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 (Roofclaim.com 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

App State Football @ Georgia State

Appalachian State (3-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (1-3, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 2nd, 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

Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.98

Georgia State: 61.65

Home: 2.77

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.56 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last Meeting: App State 17, Georgia State 13, November 14, 2020, Boone, NC

In light of the recent trend that the coolest, most important event that just occurred being the most significant, we’ll say this: Last Thursday night, with Kidd Brewer Stadium covered in black and gold and sprinkled in kelly green, brought back so many emotions, it was hard to contain. It legitimately felt like a big time event. Seeing the Herd run out in all white, just like a quarter century ago, was icing. Seeing the trash talk commence early was exactly what that rivalry was all about years ago. It was special. Now we transition from a rivalry of decades ago, to a friendship that has lasted decades. With each game this friendly competition gets overplayed, overtyped and overanalyzed. The two head coaches just want their players to succeed. The internal battle of Shawn vs. Shawn will be reminisced about around campfires in the Blue Ridge mountains in due time. This weekend is all about getting conference play off on the right foot. In a super competitive eastern division, getting the first win, is the most important.

There is going to be a lot, and I mean a lot of, emphasis placed on Georgia State narrowly losing to Auburn. Talk like that is good to motivate players, and keep them from downplaying an inferior opponent. Georgia State did not suddenly figure it out last weekend. They capitalized on an Auburn team that had their feelings hurt the week before at Penn State. Also, an Auburn team that is working with a new head coach. The Panthers other three opponents were not working with new head coaches in 2021, and those games were ugly for more reasons than one. Army pummeled Georgia State 43-10, and outgained the Panthers 356-177. The next week was worse. North Carolina beat down the Panthers 59-17. The Heels more than doubled up Georgia State in total yards, 607-271. The following game, the Panthers took care of Charlotte by a score of 20-9. The 49ers and Panthers combined for 78 rushing attempts. The difference was that Georgia State was able to run against Charlotte, and stop the 49ers ground game. Georgia State outrushed Charlotte 298-118. After three games, the Panthers were averaging less than 16 points per game.

The Panthers bumrushed Auburn in the second quarter last week, scoring three touchdowns and leading 24-12 at the half. Auburn managed just four first half field goals. Georgia State put together a non-scoring 44-yard drive on their first possession of the second half, but then proceeded to go 3 downs and out on their next four possessions. Their next drive lasted five plays but only consumed twenty yards. Their final two possessions also only covered twenty yards. In all, the Panthers gained 85 second half yards, with over half coming on one drive. Zero points were scored. Auburn woke up, and finished them. Georgia State cannot afford to go scoreless in the second half and expect to beat any SEC school, much less the Sun Belt. At minimum, the Panthers needed to allow fewer possessions to Auburn just by grinding out a few more first downs in the second half, and that might have altered the final score. That is asking a lot from a team ranked 111th in first downs, averaging just 17.5 per game.

The ground game is there for Georgia State, but they are running well for one reason. They have be good at it. It’s just about their only option right now. Quarterbacks Cornelius “Quad” Brown IV, and Darren Grainger have combined to lead one of the worst passing attacks in the country. The Panthers enter this weekend ranked 119th in passing efficiency, 125th in passing yards per game, and 123rd in completion percentage. This is not an option team. You would expect teams like Navy and Georgia Southern to be down there. Brown showed promise last year, throwing for over 2200 yards with seventeen touchdown passes. He also averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. That figure is down to 4.3 yards per pass in 2021, and he has not played the last two weeks. Grainger has appeared in every game, but has started the last two, and his production shows the direction that the Panthers are going. Grainger has 34 rushing attempts for 111 yards the last two games. Add to that, he has dropped back to pass 36 times in those two games, and has been sacked five times.

