Appalachian Football @ Texas State

Appalachian State (6-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) @ Texas State (3-6, 1-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 10th, 2018 4:00pm est

TV/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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Jim Wacker Field at Bobcat Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf Duraspine Pro

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.41

Texas State: 45.68

Home: 2.44

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -20.5

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 20, Texas State 13,  September 16th, 2017, San Marcos, TX

WxCrum Forecast: Cloudy, chance of an evening shower, Temps hovering around 50

Nothing feels better than getting back in the win column. The losses have to happen in order for the wins to be appreciated to the fullest extent. Not only did the Mountaineers enjoy getting back in the win column, but they had to have enjoyed doing it in front a lot of their fans in a visiting stadium. That game felt like a flashback to the days in the Southern Conference when Mountaineer fans would pack the stadiums of opponents who were never prepared for the onslaught of concession requests. The lines for cold soft drinks moved about as efficiently as Coastal Carolina’s offense. The Mountaineer defense held the Chanticleers to a season low in total yards and were never really threatened. The win kept the Mountaineers in the Sun Belt East division chase with Georgia Southern falling in Monroe. That makes this week’s game so very important. Appalachian will play its final road game of the season, at a venue that gave the Mountaineers some trouble last year. The Mountaineers avoided disaster pulling out a seven point win last year in San Marcos. A scheduling anomaly sends Appalachian back to Texas in consecutive years and now the Mountaineers will be more familiar with their surroundings as they travel. It’s also looking like the weather will also be more comfortable considering the late summer heat the Mountaineers also had to endure last season. 

Since Appalachian has joined the Sun Belt, Texas State has been arguably the worst team in the conference. The Bobcats have just seventeen wins since the 2014 season, and that includes a seven win season in 2014, the last time they finished with a winning record. Back-to-back 2-10 seasons were the lowest points in 2016 and 2017, but Texas State appears to be turning it around a little bit, even if the results do not actually reflect their improvement. Currently with three wins, and three monster tasks ahead of them to close the season, the Bobcats might be pushing toward a bowl campaign next year. Until then, Texas State has App State, Troy and Arkansas State to close the 2018 season out. 

The true story behind the Bobcat season has been the quarterback play. It seems like from one week to the next, its been a guessing game as to who would take snaps prior to each game. Willie Jones III has played in seven games, sitting out against both Louisiana schools in non consecutive weeks. Tyler Vitt has played in six games, not playing in three of them, and neither of the last two games. Jones has taken advantage of his playing time, rushing for 172 yards in the last two weeks combined and scoring two of his three rushing touchdowns. Vitt is less of a runner, averaging less than three yards per carry on the season, but he did register a 92-yard day against the Ragin’ Cajuns. 

 Chances are pretty good the Mountaineers will see Willie Jones III on Saturday to start the game. Jones III easily had his best passing day of the season last week against Georgia State’s beat up secondary. Jones III completed 21/26 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. A lot the Texas State passing attack is of the shorter variety. The Bobcats like to get the ball to their skill players on the outside. But Georgia State is a “get well” game for a lot of opposing offenses. Jones III had a 93 yard touchdown pass against the Panthers, and another 69-yard completion that did not result in a score. On both attempts, a blown coverage by Georgia State led to the big plays. 

The Texas State defense is somewhat underrated as a unit. The are currently fourth in points allowed in the Sun Belt at 27.7 points per game, trailing three schools that all have winning records. It’s rare to see a team with just three wins lead in that category. The Bobcats are also third in total defense, allowing just 380 yards per game. It’s a balanced affair, as they rank in the top half against the run and the pass. The Bobcats only trail the Mountaineers in terms of defensive pass efficiency, highlighted by allowing just eleven passing touchdowns on the season. 

What happened in Conway last weekend was not any more or less than it needed to be. It was business-like beat down that was just not completely reflected on the scoreboard. The Mountaineer defense never let Coastal Carolina get comfortable on offense. The tandem of Darrynton Evans and Marcus Williams Jr moved the chains all night long as they combined for 262 of the Mountaineers 278 rushing yards. Both backs averaged over five yards per carry. In what appears to be a spot start for Jacob Huesman, the redshirt sophomore was useful, connecting with six different receivers. He had two very fluky interceptions, one that accounted for the only points in the game for Coastal. Huesman also flashed some touch with a beautiful touchdown pass to Corey Sutton. Seems just about every pass thrown to Corey Sutton near the end zone is a work of art.

I’ll come clean about Texas State. They are the least interesting team in the conference to write about. A lot of it has to do with missing them in our first two years of Sun Belt play, and not being as familiar. Last year, it was App State’s first conference game, and I believe a lot of people underestimated them. In 2017, Texas State started a graduate transfer with SEC experience at quarterback. This year, you’ll see the sophomore in Willie Jones III and maybe even the freshman Tyler Vitt. By now, the Bobcats have the Mountaineers attention. Texas State will not have one of their better tacklers, Bryan London II for the first half of the game on Saturday due to an ejection for targeting last week in Atlanta. On the other hand, Appalachian will have the services of one Zac Thomas, who has advanced through concussion protocol and has been deemed healthy enough to play. Without Thomas the last two games, the Mountaineer offense was reserved at best. Thomas has the big arm and the mobility to extend plays which was somewhat lacking the last two games. It will be a tough test against an underrated defense for a quarterback who has not seen a meaningful game snap in over three weeks. I can see the first few drives setting the tone for both sides. The Bobcats have won two straight, but the likes of New Mexico State and Georgia State are not exactly top notch competition. 

 

The First Pick

Kitties 13

Mountaineers 35

Appalachian Football @ Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) @ Coastal Carolina (5-3, 2-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 5:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Brooks Stadium 

Surface: Shaw Sports Powerblade (teal)

Capacity: 15,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.43

Coastal Carolina: 56.28

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 16.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -14.5

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 37, Coastal Carolina 29,  October 21st, 2017, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Dry, Temperatures near 70 for a high, lows in the upper 50’s

There is zero reason to dwell on the past, and although it has taken yours truly a lot longer than I expected to get over it, the time has come to move forward. Plenty is still at stake for the Mountaineers this season. The Sun Belt has shown time and time again, just when you expect things to go a certain way, that weird things can happen. Although App State no longer controls its own destiny for a conference title, that has been the norm for the past two seasons. In both title winning seasons, it was the Mountaineers who needed help down the stretch to accomplish their goals. All things considered, App is in a familiar spot. Now that all the distractions are out of the way, the Mountaineers can get down to the nitty-gritty business of playing football week to week. That is the expectation of every week, but it can be hard to block all that out when your school’s name is getting tossed around like it never has before. Everything that was lost last weekend can be regained at some point. Maybe not this week, or this season, but it can and will be. Last year was a perfect example. After two tough mid-season losses, the Mountaineers got healthy, and played their best football of the season in the last four weeks. We have four weeks remaining in the regular season, and there is no time like the present to start another streak. 

