Idaho @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 12

Idaho (1-9, 1-6 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (6-5, 5-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 29th, 2:00pm 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: 59.94

Idaho: 47.95

Home: 3.15

App State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 15 points

Sportsbook: App State -17.5, O/U 64.5

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Call it whatever you want it this point, but don’t call it a comeback. Indeed, Appalachian football has been here for years, and despite an eighteen game hiatus from dominant football, the Mountaineers are definitely back. There were plenty of doubters, and plenty of believers, but there is not a soul alive who thought the Mountaineers would have gone from 1-5 to where they are at this point. One game stands between the Mountaineers and a top three finish in their first year of FBS transition in the Sun Belt and a winning record. It has been over thirty years since the Mountaineers had back to back losing seasons, dating all the way back to the 1981-82 seasons. Last weeks win over the kings of the Sun Belt, Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns ensured at worst, a break even record. Has 6-5 ever felt so good? It has not. There is no way. Never has a team knocked off Arkansas State and Lafayette in back to back weekends on the road. Scott Satterfield has accomplished the feat twice, defeating the two in consecutive games, the only coach to do it, but even the head coach one-upped himself with his team full of road warriors. We have all been witness to some big time wins over the years by the Mountaineers. But rarely has a Mountaineer team surprised me with their play as much as this team has in the past five weeks. Anyone can win a few games in a row with luck, but the Mountaineers have had none bounce their way. This has been the most dominating stretch of football I have seen by any Mountaineer team. The only moment that could make it better is by sending the seniors off with one last win.

The stakes have changed a little bit. In the past five games, the opponent has been increasingly tougher, posing a different challenge with each passing week. But Idaho will bring to Boone a team that has one win on the season over a New Mexico State team that has two wins. That win was over a month ago and Idaho will have had a two week layoff since their last game they played on November 15th when they face off against Appalachian on Saturday. Idaho’s schedule has been a challenge all season. You might remember on college football’s opening weekend when Idaho travelled to Florida and the game was terminated after the opening kickoff. Idaho then went back on the road to Monroe the following weekend and have since had road trips to Ohio, San Marcos, Texas and Statesboro. The Vandals drew the short straw having to visit both of the transitional teams on the east coast. In fact, all seven road games that Idaho played were in states that bordered a major body of water, if you include Lake Erie. Enough geography, let’s talk about some football.

Vandal head coach Paul Petrino is most notably known for the infamous actions of his brother Bobby Petrino, who currently coaches Louisville. Paul was hired just twelve days before Scott Satterfield was in December 2012. Idaho is the first head coaching job for Paul Petrino after spending plenty of time with his brother at Louisville, Arkansas and the Atlanta Falcons. Petrino has only two wins to his name in his first two seasons, as Idaho beat Temple last year at home. Oddly enough, Petrino’s two wins have both come on Idaho’s homecoming game. Idaho is 0-13 on the road during Petrino’s tenure.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Linehan has followed a family lineage to Moscow, Idaho. His father Scott was also also a Vandal quarterback and is currently an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. Linehan leads the Sun Belt’s top passing attack. Although the Vandals average 280 yards a game through the air as a team, Linehan is only responsible for 230 yards per game on his own. Of the six Sun Belt quarterbacks with over 300 pass attempts this season, Linehan has fewer completions and touchdown passes than any of them. Linehan also has the second most interceptions in the conference with seventeen. Linehan is one of two Sun Belt traditional quarterbacks with more interceptions than touchdown passes.

Joshua McCain is arguably the best receiver in the Sun Belt from a numbers perspective. He leads the conference in receptions per game and receiving yards per game. He is the only receiver in the conference with over 1,000 yards and he also leads the league with nine receiving touchdowns. He has 75% of his teams touchdown catches and is clear from the second leading receiver on his own team by 23 catches and 587 yards. To compare, Appalachian’s leading receiver in terms of yards, Malachi Jones, has 530 yards on the season.

Idaho’s rushing game averages just shy of 140 yards per game, but will face a tough test against Appalachian, who has only given up 82 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry on the ground in its last five games. Jerrel Brown and Elijhaa Penny have split carries for most of the season. The Vandals usually get into the game and the carries are split from that point based on production. Penny leads the team in touchdowns with ten as a larger running back, tipping the scales at over 250 pounds. Brown looks more like a typical back at 6’0 and 220 pounds. Brown is the senior and will be playing his last game on Saturday.

Guess what. We are going to talk about Marcus Cox some more because he is excellent. After carrying the load with 40 carries against Arkansas State, he followed that up with 36 carries and 151 yards against Lafayette. Cox’s stats in the last six games are the type of numbers some backs wish they see for the entire season: 958 yards, 12 touchdowns, 6 yards per carry. The next victim is a team giving up 5.7 yards per carry, 250 yards a game and 29 total touchdowns on the season against the run.

You mention the success of the offensive line which is playing lights out. Not only have they paved the way for Cox and Upshaw, but they have kept Taylor Lamb upright for the past five games. The line has surrendered only 11 sacks on the season and never more than two in any game. Think about it. One sack in five games have equaled five wins. On top of that, the protection has allowed Lamb to make his throws and kept the pressure off of him. Lamb has only two interceptions in the past five games. The pick versus Monroe was assumed to be a free play, on top of the ball slipping out of his hands, while the there is no explanation to the interception from last week. There was not a receiver in the area and ball had to have slipped again or his arm failed him.

Rarely do we pull quotes from message board banter during the week, but this one stuck out at me from a Louisiana fan. Obviously frustrated that one of the new kids on the block beat them in their own house, the poster opined, “Appalachian is not a flashy team, but does a really good job of making the other team look bad.” Last I checked, making the other team look bad is a good way to win football games. Flashy sells tickets, but nothing keeps the fans coming back like winning football games.

The Mountaineers are looking up and another win on Saturday would be a great way to end a season with the possibility of a bowl game likely out of reach. Getting to a seven wins after four last year will have exceeded all expectations. Generally this game sets up as a perfect time for a team to get overconfident and lay an egg. Although Idaho has had a tough season, they have also had two weeks to prepare for the Mountaineers. A win would also give the Vandals some much needed momentum heading into the recruiting season, and give the Vandals a banner win. If the Mountaineers had played the style of a overconfident bunch, it would raise concern, but this team has a blue collar attitude about it. It seems everyone has bought into the game plans and understands their roles. The Mountaineers will be hunting for big plays on defense on Saturday. Idaho has given up 38 sacks on the season in just ten games. Appalachian has improved tremendously in that area from 2012. Last year, the Mountaineers had eight sacks the entire season, compared to twenty-six this season. The Vandals average 2.7 turnovers a game on offense, with their defense only forcing 1.5 per game. The Mountaineers did lose the turnover battle last week, but still wound up with a near twenty point win despite those miscues. I can see Idaho hanging around if they can keep it close early, but the fourth quarter will eventually spell doom. The Mountaineers outscore their opponents by 51 points in the games final frame while the Idaho is also outscored by its opponents by 42 points on the season. I expect two Mountaineers will go over 100 yards on the ground in a season ending win

The First Pick:

Mountaineers 45

Jr. Joes 27

Men’s Basketball hosts Hampton

Last time out, Appalachian pulled the quietest upset in its recent basketball history with a slim victory over Virginia Tech. While most of the Mountaineer fans were glued to football game with Lafayette, Appalachian was outhustling the Hokies. Appalachian dominated on both ends of the glass, holding a 19-8 advantage of the offensive end and a 42-27 edge on the defensive glass.

