 points against Notre Dame, 28 against Bowling Green in regulation, 7 against Troy and 28 against Gardner Webb. That comes to nearly 23 points a game. Fancher is guiding the offense to six fewer points per game.

Another frustrating day for the App State ground attack has many asking questions. Seems the successes against Robert Morris and Georgia State are long gone. Coastal was decent on run defense. Marshall is better. Leaps and bounds better. Opponents are only gaining 78.7 yards per game on the ground against the Herd. That’s the third best figure in the country. James Madison is second against the run, and the Mountaineers were limited to 63 yards in that game. This will be a challenge. Can App State find a way to run the ball against Marshall? App State managed just 88 yards on the ground last week, and it was not like they were forced to throw. Maybe the Mountaineers attack the Herd in the air first. Although Marshall does not have unbeatable statistics against the pass, they do have 13 interceptions on the year, yet they allow 11.8 yards per catch. The Herd only gives up 21% of third down conversion on defense, so running the ball seems like a stretch. Maybe the Mountaineers can get the secondary walking backwards on the snap by getting their tight ends and receivers going early.

Touchdowns might become premium this Saturday. Marshall doesn’t give them up and their offense does not score them. A slower pace of offense could favor the Mountaineers, if they can get in gear. It is likely that Marshall will hang around, as they are limited offensively, outside of their ground game. Marshall loves to hand the ball to Khalan Laborn, and for good reason. Laborn has accumulated 1200 yards on the ground in just nine games, and has thirteen touchdowns to his credit. The Herd will go as he does. Marshall has 100 first downs on the ground alone this season. The run game, combined with a stellar defense, is usually one of the oldest recipes in the book for a successful football team. However, Marshall sits here with a 5-4 record, and really has not defeated a good football team since Notre Dame. They are a perplexing team. A lot of the same things can be said about App State at this point. The juice has been missing since mid-September. And although there have been glimpses of success, it has been inconsistent all year long. Both teams are in situation where they are playing to make a bowl game, which is well below the expectations of competing for the East division. This one feels like it has the makings of a classic game in this rivalry, but at the same time, it feels like something weird could happen. You could say the same thing about the 2020 game in Huntington. That was a classic defensive struggle for most of the game until Marshall scored late to put the game out of reach. But this is nearly a completely different Marshall team from two years ago. One that has lost its last two home games, and scoring just thirteen points in each game. You also just don’t know which App State team will show up. You could get the first half team or the second half team. The team that gives up numerous third downs, or the one that makes crucial mistakes at the worst times. The Mountaineers have the talent to play with any team in this league, but for whatever reason it has not clicked this season on a consistent basis. But the Mountaineers are still better than a watered down Louisiana team that Marshall lost to at home. And they are better than James Madison without their quarterback. If the Mountaineers can control the game with a creative game plan, and show Marshall things they have not seen on tape, they should be able to wear down that Herd defense. Additionally, the Mountaineers linebackers need to be ready to tackle well all game long. The first team to 20 points will probably win, and I think Chase Brice should be the difference.

The First Pick

Plunderers 18

Mountaineers 24

App State Football @ Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (5-3) @ Coastal Carolina (7-1)

Thursday, November 3rd, 2022 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.65

Coastal Carolina: 67.39

Home: 1.82

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.44 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -3

Series: App State leads 7-1

Last Meeting: App State 30, Coastal Carolina 27, October 20, 2021, Boone NC

This Thursday comes down to an all or nothing situation. A lot of how the remainder of the season is approached will come down to this result. And it works that way for both teams. A loss by either, and they will need some major help to achieve their goals. The Mountaineers have been tested this season. Sometimes by teams they expected, and other times by teams they may not have. Coastal, themselves, has not really had many games where you can say they ran away with one, outside of a midweek contest at the friendliest place to play in the conference. They have allowed 26 or more points to every team they have played at home, including the likes of Gardner-Webb and Army, and those numbers have slowly gone up over the course of the season. Yet, the Chanticleers have managed a sell-out for just about the only team their fans and students really care to beat, while promoting a “black out” at the same time. So instead of promoting their brand, they opt for being something they actually are not. Seems to fit them quite well.

Whether we want to admit it or not, Coastal and App are still a big deal. When the schedule was released, this game week was singled out as a game that will have a major impact on the Sun Belt East Division race. It remains that way as we enter a pivotal ninth game for both teams. Whoever wins will have a major inside line to representing the division in the conference championship game. Coastal made it here by only dropping one game, but it was a noticeable loss, just a couple weeks ago at home to Old Dominion. Coastal can usually find a way to win closely played games, but this one was no such contest. The Chanticleers were dominated from start to finish. The Monarchs never trailed in the game where they ran for 323 yards on the ground on just 32 attempts. In all, Old Dominion averaged 10.8 yards per play, an uncanny figure. Grayson McCall’s 358 passing yards were not enough, and his three touchdown passes were not enough, but it was six sacks by the ODU defense that ruined Coastal’s homecoming weekend.

Usually with the Coastal offense, they go as the way their quarterback goes. Grayson McCall has had another stellar year. But as was mentioned earlier, it’s not all McCall. He’s an integral part of what they do, and they suffer when he isn’t playing. He’s completing close to 69% of his passes on the year, even after completing just 13 of 24 passes last week against Marshall. His lone interception of the year was way back in Week 2 against Gardner-Webb, and has thrown multiple touchdown passes in six of eight games. Although, McCall has thrown just five touchdown passes in his last three games, he remains on fire in home games, tossing 15 touchdown passes across five contests, and exactly three touchdown passes in each game. This all comes down to which storyline you want to follow. Let’s throw another wrench into this Coastal offense correlation with McCall’s output. In the last three weeks, Coastal has averaged just 24.3 points per game, where in the first five games of the season, the Chants were scoring 36.4 points per game. That’s a decent reduction of points all of a sudden. In two of those three games, wins over Marshall and ULM, both on the road, Coastal recovered two fumbles.

Back to McCall for a brief moment. Of his three years starting for the Chanticleers, he’s evolved into more a passer than a runner. Concerns with keeping him healthy and away from defenders is part of it. It’s a natural progression for just about any quarterback that is mobile or considered a dual threat. McCall ran for 569 yards in 2020, 290 yards in 2021, and 158 yards so far in 2022. McCall has had one game this season, where his rushing statistics, due primarily to lost yardage on sacks, were in the negative. That was the Old Dominion loss. He also had one such game last year, where his rushing totals were in the negative. That was the loss to App State. The Mountaineers collected eight tackles for loss including three sacks in the game. App State also fumbled twice in that game, keeping it closer than it really should have been. The Mountaineers outgained Coastal by 229 yards last year, but these two teams are a lot different in 2022. Coastal had three different backs rush for over 500 yards on the season in 2021, with one back eclipsing 1,000 yards. This season, Coastal has just one back in CJ Beasley who is over 500 yards through eight games, followed by Reese White with 334 yards. Coastal is rushing for 52 less yards per game and 1.5 yards per carry fewer than they did a season ago.