In 2017, Coastal head coach Joe Moglia sat out the season to attend to his health. In an announcement that was made late in fall camp, the Chanticleers were without their head coach heading into their first season of FBS play. The season ended predictably. The Chants finished tenth in the twelve team Sun Belt conference, tied with Georgia Southern. The Chanticleers won their last two games of the season, against FBS-exiting Idaho and Georgia Southern to finish 3-9. Five of their losses were decided by eight points or less, including their loss the App State. 

This season, the Chanticleers are doing their best to reverse the trend of close losses. Last week they opened the game with a 17-0 lead which they eventually relinquished to Georgia State. The Panthers scored 27 of the next 30 points to take a seven point lead into the fourth quarter. After surrendering three third quarter touchdowns, the Chants scored ten points in the final frame and held the Panthers scoreless to grab a 37-34 road win. In September, Coastal jumped out to a 16-7 halftime lead over Louisiana and held on to win 30-28 in another road game. Coastal has three other wins this season, over UAB, UMass and Campbell, which puts them on the doorstep of bowl eligibility, but they face a daunting stretch of App State, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern in their next three games. 

The Chanticleers have their own issues with their starting quarterback. Kilton Anderson remains the leader in passing yardage even after only playing in five of the team’s eight games. Anderson has not played at all in three of the last four games, and played just sparingly against UMass. Anderson was having a career year before going down with an ankle injury. He was on pace to eclipse his junior season in terms of yards, touchdown passes, completions and completions percentage and yards per attempt. In his place, Fred Payton got in on a few plays against UL-Monroe and UMass and played almost exclusively last week versus Georgia State. 

Coastal’s offense is not about passing however. They are team that likes to run the ball, and run in very interesting ways. The base offense is labeled as a spread option, but their variations with motions and pirouettes by their quarterback is something that is rarely seen outside of the service academies. Marcus Outlow leads the Chants with 649 yards on 126 carries, but he has also been somewhat absent recently. Outlow only had nine carries for twenty-five yards against Georgia State while CJ Marable had a bigger day. Marable only had 20 carries in the season’s first three games, but has seen sixty-one carries in the last five games, nearly doubling his usage. Marable had an eighty yard touchdown run against Georgia State, hitting the century mark in yards for the first time this season. 

The Mountaineer defense got a glimpse of Marcus Outlow last year, as he carried seven times for thirty-seven yards. Equally, the Chanticleers were able to lay their eyes on Marcus Williams Jr, who had seventy-two yards and two touchdowns in a game that Taylor Lamb dominated with his arm. Williams Jr, appeared to these eyes to have a better fit than Darrynton Evans as your typical zone running back last week. Against a porous defense, such as Coastal’s, I would expect both backs to have success, but in different places on the field. Evans can certainly burn you outside the hashes and Williams Jr. seems to be running better behind the offensive line. 

In an interesting twist, Coastal Carolina made Appalachian its Homecoming opponent. These are the type of games I like to call, “We’re taking a picture”. Certainly a homecoming crowd will bring plenty of fans, and App Nation is also certain to show well. Joe Moglia has never lost a homecoming game, (5-0) as coach, but this will be his toughest test. Coastal Carolina has the second best rushing offense in the conference, but App State has the second best rushing defense. Being brutally honest, this game might not really come down to what the Coastal offense does or the App defense is able to do. Nope, this one comes down what the Mountaineers can do with presumably a new quarterback taking snaps. It’s the biggest story of the week. A slow process that does not need to be hurried. Is there a chance you see Zac Thomas on Saturday? Yes, but its doubtful in my mind that he’ll be dressed. The reins will be handed to Peyton Derrick or Jacob Huesman. Maybe both will get their shot at playing time. Whoever it is, they need to be able to move the ball, sustain drives, and finish in the end zone. If the App offense is anywhere as close to anemic as it was last week, eventually the Coastal offense will wear down the Mountaineers. I’m expecting a low scoring game this week. Lots of running, minimal passing on both sides and a game that will fly by. 

 

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 21

Mountaineers 28

#25 Appalachian Football @ Georgia Southern

#25 Appalachian State (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) @ Georgia Southern (6-1, 3-0 Sun Belt)

Thursday, October 25th, 2018 7:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPNU

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Paulson Stadium 

Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.66

Georgia Southern: 63.90

Home: 2.47

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 12.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -8.5

Series: App State leads 19-13-1

Last meeting: App State 27, Georgia Southern 6,  November 9th, 2017, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Rain chances increasing through the evening 

We are all so lucky that we get to have this experience once a year. No matter which team is up or down in any given year, nothing really changes. App State and Georgia Southern teeing it up always brings out the best and worst of both fan bases. Whether App fans want to believe it or not, we have somewhat missed the Eagles feeling good about themselves. At the end of day, that is what makes this rivalry. It can be argued that the stakes could not be any bigger this week than they have before between these two schools. Multiple times, one has knocked off the other while they were the top-ranked team in FCS. Multiple times these teams have met with the inside track to a conference championship on the line. Multiple times, one team had more riding on the game than the opponent. It’s a bit different this time, because as much as things stay the same, they also change. Never have App and Southern played with a conference championship game potentially in the balance. Never have they played with a school ranked in the AP Top 25 and never has the slimmest of chances of a New Years Day bowl even been slightly considered. This game might be different, it might be the same, but none of that is considered when these teams are between the lines. It’s all about beating Georgia Southern. 

The last time we saw Chad Lunsford, he was still the interim coach for Georgia Southern. A long time assistant, but never once a coordinator earned the right to lead the Eagles based upon his five week audition. He signed a four year contract nearly double the base salary of the fired Tyson Summers and went to work quickly on getting back to the Georgia Southern basics. Lunsford first hired Scot Sloan away from App State to be his defensive coordinator, and then quickly followed that up by hiring his offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse away from New Mexico. With DeBesse’s hiring, the Eagles were somewhat getting their option offense back. 