Frank Eaves hit the game-winning jumper with one second on the clock after Virginia Tech could only manage to tie the game on the free throw line with ten seconds to play. The Hokies hit the first free throw to tie the game, but were called for a lane violation on the second attempt, which set up Eaves and his game winner.

We were a little bit too busy preparing for football festivities to check the line and eventually make a pick. Needless to say, Virginia Tech was favored in this game and the Mountaineers covered easily. That puts the Mountaineers at 1-2 against the spread this season, while our picks remain at 1-1 after “failing” to make a pick. Likely we would have taken Virginia Tech, and would have missed.

After getting his first win of his career on the road, Jim Fox and his Mountaineers will open the home slate of the schedule tonight against Hampton. The MEAC school is 1-3 on the year with a win over Alcorn State, and losses that include Syracuse, Iowa and North Dakota State.

Currently there is no line for the game, as is often the case when low-major opponents are involved. In the event that the bookies post one closer to gametime, you can catch the pick at my twitter account, @bigcasu

Appalachian Football @ Louisiana-Lafayette

Here we go with Week 11

Appalachian State (5-5, 4-2 Sun Belt) @ Louisiana Lafayette (7-3, 6-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 22nd, 5:00pm 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

Cajun Field

Surface: Pro Grass Synthetic

Capacity: 36,900

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 57.23

Lafayette: 66.28

Home: 3.15

Lafayette is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 12 points

Sportsbook: Lafayette -10, O/U 63

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Validation. If beating Monroe was not enough to put the Sun Belt on notice, Appalachian’s win over Arkansas State last weekend made it official. Appalachian is getting back to its winning ways on the gridiron. In a truly dominating performance, the Mountaineers waltzed into Jonesboro and put a hurting on the defending three time Sun Belt champions. Like the week before against Monroe, Appalachian shook off a two touchdown deficit in the first half. This week the Mountaineers faced that gap twice in the games first thirty minutes. Appalachian scored on five straight possessions over a span that covered the second and third quarters, scoring thirty one points while they held the Red Wolves scoreless. Arkansas State would score twice late but the damage had been done. The Mountaineers had taken down the champs and had given them a loss that would keep them from contending for the Sun Belt title for the fourth straight year. The Mountaineers were left for dead after a dreadful overtime defeat on homecoming weekend. The team that lost that day hardly resembles the group that pummeled Arkansas State. Lafayette is a different animal and the Mountaineers will have to answer the bell again on the road in a tough environment. The test just got tougher.

If the Sun Belt had to choose the team football program in the conference that carries the banner, so to speak, it would likely be Lafayette. The Cajuns have been in the Sun Belt since 2001 and even though they struggled in their first ten season in the conference, the last three have all commenced with a 9-4 record and an appearance in the New Orleans Bowl. Lafayette has twice shared Sun Belt titles, in 2005 and 2013 and were hoping this was their year, with a senior-laden roster, to capture the title outright. In the preseason coaches poll, Lafayette was the unanimous choice to capture the championship. But as the season has wound down, the Cajuns find themselves once again hoping for a share of the title. Appalachian and Lafayette have shared four common opponents to this point in the season but neither of those matchups have taken place on the same field. Monroe is obviously undefeated in those four like games, while Appalachian is 3-1 against the same opponents.

If you are a crazy college football fan, you are familiar with the Cajuns and some parts of their roster. The New Orleans Bowl usually falls at a time during December when it literally is the only game being televised. More than likely you have heard of Terrance Broadway, the Cajun signal caller. Broadway started his college career at Houston before transferring. He was forced into the starting lineup as a sophomore. He started all but one game as a junior due to a broken arm. Broadway is considered a dual threat, but has had some mixed some results when he runs the ball. Depending on game flow, Broadway has run anywhere from five to nineteen times a game this season. He runs a little bit more at home than on the road this season, but at the time same time, his carries have increased in the last couple weeks, but his effectiveness peaked last month. Only four times this season has Broadway eclipsed 200 yards passing and his passing numbers have fallen noticeably over his career at Lafayette. His completion percentage has fallen about three points each year since 2012 and is on pace to throw for fewer yards than he did in 2013, which was also a decline from 2012. His average yards per pass has fallen over two yards and his touchdown/interception ratio has also declined with each passing season.

Pick your poison, or pepper in the Cajun backfield with Elijah McGuire and and Alonzo Harris. Both pose massive problems for any defensive front. McGuire is the comparatively smaller back at 5’11” and a boudin ball short of 200 pounds. McGuire has 960 yards on 127 carries on the year with eleven touchdowns. That counts for a robust 7.6 yards per carry. Harris tips the scales at 240 pounds and stands 6’1″. Harris and McGuire have split carries for the season pretty evenly, but Harris has not had the success of McGuire until last weekend. Harris had 133 yards last weekend against Monroe after sitting the previous week.

The real story of the game may come down to how Appalachian plans to attack Lafayette offensively. The Cajuns have one of the worst pass defenses in the conference, giving up 284 yards in the air a game. Monroe quarterback Pete Thomas had a field day with the Cajun secondary. Thomas threw for 472 yards and two touchdowns, completing 70% of his passes. Conversely, the Cajuns shut down the Monroe running game. The Warhawks are not known for rushing the football, but -39 yards rushing for the game is a statement by Lafayette, who sports the Sun Belt’s top rushing defense at only 140 yards allowed per game.

There are several reasons Appalachian has been successful in the last four games. Taking care of the football has been paramount. Although losing a fumble in the end zone last weekend, the Mountaineers have done a good job of limiting those mistakes. Taylor Lamb has only thrown one interception in the last four games compared to five touchdown passes. The offensive line has protected him and the running game has given him clean pockets which have led to Lamb completing over 60% of his passes in three straight games.

Mentioning Marcus Cox every week may come across as being a little lazy, but he continues to do something special every weekend. His current tear in the last four games is astounding: 106 carries, 696 yards, 9 touchdowns. His forty carries last weekend was the third most ever by an Appalachian running back in a game. Cox eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in his young career and will likely exceed his rushing total from his fantastic freshman season.

The difference between Arkansas State and Appalachian last week was the work that was done in the trenches by the Mountaineers on both sides of the ball. Appalachian cleared the way for Marcus Cox on offense and was able to contain the shifty Fredi Knighten while on defense. Knighten was constantly throwing the ball off his back foot and never really was able to look comfortable until late in the fourth quarter. Pushing around Lafayette will not be as easy. The Cajuns are a much bigger team on both sides of the line. Their offensive line is well experienced and they are big, averaging 287 pounds. Equally as intimidating is their 3-4 defensive alignment. The defensive line is bigger than their offensive line, which is a rarity, and they can defend anything. The Cajuns have 26 sacks on the season, giving the Mountaineers their third straight challenge in a row from that perspective. Appalachian faced Monroe and Arkansas State when they led the conference in sacks, and only gave up one last week. Keeping Taylor Lamb upright will be huge for Appalachian. Look for the Mountaineers to get Lamb into a rhythm early, but without completely ignoring the running game. It is good strategy to chase the good matchup but without completely abandoning what you do well as a team. Appalachian will have to keep McGuire and Harris in check as much as possible. It will be difficult to shut one of them down, but the main objective to eliminate the big runs. Appalachian will be without nose tackle Tyson Fernandez, and the job is up to the entire defensive line make up for his loss. How the Mountaineers adjust to his absence will be the difference in this game.