There were a lot of things that happened in the win against Marshall. When the offense runs 92 plays, your result is a stat padding game. Usually those games are blowouts, and this was not. That Thursday night will be remembered for a long time. Perhaps the most memorable performance came from Nate Noel. After a first half that saw just 18 yards on three carries for Noel, he exploded in the second half. Noel ran for 65 yards in the third quarter, and 104 yards in the fourth quarter. But more than anything, we will remember what Noel did not do. He did not score a touchdown in the closing minutes. In that scenario, possession was more vital than points, as Noel secured a first down, and fell to the ground at the five yard line. That play allowed the Mountaineers to kill the clock and secure the win. Can you say enough about Corey Sutton? It’s possible. Sutton was targeted 17 times by Chase Brice, catching ten balls for 127 yards, while also adding another toe-tapping highlight reel catch for a touchdown. Lest we forget Thomas Hennigan, who also turned in a 123-yard performance on nine catches. And of course, we could not go on with mentioning a tough effort by Cam Peoples, carrying the ball 25 times for 78 yards in just two and a half quarters of playing time. Peoples punched in three touchdowns, and really set the table for Noel in the game’s final twenty minutes.

We all know the series record. Seven games played, and seven games won by App State. The closest games in this series were both played in Boone. In 2016, App State scored a late touchdown for the final margin in an otherwise uneventful 17-3 win. Last year, Jacob Huesman willed the Mountaineers down the field with a late fourth quarter score that gave App State its first lead, and eventually App State held on to win 17-13. That’s it. Those are the two closest games this series has had. Those also represent the fewest points (17) App has scored in the series. Otherwise, the Mountaineers have averaged 42.6 points per game in the five other contests. Additionally, there has not been a close game played in Atlanta, regardless of which former professional stadium or park it was played in. The Mountaineers have averaged 41.3 points across three games in Fulton County. All of this is the past. The 2020 game has no bearing on this Saturday, and neither does Georgia State’s close call with Auburn. This is a completely different game. Unimpressive football is unsustainable for continued success. That is exactly what Georgia State’s offense has shown this season. Listen, the Panthers are going to lean on the running game behind a very experienced offensive line, but until they develop a more consistent passing attack, they will struggle. A lot of the reasons why App State and Georgia State played so close last year are gone. One, obviously being Corey Sutton, and a less than healthy Thomas Hennigan. Those guys are now in peak form, and the App State offense has all the confidence in Chase Brice to get the ball to them. Despite playing three run oriented teams in Army, Charlotte, and Auburn, the Panthers rank just 117th in team passing efficiency defense nationwide. The Panther defense has registered zero interceptions, but have allowed 915 passing yards and eight touchdown passes. The fifteen yards per catch allowed is also eye-popping. The Mountaineers will not forget the way they played last year offensively, and you can expect a little more firepower than what you saw in 2020. I highly doubt Georgia State can score twenty points in this one, and the Mountaineers will score plenty more.

The First Pick

Blue Kittens 17

Mountaineers 34

App State Football vs Marshall

Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Marshall (2-1, 0-0 CUSA)

Thursday, September 23rd, 2021 7:30pm 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: 73.52

Marshall: 70.10

Home: 3.00

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 6.42 points

Line: App State -7.5

Series: App State leads 14-9

Last Meeting: App State 7, Marshall 17, September 19, 2020, Huntington, WV

For those who were looking for normalcy in Boone this past weekend, you got it, and then some. It was a busy weekend in the High Country. The eighth-largest crowd in Kidd Brewer Stadium history was treated to a big win over a former foe. It was a great day, but it was not perfect. Several adjustments will be made between games. There were fumbles on and off the field, and although the game day experience might not exactly be like riding a bike, the opportunity to jump back on does exist. That’s the beauty of it all. If everything was always perfect, it would get boring pretty quickly. We didn’t drive to the mountains for boring. We drive to see what we have yet to discover. We hike the same trails to relive an experience, and see it for the first time all over again. A lot of supporters will be doing the exact same thing on Thursday. Most App State students were but a twinkle in their parents eyes the last time Marshall played in Boone, and others have been waiting for this moment for a quarter century. Let us all appreciate it.