Like Louisiana, the Eagles have been sliding for a couple years, but appear to getting things turned around. The Eagles of the last few seasons would not be 6-1 even with the schedule they have played to date. They easily returned the favor to UMass, who had waxed the Eagles in Amherst last year. Following a loss to Clemson, Southern pulled off the early shocker of the Sun Belt slate with a last minute comeback over Arkansas State. That’s when most began to take notice. Their next three opponents were not exactly intimidating, and they took care of business, which a included a close win over perennial Sun Belt cellar dweller Texas State. Southern pulled away from South Alabama in the second half in Statesboro and benefited from three New Mexico State turnovers in their win last weekend. 

With the option being back, you get to see more things like, the leading rusher being the quarterback. The majority of the offense does run through Shai Werts, but his production has declined since the beginning of the season. After 75 carries in the first four games, Werts has just 29 carries in the last three contests. He suffered an injury to his chest in the Texas State game but did return later in that tilt. His rushing average dipped from 95 yards a game in the first four, to 57 yards per in the last three. Werts might have been limited by design last week, as the Eagles still rolled up a season high 389 yards on the ground. 

Southern’s second leading rusher Wesley Fields sat out against New Mexico State with an injury after having his most usage in a game against Texas State with 26 carries for 93 yards. Fields has 472 yards and four rushing touchdowns in six games. Filling in for the injured Fields was redshirt freshman Logan Wright, who ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns on seventeen carries. Wright only had nine carries prior to last week. Senior Monteo Garrett also saw a season-high seventeen carries which he converted into 76 yards vs New Mexico State. Sophomore slot back Wesley Kennedy III, who also handles kickoff returns, added 97 yards on sixteen carries. 

Now that we mentioned every Eagle running back, it’s time to mention our own. Darrynton Evans stepped right in and scampered his way to 183 rushing yards and two total touchdowns in his first action as the main ball carrier. That performance was good enough to be named the Sun Belt’s co-offensive player of the week. Evans now leads the team with 425 rushing yards. In his last two games, Evans has toted the ball 42 times for 298 yards including three total scores. His style is completely different to what fans have been accustomed to for several years. Visually, it will take some getting used to, but arguing with the results will get you nowhere.

The biggest cliche in games where the intensity and emotions are heightened has something to do with “throwing out the records.” It might be old and tired, but generally, it is pretty dead on. It can be tough to look at a bunch of statistics with a run heavy team such as Georgia Southern to get a read on them. Most of time when Georgia Southern is a really good football team, they have been at or near the top team in the nation running the ball. Insert the fifth ranked rushing team in terms of yards per game. On the other side, App State is the seventh best in the same category. Southern has about ten more yards per game, while the Mountaineers boast a better yard per carry average by almost a whole yard (0.95). Otherwise, when you play a run heavy team, and that team is 6-1, their statistics are going to look good. They don’t give up a ton of rushing yards because teams are playing from behind.  They’ll have a ton of rushing yards, and they’ll throw the ball around when you least expect it and they’ll be pretty efficient when they do it. If this game will be affected by wetter than usual weather, it will be the team that is better passing the ball that will prevail. Yeah, you read that right. The beauty of that is the offense knows where they are going, and the defense has to react. I expect a bounce back performance by the Mountaineers in the passing game, despite the conditions. The first team to thirty points will take this one. 

 

The First Pick

The Stink 20

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (3-3, 1-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 3:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 80.79

Louisiana: 57.04

Home: 2.47

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 26 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -25.5

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 63, Louisiana 14,  December 2nd, 2017, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Mostly Cloudy, AM drizzle possible, Winds increasing, Temps in the 50’s

Major test number one is out of the way. It took some time for the cold engine to start, but once it did, it ran like a charm. The Mountaineers fell behind 6-0, but responded on the next drive to take the 7-6 lead. Immediately following another Red Wolves field goal, the Mountaineers responded again, to take a 14-9 lead. From that moment, it was cruise control, and Arkansas State is still looking for answers. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers march on to another conference game, with another extended break. Besides the fallout from losing a great team leader and star running back, to the scuttle of trying to crack the Top 25 for the first time in school history, a lot will have happened between playing games. Focus could be tough when your mind is racing several different directions. Last week’s game is over and the team can’t rest on just one big win. Several more games are ahead of us, all against teams that want their shot against the Mountaineers. The Cajuns are 0-4 against App State. Georgia Southern has lost three straight in the series. Coastal is 0-4, Texas State 0-3 and Georgia State 0-4. From here on out nothing will be easy, and the week to week approach is paramount to this team’s success. 

New Louisiana athletic director Bryan Maggard did not waste any time firing Mark Hudspeth. He informed the once popular coach that he would no longer be the head coach the following morning after App State’s seven touchdown win last season. By the end of the next business week, Maggard tabbed one Billy Napier to the Cajuns’ 26th head football coach. Napier is the former Furman quarterback who was infamously involved in one of the most memorable plays and radio calls in Kidd Brewer stadium history. That result from sixteen years ago has nothing to do with this weekend, but it just had to be mentioned.

The Cajun’s were sliding for the past three years under Hudspeth and his ouster was imminent. The program that was considered on of the top teams in the Sun Belt is no longer. Currently, the Cajuns hold the top spot in the Sun Belt West but that seems like they are just renting space. A porous defense with no depth is unlikely to hold up against the some of the stronger offenses in the conference. The schedule does not  do any favors for the Cajuns either for the next few weeks. After travelling to Siberian North Carolina they return to Lafayette for Arkansas St and then hit the road to Troy. If the Cajuns plan to go bowling, they cannot afford any missteps. 

Louisiana was tabbed to finish fourth in the West division when the coaches cast their ballots back in July, but nobody expected the type of dominance we have seen from the East Division. The Cajuns lost at home to second year Sun Belt opponent Coastal Carolina about a month ago in a game that the Chanticleers dominated at every statistical level including possessing the ball for over 38 minutes. But the Cajuns have had a couple “get right” games the last two weeks against two of the worst teams in FBS; hapless Texas State and a very young New Mexico State.

The Cajuns sport a three headed rushing attack in Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais. They have combined to run 185 times for 1,355 yards. They make up 90% of the Cajuns rushing total for the season. All three are averaging well over 6.5 yards a carry and have combined for thirteen touchdowns. Ragas and Mitchell are similarly sized weighing in right around 220 points, while Calais is smaller at 180 pounds. Quarterback Andre Nunez is one of the more accurate passes in the country, completing 68.3 % of his passes. Nunez has eleven touchdown passes on the season, but five of those came last week against New Mexico State in their lopsided win. 

The Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State last week but it came with a huge cost. Jalin Moore suffered a severe ankle injury that will cost him the remainder of his Black and Gold career. Enough words cannot be said about Jalin Moore, and I’m not going to try, but it will be tough not talking about his performances for the remainder of this season. However, it opens the door for others to step forward and show they can handle a bigger load. Several different backs will get their shot to fill the absence, and it might take some time to figure that all out offensively.

Besides Moore’s injury, the story of last Tuesday night was the Mountaineer defense. The Red Wolves were limited to 117 yards on the ground on thirty-seven attempts. Justice Hansen was 25/40 passing, but was held to just 209 yards and App State picked him off three times.  Three field goals are not going to beat the Mountaineers. UNC-Charlotte tried that same strategy and it did not work. 

Louisiana will be a formidable opponent this weekend. Probably more so than Arkansas State was last week. The Red Wolves are trending down, but have not bottomed out as of yet. Louisiana hit rock bottom last year and are working their way back up the Sun Belt ladder. The Cajuns have their limitations this season, but are trying to minimize those weaknesses with their offensive style. They simply do not have the horses on defense to run the offense Napier would like. In turn, the Cajuns will try to shorten this game on Saturday significantly because they have to. They cannot afford to have the nations 116th ranked rushing defense and 103rd ranked passing defense on the field for a long time. The Cajuns are giving up close to seven yards per play. Their best defense will be their offense. Speaking of offense, everyone is curious to see what kind of changes, if any, that the Mountaineers make considering the running back situation. I think everyone gets a chance, and it would not seem prudent to let one man carry the entire load. Considering the issues the Cajuns have in the secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mountaineers decided to air it out a little more than usual and put pressure on Louisiana to score every time they have the ball. That would give the running game some live game experience to work out any kinks and potential rhythm issues. Eventually the Mountaineers will fail to cover a spread, as they have in eight straight games, but I’m not doubting them this weekend. 

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 20

Mountaineers 48

 

Appalachian Football @ Arkansas State

Appalachian State (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) @ Arkansas State (3-2, 0-1 Sun Belt)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 8:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN2

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Centennial Bank Stadium 

Surface: GEO Surfaces Field turf

Capacity: 30,406

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.48

Arkansas State: 64.77

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11.5 points (rounded)

VegasInsider: App State -9

Series: Tied 1-1

Last meeting: Arkansas State 40, App State 27, November 5th, 2015, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Partly cloudy with light wind, Temps in upper 70’s

It’s been almost three years. Over a thousand days. A budding rivalry that has barely gotten off the ground will finally go up, on a Tuesday. For the Mountaineers, it will be their first game played on the second night of the work week. Arkansas State is no stranger to Tuesday’s, having played eight such games. This game sits out on an island, or a cape, perhaps an isthmus, as App’s only game in twenty calendar days. Whichever your water feature of choice, this game has been landlocked as a premier match up in conference play. Both schools want to host the initial conference championship game and a win by either would go a long way in securing that honor. Only one of the two can host the game, but both could potentially participate. Beyond the importance of Tuesday night, is the possible chess match that could unfold if both teams played again. Before we get ahead of ourselves, we’ll remind you how both teams have won on each other’s field in the two games that have been played, and although not many players remain on each side, the head coaches do. That’s a feat in itself. Their conflicting styles will factor into this result. Whether it be slow and steady or uptempo and aggressive, one team will be ahead of the curve by the time that Tuesday is gone

The feeling in Jonesboro, is that Arkansas State has their most talented offense ever, led by a senior quarterback that throws for a lot of yards and touchdowns. The Red Wolves have been abysmal in non-conference play since Appalachian joined the conference, but that changed in 2018. Arkansas State grabbed peer wins over Tulsa and UNLV that looked good on paper. However, Tulsa is now 1-4 with their only win over, (laughs) Central Arkansas who, famously beat Ark State in 2016. UNLV is currently 2-3, with a wins over Prairie View A&M and 0-5 UTEP. You get the idea. Arkansas State grabbed a couple non-conference wins, but not much to write home about. 

Those wins were enough to keep everyone calm in Jonesboro for the time being, and then they played Georgia Southern, looked the same as they did in their previous two games, and lost. Then all heck broke loose. Hit the panic button. Something has to change. It’s possible that loss was the perfect wake up call for the Red Wolves. They get to play at home, sleep in their own beds for an odd gameday, and they got a couple more days to prepare. 

The conference tabbed Justice Hansen as its preseason offensive player of the year. Hansen also won the award in 2017 with just shy of 4000 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In 2018, his completion percentage is at the highest its been in his career and his interceptions are down, but his yards per attempt (7.5) is at a career low. Hansen has also run the ball 43 times for 152 yards in his last three games, a 3.5 yard per carry average. He’s on pace to be sacked more times than any other year in his career as well. What does all this mean? Hansen has been asked to do a lot and his team has not responded well to it. 

The Red Wolves rushing attack is spread out. Hansen leads the team in carries with 54, but is fourth on the teams with 189 yards.  Three other backs have carried the load. Marcel Murray, a freshman, has the most yards at 261 and has added a couple touchdowns. Warren Wand, who stands all of 5’5″, has 204 yards on the ground. Armond Weh-Weh is the bigger back and has carried for 190 yards on the season. Arkansas State has three receivers with over 200 yards receiving. Omar Bayless average 16.6 yards per catch and has a 54-yard touchdown to his credit. Kirk Merritt and Justin McInnis have combined for 52 of the teams 127 receptions.  

In a game that many were uneasy about coming in, App State throttled South Alabama 52-7. It had the same look and feel as the win over Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineers pounced the Jaguars early and cruised to an easy win with 348 rushing yards, led by Jalin Moore’s 123 yards and two touchdowns. Zac Thomas pitched in with an electrifying 54-yard touchdown run to highlight his 77 yards. Darrynton Evans had a 42 yard burst to boost his 61 yard effort. Marcus Williams Jr added 59 yards on 6.6 yards per carry. As a team, the Mountaineers have run for 1078 yards in just four games, and 780 of those yards have occurred in the last two games. 

Zach Thomas had an easy day, but was pushed in the third quarter by his own coach to see what he could handle. That eventually led to a couple of interceptions that were thrown when the game was well in hand. Typically a time to give repetitions to younger bench players, Scott Satterfield challenged his sophomore quarterback which provided an opportunity for live in-game teaching moments. Thomas had the help of his defense most of the day, as the Mountaineers shut down South Alabama’s run game to the tune of 2.4 yards per carry. 