The way this App State offense has played for several weeks leads to plenty of concerns facing a team like Coastal Carolina that likes to start fast. The Mountaineers will have to be ready to go from the first whistle. App State has seen success many different ways over the course of the McCall era. This is a very winnable game if the Mountaineers play their brand and hold onto the football. Their game is a steady dose of the run, mixed with passing elements. The running backs should be fresh, with Nate Noel and Daetrich Harrington combining for a perfect change of pace to Camerun Peoples, who has been difficult to take down this season once he gets a couple steps upfield. Coastal is holding opponents to ten less yards per game on the ground compared to last season. In 2021, they allowed 4.1 per carry, while giving up 4.0 per tote in 2022. However the Mountaineers could be looking to pass on Thursday night, against a secondary that has given up 273 yards per game this season. In addition, Coastal has surrendered 83 more yards per game, and nearly 2 more yards per attempt and completion this season compared to last. And we all remember the Malik Williams game from a season ago, where he shredded the Chant defense for 206 yards. Corey Sutton also had a huge game with 113 yards receiving.

It’s pretty easy to sit back and mention, that to keep from Coastal from winning, you have to do certain things, and it will all work out. What App State did last year was exactly what you do not want to do against a team built like Coastal. The Mountaineers were down 14-0 after the first quarter. Not good. The Mountaineers also turned the ball over twice to Coastal by fumbling. Very bad. Usually, that is not going to work. Luckily, an on-sides kick was miraculously executed to a tee, and the Mountaineers tied the game just about as quickly as they fell behind. An interesting statistic to note in that game, Coastal ran just 52 offensive plays, yet time of possession was fairly even. Converting just three of nine third down conversions kept the Chants off the field for the most part. So, all the things the Mountaineers could not afford to do, they did, and still were able to amass 575 yards offense. And now, App State will have their chance at a defense, that is arguably worse than they were a season ago. Ranked 98th overall, and 113th in passing yards, Coastal has given up yards this season, and because of it, are allowing nearly six more points a game on defense. Yet, Chase Brice and the Mountaineers will be playing in just their third road game of the season, where Brice has averaged about 265 yards per game on the road, and has only been sacked three times. Those two games in Texas might not provide enough of a sample size to truly represent what could happen after a bus ride to Conway. Maybe all this comes down to App State running the football. The Mountaineers ran for 204 yards back in 2020, but did not adjust their game plan in the second half. Last year, the Mountaineers raced for 228 yards on the ground. In both situations, it involved slow steady attacks, to keep the ball out of the hands of the Coastal offense. The longer the Coastal defense remains on the field, the better for App State. No team ever wants to go down 14 points to start a game, but the Mountaineers pulled it off last year, and then again this season against Georgia State. In both scenarios, the Mountaineers never panicked, even if they had to adjust their plan on the fly, and it worked out. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to doubt the Mountaineers, but there are just as many reasons to doubt a Coastal team that allowed teams like Army and Gardner Webb to hang around. The best win either of those two have is probably UL-Monroe. In the Georgia Southern game, neither defense could stop the other. That one came down to who had the ball last. The Chants offense carried them early on, and they are the reason they win, but that defense just has way too many issues giving up yards, which will lead to their demise on Thursday night.

The First Pick

Chaucers Chickens 20

Mountaineers 28

App State Football vs James Madison

Appalachian State (2-1) vs James Madison (2-0)

Saturday, September 24th, 2022 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.97

JMU: 71.57

Home: 2.11

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.51 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -7

Series: App State leads 12-4

Last Meeting: James Madison 35, App State 32 September 20, 2008, Harrisburg, VA

Caught your breath yet? Maybe we can use a different lede next week. College football has been upside down through three weeks, and it seems as if App State has been in the center of it all. Forty-point fourth quarters? Check. Knocking off a top ten opponent on the road? We have that too. Winning on a hail mary touchdown pass? Why not. App State has played just three games with nearly a seasons worth of moments. What could possibly happen next? We welcome in an old rival that also plays the part of a conference newcomer. The Dukes landed in the Sun Belt East along with Old Dominion and Marshall. This will be the seventeenth meeting between the two schools and first matchup as conference opponents. Among the more recent FCS-FBS transitions, the Dukes have the pedigree, with two national championships, and a winning history. They were rumored to have declined an invitation to the Sun Belt years ago, but could not pass it up a second time. This will be the Sun Belt opener for the Dukes, and their fans could not be more excited to renew a budding rivalry.

For the Mountaineers, this will be the fourth game of the season this weekend, but the Dukes were blessed/cursed with a Week 3 bye after playing Middle Tennessee and Norfolk State at home to begin the season. Having an extra week to prepare for an opponent could turn out beneficial, but having one so early in the season might not be. This schedule is partially a result from existing contracts and changing conferences, and subdivisions with less than a year’s notice. James Madison is still in transition and will only play eleven games this year. That means a bowl game and a Sun Belt championship is not in the cards. The Dukes administration hopes to cut the transition period in half from two years to one year. In the meantime, they are playing for pride knowing that they have just the schedule in front of them to play. Transitioning is hard enough, and during the NIL and portal era, it has to be downright difficult for roster management and recruiting.

We can say that James Madison has played just two games this year, but really, it was maybe one and a half games. Against Middle Tennessee, the Dukes started somewhat slow, with a fourteen play drive to start the game that ended with a missed field goal. That drive ate up more than six minutes of game clock. They turned the ball over on their next drive, but then scored touchdowns on three of their next four drives. Those touchdown drives did not eat up a lot of clock, using less than four minutes each. The Dukes love pouncing on your defense when they think they have you on your heels. The threat of tempo exists, and when the quarterback sees something he likes, he’ll be aggressive and attack single coverage. The run-pass-option offense is still alive and well at James Madison. The Dukes worked the Middle defense early, keeping them on the field for thirty plays in their first three drives, and then sped up the pace with 29 plays on their next six drives. The defense has to stay ready for anything when the James Madison offense is on the field.

James Madison has run up the score and racked up a lot of yardage in their first two games. That includes eye-popping numbers that are likely unsustainable over the course a full season, especially when you get into conference play. Beyond outscoring their opponents 107-14, and giving up just 21 total rushing yards, the Dukes have yet to turn the ball over. Todd Centeio has been flawless at quarterback. He’s thrown for 452 yards in essentially three halves of football, completed 66% of his passes and has nine touchdown passes. He’s hard to get a hold of and will not give up sacks. He can scramble and extend plays. The main job of the defense will be to contain him in the pocket and make sure he does not get his feet set when passing. He’ll run on design plays and also bail quickly sometimes when his first read is not there. Centeio has 139 rushing yards in addition to his near perfect passing stats. His primary target has been senior Kris Thornton, who has already amassed eighteen catches in two games, along with 247 yards and five touchdowns.

