Here we go with The Camellia Bowl
Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Ohio (8-4, 5-3 MAC)
Saturday, December 19th, 5:30 EST
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 100.7 Bristol
Surface: Field Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 70.95
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -7.5
Series: First meeting
Last meeting: n/a
The last ten years have been quite a ride. That might be a very simple description, but it fits. Each step the Appalachian football program has taken has led to this moment in history, another first for a program that is filled with a laundry list of great games, fantastic finishes and unexpected upsets. The first bowl game in the modern era of Mountaineer football is upon us. Oddly enough, in the wins that Appalachian is mostly recognized by are over teams from the north and midwest. When mentioning Appalachian, it was those games that many would say, “put us on the map”. Those four games were also unique in the way they were broadcasted to the masses. The championship games were the only only football game on. That one particular upset was the first broadcast by the Big Ten Network. Similarly, if you want to watch some football this weekend in the late afternoon on Saturday, you are going to have to watch the Mountaineers. The setting provides this program and university another chance to get that national recognition that you can’t put a price tag on. The Mountaineers have been pretty good in these situations over the years, and making history is what Appalachian is all about.
Unlike postseason football of Decembers past, Ohio provides a new opponent from another conference that Appalachian has little history with. It is likely that Appalachian ends up playing many MAC schools in future bowl games, but the odds of getting matched up with Ohio year after year is highly unlikely. That is very different than what Appalachian experienced in the FCS playoffs, seeing teams like Richmond and South Carolina State year after year. Outside of scheduling a home and home, a postseason rivalry with Ohio will be a scarce occurence.
As mentioned earlier, Ohio football resides in the MAC or Mid-American Conference. The MAC is most famous for its midweek football games that offer high scoring matchups with tons of entertainment value. Defenses need not apply to #MACtion. Ohio head coach Frank Solich may not completely believe in the high scoring affairs, as his teams have lived off ball control, a strong running game and solid enough defense. Ohio has not had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2012. Appalachian’s Marcus Cox, comparatively, has rung off three straight 1,000 yard seasons. Leading Ohio rusher AJ Ouellette has 137 carries on the season. Cox hit that number in his eighth game, back in October. The Ohio defense is one that is ranked in the upper half of the MAC in most categories, but not necessarily the best defense across the board. Ohio isn’t in the business of making a ton of highlight worthy plays, but are very consistent in what they want to do.
Ohio has yet to name a starting quarterback for Saturday, which leads many to believe that we could see two quarterbacks play significant time. Two weeks ago South Alabama made a change in the second half by benching Cody Clements, and brought in the more dynamic Dallas Davis, which sparked the Jaguar comeback. Knowing that, its possible that Jerrius Vick could start, as a senior, while mixing in JD Sprague, who is a true dual threat quarterback. Sprague’s ability to escape pressure in the pocket and turn broken plays into first downs should be a concern for Appalachian. This is nothing like Georgia Southern and their use of two quarterbacks. The offensive strategy doesn’t change dramatically for Ohio. Vick and Sprague can both get the job done and have needed to for Ohio to advance to their ninth bowl game.
The Bobcats have two receivers in Sebastian Smith and Jordan Reid who have been the primary targets of whichever Ohio quarterback has thrown them the ball. Both are big targets at 6’3″, and are responsible for nearly half of the Ohio receptions this season. Smith gets the larger volume of the targets, with his 61 catches for 752 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith went on a tear in the middle of the season, corraling 33 receptions in a four game stretch, which coincidentally occured during Ohio’s three game losing streak. Since then Smith has has gone cold with only 11 catches in his last three games. Reid seems to be the favored target of JD Sprague. Reid has 45 catches on the season, but in his last six games, caught 28 passes, including four of his five touchdowns. Reid only eclipsed 40 yards receiving once in the first half of the season, but since has surpassed the 40-yard mark in every game in the last half of the season, which includes two 100-yard receiving games.
In the last two games, the Mountaineers were careless with the football, turning it over four times in the opponents territory. The two end zone fumbles against South Alabama were especially maddening. Perhaps Appalachian will use those moments as a wake up call. It is not something you can do against Ohio and get away with. South Alabama was exceptional in playing keep away, running twenty-eight more plays than Appalachian and holding onto the ball for seven more minutes. That is the exact recipe that Ohio will try and replicate, minus the three first half interceptions by Cody Clements. Marcus Cox and Jalin Moore split carries for most of the night, but it was Cox who made the most of his fourteen attempts, compiling 192 yards, to Moore’s 84 yards. However it was Moore who starred as the closer, gaining over half of his yards on the final drive while scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
If you had to compare how Ohio plays to any Sun Belt foe, the team that more closely resembles them is actually Appalachian. Both teams prefer no-nonsense football with good balance. Now, Ohio is a team that passes more often, with a 42/58 run/pass ratio on the season, compared to Appalachian, which sits at 33/67. Ohio has run about five more plays a game than Appalachian, but does not possess the explosiveness. That is where this game is won and lost on Saturday. The Mountaineers will lull you to sleep until those linebackers and safeties take one too many steps toward the line of scrimmage. Taylor Lamb can really sell the play action, partly because he is also a threat to run. Ohio has to deal with the Mountaineers’ defensive strategy that has paid off for the better part of the season. They will bring pressure from different angles while essentially playing two deep safeties. That has helped Appalachian as they lead the nation in red zone defense, only surrendering sixteen touchdowns in those situations. An Ohio win would mean a break from the norm. The Bobcats have struggled themselves in the red zone, ranking 109th out of 128 teams in FBS. I see a lower scoring game as both squads try and establish their identity, while the final score ultimately comes down to situational football, whether its special teams, or third down conversions. The team that makes fewer mistakes and makes that extra play or two on defense will be your winner.
The First Pick
Lil’ Catamounts 23