Eventually, the “Who did you beat?” game wears off. Appalachian has three lopsided wins and a close loss at a top ten team. Nobody is asking Alabama if they have beaten anyone. I’m not comparing App State and Alabama, but if you continue to destroy teams, your resume speaks for itself. The same can be said about Arkansas State. Their wins are not very impressive, but they are wins. It is the losses that get nitpicked. Arkansas State had plenty of chances to score points against Georgia Southern, but couldn’t execute when the field got smaller. That’s been the case all season. Arkansas State has just eight touchdowns in fourteen trips to the red zone. Their red zone scoring percentage on the season is just .786, tied for 101st in the country. The only Sun Belt teams worse? South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe. Offense is not the problem for Arkansas State. They have nearly 400 more yards than their opponents. The issue is the inefficiency. The Red Wolves are averaging just 6.0 yards per play, while their defense is giving up 6.1 per snap. On the flip side, Appalachian has given up just 12 red zone scoring chances, allowing nine scores, which is good enough for 29th nationally. The team that finishes their drives will prevail. The Mountaineers will finish a few more drives than the Red Wolves and will take home their second conference win of the season. 

The First Pick

Lil’ Red Riding Hood 23

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs South Alabama

Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs South Alabama (1-3, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 3:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.03

South Alabama: 53.08

Home: 2.70

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 26.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -26

Series: Tied 1-1

Last meeting: App State 34, South Alabama 27, December 5, 2015 Mobile, AL

WxCrum Forecast: Partly cloudy to mostly cloudy, Temps in the mid to upper 60’s

We are back on track, playing games and no longer fretting about the past. Although a good old-fashioned whipping lacks the drama and intrigue of the conference slate, it was the perfect medicine for what cured the ailments of the App State faithful. Now the attention turns to the most important part of the season: ring games. The hardware is a big reason why you play, the reward at the end of a successful season. Appalachian has aspirations that include winning a title and the first hurdle is South Alabama, one of the five Sun Belt schools to beat the Mountaineers once. Not only are the Jaguars one of the five, they were the first of five schools to beat Appalachian, and one of only two schools to win in Boone. Those small facts are just enough to have the fan base on the edge of their seats for this game. That’s the kind of game you long for. Having just enough butterflies floating around to get you feeling a little funny. But never fear folks, it’s not 2014 anymore, and the Mountaineers are a much more talented group than what they fielded in their FBS infancy. The Jaguars are still trying to find solid ground in what is now their tenth season of football in school history and for the first time, they have a new head coach leading the charge. 

Over the years, the Jaguars seasons have been defined by their week in and week out inconsistencies. They can beat any team in the conference on any day, and can also be beaten any day. That is what eventually got former coach Joey Jones fired. Enter Steve Campbell, a lower division lifer, with stops all over the deep south, including Central Arkansas and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. Campbell has never had a losing season in nineteen years as a head coach. He grew up on the Gulf Coast and although South Alabama may have not been a dream job, it is a job that makes him very comfortable. He is flanked with numerous coaches on his staff that he has coached with prior which creates a very cohesive group. 

One area that has drastically improved for South Alabama is their offense. A stagnant group in 2017 which averaged under twenty points per game, has increased their output by nine points. The problem is, their defense has done the same. The Jaguars allowed 26.5 points per contest in 2017, and that number has ballooned to 42 points per game. Scoring more points should put your team in position to contend for more wins, but for a team that has allowed thirty or more points in every contest, they likely are not very excited to see a team this weekend that is averaging 51.7 points per game in App State. 

Jaguar starting quarterback Evan Orth has played in every game this season, but only recently became the starter. Orth was listed fourth on the depth chart in the spring, but has outlasted his competition with his resilient nature. One quarterback decided to transfer, another was suspended, and the third was plain out inefficient. The UAB transfer has finally found a home and seems to be running the offense that Steve Campbell likes. A good mix of power reads, options, and the deep ball have kept the Jaguars in a lot of games. Orth has completed 69% of his passes for 789 yards, and six touchdowns to only one interception. Orth also has 113 rushing yards to his credit. Kawaan Baker has been the beneficiary of the option game from the slot. Baker leads the team with 134 rushing yards on just twenty-one attempts, but has crossed the goal line four times. Jamarius Way has over a third of the team’s catches for over half the team’s receiving yards. Way is a big receiver who does not have gamebreaking speed, but enough to be effective

In what eventually amounted to as game to pad statistics, Appalachian played just about everyone in their 72-7 win over Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineer offense was dominant from the start, scoring in just three plays on their opening drive and never trailing. It was an expected result that was inflated due to two blocked punts, one recovered for a touchdown, and the other where the Mountaineers scored on the following play. Long touchdowns by Jalin Moore from 81 yards, and D’Andre Hicks from 73 yards including a 62 yard punt return by Clifton Duck highlighted the day. Of the ten touchdown drives, only two of them took longer than five minutes to complete and the Mountaineers punted just once. 

The rushing attack led the day, with 432 yards coming on the ground, with Hicks going for 150 yards on eleven attempts and Moore ending his day with 119 yards on just eight carries. Moore now has 253 yards and three touchdowns on the year, all on just 37 carries. His low usage should keep him fresh for later in the season. Zac Thomas had a light day, with 185 yards passing to up his total to 750 yards on the season. Thomas added one passing and one rushing touchdown. Thomas has had a hand in nine touchdowns for the Mountaineers this season. 

South Alabama has had a difficult schedule to this point. They have fallen victim to always tough Louisiana Tech, and the high octane offenses of Oklahoma State and Memphis. All three are in the top 20% of all NCAA offenses this season. As are the Mountaineers. What those three schools cannot claim is top ten defense. Memphis is 23rd, La Tech is 37th and Oklahoma State is 70th. Having a couple lopsided games certainly can skew some of this data, but eventually, your team starts resembling what they actually are. South Alabama has a rather inexperienced interior of their offensive line. Even with an offense that likes to get rid of the ball quick, I’d expect Appalachian to send pressure up the middle to test a young offensive line. With an offense such as the Jaguars, who are only averaging 3.62 yards per rushing attempt, the Jaguars could be in plenty of long yardage scenarios on third down. That is where the Mountaineers break the soul of South Alabama. The Mountaineers can clog the running lanes with their rangy linebackers who have surrendered just 2.93 yards per carry. I’ve been back and forth on this pick all week long, and although the Jaguars might score some points, the Mountaineers might just be too much to overcome this weekend. 