At no point this past Saturday, did the Troy game feel like one that would be decided by whoever had the ball last. But that is exactly what it turned into. Each team had nine possessions. Both teams scored four touchdowns. The difference in the game was a field goal made and a safety given. Sure, that’s five points, and the final margin was four. A certain point after attempt was not necessary, nor remotely possible. In a game of who has the ball last, its best not to give the other team points. Troy punted just twice, but ultimately their opening drive interception led to App State points, they missed a field goal, and then gave up a safety. This game really came down to situational football. One play ultimately resulted in the final tally, but it was a mixture of just enough from App State that kept them within striking distance. Consider the Mountaineer defense that came through for three sacks and an interception of Gunnar Watson. On the flipside, Chase Brice was sacked once, threw two touchdown passes, and didn’t turn the ball over.

It’s fair to say, that Madison and App fans are really not quite sure what to think about their teams. And that is just fine. It’s still September. The Dukes have played two games where they thoroughly defeated their opponents. Norfolk State is 0-3 with losses to Marshall, Madison and Hampton. Middle Tennessee sports a 2-1 record, but all they have done is get spanked by JMU, and beaten two teams with 0-3 records in Colorado State and Tennessee State. Based on the App State results, a handful of plays in each game could have changed the trajectory in those contests. App’s record could be anywhere from 0-3 to 3-0, and it wouldn’t shock you. The reason why we watch, is to see if your team eventually evolves over the course of the season. Peaking in September will not do you any favors in November. Well, we also like to win. We want to feel good. James Madison also wants to feel good. They want to know that they made the right decision to enter FBS. They’ll hit some stumbling blocks. There is not a program out there that has not or will not. But they will also have those moments that validate that decision. Their schedule sets up nicely, with only five road games, but they are big ones, and every game is on Saturday. But keep an eye on a stretch of games where they are on the road four out of five weeks with a bye week sandwiched in. But this JMU team knows nothing about App State from the past. This rekindling of a predictive rivalry is among fans alone. Still, players on both sides of the ball have known nothing but winning within their program. Although Madison may have not been tested this year, they have known how to get it done for sometime. Conversely, App State has been tested several times in three games. Are we expecting a game into the fourth quarter? Is that more likely than a multiple score game going either direction? I believe so. But there is one theory at play here not many have touched on. The scoreboard said the Mountaineers scored more points last week. However, I think this team comes out and plays like they lost. Offense will be crisper and the defense will play better. That should be more than enough for a comfortable win.

The First Pick

Miracle Whip 28

Mountaineers 38

App State Football vs Troy

Appalachian State (1-1) vs Troy (1-1)

Saturday, September 17th, 2022 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.26

Troy: 59.35

Home: 2.42

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.33 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -12.5

Series: App State leads 7-2

Last Meeting: App State 45, Troy 7 November 20, 2021, Troy, AL

Caught your breath yet? Apparently, its going to be a wild season in college football. The Mountaineers have never had two such opponents to start an FBS season, and both games delivered to the fullest extent. Starting the season at 1-1, was pretty likely, but if you are going to win one of these games, beating the team with a number beside their name was probably best. It brings the higher shock value. It also helps when you have done it before and the rest of the conference joins the party. So much so, that the elite television college football pregame show decided to alter its plans and make a trip up the mountain. It will be the fourth ever visit by College Gameday to the state of North Carolina. With the win, and the attention, come distractions. Suddenly your normal week of work is interrupted by additional interview requests and the like. This will all wash away one day, and enjoying those moments are precious. But the task at hand is a conference opponent, and the outcome is what this team plays for. There were no rings or trophies handed out last week. That time will come later. The present time is all about Troy, and going 1-0 this week.

The Trojans will head to Boone with a new head coach in Jon Sumrall, who is in his first year as a head coach. He is an Alabama native and previously spent time on Troy’s staff from 2015-2017. Sumrall’s background is on the defensive side of the ball, beginning where he played inside linebacker at Kentucky, and throughout his other coaching stops at San Diego, Tulane, and Ole Miss. Sumrall was the co-defensive coordinator at Kentucky in 2021. He was supposedly a candidate when Chip Lindsey was hired in 2019, and the Trojans went back to the drawing board after just three seasons. The results for Troy have gone just about as expected at this point in the season. They lost to Ole Miss 28-10 and defeated Alabama A&M 38-17. You have to be careful when looking at their team statistics thus far. It appears they struggle to run the ball, but they have given up six sacks in these two games. Those sacks count as negative rushing yards against their team total. When taking those numbers out, its actually worse. We’ll dig a little more on that later, but consider, their longest running play of the season is just 14 yards.

Troy and App State faced off late last year, and it feels like these teams just played. That game was a dominating Mountaineer win. App State led 10-7 at halftime, but turned it on in the second half with five touchdowns and never looked back. Troy managed just six first downs in the game, and the Mountaineers limited Troy to just 33 rushing yards. The Trojans were 5-4 after nine games last year, and had an outside chance of making a bowl game, but they dropped their last three games to Louisiana, App State and Georgia State. Surprisingly, Troy retained a lot of their players from last season. Star linebacker Carlton Martial returned for his fifth year coming off three straight years as an All-Sun Belt first team performer. Gunnar Watson is also back at quarterback, which might be the biggest surprise of all. Watson is a fifth year junior, who is in his third year as a starter. Running backs DK Bllingsley, Kimani Vidal and Jamontez Woods have also returned. Typically with a coaching change you might see a lot of roster turnover, but its interesting that Troy kept a lot of key players around.

As mentioned previously, Troy’s offense appears somewhat one-dimensional after two games. We’ll just focus on the three Trojan running backs who have handled the ball the most. Kimani Vidal has 22 carries for 86 yards (3.9 ypc). Jamontez Woods has 12 carries for 33 yards (2.8 ypc). Finally, DK Billinglsey has carried the ball seven times for 39 yards. The trio combined for 967 yards last year with a good chunk coming from Vidal, but he is off to a slow start. It seems that Troy may want to become a running football team, which is certainly a change from the past few years, but they are having a difficult time adjusting on the offensive line. In the meantime, Gunnar Watson has been slinging the ball over the field in the first two weeks. He has thrown for 626 yards this season, after throwing for just 1,613 yards in eight games in 2021. All of Troy’s touchdowns have came in the air in 2022, with Watson accounting for five of those scoring passes. Backup Jarret Doege threw for the other in cleanup time against Alabama A&M. Already, fourteen players have caught passes from the Troy quarterbacks. The six touchdown passes have been spread across five different pass catchers. Last years leading receiver Tez Johnson has only caught two passes to start the season after catching 67 passes a year ago. Johnson has battled injuries in fall camp.