The First Pick:

Mountaineers 28

Cayenne 37

Appalachian Football @ Arkansas State

Here we go with Week 10

Appalachian State (4-5, 3-2 Sun Belt) @ Arkansas State (6-3, 4-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 15th, 3:00pm 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

Centennial Bank Stadium

Surface: GEO Surfaces FieldTurf

Capacity: 30,406

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 55.34

Ark State: 70.37

Home: 3.15

Arkansas State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 18 points

Sportsbook: Arkansas St -14.5, O/U 65

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Stop for few seconds, close your eyes, and remember that feeling you had after Appalachian defeated Monroe last weekend. It was not just a feeling of relief, but of validation. The Mountaineers previous wins over Troy and Georgia State were not flukes over the Sun Belts lesser talented teams. It was a building block towards the future. Now, Monroe isn’t the best in the conference, but that win garnered some attention. Prior to the game, Monroe was the best defense in the conference. Monroe is a Louisiana school, which is the home state to the conference headquarters in New Orleans. But, before you get any respect in the Sun Belt, you must defeat the two longer tenured schools in Arkansas State and Lafayette. Georgia State and South Alabama also played Ark St and Lafayette in consecutive weekends this season, and both came away with two losses each. The next two weekends are a tall task for the Mountaineers, but I would not want it any other way. The Mountaineers want to be the best in the conference, and in order to do so, you got to beat the best. In its first year of transition, Appalachian will have the chance to really see how they measure up with the Sun Belt powers. Even better, the Mountaineers get to test themselves on the road in a stadiums with good atmospheres, despite lacking a couple thousand camouflaged hunters.

Arkansas State is the three-time defending Sun Belt champion and have gone to three straight Bowls , winning the last two. Somehow, the Red Wolves have accomplished all of this with three different head coaches in the last three seasons. Current head coach Blake Anderson is the fourth head coach in as many years. Hugh Freeze was the head coach in 2011 before being hired by Ole Miss. Gus Malzahn was head coach in 2012 after spending the prior three years at Auburn as offensive coordinator. After Gene Chizik was fired at Auburn, Malzahn went back to the plains and is now the head coach for Auburn. Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired for the 2013 season, where he also stayed for one year before heading west to his alma matar, Boise State, where he had played quarterback and spent ten years as an assistant. Blake Anderson is a first time head coach at Arkansas State and has spent time on the staffs at North Carolina, Southern Miss, and Middle Tennessee in the last decade.

Anderson has been known as an offensive guru at every stop he has made throughout his coaching career and the same holds true for Arkansas State in 2014. The Red Wolves are second in the conference in total offense and third in scoring. Quarterback Fredi Knighten leads the conference in total yardage with over 290 yards per game. Knighten is second in the conference in rushing yards by a quarterback, only trailing Georgia Southern’s Kevin Ellison. Most of his rushing yards come on zone reads and sweeps. He is a very excitable player, as he nearly sprints back to the offensive backfield after each run. He is very jittery in the pocket, quickly bouncing on his toes as he looks through his reads.

Michael Gordon is the leading running back for Arkansas State behind Knighten, who is responsible for 36% of the Red Wolves carries. Gordon only has 100 carries on the season, but is also very active in the passing game. Arkansas State will usually spread out the defense with four wideouts in the formation, leaving Gordon in the backfield beside Knighten. Gordon will shift from one side of the quarterback to the other in the shotgun formation. More often than not, Gordon will run the opposite side of the formation for which he is lined up and rarely will he take the ball between the tackles. That attack had allowed Gordon to average 7.6 yards per carry.

The Red Wolves pummeled South Alabama last week 45-10, but it was not the same Jaguar team the Mountaineers saw in Boone over a month ago. South Alabama started junior Matt Floyd, who was making his first career start. Floyd threw for less than 100 yards, was sacked three times and intercepted twice. This will make the second straight weekend, that Appalachian’s opponent saw a first time quarterback starter in their previous game. If you remember, Monroe faced Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen two weeks ago. Much like Monroe, Arkansas State’s defense lives off making big plays. Appalachian committed one turnover last weekend, and it led to quick seven points for the Warhawks. South Alabama committed four turnovers last weekend, and it seemed Arkansas State capitalized on all of them. The Red Wolves defense flys around and forces the action toward the sidelines. They hit hard and get after the quarterback. Occasionally, when the opposing offense is in a third and long situation, Arkansas State will line up in a stack formation with their lineman and linebackers in a look that is meant to confuse. That has helped them to lead the conference in opponents third down conversions. Appalachian did a good job last weekend protecting Taylor Lamb and gave up zero sacks to the team that led the league in sacks. This week, Arkansas State now leads the conference in sacks.

Monroe and Appalachian played a classic last weekend. Neither running game could really get going, as both teams held each other to under three yards per carry. The difference was in the quarterback play. Monroe’s Pete Thomas continued his decline, completing under 50% of his passes for only six yards per attempt. Thomas was sacked six times by the Mountaineer defense, a number not seen in several years. Appalachian’s Lamb was much more efficient despite a vaselined interception in the first quarter. Lamb connected on 71% of his passes, including a dime he dropped for Shaedon Meadors late in the second quarter that was caught with one hand by the freshman wide receiver. For the first time this season, a Mountaineer kicker was the difference in the closing moments of the game, as Bentlee Critcher nailed a 39-yard field goal for the game winning points.

Although Marcus Cox was held in check on the ground for the most part, he was effective in the passing game. Cox caught five passes for 56 yards. Coming into the game, Cox had only managed nine receptions for 71 yards. Cox added another touchdown to give thirteen on the season and eight touchdowns in his last four games. He is now up to 913 rushing yards on the season

In the last three games, the weather forecast has been a concern leading into the weekend. Obviously, the Georgia State game will be unforgettable for the snow that fell throughout the day, Last weekend started cool, but for a local, it turned out to be a pretty nice day with the kickoff temperature being 52 degrees and sunny, but quickly dipped into the 40’s as the game wore one. A Monroe player was quoted as saying that is was cold and trying to stay warm might have gotten to them. This is something I thought might be an issue in the South Alabama game, but it was not to be. This weekend, the Mountaineers will take some early winter weather to Jonesboro as the high temperatures are not expected to reach forty degrees.