The First Pick

Spotted Cats 17

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football vs Gardner Webb

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Gardner Webb (1-2, 0-0 Big South)

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 3:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.86

Gardner Webb: 30.45

Home: 2.67

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 48 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: NL

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last meeting: App State 45, Gardner Webb 7, October 6, 2007

WxCrum Forecast: Increasing Clouds, with chances of rain, Temps in the Mid 70’s

As a fan, dealing with a bye week is brutal enough. This past weekend was worse. Watching college football on television is usually fun, but when your team is not playing when they were scheduled to, just steps from your own doorstep? Just about as bad as it gets. Football fans have that every week routine. It begins on Monday with teleconferences and news articles, and progresses throughout the week with coaches shows and practice reports. Next thing you know, its Thursday, the day before you might travel to a game. And you do it over and over again. Week after week, the players, coaches, fans, journalists, equipment managers and everyone in between, embrace that grind. There are not many more magical times of the year than football season. September without a football game is like Easter without eggs, Christmas with no ham, and Kool-Aid without sugar. It just isn’t the same. Eventually we all move on, and the games return and its all forgotten, but it was a grim time for several days. Hopefully, when toe meets leather on Saturday afternoon, we’ll all be back in our happy place: the win column. 

The head coach of the Runnin’ Bulldogs is 1983 alum Carroll McCray, who is in his sixth season in Boiling Springs. Previously, McCray was in charge at Austin Peay from 2003-06. McCray spent his first four years in the coaching world under one Sparky Woods from 1983-87 in Boone, NC at App State. McCray carries a 38-77 all time record, and more recently is 22-38 at his alma mater. His lone winning season in his ten year head coaching career came in his first season at Gardner-Webb, where his team went 7-5. The Runnin’ Bulldogs play a tougher than usual schedule for a Big South squad. Besides their first two losses of the season coming to North Carolina A&T and Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb also faces off against 2017 FCS playoff participants Monmouth and Charleston Southern to close the season. Currently ranked in the top ten of the FCS polls, Wofford and Kennesaw State also loom on the horizon for Gardner-Webb.

Although it has been a short time since App State has been in FBS, it feels like ages ago. Watching film of Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina brought back a lot of memories. A smattering of fans, 2,257 “attended” the game, that was moved up one day to avoid Hurricane Florence. Gardner-Webb racked up 246 total yards of offense on 70 plays. For much of the game, these two teams didn’t seem like they were very far off in regards to talent, but the box score paints a different story. The Bulldogs gained 145 yards rushing, but also lost 48 yards on the ground. All in all, they gained 2.4 yards per rush on their forty attempts. 

No longer feeling sorry for Zac Thomas, the sophomore was perfect against UNC-Charlotte. No, seriously, he completed all fourteen of his passes, for 295 yards and three scores. Very tidy numbers. Two of his scores, to Corey Sutton and Dominique Heath were absolute dimes, right on the pylons. Thomas added twenty-nine yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. His next incomplete pass will draw groans and boos from the crowd. Kidding aside, Thomas has exceeded expectations quickly, and fans are chomping at the bit to see what he can do next. 

Maybe the next thing that Zac Thomas will do is throw a pass to Corey Sutton and let him leave defenders sprawled out in his wake. Oh, sorry, that has already happened and we’ll probably see it again before too long. Thomas hit eight receivers against UNCC, with Sutton being the main beneficiary. Sutton’s catches went for 27, 38 and 90 yards. That gives him a decent slash line for two games at 9/242/2 on the season. Also benefiting is Malik Williams, who snagged three passes for 51 yards, including a big catch and run for 38 yards that set up App State’s third touchdown of the day in the 45-6 trouncing of the 49ers. 

There have been few murmurs of football the last two weeks with much of the focus being placed on hurricane relief. Sure, we stomped the mud a few times over the last several days over the assumed unwillingness of our last scheduled opponent’s desire to play the Mountaineers anywhere. It was an emotional time for all involved. But alas, here we are, with what seems like a second beginning to the football season. Gardner-Webb provides one final tuneup prior to hitting the conference slate for eight straight games. I want that twelfth game back as much as anyone, and we’ll get it back, and hopefully at home if we take care of what is ahead of us for the next two-plus months. Gardner-Webb’s roster is mostly homegrown and very young. Leading rusher Jayln Cagle is from Kannapolis. Leading receiver Kyle Horton played high school at Charlotte’s Mallard Creek. Four of their top six tacklers are also from North and South Carolina. Even their kickoff specialist is from Newland. This team will have something to prove, despite nearly two dozen freshman seeing game action this year. They have not had much offense to speak of, but they get up, wipe themselves off and continue to play. The effort is there, the execution, not so much. Gardner-Webb has not scored at all in the second half this year in either loss, and have just managed 16 points in their last 120 minutes of football. Additionally, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have never scored more than 17 points on Appalachian, while the Mountaineers have scored 30 or more in five straight games. By the time Saturday is over, it should be six in a row. 

The First Pick

Runnin’ on Fumes 10

Mountaineers 56

Appalachian Football @ UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (0-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs UNC-Charlotte (1-0, 0-0 C-USA)

Saturday, September 8th, 2018 6:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Jerry Richardson Stadium

Surface: Matrix artificial turf

Capacity: 15,314

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.30

UNC-Charlotte: 47.96

Home: 2.36

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -13.5

Series: First Meeting

Last meeting: n/a

WxCrum Forecast: Partly Cloudy, chance for a shower, Temps in 80’s

For sixty minutes, the Mountaineers and Nittany Lions traded blows like two heavyweights in a twelve round bout. As the game progressed to overtime, it was Penn State who landed the final flurry that would complete the most exciting game of the college football’s introductory weekend. A loss is not just always a loss. This was not a game where the out-of-towners simply hung around. Our team not only battled to take the lead twice against Penn State, they also persevered through multiple two touchdown deficits in the fourth quarter. Any other foe may have folded, but not the Mountaineers. Throughout time, Appalachian has faced many long odds in football games, but one thing always rings true. App State is going to give you four quarters. They are going to give you an honest days work. They are going to give you everything they have, because anything less is unacceptable. Now, the scene changes, from one of the largest venues in the sport, to the smallest. Facing a program with twenty-two wins the last two seasons, to one that has eighteen wins, all time. A wanna-be fledgling upstart versus an established storied powerhouse. The roles will have been flipped, and this weekend App State plays the role of the hunted. 