Games like last Saturday are fun. As a fan watching in person, or time zones away, the longer an underdog sticks around, it becomes more captivating. Your expectations change with each first down. It was a game where you clapped after the first quarter with the game in a scoreless tie. You pace at halftime as it remained tied, and could hardly sit down as the score remained knotted up after three quarters. Hanging around is easy, but hanging on is the hard part. The win over Texas A&M, excuse me, then #6 ranked Texas A&M may go down as the gutsiest win in school history. At no point was it pretty. It was calculated domination. A box score to remember for a lack of production. A defense that responded to a less than stellar effort by creating just enough havoc in the form of turnovers and sacks. Maybe the best game of keep away ever played. The Mountaineers held the ball for 9 minutes or more in each quarter. The Aggies had the ball on offense three times in the second half, and their possessions resulted in a fumble, punt and missed field goal. Ultimately, the game was decided by an eighteen play drive by the Mountaineers, that consumed more precious clock than yards, and ended with a field goal made by a kicker who had yet to make one.

Last week is the past. It’s all for nothing if the Mountaineers do not take care of business this week. Notably, the vibe on campus has been different since Saturday. Everyone knows something is coming that usually isn’t here and may never come back. The events of fifteen years ago carried a program into FBS football, and although the Texas A&M win might not have the same effect, the aftershocks will be felt for a significant amount of time. In the meantime, a ring game is in front of us. Troy players have made it clear in media appearances of their intent to beat App State. Troy has sustained some injuries to key defensive players and they hope to have them back for this game. The Mountaineers have also had some injuries, but expect everyone to be available on Saturday as well. App State smothered Troy last year in the second half. The time of possession battle was won by the Mountaineers significantly, even more than it was last week against Texas A&M. Gunnar Watson could only manage 109 passing yards against the Mountaineers, while throwing an interception. It was another example of the opposing team simply not having the ball and not finding a rhythm. Again, the Troy ground attack accumulated 33 net yards. They were never in it. Troy has not shown it has improved much offensively. This years passing figures are due to game script and opponent. They trailed Ole Miss 21-3 at the half and threw the ball 47 times. After leading 7-3 at halftime to Alabama A&M, Troy decided to distance themselves, and scored three touchdowns in the third quarter, almost exclusively in the air. Even with the game in hand, Troy continued to throw the ball with Jarret Doege. Without a running game, Troy could struggle, considering they have converted just 35% of their third downs in their first two games and converting just three of seven red zone drives into touchdowns. Additionally, with five turnovers already on offense, and five rushing touchdowns allowed on defense, Troy is going to need to play much better than they have thus far to hang. I’ll take the Mountaineers in a rather low scoring affair.

The First Pick

Boys of Troy 14

Mountaineers 31

App State Football @ #6 Texas A&M

Appalachian State (0-1) @ #6 Texas A&M (1-0)

Saturday, September 10th, 2022 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kyle Field

Capacity: 102,733

Surface: Natural Grass (Bermuda 36)

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.96

Texas A&M: 87.10

Home: 2.14

Texas A&M is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 15.28 points

VegasInsider Line: Texas A&M -17

Series: First meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Hopefully by now, everyone has caught their breath, recovered, processed, and everything in between, one of the wildest football games they have seen. The longer you have been an App State fan, its even wilder to think about. We have seen plenty of memorable games over the years and decades, and no matter how long your fandom has lasted, the memory of 63-61 will not soon be forgotten. However, moral victories and second place does not exist on the mountain, and the season moves on. The next opponent comes from the most powerful league in college sports. Texas A&M has one of the largest stadiums by listed capacity in the country, and people actually show up and show out in College Station. It is an intimidating venue, sandwiched between every major city in Texas, where football is king. That is exactly the kind of program that Appalachian State wants to play. To push yourself to be your best, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and challenge yourself. Whether a game like this occurs in Week 1, Week 2, after an open week, or after playing another P5 game, playing the best only makes you better, win or lose. I fully expect our Mountaineers to answer that call.

Aggie coach Jimbo Fisher was baited into a war of words this offseason with the one and only Nick Saban. That would be the coach of Alabama, who have won six national championships since 2009. For reasons unknown, Saban said that Texas A&M “bought all their players in their recruiting class with name, image and likeness deals”. Jimbo Fisher did not take kindly to those remarks and responded appropriately. That was in May. A month later the two somewhat agreed, it was time to “shut up and play”. That was a fun month. Fisher was incredibly complimentary of the Mountaineers in one of his weekly press conferences. This has become the expectation year after year when App State faces a Power 5 opponent. Those press conferences are made for the media, and when a media member mispronounced Appalachian on Monday, Fisher came out firing. He said that App State can play in our (SEC) league or any league. After mentioning several players and their strengths, he went on to say, that Appalachian State is an excellent, excellent football team that can play on both sides of the ball against anyone.

The Aggies took care of business in their opener, disposing of FCS/CUSA opponent Sam Houston State by a tidy 31-0 score. This was the third straight game at Kyle Field that the Aggies did not allow a touchdown by their opponent, which included a 52-3 score over Prairie View A&M and a 20-3 win over then #12 Auburn last season. The Sam Houston game was interrupted for nearly three hours before the start of the third quarter due to a weather delay. Texas A&M was 6-1 in home games last year, but 6-0 at Kyle Field. That one loss was to Arkansas, a game that was played in Arlington. The Aggies last true home losses were in 2019 to #8 Auburn and #1 Alabama. In 2021, Texas A&M finished the year 8-4, which included the aforementioned loss to Arkansas, and three road losses to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU. The Aggies were selected to participate in the Gator Bowl against Wake Forest at the end of the 2021 season, but decided against playing due to the pandemic and injuries.

Third-year sophomore quarterback Haynes King is the leader of the Aggie offense. King played in a couple games of garbage time in 2020, was named the starter in 2021, but suffered a season-ending injury in the second game. So the game against Sam Houston State last Saturday was his third career start and just his fifth appearance as an Aggie. In limited action, if we can call it that, he has completed 63% of his passes over his career for for 723 yards. He has tossed six touchdown passes, but also six interceptions. Five of those interceptions were thrown against the likes of Kent State and Sam Houston State. The Aggies won those games handily, but those are interesting numbers. Devon Achane was the feature back of the Aggies last week, garnering 18 carries for 42 yards. That is a far cry from his 8.3 yard per carry average in 2020 and his 7.0 yard per carry average in 2021. Achane also serves A&M on the kickoff return team. Leading receiver Ainais Smith had a big game last week with 6 catches, 164 yards and two scores. Smith has posted 40+ receptions, 500+ yards and 6 touchdowns in each of his last two seasons.

