Liberty @ Appalachian State

Here we go with Week 6

Liberty (3-3, 0-0 Big South) @ Appalachian State (1-4, 0-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 11th, 3:30pm EST

TV/LIve Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 51.27

Liberty: 53.69

Home: 3.44

App State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 1 point

Sportsbook: n/a

Series: Appalachian leads 7-2

Last Meeting: App State 29, Liberty 22, September 21, 2002

The Mountaineers got their Sun Belt reality check on Saturday. The Apps did not have to wait for the traditional heavyweights like Arkansas State, Lafayette or Monroe. The Mountaineers were pounded by a well aged program in only their sixth year of football in South Alabama. Forget the tradition and the atmosphere and weather. South Alabama is perhaps the best team to ever visit Boone. There are plenty of teams that have played at Kidd Brewer that have been fabulous FCS or Division 1-AA programs. Marshall, Georgia Southern and Furman come to mind as programs over the last few decades that been most consistent. Some FCS playoff opponents also come to mind, but none hold a candle to what South Alabama came to Boone with last weekend. The Jaguars opened each half with twenty unanswered points. They posted 582 yards of offense despite ten penalty flags for 124 yards. The Jaguars ran for 5.3 yards per carry on forty-seven rushing attempts, but it was quarterback Brandon Bridge who had a career passing day with 339 yards on only nineteen completions. Bridge averaged close to 18 yards per completion and accounted for four total touchdowns. Two of his touchdown passes were big plays, one from 43 yards out and another from 67 yards. The Mountaineers could not sustain any offense to counter. Multiple times, Taylor Lamb overthrew his receivers, a trend that continued from nine days earlier at Georgia Southern. The running game consisted of Lamb scrambling from the pocket as the bellcows of Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw were mostly held in check. Offense is where this season has started and ended. The Mountaineers have scored exactly two meaningful fourth quarter touchdown this season, both against Southern Miss in Lamb’s first start, which seems like ages ago. The offense might wake up momentarily this weekend and give the fans some hope, but gloomy days are ahead until this team learns that games start in the first quarter.

Liberty is not your average Big South team. They have dreams for FBS football just like many FCS teams across the country who want a piece of the television pie. But for Liberty, FBS football isn’t a dream, it is a vision. They have courted the Sun Belt on several occasions as a possible travel partner for Appalachian. From that perspective, they are somewhat appealing, but the rest of the Sun Belt is not buying it. In the meantime, on the football field, Liberty has had an up and down season, but one that is not exactly surprising. They have held serve against the schools they should have beaten and have fallen short to the FBS and upper FCS programs. North Carolina pulled away late in the fourth quarter in their season opener before Liberty captured three straight wins. Indiana State and Richmond have defeated the Flames in the last two weekends. Richmond held on last week to spoil the Liberty homecoming in double overtime.

The Liberty offense is a true three-headed machine. The Flames may have shown their hand last week unleashing quarterback Josh Woodrum in a pistol running attack that was very effective against Richmond. Woodrum ran eighteen times for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Prior to last week, Woodrum had not run for more than 36 yards in a game this season. Woodrum has the look off a pocket passer at 6’3 and 225 pounds. He has averaged a solid 257 yards per game while throwing eleven touchdowns to five interceptions.

Darrin Peterson is more than just Woodrum’s go-to receiver; he is just about the only guy he looks for. Evidence to that is the 11 catches that Peterson hauled in against Richmond of the fifteen completed passes that Woodrum completed. Peterson was an all Big South performer last year as a sophomore and has four straight games with over 100 receiving yards this season. Peterson has already hauled in 45 receptions for 709 yards and five touchdowns. If that pace continues, he’ll surely contend for the Big South player of the year award, and might also be named to the midseason Walter Payton Watch list.

DJ Abner is leading rusher for the Flames with 493 yards and five touchdowns. He is almost a guarantee to get about fifteen carries a game. Abner has two games this season with over 100 yards this season against Bryant and Richmond. Abner has caught exactly one pass out of the backfield in the each games this year with mixed results. Three catches went for a total of five yards, while the other three covered 64 yards and a touchdown.

Eventually, Appalachian is going to have to wake up and understand that scoring in the first quarter is paramount to success. The Mountaineers have been outscored 41-10 in the opening frame this season. That has led to Appalachian trailing at the half in all four of their losses. In the last three losses, the games were not out of reach at halftime. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers have also been outscored in the third quarter this season 34-21. As the time goes on in a game, the defense wears thin and their breaks become shorter and shorter due to offensive inefficiency. Nate Woody’s defensive scheme was accustomed to Wofford teams controlling the clock and usually maintaining a lead. Without that luxury, Woody’s scheme is getting exposed.