These two teams are mirror images on paper offensively. Both teams are extremely balanced. Arkansas State has passed for almost 200 more yards than they have run for while, Appalachian has rushed for a little more than 200 yards than they have passed. Exactly 18 yards of total offense separate the second ranked (Ark St) and third ranked (App St) offenses in the Sun Belt. Both teams have scored exactly 39 touchdowns. The Mountaineers have totaled five more points than the Redwolves. The difference is the defenses. Although Appalachian has held teams to 11 fewer yards per game over the course of the season, Arkansas State holds the points allowed edge by four points. The Red Wolves are undefeated at home, a place where they have only surrendered 48 points all season. The Red Wolves offense is also on a roll in the past four weeks, scoring over 45 points per game over Sun Belt opponents, compared to just 25 points per game in the first five contests of the season. The key for Appalachian will be to keep the game close in first quarter. It will be important to take the crowd out of the game with some long drives and to avoid a momentum changing turnover at all costs. Once Arkansas State smells blood on defense, they pounce and do not let you up. Their linebackers are huge and make it really difficult around the line of scrimmage. Thats where the difference will be made in this game. If Appalachian allows the Red Wolves to dictate the middle of the field, and can neutralize the Mountaineer rushing attack, it could be a long day. This will be the biggest test for this young Mountaineer offense. I could see a game similar to the Lafayette-Ark St game from a few weeks ago. Lots of scoring, but a couple plays will decide how this one ends.

The First Pick:

Mountaineers 31

More Indians 44

Louisiana-Monroe @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 8

Louisiana-Monroe (3-5, 2-2, Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (3-5, 2-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 8th, 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: 56.99

Monroe: 55.81

Home: 3.17

App State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 4.5 points

Sportsbook: App State -3.5, O/U 54

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

It has been some time since Mountaineer fans have experienced a winning streak. Nearly two years to be exact. Appalachian has a chance to extend its winning streak when it welcomes Louisiana-Monroe to The Rock for Black Saturday, which is always reserved for the best or toughest opponent on the schedule. Monroe was an easy choice for Black Saturday as its history in the Sun Belt dates back to 2001 and includes a Sun Belt Championship in 2005. Monroe played in their first bowl game in 2012 when they lost to Ohio in the Independence Bowl. The Warhawks left the division formerly known as I-AA in 1993 after winning a national championship over Marshall in 1987. This is the twenty-first season for Monroe in Division I and they have only generated one winning season, in 2012. Monroe went 6-6 three times in that same period of time. Getting to 6-6 this season would be a tall task, not only for Monroe, but also for Appalachian. Both teams certainly have their sites set on at least breaking even in 2014. Monroe would have to win on the road for the first time this season. Appalachian would most likely need to win both home games and steal one at Lafayette or Arkansas State. Chances are slim for either team to pull it off, but the race to six wins is a major accomplishment in the Sun Belt. Even if a 6-6 record is not rewarded with a bowl berth, just being able to tell recruits that you were bowl-eligible is a big deal. Before either team gets to six wins, one team has to get their fourth win this weekend, while the other will get that sixth loss. Monroe has dropped four straight games while the Mountaineers are feeling confident and hope to ride the momentum.

As previously noted, Monroe has risen through the ranks of college football like most Sun Belt schools. Similarly to Appalachian, Monroe had some success in the NCAA playoffs. The Warhawks made the playoffs four times from 1987-1993, with a 5-3 overall playoff record. That success vaulted the school into Division I where they were an independent, without a conference affiliation, for seven seasons before landing in the Sun Belt.

Fast forward to 2012, the year the Warhawks went 8-5 and made the headlines for their big win over #8 Arkansas on the opening weekend of the season. Monroe won that game in overtime before heading to Auburn the following week and losing in overtime. After Auburn, Monroe battled Baylor in a shooutout before falling by five points at home. Monroe then won five straight games, including three over Sun Belt opponents who are no longer in the conference. Monroe then split their final four games, losing to the Sun Belt stalwarts Lafayette and Arkansas State before defeating North Texas and Florida International. Monroe went 6-2 in conference play that year. Five of those six wins were over teams who have left the Sun Belt. Those two losses were in back to back weeks, just like Appalachian’s schedule stacks up after this weekend.

Much has been made about Monroe’s tough loss last weekend at Texas A&M, but I am not buying it. The Aggies were without sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill after a team suspension. Hill had over 2600 yards and 23 touchdown passes in his first eight games. Texas A&M had to start Kyle Allen who was seeing his first action as a college quarterback after being one of the most heralded recruits in 2013. Allen managed 106 passing yards on 13/28 passing and was responsible for two turnovers. Monroe’s game plan was to keep the ball away from the Aggies. They were successful, controlling the clock for close to 34 minutes despite only rushing for 78 yards.

Warhawk quarterback Pete Thomas ran the ball more times against A&M than he did in any game this season, although his nineteen carries only covered forty-four yards. Thomas also threw the ball more times than he had all season with forty-seven attempts. He is a big quarterback at 6’5 and 235 pounds and came to Monroe via NC State and Colorado State. Thomas started all twenty one games as a freshman and sophomore at Colorado State before being sidelined with an injury for the remainder of the 2011 season. He sat out the 2012 season and redshirted before heading to Raleigh where he appeared in nine games and made six starts. Thomas then took advantage of the NCAA rule allowing graduate students to transfer and play their fourth year of football at another school without having to sit out, a move made popular by Greg Paulus of Syracuse football via Duke Basketball and Russell Wilson currently of the Seattle Seahawks, who transferred to Wisconsin after leaving NC State. Wherever Thomas has played collegiately, he has been an accurate quarterback and has had decent passing yards, but his touchdown numbers are low. In his career, he has 7,744 yards and holds a 29/35 touchdown to interception ratio. His yards per pass, completion percentage and QB efficiency rating are all at career lows in this season.

The Monroe rushing attack is nearly not worthy of a mention. On the season, the Warhawks have rushed for 729 yards. In comparison, Appalachian has dropped back to back four hundred yard rushing games in its last two contests. Leading rusher Centarius Donald is a big back at 6’1 and 223 pounds but is a complete plodder after three knee surgeries. Donald’s 469 rushing yards have come primarily at home. Donald has only thirty carries on the road this season for 113 yards, at 3.8 yards per carry. As a team, the Warhawks average only 2.7 yards per carry and 91 rushing yards per game on the season. Against Troy on September 27th at home, Monroe managed just 29 rushing yards.

Appalachian had every answer last Saturday against Georgia State. The physical plant dominated the turf in convincing fashion, moving about four inches of heavy snow prior to kickoff, which paved the way for Marcus Cox. The sophomore from Dacula, Ga ran for a career high 250 yards and three touchdowns. Ricky Fergerson added another 130 yards on the ground which was aided by an 84 yard run in the third quarter. Appalachian converted three turnovers into twenty-one points en route to their second shutout of the season. Only Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State, Stanford and yes, Appalachian State have two shutouts in FBS football this season.