As one should have expected, the debut of offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay unleashed a blend of a Shawn Clark led attack along with a dash of Barbay’s own touches. Eight players were responsible for the nine touchdowns that were scored. Only Nate Noel found the paint twice. Two different tight ends scored along with four different wide receivers. Henry Pearson caught eleven passes all of the 2021 season, yet caught four balls on Saturday. Dashaun Davis paced the Mountaineers with six catches for 72 yards, which led the team in both categories, yet still there was plenty more ball for Chase Brice to spread around. Noel carried the ball 14 times and Camerun Peoples received 13 carries. Anderson Castle lined up behind center and barreled for two yards and a first down. Even Daetrich Harrington showed some juice that looked more like his start to the 2020 season. Everyone got in on the action. However, most of the gaudy numbers were brought on by a fourth quarter unlike any have ever witnessed.

Let’s get this straight here. This past game is not about figuring out how to win in the end, as much as it is about avoiding getting in a scenario where that fourth quarter was necessary. This all comes down to learning how to avoid giving up 41 points after three quarters and not allowing any team to score 34 unanswered points. Those middle quarters is what put the Mountaineers in that position. We all know that. Everyone involved. It’s possible that North Carolina has an elite offense, and we’ll know more about that as the season goes along. Once again, that was not a typical App State defense we are used to seeing. It will get better, and probably sooner than later. Texas A&M is probably guessing the same, and they also want to improve what they were able to get out of their offense as well. The Aggies ran 67 plays and scratched out 497 yards for a 7.4 yard per play average. Three of the their scoring plays, all touchdown passes, went for 66, 63 and 43 yards. If you take those three plays out of the equation, the Aggies remaining 64 plays went for 325 yards, which brings down that average to 5.1 yards per play. That’s a pretty big falloff to take just three plays out of the formula. So yeah, it would seem that stopping those huge plays would be what the Mountaineers need to focus on. They gave up 8.0 yards per play on Saturday. That number has to come down, and quickly. If the A&M offense is too dependent on big plays and the Mountaineers can make dome drastic improvements in the open field, then its possible we have another game in the fourth quarter. The tendencies of Haynes King are concerning. He comes across as being overly aggressive and not taking the play that is given to him. He’ll force a throw or two, and his offensive line is learning how to play a bunch of different positions. It’s more than being mistake prone, and borderline reckless. He trusts his arm way too much to bail himself out of a bad read. Backup quarterback Max Johnson transferred over from LSU because he felt there was opportunity to play. I think it is possible he starts at some point this season. The opportunity is the reason why the Mountaineers are making this trip. To prove they belong. Jimbo Fisher’s compliments aside, App State looks forward to these type of games. The track record says it all. One day, that next “upset” will happen. It could be Saturday, or next year. What we do know, is that this team will make us proud, and they will refuse to quit. The opportunity to showcase your talents only happens so many times. Might as well do it now.

The First Pick

Twelfth Men 31

Mountaineers 26

App State Football vs Western Kentucky ( Boca Raton Bowl)

Appalachian State (10-3) vs Western Kentucky (8-5)

Saturday, December 18th, 2021 11:00am 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

FAU Stadium

Capacity: 29,571

Surface: Natural Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.99

WKU: 72.12

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.87 points

Line: App State -3

Series: App State leads 4-1

Last Meeting: App State 17, Western Kentucky 14, Dec 2, 2000, Bowling Green, KY

After a wave of realignment, these bowl matchups were going to have some significance. Here we have App State, an active participant in Sun Belt expansion, playing against Western Kentucky, a former I-AA opponent. It was Western Kentucky’s jettison from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, that gave the Mountaineers a path to FBS football. And now, three Conference USA teams in Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss, have decided that they would rather be aligned with schools in the Sun Belt. That decision left those former Sun Belt schools, along with Middle Tennessee wondering what went wrong. The battle for these newly aligned conferences and their hierarchy in college football begins with Bowl Season 2021. For the time being, the Boca Raton Bowl matches two division champions that are actually staying in the leagues they currently represent. Western Kentucky is looking for a breakthrough win in their current rebuild, while App State looks to remain on course to continue their unprecedented bowl streak.

Playing new opponents is always fun. Coaches get to break up the monotony of watching conference opponents and get to sharpen their film watching skills. The last time Western Kentucky and App State met on the gridiron was 21 years ago. A lifetime ago. Both teams were still in FCS/I-AA. The ‘Toppers were coached by Jack Harbaugh, father of Jim and John, who currently coach Michigan and the Baltimore Ravens. Jack ended his tenure in Bowling Green with the second most wins in Western Kentucky history by a head coach. Since that snowy playoff meeting in 2000, the Hilltoppers won the Gateway Conference and the I-AA National championship in 2002. Jeff Brohm, now head coach at Purdue, helped Western win the 2015 & 2016 Conference USA championship. Adding all that together, Western has won four conference championships in the last 22 seasons. This will be Western Kentucky’s eighth overall bowl appearance since transitioning to FBS.

In 2021, Western Kentucky started slow, caught fire midway through the season, but ultimately fell short of the CUSA title. Similarly to App State, The Tops lost to the eventual conference champion in the regular season, and in the championship game. Western was competitive with UTSA in both games, which were shootouts. They lost 52-46 in October at home, and then lost 49-41 on the road in December. The theme in those two games were loads of offense, and optional defense. In both games, Western threw for over 500 yards. In both games, UTSA established the ground attack, running for 192 yards and 304 yards on the Western defense. Those were the 3rd and 4th most yards the WKU defense allowed on the ground this season. A lot of teams fell behind against the high scoring attack, and abandoned the running game all together. Typically the teams that could run on Western and had a formidable passing attack, gave the Toppers fits. The teams that ran on Western (190+ yards), but threw for less than 200 yards, were the only teams that Western defeated among the teams that ran well on them. Those teams were 5-7 Charlotte and 10-3 UT-Martin, who just lost to Montana State in the Second Round of the FCS Playoffs.

It’s hard to avoid the passing numbers you see from the Western Kentucky offense. Quarterback Bailey Zappe, offensive coordinator Zach Kittley and wide receiver Jerreth Sterns migrated from Houston Baptist. This is a group effort offense that works like a machine. The passing statistics are video game like numbers. Zappe is responsible for nearly everything that offense does. It all starts with him, and for App State to slow down this offense they need make Zappe see things that he normally does not see. That does not mean the Mountaineers need to send extra pressure, or less pressure. Sometimes that can be as simple as sitting down in passing lanes and mixing your blitz angles. The Western offense plays the game like they are running out of clock from the start. They are consistently are in attack mode. For an offense that has thrown for 300 or more yards in all but one game, its not about stopping them, but limiting their chances. Western threw for exactly 1100 yards and nine touchdowns in two games against UTSA and still lost both games.