Obviously talent is there on offense , but Taylor Lamb and many of his weapons are still very young. It makes one wonder if Lamb would not be better suited to sit back and watch more than he did last weekend. It was evident that Lamb was not on his game early on, yet it was well into the fourth quarter before Kam Bryant saw the field. Finding a balance between good experience and bad experience for a freshman quarterback is difficult for a coaching staff. Finding a balance between believing in a process and making every effort to win a game is difficult for fans. For the good of team, coaches and fans, all the hard work is going to have to start showing some results. Hopefully, a return to a more familiar and conventional kickoff time for a game will help with that process.

As far as how the running game looks for Appalachian, it has been somewhat of a mixed bag. I believe most fans would have imagined the numbers to be slightly higher for Marcus Cox (71/344/5) and Terrance Upshaw (51/244/1). Both are averaging over 4.5 yards a carry, but it has been the running of Lamb that might be the most surprising. Lamb’s carries have gone up in every game, but that is not great formula when Cox and Upshaw and more than willing to carry the load. The last two games, Appalachian did not record a 100 yard rusher like it had in the first three games. Part of that is Cox/Upshaw getting only thirty carries in the last two games, compared to over thirty carries per game in the previous three.

It all comes down to an incredibly slow three hour domino effect. The lack of early scoring leads to the defense getting worn out and falling behind. When the team is behind, they are forced to abandon their running game and play away from their strengths. It is basically that simple. Last weekend Liberty played one of their bigger games of the season, despite it being an out of conference game. The Flames had another record setting crowd and their fans are becoming infected with Liberty football. Reports are that Liberty fans are coming in droves to the High Country this weekend, and add that on top of normal High Country tourists and Appalachian’s Homecoming and it should be a busy weekend. Hopefully the Mountaineer offense will get back to basics this weekend with a steady diet of Cox and Upshaw. Liberty has given up over 200 yards rushing a game defensively and has also allowed fifteen rushing touchdowns in six games. In the last two games, Liberty has allowed 300 yard passers in each game. I don’t want Taylor Lamb anywhere near 300 passing yards. I want him down near 225 and maybe throw in another 40 yards rushing. Can Cox and Upshaw go over 100 yards each? I’d love to see it but I don’t think it will happen. One of them will have the hot hand and will put up a big number as the Mountaineers pull away in the second half.

The First Pick

Mountaineers 34

Sparks 20

Men’s Basketball @ Chattanooga

App basketball is getting 7.5 tonight at UTC. I’ll take the Mocs in this one.

— (@bigCasu) March 1, 2014

 

App has scored a whopping ten points in the second half.

—  (@bigCasu) March 1, 2014

 

When Obacha is your leading scorer…

—  (@bigCasu) March 2, 2014

@bigCasu ….you score 44 points and lose by 19.

— App Hoops (@AppHoops) March 2, 2014

 

All Capel talks about is playing for March. Well, it’s March and nothing has changed. It’s over in less than a week.

—  (@bigCasu) March 2, 2014

The end result was a 63-44 Mountaineer loss. Chalk another one up for the good guys, who sadly picked against Appalachian.

Men’s Basketball vs The Citadel

Two weeks ago, when Appalachian beat The Citadel down in Charleston, they enjoyed one of their best shooting performances of the season. The Mountaineers shot over 55% from the field and also hit half of the threes in 80-67 road win. Four Apps scored in double figures led by Mike Kobani who poured in 18. The Apps haven’t win since.

Tonight the Apps are a 10.5 point favorite which is easily their largest spread of the season in a game which they are favored.

6:24 PM: There is absolutely nothing I like about this 10.5 pt spread tonight. But the smart play is to take the Apps. #officialpick

Men’s Basketball @ Davidson

12:22 AM: App has opened as 15.5 point underdog tomorrow at Davidson. Last night, my guess was “16 or 17” What reason do we have to think App covers?

9:18 AM: App spread actually fell half a point overnight, down to 15.

Our pick was for Davidson to cover, but App was able to pull off the cover with a late three from Jay Canty. We take an L on the season.

Men’s Basketball 74 Western Carolina 65

For the first time this season, in its twenty-first game, Appalachian will finally play its first game this season against a conference opponent for the second time. Way back in December, Appalachian went to Cullowhee, holding a ten point lead at halftime, and an eight point lead with ten minutes to play, before finally falling to the Catamounts by six points. It was the scene of the crime of the infamous “Worst Free Throw Ever”, now with a lowly 18 million YouTube views. That game was actually a sign of things to come for Appalachian. The Mountaineers controlled most of the game, before losing late. Reminds us all so much of just about every game in the last three weeks, namely Chattanooga, Georgia Southern, most recently Charleston. The difference between that game, and those most recent games are that the expectation level was different. In December, when the Apps played Western, they were still without Mike Neal, and nobody expected the Mountaineers to win that game. When Neal returned, the Mountaineers started playing better, and the expectations grew with a miniature winning streak in early January.