So, after three games with big offensive numbers, Appalachian gets the Sun Belt’s top defense, in terms of yards allowed. But Monroe has yet to face three of the top five rushing offenses and total offenses in the Sun Belt this season. Monroe has played Texas State, who ran for 229 yards on the Warhawks and Arkansas State who rushed for 288 yards, but Monroe has games against Appalachian, Lafayette and Georgia Southern looming before the end of the season. My guess is Monroe will not be at the top of the conference in defense in four weeks. The Monroe secondary is also suspect over the top. Troy completed pass after pass where the Trojan receivers simply beat the defenders deep. The issue when playing the awkward 3-3-5 defensive formation of Monroe is protecting the quarterback. If Appalachian can keep Taylor Lamb’s pass attempts around twenty, the Mountaineers will be looking good. I can see a couple deep shots to Malachi Jones or Shaedon Meadors if the line can protect. Monroe’s offense is very similar to Troy. They like getting the ball in their receivers hands and allow them to make plays in the open field. Monroe will force you to make one-on-one tackles in space. Even though Pete Thomas runs a bit, he is somewhat of a statue if his first read is covered. The Mountaineer secondary will be tested if Appalachian cannot get some pressure on the quarterback. The spread is just about perfect for this game. For Monroe, it is a good number considering their solid kicking game and strong defense. But if the Warhawks want to win they have to get to twenty points. They are 1-5 scoring under twenty points and 2-0 scoring more than 20 points. They are gonna need at least 24 to beat the Mountaineers.

The First Pick:

Mountaineers 27

Indians 23

Georgia State @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 8

Georgia State (1-7, 0-5, Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 1st, 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: 54.20

Ga State: 45.37

Home: 3.28

AppState is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 12 points

Sportsbook: AppState 10.5, O/U 70.5

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

After another extremely long second bye week, Appalachian Football will start its season for the third time this Saturday. In all seriousness, the double bye is odd. Had this bye come after a loss we would likely have all wished the season be over. But this bye came after Appalachian’s first FBS win as an FBS program. Finally, we have most of the “firsts” out of the way. The only one left to accomplish is the first home win over an FBS program. Enter Georgia State, the startup program who might still be searching for their first quality win in program history. An overtime win over South Alabama in 2011 might be their crowning achievement, when they were still considered an FCS program. The Panthers are still a win short of dozen in their programs history, in which over half of those wins came in their inaugural season in 2010 with a schedule that featured only a handful of Division I games. However, Georgia State is one year ahead of Appalachian in their FBS infancy. Georgia State would be bowl eligible this season in only their second year in the Sun Belt if they would have qualified, but that ship sailed past them last weekend with their in state rivals Georgia Southern captaining the vessel. It has not been an easy time for Georgia State on or off the field. It takes time to build a program from scratch. Eleven wins in four and half seasons is part of it. The other part is the lack of fan support and facilities to call their own. And that is why they decided to hire Appalachian’s former athletic director, with his “experience” in building an FBS program. Appalachian’s pieces to the FBS puzzle were there, just needing to be placed accordingly, while Georgia State is still looking for all the pieces.

It would be entirely too easy to poke fun at Georgia State for an entire article, so we’ll stop shortly. Is it getting old? Of course. But there is one story you might not have heard about it. Living in the world of twitter, you would have discovered that a large group of Ga. State and Ga. Southern students never made it out of the parking lot last weekend to make it inside the Georgia Dome to watch their rivalry football game. Playing football indoors probably is big reason. Last weekend, the weather was perfect for football, but not indoor football. Getting an outdoor stadium will go a long way to building a gameday atmosphere for Ga. State.

Besides being a startup program that continues to build in many ways, Georgia State has been able to assemble a decent offense down in Atlanta. Quarterback Nick Arbuckle is All-Sun Belt caliber player. His 309 passing yards per game leads the conference by 40 yards per game and his sixteen touchdown passes are also tops in the conference. He is the leader of the Panther offense that can easily light up the scoreboard, but the issue with Ga. State this year and every year has been their defense.

Many of you may have watched the State/Southern game last weekend. It was a perfect chance to gauge the Panthers and Eagles to compare where Appalachian stands. It was evident from the start, that the Panthers had no answer to the option attack from the Eagles. Southern ran all over the Panthers to the tune of 613 yards. It was a complete team effort by Southern, not just a dominating performance by one player. The State defense is undersized and probably too young to truly defend an option offense. In their 3-4 formation, all of the Panther starting lineman are sophomores and their nose guard comes in at 285 pounds. Even one of the Panthers’ safeties was mentioned as being benched this weekend after his poor play against Southern.

Nearly a couple weeks ago, Appalachian ran for 441 yards against Troy, technically a better run defense than Ga. State from a pure numbers standpoint. But, both defenses have been run on fairly easily, both giving up close to six yards per carry and both over 240 yards allowed rushing yards on the season. The Panthers also have allowed 24 rushing touchdowns on the season, which is second worst in the league. Their red zone defense is second worst, only to Troy and the Panthers have also given up the most red zone touchdowns in the Sun Belt. On top of the worst turnover margin in the league, the Panthers also give up more first downs, third down conversions and points than any team in the conference. Its bad football at its absolute best.

Generally, getting a bye after a get-the-monkey-off-your-back win would seem to be poor timing. With Appalachian scoring 101 combined points in the prior two games, the preference would be to continue playing rather than sit for a week. However, in this case, I believe the timing worked out for the Mountaineers. Instead of getting to high, the Apps have had some time to reflect and focus on the next task at hand.

Appalachian’s win over Troy came in a truly dominating performance. Four players rushed for over 80 yards, led by Marcus Cox who had 123 yards and three touchdowns. Ricky Fergerson had a 68-yard run that catapulted him to his first career 100-yard performance. Taylor Lamb scampered for ninety-eight yards and Terrance Upshaw added eighty-two yards. All four averaged 7.5 yards per carry or more. For the season Cox now has 569 yards rushing and is just a few yards off pace for another 1,000 yard season. If Cox were to eclipse that mark, it would more impressive than last year, when he had the majority of the carries, compared to this season where he has rushed on just 37% of the Mountaineers running plays.

Without question, Georgia State is going to put up some points. Their offense is relentless. Nick Arbuckle attempts 37.5 passes per game at a 61% completion rate. He spreads the ball pretty evenly to his top four receivers, who have caught 137 passes on the season combined. Donavan Harden is leader of the bunch, with 45 catches for 707 yards and seven touchdowns, which are all team highs. The Panthers do not have much success on the ground, and that is putting it nicely. As a team, they have only managed 3.1 yards per carry, which is abysmal at the collegiate level. Appalachian was able to shut down the Troy rushing attack and limit the Trojans to only 79 yards on the ground after Troy had a season high on the ground against New Mexico State the previous week. The Appalachian defense attacked the ball against Troy as well, coming up with two aggressive interceptions from Latrell Gibbs and returning one fumble for a touchdown. The Mountaineers have been very successful this season turning opponents turnovers into 104 points. Of the 53 points scored against Troy, twenty-eight came off the Trojans miscues. Georgia State has committed 18 turnovers of their own this season and have allowed 105 points off of those turnovers. If that trend continues, the Mountaineers may very well be on their way to their third victory of the season as long as they can avoid their own mistakes.