If this past weekend helped you relive the memories of the SoCon yesteryear, enjoy the the more vintage and seasoned brand of Marshall this weekend. Elon and Marshall did not cross paths in the Southern Conference, but those schools membership tells a great story about App State’s history in the last 30 years. Marshall left the SoCon in 1996, and became members of the Mid-American conference for eight years. Elon joined the SoCon in 2003. Those two moves along with others got people around App State thinking about FBS, or as it was referred to then, Division I. Marshall joined Conference USA in 2005, about the same time of App State’s resurgence in I-AA/FCS football. The Marshall games in the late 1980’s and 1990’s were intense battles. App State missed those games, and Georgia Southern helped bridge that gap, that Elon and other small private schools could not provide. Marshall went on to great success, winning I-AA titles, which was what they needed to move to FBS. App State’s playoff success in the 2000s stoked the desire to play teams like Marshall again. Last year, App and Marshall scheduled a series to work around the pandemic. This week’s game is the first leg of a separate home and home agreement that was announced in June 2015, and will be completed next year in Huntington.

Last season’s scheduling of the Marshall game was a win on paper, but was not exactly what a coaching staff wants at the last minute. You prep all offseason for the first few games, and then poof, Wake Forest and Wisconsin are gone, insert Conference USA. It did not help that App State had to deal with pandemic issues leading up to the game, and were trying to discover their identity with limited practice times and groupings. Long story short, it was not our best showing, and Marshall stuck to their game plan, and won an old-fashioned game. The Herd took that momentum and won five more games, to start the season 7-0, and then things went south. Marshall lost their last three games, getting shutout by Rice, stymied by UAB 22-13, and falling flat in their 17-10 Camellia Bowl loss to Buffalo. In all three games, Marshall was dominated in time of possession. This season, Marshall has soundly defeated two teams in Navy and NC Central. Navy has scored ten points combined in two games this season. NC Central has scored forty-three points in their two wins over Alcorn State and Winston-Salem State. And then, there is the debacle of last Saturday night. East Carolina scored 21 unanswered fourth quarter points to steal a win on the road from the Thundering Herd.

Seems that Marshall success has gone the way of its sophomore quarterback Grant Wells. The Mountain State native has already thrown for 1,110 yards in 2021, and has eclipsed 300 yards passing in every game, a feat he accomplished just twice last season. However, Wells is streaky, and when he is up, so is Marshall, and likewise when he has a rough game. He threw 18 touchdown passes in ten games last year, and half of those touchdown passes came in two games, against Eastern Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. On the the other hand, seven of his nine interceptions last season came in two games, in which Marshall was shutout by Rice, and narrowly won 20-9 over Florida Atlantic. Wells’ touchdown/interception ratio might be leveling out in 2021, with four touchdown passes and five interceptions, but that includes interceptions in each game. Thursday comes down to which version of Grant Wells shows up for Marshall.

App State was somewhat accused of sleepwalking on Saturday, but in the end, Elon never threatened the Mountaineers at all. Sure, Elon was annoying with 14 first downs, which is actually a pretty good number for a defense, but it felt like a lot more. Meanwhile, the Phoenix did not want to succumb to the ground game, and limited the Mountaineers to 187 yards rushing. That forced App State to probably throw the ball a handful of times more than they wanted. Chase Brice put up his largest yardage total (293) of the young season, which lead to big games from Corey Sutton and Malik Williams. Both eclipsed 120 yards receiving on the day, with Williams catching the 50-yard touchdown pass from Brice. Camerun Peoples was limited to eleven carries, which could be a signal that he might have a larger workload this week with the quick turnaround. Nate Noel finished with 73 yards on seventeen carries. The best stat line was produced by the defensive side of the ball. D’Marco Jackson turned in a thirteen tackle, three sack and 4.5 tackle for loss performance that had not occurred in college football in quite some time.