Sometimes, it is just not your day or year. Winning a conference title was not in the cards for App State in 2021. It’s difficult to beat a team twice in one season, yet it happened. Still, this week, a trophy is on the line, and that is what the Mountaineers play for year in and out. This is an intriguing matchup, that on paper looks tough, but there are opportunities for App State to exploit Western Kentucky. As was previously mentioned, the Hilltoppers can get hurt by teams with good running games and offensive lines. Western defended 521 rushing attempts this season, which was the 7th most in FBS. Teams simply do not run at you unless they believe that they can. Most of the teams above Western in this category were quite bad at defending the run. Five of them were ranked 104th or worse in that category. The other was Cincinnati. The offense that App has run this year has been slightly more geared to the passing game at times, but that does not mean that App State has not been able to run when they have wanted to. The pass-run split works out to be roughly 42% pass plays and 58% run plays. The balance is still there, which should keep the 98th ranked defense on their heels.

It can be difficult to look past glaring statistics for a team like Western Kentucky. If anything, App State’s coaches have had the experience to deal with teams that are very one-dimensional on offense. Years of defending teams like Georgia Southern, Wofford and VMI come to mind. You absolutely know what is coming, all you have to do is execute. Even more recently with teams such as Arkansas State, you know that quarterback is taking the snap and looking downfield. Those teams are going to gain yards, and they are going to score some points. The task is to keep them uncomfortable. Make the other team play a game they do not want to play. Make them think about you, and not what they are doing. Western likes to score points. That is no secret. One surprising note, the Tops have connected on 22/27 field goals this season. That is a lot for a college kicking game. When presented with the opportunity, they take those points. It could be that Western knows their defense is subpar, and their best way to combat that is with scoring. One could argue when Western hit their stride this season, and went on a seven game winning streak, it was partly due to their defense. In that seven game stretch, the Toppers allowed just 18.8 points per game. Those teams combined record was also 34-50, with Marshall and their seven wins being the best team they played in that stretch. In their five losses, counting UTSA twice, the Western defense allowed 44 points per game. The record of those teams were 44-18. Their offense has shown it can score, and they scored below their average in their losses, but it was often their defense which dictated their results. Only Kent State and Hawaii defended more plays than Western Kentucky this season. Only three teams in college football defended more than 1000 plays all season. It almost seems like you can have your way with Western’s defense. App State was a Top 15 red zone defense team all season long. Three of the five field goals Western missed this season were against UTSA, including two in the championship game. Those misses forced Western to play from behind, and they never caught up. It’s unlikely kicking several field goals will win you this game. Putting the ball in the end zone will be big for both sides, and obviously, whoever does that more will win.

The First Pick

Hand Towels 31

Mountaineers 38

App State Football vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 27th, 2021 2:30pm 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: 77.51

GS: 54.98

Home: 1.90

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 24.43 points

Line: App State -24.5

Series: App State leads 20-15-1

Last Meeting: App State 34, Georgia Southern 26, December 12, 2020, Statesboro, GA

Eight long years have passed since App State and Georgia Southern have faced each other in Boone, on a Saturday. Fans assumed and expected that Saturday games in Sun Belt would be less frequent, but we probably did not know that this game, on a Saturday, would be taken from us as long as it was. Not many were able to experience that setting last year on a Saturday, so this means a little more. Forget that the game takes place on a holiday weekend. This game, on a Saturday, is a big deal. This is primetime in the High Country. You are coming up to get those Christmas trees anyway. Might as well make it a weekend and stick around for awhile. This should be the last game every year. If every big rivalry game across the country is this weekend, this game deserves that same spotlight. Southern has played App State more than any other school in their history. There are only eight schools that the Mountaineers have played more than Southern. Please Sun Belt, let’s keep this playing this one on a Saturday.

This has been a season to forget down in Statesboro. Just as it was getting started, before the calendar even flipped to October, the Eagles had fired their coach after a less then stellar first four games. Perhaps it was less about sneaking by Gardner Webb, or getting flattened by Florida Atlantic and Arkansas, where they were outscored 83-16 in those games. It’s hard to believe that the Louisiana game was a must win game for former coach Chad Lunsford. But maybe, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when a defensive player, surfed on top of an activity bus and chugged a beer that was thrown to him, prior to the game. Lunsford was 25-14 the previous three seasons. Maybe his seat was warming, but it should not have been hot. However Southern has now had midseason firings for its last two coaches in Tyson Summers and Lunsford. Both were first time head coaches. Clay Helton, a former Power 5 coach at Southern Cal, will get the reins next, and be asked the inevitable question. Are you keeping the option?

Another week, another team who has juggled quarterbacks this season. That’s now five straight games App State’s defense will face a quarterback who has not appeared in all of their teams games. This past week, it was third string walk-on Connor Cigelski who started in the loss to BYU. Cigelski was 11/14 passing for 122 yards, and ran eight times for twenty yards. Most of the season, it has been a rotation between Justin Tomlin and Cam Ransom. Tomlin has been around the program for a few years and Ransom is a freshman. Tomlin has completed under 52% of his passes this season while throwing just two touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Ransom has not been much better, completing less than 47% of his passes, with three touchdown tosses, but has not turned the ball over in the air. In all, the Southern passing offense has thrown twelve interceptions to just five touchdown passes, as Amare Jones and Sam Kenerson have also attempted passes, but are not considered traditional quarterbacks.

There is no comparing Georgia Southern to any Sun Belt team. We all know this. Even with their more modern option running game, the way the game flows and unfolds is incredibly important to their success. Their best defense for Southern, is their offense. Considering the quarterbacks they have gone through, one would expect any team to struggle. Eventually, you have to move the ball, possess the ball, get first downs and score. The Eagles have not been doing enough of that this year. The Eagles are tied for last in the conference in first downs with Troy, and are eighth in the conference in scoring at 21.8 points per game. The Eagles are seventh in the conference in total offense at 355.4 yards per game and fifth in time of possession at 29:53. Good Southern offenses possess the ball more than their opponents and are usually well over 30 minutes per game of possession. For the time being, all the facts are relevant and apply, and it will be interesting to see how Clay Helton and his staff rebuild this Eagle offense.

The Mountaineers defense has now kept their opponents from scoring in the second half for three straight games. Two of those games have been played on the road, and that’s absolutely unheard of in college football. This defense is on fire right now. Throw in the fact that Troy gained 142 yards of offense for the game, and only 20 yards in the final three quarters. It must be frightening to be on the other side of this unit right now. Once the defense inserted their will against Troy last weekend, the offense picked it up. App State scored to close the first half and open the second half. An early second half interception by TD Roof was followed by a one play drive that allowed the Mountaineers to coast for the remainder of the game. Nate Noel had his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season and eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the year. Noel’s performance gave App State an FBS leading tenth consecutive season with a running back surpassing 1,000 yards. The offensive line paved the way for 233 team rushing yards and gave up zero sacks. Thomas Hennigan caught all seven of his targets for 85 yards and a touchdown, and has TD receptions in three straight games.