The First Pick:

UNCC-Atlanta 31

Mountaineers 42

Appalachian State @ Troy

Here we go with Week 7

Appalachian State (1-5, 0-2 Sun Belt) @ Troy (1-5, 1-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 18th, 3:00pm 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

Veterans Memorial Stadium

Surface: ProGrass

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 49.78

Troy: 49.91

Home: 3.29

Troy is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 3.5 points

Sportsbook: Troy -7, O/U 63.5

Series: Troy leads 2-1

Last Meeting: App State 33, Troy 30, November 25, 2000

That feeling probably has yet to wear off from the last time. The feeling of another game ending on the game’s final play. Luckily this time it was not a kick that was the final play, but that could have been. Bentlee Critcher’s field goal attempt was just wide enough to cause speculation and an instant replay booth review. Overtime was not friendly for the Mountaineers. Liberty scored easily like they had all afternoon long. The Mountaineers ran for a big gain on their first play and then decided the test the middle of the field at an intermediate distance for the first time all game. Finally, the game did end on the last play, and those who were remaining in the stands, once again left wondering what had happened. Used to be that many Appalachian football games were over at halftime. Fans were leaving Kidd Brewer Stadium because it was the Mountaineers who were rolling. Now fans leave when the Mountaineers are getting pummeled or because a little bit of drizzle is just enough of an excuse. Now its just the diehards who stick it out. The ones who are so anxious to see the next victory, whenever it may come. A very young offense is now turning the ball over at bad times which does not mix well with a defense that barely gets in the way of opposing offenses. The Mountaineer offense will either get left behind or keep up with opposing teams. Unfortunately, there has not been much “keeping up” this season. At the midpoint of the season, the Mountaineers have regressed from their 1-2 mark at the quarter pole. Without a win this weekend, the Mountaineers will match a losing streak not seen since 1977, which is older than then the average age of an Appalachian alum. A win is desperately needed before things really get ugly on the mountain.

Troy is not going to feel bad for Appalachian. They were also recently dumbfounded by a loss to Abilene Christian nearly a month ago. It was not until last weekend that Troy broke through on their Homecoming game to defeat New Mexico State 41-27, by rushing for a season high 360 yards rushing. This number is especially troubling to Appalachian, a team that has given up enormous rushing totals to Michigan (350), Georgia Southern (408) and South Alabama (243). Troy also forced four turnovers, the same number that the Mountaineers gave away last weekend.

The rushing statistic posted by Troy was even more surprising as the Trojans had only rushed for 488 yards on 168 attempts in the previous five games this season, which was good for 2.9 yards per carry on the season, which is absolutely pitiful. Add Saturdays statistics, and the Troy increased their yards per carry for the season by almost an entire yard to 3.8 ypc. A lot of those yards had to do with New Mexico State, which is being torched on the ground even worse than Appalachian has this year. The win last weekend, regardless of how it happened, may have given Troy all the confidence they needed to turn their season around.

Brandon Burks was the man who had the most rushing yards in the last weeks win. On only ten carries, Burks hauled the mail for 176 yards without a touchdown. Burks only had 114 yards on the season going into New Mexico State. Burks is not a guy who carries the ball a lot, now with only 48 carries in six games. His season high for carries was eleven against Duke and his low was three carries against Georgia. Burks only had nineteen carries for 20 yards combined in the prior three games, so his breakout against the Aggies was surprising.

Quarterback Brandon Silvers has started five games this season for the Trojans. Silvers suffered a concussion in the loss to Abilene Christian which forced him to miss the Georgia game. Since returning, Silvers has oddly played better since returning to the lineup. His rushing and passing numbers have improved in each game. He has run 34 times in the past two games compared to the 24 times in the seasons first three games. He has also posted nearly half of his passing yards for the season in the last two games compared to the first three. He has thrown 4 TD passes in the last two games compared to just one in the first three games. Silvers is a high percentage passer at close to a 70% completion rate and has only thrown one interception on the season. Silvers four rushing touchdowns tie for the team lead and his 131 rushing yards are good enough for third on the team.

Forgotten in the gloominess of last week’s loss was excellent statistical performances by the Appalachian offense. Liberty’s best defense was the Mountaineers committing turnovers. The Mountaineers rolled up 637 yards and gained 9.2 yards per snap but the red zone problems continued to plague the offense. The Mountaineers converted one possession into points on four attempts. That possession yielded one field goal. The Mountaineers scored all five offensive touchdowns from distance. It’s great to have the big play become a part of the offense, but the long strikes led to the Mountaineer defense getting left on the field for over 35 minutes. That is the exact definition of a double edge sword. A coach is going to take those big plays all day if they are available. It’s just sad that they basically went to waste.

In my opinion, the red zone is an overrated term used to describe what is basically a scoring chance. The ball being in the red zone certainly means that scoring is more likely, but as Appalachian has shown this year, it is not a guarantee. More importantly, being in position to score points is completely underrated. In the second quarter, Appalachian had a fourth down and five yards to go at the twenty-three yard line. A field goal attempt would have been forty yards with the Mountaineers down a touchdown. Appalachian elected to run an offensive play instead of the field goal attempt with a backup kicker and holder. Taylor Lamb threw an interception on the play but the Mountaineer defense was able to hold, which eventually led the Mountaineers to actually attempt and make a field goal with under ten seconds left in the half. Now imagine, the original field goal being attempted on fourth and five from the twenty-three yard line. Then, after kicking off to Liberty, the Mountaineers held the Flames to three and out and got the ball back in decent field position, and had another opportunity to add a score before the half. That sequence could have changed the game. That is one many examples of the number of segments of the game that could have changed the result. It was at minimum, a lost opportunity to score points. I believe it caused an overcorrection by the coaching staff to play conservative at the end of regulation and attempt a field goal instead of pushing forward for a potential go ahead score. What it essentially comes down to is passing up a scoring chance, and at this point in the season, this team needs as many points on the board in the first half as it can possibly get.

Last week we talked about getting Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw going in the running game. Their numbers were called and they responded. The duo combined for 32 carries and 222 yards and two touchdowns. Both are now over five yards per carry on the season. It was third time season Cox has eclipsed the 100 yard mark on the season and the second such outing for Upshaw.

The Mountaineer receivers posted good nights as well. Four Mountaineers averaged over 20 yards per catch with Malachi Jones leading the group. Jones caught five balls for 105 yards. Simms McElfresh and Bobo Beathard both posted touchdowns catches from sixty yards or more. True freshman Shaedon Meadors made collegiate debut with a dazzling four catches for 90 yards, which included a 48-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

This is the time where I tell you what Appalachian needs to do to win. The Mountaineers are averaging 30.5 points per game, but most of that has come in two big games, in which they scored 114 points. The real statistic is that the Mountaineers have scored just a shade over 17 points per game against FBS programs. Troy has averaged about 20.5 points per game with one less fluff game than the Mountaineers. Vegas thinks this game will be high scoring, but I do not agree. These teams have combined for fourteen interceptions on the year defensively. I also feel that both teams will try to establish the running game as they were both successful last weekend. More running leads to the clock running more often, which will eventually to a lower scoring game. Mistakes are obviously a huge deal in any football game. The mistakes I am talking about are not turnovers, but missed opportunities. Both teams will need to score when they have a chance, not just in the red zone. The Appalachian kicking game is well documented. Troy, on the other hand has only attempted six field goals on the season, making four. Troy has been perfect on defense when the opponent has been in the red zone, as in they have allowed every red zone possession by the opponent to score. I’ll bet good money that Appalachian will break that streak for them. The Mountaineers may have more yards on offense and look like winners during the game, but until we can see proof that the small things can be corrected, I cannot feel comfortable that the Mountaineers can get out of their own way.