It is almost like the season has come full circle to an extent. The Mountaineers are back to their ways of losing games where they held leads, or went scoreless for long periods of time. Another difference is that Western has lost four of their last five games, mostly to teams that Appalachian has played very recently. Western has kept their games close, but have not been able to close them out, very similar to how Appalachian is playing. Western’s slump began on January 14th with a loss to Elon, which they followed up with a loss to Samford on the road. The Catamounts then outscored Chattanooga, before losing by single digits to both Georgia Southern and Davidson.

Western features four players averaging double digit points, led by Trey Sumler at 17.6 per game. Tawaski King is their main post player, socring 11.5 points a game while grabbing 5.8 rebounds. Three pointer shooter Tom Tankelwicz has hit 58 treys on the season while shooting at a 40% clip. Brandon Boggs chips in 10.4 points per game.

The question for Appalachian is whether or not Mike Neal will make a difference in this game. Appalachian took good care of the basketball with only nine turnovers in the first matchup, but could not hit a shot in the second half from anywhere. The real different is the play of Tevin Baskin, who only played two minuted in the first game. Baskin brings a lot of athleticism to the Mountaineer lineup, and really is the only fresh player on the team. Baskin has been scoring points and grabbing rebounds in bunches in the last few games, but the problem is, Appalachian has not been winning.

Western has lost the last four games against the spread where they were favored, and is 4-0-1 in its last five games where they are underdogs. Appalachian, as we have detailed on a weekly basis, has been the streakiest team in college basketball against the spread. The Mountaineers covered the first ten games, and have not covered their last five games. Something has to give soon, or does it? I think these two teams are very even, and the Mountaineers were undermanned back in December. My educated guess is that we could see a PK or Appalachian favored by two points.

8:51 AM UPDATE: When we checked the line late last night and this morning, the Mountaineers were considered 1.5 point favorites, and that seems just about right for me. Since I want the Apps to win, I will gladly take a small number.

Postgame:

Appalachian held off a late Western Carolina rally and held on for their fifth conference win of the season in a nine point win. Appalachian controlled most of the game, leading by as many as fourteen points in the first half. Western never led in the game, but cut Appalachian’s lead to one point with two minutes to play at 65-64. The Mountaineers finished the game on a 9-1 run, with Nathan Healy scoring seven of his 24 points in the final two minutes.

Healy scored 15 points in the first half, responding well from his dismal performance against Charleston two nights earlier. Healy was quiet in the second half, scoring only one field goal in the first eighteen minutes of the second half. Healy scored on a three, a dunk and two free throws in the closing minutes, and it was perfect example of his all around game. Healy added eight rebounds, seven steals and two timely blocks to his line for the game. Appalachian has now split the season series with its first conference opponent and it has put them at 5-5 in conference play, just a half game behind Samford for second place in the SoCon North. Elon has a commanding three game lead over Appalachian with only eight conference games remaining.

Appalachian tipped off as a 1.5 point favorite and broke the losing streak against the spread, to go 11-5 on the season. Our picks are one game behind at 10-6 for the season. Appalachian’s next opponent, Georgia Southern will most likely be favored against the Mountaineers. For whatever reason, Georgia Southern has always been a tough road game for the men. Factor in how Appalachian blew a huge lead at home just a few games ago and could not cover against the Eagles.

Men’s Basketball 83 UNC-Greensboro 70

Appalachian concludes its homestand with a game against UNC-Greesboro on Monday night. Greensboro is having a very tough season, standing at 3-11 and 1-2 in conference play. The Spartans were considered a team that could win the North Division, but have not played that well. They have lost several plays to injuries recently and are short handed at the wrong time of the year. Trevis Simpson has recently had an ankle injury and a concussion, according to uncgspartans.com. The school says that Simpson is a game-time decision on Monday. Korey Van dussen broke his wrist in practice recently and he will be out for a month or more. Freshman center RJ White is also out for the season.

Darrell Armstrong has been carrying the Spartans recently. Armstrong averages 16.6 points per game but has only started four games. Armstrong has scored in double figures in all but two games this season, and tied a season high with 25 points against Western Carolina on Saturday. Simpson averages 18.0 points per game and is easily an all-SoCon performer when he is healthy. Greensboro has a very athletic team and they are tough to defend in transition. Last year, Greensboro won two of the three meetings. Greensboro overcame a huge deficit to beat Appalachian at home in overtime, and then overpowered the Mountaineers in the SoCon tourney.