From 1977 through 1996, App State and Marshall played every single season, including twice in 1987. Throughout the 23 games series, neither team has played more than two games in a row in its home turf. Neither team has won more than four games in a row against each other. App had a four game winning streak to start the series, and Marshall currently holds a three game winning streak. It’s a real life cliché. Throw out the records. It has been a while since App State last beat the Herd in Boone. Twenty-seven long years. That night in 1994 was glorious. Scott Satterfield ran the option and pitched it to Chip Hooks repeatedly. Johnny Smith pulled down an interception and took it in for the go-ahead score, that would provide the final margin. Students could not control their excitement as attempts to remove the goal posts began before time expired. Only Jerry Moore could get everything organized long enough for the final seconds to tick away. And once again, the lights will be on at Kidd Brewer for one of the best Group of Five matchups of the weekend. This matchup was one that App State has circled. The Herd knocked App State out of the Top 25 last year and have not sniffed it since. Players and coaches might not care about that, but the fans do. We remember that painful feeling. Marshall has an offense that has the ability to score a lot of points. They have one speed, and that’s go. They like to move the ball up and down the field. The problem is the Herd’s defense. East Carolina blistered them for 561 yards. A very bad Navy team still managed 398 yards. How has Marshall surrendered all these yards without letting everyone score? It doesn’t help that Marshall has thrown six interceptions as a team, and has fumbled seven times, while losing three of them to inferior opponents. That also goes back to that time of possession battle that mentioned earlier. It’s a trend that dates back to last season. If Marshall turns the ball over three times, which is their average this season, it will be a long night in Boone. Mind you, they have been turning the ball over to teams that are clearly not as powerful as App State is on defense. Which leads to another interesting stat. Marshall has allowed just two sacks all season, while App State has nine defensively. It all comes down to how App defends Wells, and he has just been too streaky in his last several games to expect Marshall to come out on top.

The First Pick

Blundering Bessies 21

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (7-4, 4-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 23th, 2020 6:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN3

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

Paulson Stadium

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.53

Georgia Southern: 65.35

Home: 0.84

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.34 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 18-15-1

Last Meeting: Georgia Southern 24, App State 21, Boone, NC October 31, 2019

Another week has passed and this football season, now nearly halfway through December is still in its regular season. Two rivals will tee it up in a game that is for nothing but bragging rights and pride. Maybe that is a good way to end the oddest college football season of our time. Nothing else to think about besides beating the other guys. The same guys who have stolen the last two games due to unforeseen circumstances. The guys who have who ripped the national ranking right out from under us for consecutive seasons. Both teams are limping to the finish for several reasons but it’s going to take more than a couple bumps and bruises to keep any athlete off the field for an App-Southern game. Players have been chirping off to the media all week leading up to this installment, and certainly that will carry over between the lines. A classic game could be in the making. Tune in either way because what is supposed to happen in this series, rarely does.

Way back before we had any inclination how wild this college football season was going to be, Georgia Southern and App State had both scheduled Campbell as one of their opening games after a series of cancellations. For the Eagles, it was their opener, played on September 12th. App State played the Camels two weeks later. Campbell gave the Eagles a lot of problems, but it was a game that Southern won 27-26 after being down thirty-three players for “various reasons”. Southern led that game for six minutes and forty-two seconds. Close games eventually became the prevailing theme for the Eagles’ season. Eight games have been decided by one score or less. The games that were more lopsided included a two touchdown loss to Coastal Carolina, and more one-sided wins over UMass (41-0) and Florida Atlantic, (20-3) which was played last week. That broke a two game losing streak that included losses to Army by one and Georgia State by six. It’s been an up and down season for Southern, and with each passing game, most became more confused as to what this Eagle team was made of.

For a good majority of the season, Georgia Southern’s offense went through Shai Werts, JD King, and Wesley Kennedy III. Werts is the fourth-year starting quarterback that is the heart and soul of the Eagle squad. In the game against Army, a one point loss, Werts injured his right throwing shoulder and did not finish the game. Werts went on to play against Georgia State, but split time with redshirt sophomore Justin Tomlin. Werts ran the ball eleven times in that game and completed four of his seven passes. However, it was Tomlin who took all the snaps last week against Florida Atlantic while Werts rested. Coach Chad Lunsford has been careful with his comments about Werts’ health, first saying he maybe should have not played Werts against Georgia State, and early this week saying Werts may not play on Saturday. Read into that what you will, but expect to see him suited up. JD King played only seven games before he was lost for the season due to an injury, yet he still remains second on the team in rushing this season. Wesley Kennedy III played in eight games and ran for 447 yards and six touchdowns before he was pinched by local law enforcement for various drug and weapons charges.