The First Pick

Mountaineers 23

Troy State 28

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

South Alabama @ Appalachian State

Here we go with Week 5

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

Saturday, October 4th, 6:00pm 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: 54.36

So Ala: 58.95

Home: 3.47

So Ala is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 8 points

Sportsbook: So Ala 4, O/U 48

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

After being left hung to dry by Sun Belt scheduling and the Georgia Southern option attack, Appalachian State will be well rested for South Alabama in its FBS home opener this weekend. If you recall, Appalachian had short rest to deal with last weekend with consecutive road tilts, playing two games in six days. This weekend, the Mountaineers have eight days of rest and will face a team that is playing its second road game in as many weekends. Last weekend, the Jaguars dominated Idaho in a 34-10 romp, all while traveling close to 5,000 miles round trip. They will log another 600 miles before making it to Boone on Saturday, and let me tell you, the seasons are changing quick in the North Carolina Mountains. The Jaguars will be experiencing close to 25-30 degree difference in high and low temperatures from when they depart the Gulf Shore to arrival in the High Country. Selfishly, I have been looking forward to those November afternoons when the Cajun schools came to Boone, awaiting to see them crumble like a dehydrated fallen maple leaf. We won’t have to wait. Mother Nature will greet our deep south colleagues with a frosty hello on Saturday morning.

South Alabama picked up their first conference win of the season last week in Idaho, posting their highest offensive marks of the season with a 426 yard effort. That number represents 30% of the Jags total offensive yardage on the season. South Alabama is not extremely explosive on offense, which will be a big difference for Appalachian compared to last week. The Jaguars are averaging 4 yards per rush and only 5.7 yards per passing attempt. Starting quarterback Brandon Bridge is passing for just under 178 yards per game, but has also ran for 134 yards this season. Bridge is a big quarterback at 6’5″ and 235 pounds, but does not appear physically imposing. Think about a taller, fatter Jamal Jackson from 2012. Bridge is completing just 52% of his passes, and has four interceptions compared to just three touchdown tosses on the season.

There are several offensive numbers that pop off the stat page for South Alabama. Most Mountaineer fans are pretty aware of the red zone inefficiencies. Several occasions in the last two games have most likely kept the Apps from contending in each games. Somehow, South Alabama is struggling more than the Mountaineers are. The Jaguars red zone scoring rate is acceptable, but not outstanding at 62.5%. Basically, thats five out of eight times, that the Jaguars score when in the red zone. However, the touchdown rate is abysmal. There is no other way to put it. The Jaguars are scoring touchdowns on only three of every eight chances they drive deep into their opponents territory. Thats 37.5% on the season, compared to the Mountaineers at 62%. So if you feel bad about how Appalachian has not scored when they were close, imagine being a South Alabama fan right now.

What this matchup seems to really boil down to is the defenses. Appalachian got gashed last week by the shifty backs from Georgia Southern, but had been fairly stout on the ground prior to last Thursday. The Eagles were able to run on the Jaguars as well, but did not control the ball like they did against the Mountaineers. South Alabama does not give up a lot on defense, if anything they are as equally as balanced as their offense. They don’t give up anything too flashy, and they keep the offense in front of them. Several times, Georgia Southern was able to run down the field for several yards without getting touched, but the Jaguars eventually swarmed. Appalachian’s defense was there against Georgia Southern, but missed a ton of tackles and could not hold on.

It is pretty painful to reminisce about a second straight performance by the Mountaineer offense that fell below expectations. The toughest thing to do is remind ourselves that Taylor Lamb is still just a freshman. A sputtering offense is to be expected with young leadership, but the opportunities have been there. This offense can move the ball until they get close and the field gets smaller. Appalachian fell into somewhat of a hole on Thursday, but it was not unmanageable. But, as a direct result, the Mountaineers abandoned the running game to an extent and left the burden on the arm of Taylor Lamb, who threw two interceptions for the second straight game. Lamb has attempted 82 passes in the last two games, and that is not a winning formula for a freshman quarterback, especially not on the road. The Mountaineers are going to need to mix in the run more often.

Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw need to start the game with an explosive attitude. I say that not knowing who will get the bulk of the carries. Cox, has had a pretty even distribution in the first four games, but Upshaw’s carries have been unpredictable. Upshaw was a bright spot at Michigan, but has since only gained 80 yards in three games on twenty-one carries. Lamb has run the ball some, but its not a consistent threat. His touchdown run on Thursday was more about making a good read, but he also had a couple sprint option plays that were not exactly productive.

We are going to go a little short this week. Why? Sometimes you just have to. Sometime it is pointless to keep rehashing the same problems from one week to the next. The Mountaineers are young, and they are going to continue to look like it until probably next season. There will be times where they look good for periods of time, and others where you wonder if they have ever played the game before. That is all a part of the maturation process. South Alabama will be well served to let their roster of mostly juniors and seniors play sound football and make the young guys beat them. The Jaguars should be able to bend without breaking on defense. Until Appalachian proves it can punch in some touchdowns, other opponents should not worry. South Alabama has just enough of a defense to do that. They may not be the fastest guys, but solid football should keep them close. The Mountaineer defense is going to need a turnover in this game to help their offense, especially with a home crowd to their advantage. If the Jaguars plays turnover free football on Saturday, the Mountaineers are likely beat. I like to think of South Alabama in the same sentence of the old James Madison teams. They will bore you to death until they hit a big play, and by then, its too late, the damage has been done. For the Mountaineers its all about correcting the little things. The penalties and the missed tackles are the biggest concern. Giving up free yardage and not finishing the play are the most frustrating. It’s like handing the game to your opponent on a silver platter. However, this seems like a time where Appalachian might be able to steal a game. The South Alabama offense is worrisome, especially on the road against a team who has been hungry to get back on the field for several days. Their ineptitude to score, except on the road in quiet stadiums, should be a major concern for the Jags. The Rock isn’t Kent State and its not Idaho. This game won’t be indoors and it wont be a comfortable 80 degrees. It will be another 800 feet higher in elevation than Idaho, just enough to get your ears popping and thinking about the surrounding mountains. The Jags are a four point favorite and have played all of their games under the total. I say this game hits the over and the Mountaineers sneak by late.