It remains to be seen who starts at quarterback for Southern. It will be something that App State will probably figure out when the Eagles break the huddle for their first play. There is no reason for Southern to be forthcoming about that information. Regardless of what the Eagles have been through this season, they still have a chance to salvage something. Finishing 4-8, with a win over their hated rival is still something to hang your hat on. The same scenario arose for the Mountaineers in 2013. App State entered the game against Southern, on a Black Saturday with a 1-6 record and trounced the Eagles 38-14. That was the same year that Southern went on to beat Florida. If there is ever a time in this series where you think you know the outcome, refer back to 2013. App State lost four games that year by a touchdown or less. They were very close to being 8-4. Just like Southern’s record this year might be 3-8, they have lost three games by eight points or less. They played and lost to two Power 5 type programs in Arkansas and BYU. Because of that, the Eagles were always going to look about one game worse than they actually were. They are not as bad as they look on paper, but for some reason, they could not finish a few close games. The Southern defense can play the run a little, and they have been on the field a long time this season, and are usually facing a team trying to burn clock. However, the secondary has been getting absolutely roasted all season long. The Eagles have yielded 293 yards per game in the air and 26 touchdown passes. Both marks are second worst in the league. The best way to beat a Georgia Southern team is get ahead of them. Whenever they play from behind, they get out of what they prefer to do on offense. The Eagles are not running it as well as years past, but they are still running it to the tune of over 200 yards a game. They have three running backs in the top 24 in terms of yardage in the conference. It just has not been consistent enough to work off of their defense. Expect a big game from Chase Brice and the receivers, that slowly works Southern into being uncomfortable, and turns a borderline close game early, into a runaway late.

The First Pick

Chicken Shortage 20

Mountaineers 42

App State Football @ Troy

Appalachian State (8-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Troy (5-5, 3-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 20th, 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

Veterans Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Prograss

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.92

Troy: 60.43

Home: 1.99

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.5 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 6-3

Last Meeting: App State 47, Troy 13, November 28, 2020, Boone, NC

Wasn’t long ago, the games against Troy were a really big deal; for Sun Belt East division supremacy. The 2015, 2016 and 2018 games were absolute barn burners. Those games were the reason why these two teams began facing off toward the end of the conference calendar. Outside App State’s first year of Sun Belt play, each game has been played no earlier than Halloween. But 2020 changed many things about Sun Belt football. Troy remains to appear later on the App State schedule, but Georgia Southern has grabbed the final date on the regular season calendar. One would assume that App State and Troy will meet again next year prior to conference expansion taking place, but even that is not certain at the moment. As late as 2023, Troy moves to the west division and games with App State will likely become less common. As much as this is not a goodbye, but maybe see you later, games with Troy were fun for awhile. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that this chapter of App State’s Sun Belt history is coming to a close.

One thing is for certain, Troy has been in a bunch of games this year. Only the first game of the season, a 55-3 win over Southern, has been decided by more than two touchdowns. The other 9 games have all been decided by 14 points or less. The Trojans average margin of defeat in their five losses is 10.2 points per game. Outside of Southern, Troy’s average margin of victory is 6.25 points. Their peer wins over Georgia Southern, Texas State, South Alabama and Southern Miss are not much to crow about, but they have played and lost to above average G5 teams in Liberty, Coastal and Louisiana. They had every reason to beat South Carolina, but could not pull it off. That has basically been the mark of Chip Lindsey’s tenure at Troy. A win or two away each season from being bowl eligible. Troy has won five games each season under Lindsey, and they will be likely underdogs in their final two games this season. Of those 15 wins by Lindsey, eight of them have been wins over South Alabama, Texas State, and Georgia Southern. The two times he has faced App State, Lindsey’s teams have looked overmatched, losing 48-13 and 47-10.

Another week, another team who has juggled quarterbacks this season. That’s four straight games App State’s defense will face a quarterback who has not appeared in all of their teams games. Gunnar Watson played throughout the loss to Louisiana last week. Watson was called on to the throw the ball 55 times, because Troy’s ground effort was nonexistent. He threw his first interception of the season against Louisiana, and only 52.7% of his passes were completed, which was a season low. The Troy defense gave them a chance in the fourth quarter, but three turnovers eventually did the Trojans in. Taylor Powell played mostly in the beginning of the season at quarterback for Troy, but has not seen much time recently. He started against South Alabama, but was injured and Watson finished the game. Powell has thrown six interceptions this season to just seven touchdown passes. As a team, Troy is 84th in the country in passing efficiency, which is one spot ahead of Arkansas State, who has thrown sixteen interceptions on the year.

Troy and South Alabama are really similar. They both have enough defense to win, but its their offenses that are lacking. The 23.1 points per game the Trojans defense gives up is going to put them in position to compete in many games. That figure ranks 51st in the country, almost directly behind South Alabama, after giving up 31 to App State. The Troy offense is scoring just 25.7 points per game which is 84th nationwide. That figure is seven spots behind South Alabama, who is 77th at 26.4 points per contest, which includes 7 points scored against App. Now those are season long figures, and surely does not put much emphasis on the Jaguars not having Jake Bentley last week, who had pretty much played every snap at quarterback for the Jags. Reminder that Troy defeated South Alabama at home the week before, without Bentley. Troy raced out to an early lead and held on. South Alabama was the benefactor of four App State turnovers last week, which propelled them to 5th in the country in turnovers gained. Coming in to this game, Troy is already tied for 14th in turnovers gained, yet so is App State.

The difference between App State and Troy is hardly in the numbers, but plays being made. Looking at last week’s boxscore blindly, it would have been hard to imagine App State won going away. Sure, the game was close for a long time, but that’s why you play the full sixty minutes. App State was good when it had to be, and that was the entire second half. Despite many threats, South Alabama could not score beyond a second quarter touchdown. That makes it back to back weeks, that the Mountaineers held their opponents scoreless in the second half. Troy has just eight second half points in its last two games as well. The App State defense has also done a really good job of making their opponents one dimensional. Arkansas State and South Alabama combined for 61 carries and gained just 110 yards. Troy will present an offense that has averaged just 110 yards per game this season on the ground, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. The Trojans do have seventeen rushing touchdowns, but sit at ninth in the conference on the ground, sandwiched between South Alabama and Arkansas State.