The names change, and sometimes they do not, but Georgia Southern remains the same. They continue to rely on a ground attack that they hope leads to copious amounts of possession that leads to a fresh defense that can take advantage of teams that have to get out of their typical comfort zone on offense. That recipe has has worked well for a really long time and despite being without a super explosive offense, the Eagles are possessing the ball for nearly 34 minutes a game this season. However, Southern is only scoring 26.36 points a game this year, which is down from 2019 when they scored 28.15 a contest. In 2018, the Eagles averaged just over 30 points per game. Goes to show, you can be a team with a bunch of returners, but be caught by a pandemic and injury issues and everything kind of slides downhill. Sounds a little bit like a team we know. But, what has kept Southern’s head above the ditch water is a defense that is more than holding its own. Given the offensive struggles, the Eagle defense is allowing just 21.2 points per game, the fewest rushing yards and yards per carry in the conference and are second in the conference with 13 interceptions.

The Mountaineers did just about everything they were supposed to do last weekend. They had better offense, better defense, time of possession and so on. The problem is that they gave Louisiana too many short fields. After everything that happened, both coaches made critical mistakes at important times of the game. And even as poorly as the Mountaineers played at those important moments, they were still in the game in the fourth quarter. The theme in the three losses have been turnovers, and lack of second half scoring. Usually that goes hand in hand. This weekend, App State is going to have to figure out how to come out of the locker room and execute like they typically do in the first half. The third quarter is the one where App State has scored the fewest all season long, and allowed the most, yet still holding an eleven point advantage over the course of the season. The Mountaineers have been strong out of the gates this season, and that will be the key to beating Georgia Southern. Starting fast and keeping the Eagles out of their comfort zone on offense.

The matchup this weekend will be the first of its kind for App State and Georgia Southern in Sun Belt and FBS play. We are playing on a Saturday. It’s the day these games are supposed to be played. The hard part will be keeping it that way going forward. The Sun Belt has not experienced its best rivalry on the weekend, and its long overdue. The last time App and Southern played on a Saturday was in 2013, when App State dismantled Southern by a score of 38-14. That was one of the few bright spots for the Mountaineers that season. Without question, a win by either side will provide a bright spot for both programs in 2020, a year that many want to put behind them. A Southern win would make it the third time in this rivalry’s history that the Eagles have won three games in a row. The last time it occurred was when App State lost four games consecutively across the 2000-2002 seasons. App and Southern met in the playoffs in 2001. One part of this game that will be similar, is that it will be played in the evening, with a sunset kickoff that will resemble the primetime kickoff that was scheduled before the game was postponed back in October. On to the game. It was surprising to see Southern let go of their offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse of two plus years, but the lack of points that was referenced above is probably the reason. If anything, DeBesse was in a no-win spot in Statesboro as the natives get restless really quickly. DeBesse was relieved after not being able to hold onto an eleven point fourth quarter lead in their loss to Georgia State. Notice how the offensive coordinator got fired, and not a defensive coach. Regardless, Southern got a 20-3 win last week, but only one offensive touchdown was scored in that win. Seems the struggles will continue for Southern as they enter their last game of the regular season. For App State, they have what it takes to win this game, the question is just which App State team shows up. The Mountaineers offense has struggled against above average defenses all season, and that is exactly how one should categorize Southern. They are good enough to win too, but not good enough to maintain separation from App State without some help. Both defenses are good enough to keep this game in the twenties, and the team with the fewest turnovers will win.

The First Pick

The Stink 20

Mountaineers 24