We are thinking the Mountaineers should be favored here. Eventually Vegas is going to figure out Appalachian. A team cannot go an entire season covering the spread every games. Eventually things will start evening out. Regardless, we are thinking Appalachian is going to be 3 to 5 point favorite tomorrow night. We will update the spread throughout the day on Monday.

5:24 UPDATE: It took all afternoon to get a line up, despite several other SoCon games being out up last night, the Appalachian game was slow to get line. One site lined it at -4.5, but our primary book has it at -5.5 in favor of the Mountaineers. I think that is a very slippery number, and tonight could be the night the Apps lose their cover streak. However, we are going to ride the Mountaineers until they burn us. We will take the Mountaineers.

6:05 UPDATE: For what it is worth, the line has moved to -4.

Postgame:

After falling behind by as many as ten points in the first half, Appalachian exploded for 51 second half points en route to its fifth straight win, 83-70 over UNC-Greensboro. Appalachian came out of halftime down seven, and went on a 18-2 run that surged them ahead by nine points. Appalachian encountered several small runs by the Spartans in the second half, but responded every time with a huge basket of their own.

Perhaps the most noticeable statistic that gives some credit to Appalachian, is how well they have shot free throws and taken care of the basketball recently. Appalachian only turned the ball over nine times against Greensboro, while also getting to the free throw line thirty-four times. Appalachian converted twenty-eight of its free throws for a 82% clip for the game. On the other hand, Greensboro only hit eleven of their eighteen free throw attempts while Appalachian was making its run.

If there is one concern with this recent streak, is that the team is playing a very short bench. Jamaal Trice continues to play limited minutes off the bench due to illnesses. Michael Obacha played twelve minutes, the most action he has seen, mostly by staying out of foul trouble. Chris Burgess played twelve minutes as well, and hit a huge three pointer in the first half. Outside of those three, the rest of team is playing a large number of minutes each night. Nathan Healy (37), Tab Hamilton (35), and Jay Canty (32) and Mike Neal (32) are all averaging well over thirty minutes the last few games. Tevin Baskin played 29 minutes off the bench against UNCG. The scary thing, is this team is an injury away from being in real trouble due to depth.

Four Mountaineers scored in double figures, which will probably continue as long as they are playing thirty-plus minutes each game out. Healy led all scorers with 24 points while also snagging nine rebounds and swatting three shots. Mike Neal scored nineteen points, with nine of those coming on the three point line. Baskin added sixteen points, four rebounds and three steals. Canty was the final double digit scorer for the Apps with 14 points and nine rebounds. Tab Hamilton continues to struggle to find his shot, but has played good defense the last two games, first chasing Elon’s Jack Isenbarger on Saturday, and then playing against a very athletic group of wing players from Greensboro. 

For Greensboro, Trevin Simpson did play, but did not start. Simpson finished with 22 points in 27 minutes. Simpson easily has one of the best jumpshots coming off the dribble in the conference. Derrell Armstong finished with 20 points, but no other Spartan scored in double figures. Greensboro is a dangerous team thanks to Simpson and Armstrong, and can beat any team in this league on any given night. The rest of thir roster is a motley crew. Nobody really scares you. Simpson and Armstrong combined for sixteen of the twenty-three Spartan field goals.

Finally, after a line that was posted late in the day, and saw a lot of action in the hours leading up to the game, it finally settled down right where we figured it would. Although the book we use says the final line was -5.5, we know it was closer to 4 as tipoff approached. Regardless, Appalachian covered again, for the tenth time this season. The Mountaineers have yet to lose a game against the spread this season. It is really hard to believe, that a team with an RPI in the high 280’s has yet to lose against the spread. We know this will eventually even out, but for the time being, we are going to enjoy this most unlikely of statistics. The thought is that Appalachian could be considered favorites in its next two road games at Chattanooga and Samford. If we have to guess, a pick’em  could be very likely on Saturday at the Roundhouse.

North
Western Carolina 4-1 .800 2-1 2-0 0-0 L1 7-10 .412 4-2 2-7 1-1 L1
Appalachian State 3-1 .750 2-0 1-1 0-0 W3 7-8 .467 5-2 2-6 0-0 W5
Samford 3-1 .750 1-1 2-0 0-0 W2 5-12 .294 2-4 3-6 0-2 W2
Elon 2-2 .500 0-1 2-1 0-0 W1 9-7 .563 5-2 4-5 0-0 W1
Chattanooga 2-2 .500 0-1 2-1 0-0 L1 7-10 .412 4-6 3-4 0-0 L1
UNCG 1-3 .250 1-0 0-3 0-0 L3 3-12 .200 3-4 0-8 0-0 L2