At this point of the season, most teams have pretty much shown their hand. You might get a new play wrinkle added to an offense or defense occasionally, but more often than not, teams know what is coming. It’s just a matter of stopping it. Teams with aspirations to play games beyond their regular schedule might mix a few more things in. App State certainly is going to play in a bowl game and Troy is trying to, but they might focus on the things they have done right this year, versus trying something new. Speaking on trying things new, that might be beneficial for Troy if they want to score more points. The Trojans are second-to-last in red zone offense in the Sun Belt, with only South Alabama trailing. Adding on, Troy has converted every field goal they have made this year (7/7), but six of those made kicks came on a red zone possession. Troy has attempted and made just one field goal outside of the red zone this year. So, if Troy is not attempting field goals, but must be going for it on fourth down a lot? Wrong. Troy is averaging 1.8 fourth down conversion attempts per game, and they do well converting, but that figure puts them solidly in the middle of the conference. However, Troy punts a lot. Only Arkansas State and Monroe have punted more than Troy this season, and the Trojans lead the league in touchbacks after punts. They also rank dead last in kickoff coverage, just in case you needed more kicker statistics in your life. These things are not all super major, but they do add up. Decisions to kick a field goal, attempt a fourth down, to play aggressive or choose the safest play eventually leads to something. And typically, Troy has been on the wrong end of a lot of those 50/50 decisions this year. Twice against Coastal Carolina, the Trojans elected to punt in the second half versus attempting short yardage fourth downs. That could have been the difference in a one possession road game. This Troy team is capable of winning games, but it just seems a lot of things need to go just right for that to happen. Troy will hang for a few quarters, but the App defense will turn it on late and seal the deal.

The First Pick

Aged by Bronze 16

Mountaineers 31

App State Football vs South Alabama

Appalachian State (7-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) vs South Alabama (5-4, 2-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 13th, 2021 2:30pm 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: 75.27

South Alabama: 57.02

Home: 2.09

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.34 points

Line: App State -22

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last Meeting: App State 30, South Alabama 3, October 26, 2019, Mobile, AL

It happens every year. November football in Boone. A date reserved for a school that is located much further south then where App State is situated. The calendar says fall but the thermometer says winter. This will be South Alabama’s first trip to Boone in November. Mercury levels do not decide football games, but it sure is fun to talk about. We have reached the final third of the regular season, and many teams know their fate for the remainder of their games. South Alabama has some work to do to extend their season past the scheduled twelve games. They need to grab a win in one of three games where they will be decided underdogs. App State’s work continues with three pivotal games that will decide whether or not they get to play for a conference championship. These last three games are super important. There is no time for a slip up. South Alabama is improving. Troy is knocking on the door. And well, you know how Georgia Southern games can go. New week, same goal. 1-0.

Many across the Sun Belt have wanted South Alabama to become a thing for several seasons. One, they foresee the Jaguars as being the closest program to giving Louisiana some competition in the near future. Secondly, they have shown brief success in the past, but have never been consistent winners. South remains in their FBS infancy, as this is just their tenth season playing a full slate of FBS & Sun Belt opponents. Steve Campbell was fired as coach last year after going 9-26 over three seasons. Campbell had a difficult time adjusting to Division I football. New coach Kane Wommack represents an investment by South Alabama to get better at football. Wommack spent two years in Mobile as a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in 2016-17 and then spent three years in Bloomington at Indiana, before returning to the deep south, where he spent the majority of his coaching and collegiate playing career.

For the third straight week, App State will play a team that is juggling its quarterback depth chart. South Alabama’s Jake Bentley, by way of South Carolina and Utah, was injured against Troy last week and did not return to the game. Oddly enough, Bentley was South Carolina’s starting quarterback in 2019 to begin the season, before, you guessed it, he was injured. Next up is Desmond Trotter, who App State faced in 2019. Bentley has not been ruled out, but it appears Trotter would start this week. Trotter played in all but one game for South in 2020, and also appeared against App State two seasons ago. Trotter was 3/8 passing for 43 yards on a wet day in which the App State defense gave up just 144 total yards. Trotter will offer some mobility from the pocket that Bentley did not have, but he remains limited as a passer. If South Alabama decides on offensive philosophy change is needed, it could present problems for App State without any tape go on.

Three of South Alabama’s four losses have been on the road. Four of their five wins have been at home. The games that do not fit that mold is their two point home loss to Louisiana and a three point road win at Bowling Green. In both of those games, special teams played a major role at the end of the game. A field goal lifted the Jaguars at the horn after their defense forced a turnover with less than two minutes remaining in the game. South trailed by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter. In the Louisiana game, the Cajuns scored the first 20 points, and the Jaguars the final 18 points. South failed to convert any of their point after touchdown attempts. Two kicks were either missed or blocked, and the two point conversion in the fourth quarter was also unsuccessful. The Jaguars also missed the go-ahead field goal with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter. Those games happened in the first month of the season, but the last five game have stayed true to form: win at home, lose on the road. The two home wins were to teams that are in last place of the respective divisions of the Sun Belt.

Outside of a short stretch in the second quarter, App State was dominant on both sides of the ball against Arkansas State. The Mountaineers jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, allowed the Red Wolves to tie the game briefly, and then scored 34 unanswered points to finish the game. The big highlights were provided by Steven Jones Jr., who recorded three interceptions on the day and returned two of them for touchdowns. Malik Williams added a 34-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Hennigan, and also led the team with five receptions for 58 yards. Both Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel eclipsed 100 yards rushing and added touchdown runs. Noel is now up to 889 yards rushing on the season. Williams and Corey Sutton are now separated by just two receptions and thirty-three receiving yards for the year. Both have five receiving touchdowns. The defense holding the Red Wolves to less than 200 yards of total offense while adding four quarterback sacks and the aforementioned three turnovers, made it an easy day for the Mountaineers.

As with other opponents App State has faced this season, the question always comes down to what version of that team we shall see. Monroe was very similar in that they were streaky, and their play was very dependent upon whether they were at home or away. Those similarities exist for South Alabama. Now we also have to ask ourselves another question about the Jaguars. How closely will they resemble the team they were in the first nine games with Jake Bentley, compared to this Saturday. Desmond Trotter and South Alabama won four games last year, over Southern Miss, Texas State, Monroe and Arkansas State. Oddly, the Jaguars lost to two of teams this year in Texas State and Monroe. It’s quite plausible that South passes the eye test, but when the numbers add up at the end of the season, the records might look fairly similar as last season. Most of this speculation refers to the offense. That is where those questions revolve around. Defensively, the Jaguars are solid. In most defensive statistical categories, the Jaguars rank in the upper half to upper third in the conference. They aren’t a brick wall, but they won’t give you much. It will be important for both teams to sustain drives and keep their defenses fresh. South Alabama leads the conference in time of possession and App State is third. South leads that category despite averaging 19.7 first downs a game, which is seventh in the league. App State converts its possession advantage to 24.3 first downs a game, which leads the league. Building off of that, this game might come down to what South Alabama can do with the ball. The Jaguars do run the ball, but they are not the best at it, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, going up against an App State defensive front that is third in the league against the run at 3.7 yards per carry. On a day where wind could be a factor, the team that can run the ball with the most consistency should have an advantage. The loss of Jake Bentley could neutralize Jaguar receiver Jalen Tolbert, who is by and far the biggest threat on the Jaguar offense.

The First Pick

Faux Cheetah 21

Mountaineers 35