The 49ers are in their sixth season of football existence. Brad Lambert has been the head coach for all six seasons as he was lured away from Wake Forest where he previously served as an assistant, including three seasons as the Deacons defensive coordinator. In the first two years of transitional play before diving into Conference USA in 2015, the 49ers averaged 33 points per game in 2013 and 38 points per game in 2014. During those seasons, the 49ers sported identical 5-6 records. Since Conference USA play has commenced, those numbers have taken a slide. Charlotte averaged 17.5 points a game in a two-win 2015 season, 25.2 points which gave them four wins in 2016, and then completely bottomed out last season averaging 14.2 points in a one-win season. Scoring is not completely indicative of wins and losses in FBS football, but two seasons scoring under 2o points a game is not going to cut it in today’s high scoring college football world. 

 Charlotte has already matched their win total from a season ago. It helps when you play an FCS opponent at home and benefit from two significant weather delays. Fordham’s lack of a run game forced their hand. Eventually Charlotte began attacking the passing game, which led to the Rams gaining just 287 yards on the day, the lowest total that Charlotte had given up since 2015. Fordham was a combined 3/20 on third and fourth down for the contest. Charlotte gained 488 yards against Fordham, a balanced total of 221 on the ground and 267 in the air. Charlotte passed just twenty times, completing thirteen passes. Three passes went for big gainers, a 60-yarder to Victor Tucker, a 71 yard connection to running back Benny Lemay and 45 yard gain for Workpeh Kofa. The 49ers took their shots downfield, but was a very pedestrian 10/17 passing for 91 yards excluding those big plays. Appalachian did give up one big pass play to Penn State last week and its well known that the Mountaineer defense prefers not to give up such plays. 

Last week, we felt sorry for Zac Thomas for one reason; his constant comparisons to his predecessor. Apparently Thomas likes the pressure, as his future performances will only be compared to his very first career start. Thomas was virtually flawless in regulation passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, all while completing 67.5% of his passes. That’s forgetting 43 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. Sure, his one interception was the final nail in the coffin as the game ended on that play, but without Thomas’ performance, App State is not in that position late in the game. Thomas flashed a wide arsenal of skill, from toughness to touch, and remember, that was his first start. 

The Mountaineer receiving group did not disappoint. Corey Sutton somewhat quietly led the team with six catches for 87 yards. Malik Williams’ route running was considered his most improved aspect of his game. Williams was able to slip behind the Penn State defense on two occasions to score fourth quarter touchdowns, catching beautifully thrown balls from his quarterback. Thomas Hennigan was consistent with four catches for twenty-eight yards, despite being constantly harassed by defenders for most of the game. Jalin Moore also added five receptions for thirty-six yards, working mostly from the backfield on swing passes. This newly found receiving threat provides another element in which opposing defenses will have to defend Moore, who only had seventeen career receptions to his name prior to this season. 

Beyond the bad blood and back and forth jawing between fan bases for the past several years, we finally have a football game that will be played this weekend. All the extracurricular jargon has somewhat overshadowed the meat of the real story. In an effort to save his job, Mike Lambert fired both coordinators on his coaching staff this past offseason. Offensive Coordinator Shane Montgomery came from Youngstown where he was known as a balanced play caller. Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer  left Oklahoma State to get back to the southeast. His Cowboy teams were in the top half of the conference in the very offensively loaded Big 12 conference. The 49ers showed balanced in offensive yardage on Saturday against Fordham, but they ran the ball 47 times compared to just 20 passing plays. Will Charlotte attempt to employ a game of keep away? Benny Lemay received the majority of the carries, toting it 25 times for 135 yards and 5.4 yards per carry average. That has been consistent with Lemay’s career attempts, averaging in the mid 5.0 range for three seasons. Lemay is well built at 5’9 and 218 pounds. He might lack the speed that Troy’s Jordan Chunn had, but their makeup seems comparable. Speaking of speed, that is where I expect App State to excel. Charlotte often had issues in the first half against Fordham getting separation in the passing game. The two teams actually looked pretty evenly matched early on. I don’t expect many match ups to be even this weekend. This will be a different animal for Charlotte. They will feel like visitors in their own stadium. However geeked they might be for this game, and the crowd they’ll get to play in front of, adrenaline can only go so far. App State was the better fourth quarter team nearly a week ago, and I expect them to be the better team for four quarters on Saturday. 

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 9

Mountaineers 40

Appalachian Football @ #10 Penn State

Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs #10 Penn State (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

Saturday, September 1st, 2018 3:30pm est

TV/Video: Big Ten Network

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, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Beaver Stadium

Surface: Natural Grass

Capacity: 106,572

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 69.75

Penn State: 86.49

Home: 2.36

Penn State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Penn State -24

Series: First Meeting

Last meeting: n/a

WxCrum Forecast: Mostly Cloudy, chance for a shower, Temps in 70’s

The season opener. On Labor Day weekend. A Big Ten Opponent. On their own television network. A stadium that can hold over 100,000. The stage is set for another season of football at a historic venue, and as usual, the Mountaineers hope to destroy the dreams of national title contenders in college football’s opening weekend. Appalachian will play the role of decided underdogs, who will carry that chip on their shoulder as they always do when facing an opponent that is perceived to have more talent and potential. No question, the challenge that lies ahead will be tough, but not insurmountable. Both sides have plenty of unknowns on both sides of the ball, but also return plenty of celebrated athletes who will look for their fit among the newcomers. Exactly how those new players fit with the old is the great mystery that every college football coach has to deal with at this time of the year. For some it takes longer than others to find that mesh point where each player is on the same page. Preparation only takes a team so far in August. Regardless of the result, coaches will be able to evaluate and adjust their plans for their season. This weekend will not make or ruin the season for any football team in the country. This is the time to learn and find out exactly what 2018 has in store for Appalachian State. 

You might have heard of this team, Penn State, in the past. Perhaps it was for two national titles in the 80’s. Maybe it is the four Big Ten titles in the last quarter century or the 48 total bowl games they have played in. Maybe there are infamous reasons why you know about Penn State, but mainly its the traditional old school uniforms and their claim to fame as being Linebacker U. Jack Ham played for the Steelers and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Greg Buttle played in the early 70’s and is considered all time great for the New York Jets. More recently, Navarro Bowman, Sean Lee, Lavar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, and many more spent several years in the NFL. Perhaps the most recently notable Penn State football player is Saquon Barkley, who was selected second overall by the New York Giants in the 2018 NFL Draft. Also drafted were tight end Mike Gesicki by the Dolphins, Daeshon Hamilton by the Broncos, and defensive backs Marcus Allen, Troy Apke, & Christian Campbell. 