The First Pick

Mountaineers 27

Prowlers 23

Appalachian State @ Georgia Southern

Here we go with Week 4

Appalachian State (1-2, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Georgia Southern (2-2, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Thursday, September 25th, 7:30pm EST

TV/LIve Video: ESPNU & 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

Paulson Stadium

Surface: Natural Bermuda Grass

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 56.20

Ga Sou: 64.15

Home: 4.06

Ga Sou is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 12 points

Sportsbook: Ga Sou 18.5, O/U 60

Series: Appalachian leads the all time series 15-12-1

Last Meeting: App State 38, Ga Sou 14, October 26, 2013; Boone, NC

Having only five days between games seems like a short time to remember why we all despise Georgia Southern. I feel robbed of the anticipation that is the the nastiest rivalry in the South that nobody knows about. But at the same time, only having the think about a blocked extra point to lose a game, on what was essentially the last play, for only five days seems like a deal compared the 2013 offseason. The last time it happened, we lost a head coach, and nearly two years later, we still have not recovered from that failed point after touchdown. That game the last true FCS game for Appalachian’s program, considering the Mountaineers were not eligible to win anything in 2013. Hopefully, the Illinois State and Southern Miss games serve as bookends to a dark time in Appalachian football history. Now, Appalachian officially begins its Sun Belt era, and luckily enough, Georgia Southern, and a nationwide audience are waiting. I can guarantee the memories of last Saturday night are forgotten by the players, painful as they might be. So many points were left on the field, yet the urge to continue the battle did not escape the black and gold. A freshman quarterback in his first start never wavered with his back to the wall and only two minutes to score. Taylor Lamb completed seven of twelve passes, accounting for all 75 yards of the final drive with his arm, while converting twice on third down and once on fourth down. Let me repeat. First career start. On the road. He had one job to do, which was put the ball in the end zone. Nothing fazed him. Paulson Stadium will not intimidate Lamb. He has been there plenty times before on the sidelines with his father. He’s hated Georgia Southern as long as he can remember, just like the rest of the Mountaineer faithful.

If you have not heard, Georgia Southern is all the rage in the Sun Belt. With their close losses on the road to ACC opponents NC State and Georgia Tech, they have become the new favorite to possibly win the conference. Considering their win over preseason contender South Alabama last weekend and their easy conference slate in which they avoid heavyweights Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, the Eagles have a real chance. The remaining potential speed bumps on their schedule include Louisiana Monroe late in the season and maybe Texas State can give them trouble. Oh wait. Nearly forgot about their game this week. Yep, those damn Mountaineers who have beaten the Eagles three times in a row and eight times in the last ten years. Those same Mountaineers that had no chance of beating the Eagles last year, but did. The same Mountaineers that nobody is giving a shot to win this year either.

The Eagles have changed their coach and their offense since the last time they tangled with the Mountaineers. Jeff Monken got out of Statesboro while he could, and went to West Point to lead the Black Knights of Army. Georgia Southern looked for their new head man in a similar way that Appalachian did back in late 2012. They wanted a guy that fit their current style offense. Willie Fritz, who was in this third stint at Sam Houston State was their guy. It was not a perfect fit, but the ideas were basically the same. Fritz prefers an option attack that spreads you across the field, compared to the old triple option attack with A-backs, B-backs, and flankers. In the end, the same principles apply defensively to control both offenses. Keep the offense off schedule, or behind the chains. Avoid the big runs and be prepared when the pass comes.

Speaking of the pass. Southern is doing a lot more of it under Willie Fritz than they have in years past. In eleven games in the 2013, the Eagles gained 36 first downs via the air. In only four games this season, Southern has already racked up 23 passing first downs. That is close to 2.5 more first downs per game from one season to the next, and for an offense built like Southern’s, that appears as almost a complete philosophy change. Kevin Ellison and former Appalachian recruit Favian Upshaw have split the quarterback duties, with most of Upshaw’s playing time coming against Georgia Tech. Upshaw was responsible for a errant late pitch against the Yellow Jackets that eventually cost the Eagles the game. Upshaw did not play at all against South Alabama last week while Ellison ran the ball sixteen times for ninety-six yards and a touchdown in the win over the Jaguars.

The running game remains the bread and butter for this offense to the tune of 357 yards per game despite the uptick in the passing game. For the most part, one of three guys will carry the load. Leading rusher, and most recent winner of the Sun Belt offensive player of the week, Matt Breida has been the primary workhorse. Breida has fifty carries on the season for an astounding 445 yards and seven touchdowns. That comes out to insane 8.9 yards per carry. Breida is the type of back that will not go down on first contact and also has the wheels to take it the distance. Ellison has a quiet 7.0 yards per carry when compared to Breida. La Ramsby, (yes, thats his first and last names), is the plower. He basically gets carries to give Eliison and Breida a breather while he eats up 3.4 yards of dust on 40 carries this season.

Now that App has gotten past the issue of which quarterback should play, we can focus on Taylor Lamb as the present and future behind the center for the Mountaineers. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not impressed with Lamb in fall practice. He was almost too smooth, never hurried and everything about him seemed to be in slow motion. He appeared visually unappealing because he was so consistent. Lamb did not make the flashy play, but also never committed a shockingly bad play either. Looking back, he played a lot more in the first two games than I thought he would and it opened the door at the bye week for him to become the man. Right now, Lamb and Kam Bryant are just about even talent wise, but Lamb has the higher ceiling, so it was an easy call for the coaches to promote his development by awarding him with game experience.

Unfortunately the demons of 2013 reared their head for the Mountaineer offense at Southern Miss. The Mountaineers advanced the ball into Southern Miss territory on eight of their fifteen drives. Of those eight, three touchdowns were scored, three field goals were missed and twice the Mountaineers had goal-to-go scenarios and came up with nothing. It was about as brutal a game to watch as possible from that standpoint. Add to that the eleven penalties for 59 yards. Most of the time you commit that many penalties, you are well over the century mark in penalty yardage. Brutal. The Mountaineers converted eight of their sixteen third down conversions and possessed the ball for over thirty-five minutes of the game. Two more statistics that lean toward winning a football game, and still, the Mountaineers lost.

The Mountaineers were aggressive on defense. It was nice to the see the team attack the quarterback in the backfield. Although Appalachian was only credited with two sacks, I believe Nick Mullen was feeling the pressure in the second half. Outside of the missed assignment on the Eagles final touchdown drive, where the defensive end was supposed to pick up running back George Payne, the defense was dominant. Had the assignment been made, it was likely that Southern Miss would have at least got an attempt on a long field goal while also running clock, and not giving the Apps too much time to answer.

So the Mountaineers first win over an FBS program as an FBS program will have to wait another week, err, five days. Thursday night will pit strengths vs. strengths with the Georgia Southern run taking on the Appalachian run defense. Even after a bad game against Michigan, the Mountaineers have responded in back to back games, now only surrendering 155 yards a game on the ground for the season. Georgia Southern’s running game is well documented. If App wants to win, they have to contain it while also limiting the opportunities the Eagles have in the passing game. The best way to do that might be by keeping the Eagles off the field. The Appalachian style of offense calls for tempo and quickly getting plays off, but oddly enough, it has led the Mountaineers possessing the ball for close to 32 minutes on the season. Conversely, Southern’s offense has not been on the field much, holding the ball for under 29 minutes per game. It’s pretty simple, they cannot score when they are not on the field. Containment is the key. The Eagles are going to fumble. They always do. At this point they have ten fumbles on the season but have only lost three. Six of those fumbles were from Kevin Ellison and one from Favian Upshaw. Those two have accounted for every lost fumble. If they put two on the ground and lose them, the Apps have a real chance to win. I am befuddled by the Vegas line. I understand Georgia Southern being favored at home, but 18 points is just way to many. I believe that is an overcorrection from last week. I’ll give the Eagles the edge as much as I hate to, but I expect both teams to put on a show for Sun Belt.

The First Pick

Mountaineers 23

The Stink 31