 Luckily, the Mountaineers do not have to deal with those six players, but they will have to worry about potential Heisman candidate Trace McSorley who will break several Penn State records before he leaves the blue and white. With back-to-back 3500+ yard passing seasons and 59 career touchdown passes, McSorley already holds the career touchdown record for the Nittany Lions and will break the all time passing yardage record before the leaves turn in the Susquehanna Valley. McSorley has wheels too, totting the ball for eighteen rushing touchdowns and just shy of 900 yards in his career. More often than not, McSorley will gain his rushing yards on designed runs, out of the zone read, or in option looks, but he isn’t afraid to tuck it if he cannot find a receiver open. Containing McSorley  will certainly be a high priority for the App defense. 

With the undeniably difficult task of filling the shoes of the departed Barkley, Miles Sanders will get the first crack. The junior from Pittsburgh only carried the ball 31 times in 2017, but averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Sanders averaged 7.4 yards per carry in his freshman season on 25 attempts. The big play ability appears obvious. Most of his 2017 work came in lopsided blowouts over Georgia State, Michigan and Nebraska. Wide Receiver Juwan Johnson has all the physical tools at 6’4″ and 230 pounds and is fresh off a big sophomore campaign of 54 catches for 701 yards. Johnson had multiple catches in every game in 2017 except Pitt. DeAndre Thompkins is the other returner at wide out with meaningful playing time. Thompkins hauled in 28 catches for 443 yards. 

Part of me feels sorry for App State’s new starting quarterback Zac Thomas. He has probably heard Taylor Lamb’s name hundreds of times when answering questions since the end of last season. And then to top it all off, his own coach hinted at the similarities between McSorley and Lamb at the Sun Belt conference call earlier this week. This could be some type of new motivational tactic that gives Thomas what he is looking for to silence all the haters. The simplest thing Thomas can do to quiet the whispers of “He’s not Taylor” is to be himself. He’s going to make some mistakes, but he is also going to make some plays that will surprise you and make you think, ‘He’s definitely not Taylor”. The more Thomas sees, the more he’ll improve. There is no substitution for experience, so it might take a couple games, but it will come easier which each passing week. 

From one season to next, Appalachian’s young wide receiving corps have grown up, and they are going to be here for awhile. Three sophomores highlight the starting lineup, including returners Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams, and transfer Corey Sutton. Despite their youth, this trio will become household names if they are not already. Hennigan’s 585 yards and seven touchdowns was one of the best years as a freshman in school history. Williams didn’t have quite the numbers, but has made the most improvements since 2017. Sutton does not have a catch as a Mountaineer, but it is only a matter of time for the Charlotte native. He’ll get plenty of looks this season.  

Don’t worry. We have not forgotten about Jalin Moore. We know all how much he means to this team and the identity of the App State offense. His superlatives are exactly what one would expect from a Mountaineer running back. Moore has been noticed by some of the college game’s best coaches, yet he still thrives in his underdog role. Fortunately, Moore will not have to do it all in 2018. Darrynton Evans is fully recovered from his injury-robbed 2017 season and will be a major player in this offense. The workload is yet to be determined, but Evans’ speed provides a different change of pace. That’s what I am most looking forward to this season. How will all the weapons be utilized? Who gets the majority of the workload outside of Jalin Moore. It’s tough to know those answers with so many question marks, but the potential is definitely there. Penn State also has their fair share of uncertainties. With a defense that appears to be stronger on the outside than the inside, how will the Mountaineers decide to attack the Nittany Lions? The Penn State offense appears to be the safer side of the ball. In 2017, their turnover per game margin for the season was +.92, the same as Appalachian. A new offensive coordinator for Penn State, and a new defensive coordinator for Appalachian might be the most interesting coaching matchup of the weekend. McSorely vs Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes will be another encounter to watch. A seemingly explosive Miles Sanders and a somewhat green Mountaineer linebacker group could also be another important duel. The typical zero turnover, lowly penalized game will be important for both sides in the opener. It’s easy to assume that Penn State’s overall talent is probably greater than that of Appalachian, but for whatever reason I have a good feeling about this one. A blowout is not what I am expecting, but it could certainly be in the range of results. I just do not see 2018 Penn State being 10 Vegas points better than 2017 Georgia over Appalachian. That might not be the correct thought process, but it’s what I am going with. 

The First Pick

Cat Scarfs 30

Mountaineers 16

 

2018 Tailgate Menu

You’ve been thinking about it for weeks. It always takes forever this time of the year, and the anticipation is killing you. Of course, you’ve been drooling thinking about what we are eating at tailgate this year, much less that football season is right around the corner. In 2018, we’ll be trying something out at tailgate for the first time. Hopefully by the time the season comes to a close, we’ll have a seventh home game in early December. 

 

Southern Miss – September 15th – Baby Back Ribs

Is there any better way to kick off the new season? You’ve had them before and they are always top notch. Never over-sauced, with the just the right amount smoke make ribs the ultimate sweet treat for the first tailgate of the season.

 

Gardner-Webb – September 22nd

Spicy Corn Dogs

This seems like a very simple, unlikely option but this should be something that #teamcorndog can celebrate. Traditional deep fried dogs on a stick with a batter that will make you run to the cooler for another cold beverage.

 

South Alabama – September 29th – Homecoming

You all know the deal. Turkeys will be plentiful, brined and prepared three separate ways. The schedule threw a curveball at us with a rare September Homecoming game, the first of its like since 2006, and only the fourth such game in school history.

 

Louisiana – October 20th

The Cajuns will come to Boone for the third time in four seasons and have been gifted with a mid-fall date. The previous games were played after Thanksgiving. Former Furman QB Billy Napier leads the Cajuns and we’ll be serving Josh Jeffries Jambalaya. Make sure you Go For a 2nd bowl of this Cajun dish!

 

Georgia State – November 17th – Black Saturday

The Black Saturday game in the past has signaled the appearance of Championship Chili, but once Georgia State started coming to the mountains, we have opted for chicken and waffles. Add a blueberry topping to poke fun at the Panthers who have difficulty scoring touchdowns.

 

Troy – November 24th

Appalachian’s goal every year is to win a conference championship. The Mountaineers have grabbed at least a piece of title the last two years, and hopefully will be playing for a Sun Belt Eastern Division title against Troy. This is where Championship Chili will make its appearance in 2018, unless….

 

Sun Belt Championship – December 1st

….We are playing for the Sun Belt title at home against the Western Division winner. We won’t know who that will be until we play some games. It’s possible the Eastern title is decided prior to the Troy game. We can’t have championship chili if we aren’t playing for one. We’ll play it by ear. Hope that we are playing this game in Boone, and hope for smoked pork butts on November 24th.