Appalachian Football vs Ohio

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

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 100.7 Bristol

Cramton Bowl 

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 25,000
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 70.95

Ohio: 62.62

Home: n/a

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

Mountaineers          30

Appalachian Football @ South Alabama

Here we go with week 12
Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ South Alabama (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 5th, 7:30 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 100.7 Bristol

Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 33,471

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.62

South Alabama: 50.81

Home: 2.68

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -18

Series: South Alabama leads 1-0

Last meeting: South Alabama 47, App State 21, October 4th, 2014, Boone, NC

Nearly fourteen months ago, South Alabama marched right into Kidd Brewer Stadium and politely welcomed Appalachian to the Sun Belt with a lopsided loss. The game was the second for Appalachian in the Sun Belt era, as the Mountaineers had faced Georgia Southern the week before, but it was the first real taste of competition from the new conference. Since that loss, and starting 0-2 in Sun Belt play in 2014, the Mountaineers have won twelve of their next thirteen conference clashes. That game last season may not represent the current state of either Appalachian or South Alabama, but that is not lost on the coaching staff of the Mountaineers. They remember what it felt like to get manhandled at home in their true Sun Belt opener. That’s not to say that the Mountaineers are looking for revenge, but the ultimate focus on getting that tenth win in the regular season is a major motivating factor. Knowing that a bowl game is on the horizon also is not enough to distract a team that is extremely hungry to finish this season off the right way. 

South Alabama has had plenty of chances this season to become bowl eligible. They have thrown away numerous  opportunities to get that elusive sixth win but have not been able to seal the deal. The last thing they wanted to do was get to the last two games of the regular season, facing Georgia Southern and Appalachian needing to get a victory. With each puzzling loss this season, the Jaguars have captured wins that are complete head scratchers. In October, South Alabama allowed Arkansas State to score 29 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a loss.  The following week, the Jaguars fell victim to a massive  downpour in San Marcos and were doubled up by Texas State, who now sits at 3-8. The next week, South Alabama overcame a seventeen point halftime deficit to Idaho, and scored 45 points in the second half and won. Following that win, the Jaguars rolled up 495 yards on Louisiana to keep their bowl hopes alive. Since then, South Alabama’s offense has mustered two touchdowns in their last two games. 

Inconsistency has been the Jaguars problem all year. They are as good as beating bowl bound San Diego State and bad as losing to Texas State. The Jaguars can put up 84 combined points in consecutive home games and then score 27 points in the next two road games. The most important goal for Appalachian is to keep South Alabama from getting comfortable and to play for a full sixty minutes. The Jaguars get out of their offense quickly when they fall behind and typically abandon the running game, which is the strongest part of their offense. 

South Alabama did without Cody Clements for the majority of the second half in their 55-17 loss to Georgia Southern last weekend. Clements suffered a shoulder injury early in the third quarter, but seems to have recovered from whatever ails him. It was reported that Clements practiced more than expected on Tuesday, and was upgraded to probable for Saturday’s game. Clements does not wow you with his statistics, but is a true gamer, doing whatever he needs to help his team. He is known to pull the ball down if he cannot find an open receiver and salavage the play with his legs versus throwing the ball away. Clements has only completed 52% of his passes on the season with 13 touchdown passes. Clements has managed just three touchdown passes in the last five games, and has eclipsed two hundred passing just once in the last five games. 

Sophomore running back Xavier Johnson is a dynamic player for South who has the potential to break a long run whenever he touches the ball. The problem is he doesn’t get the ball enough. His 11.5 carries leads the team, but he needs more. The Jaguars are 3-0 when Johnson gets 19 or more carries and 4-0 when he rushes for over 100 yards. Johnson averages 8.0 yards per tote at home and has 844 yards on the season. 

Appalachian was able to overcome two turnovers to methodically dispatch Louisiana 28-7. Despite those turnovers, the defense was able to keep Louisiana off the scoreboard until the last minute of the fourth quarter when the game was well in doubt. Appalachian was just 57 seconds away from their third shutout this season. In an an expected move, Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox shared the load in the backfield. Although Cox still managed 22 carries for 78 yards, it was Moore whose change of pace broke open a game  that was still in doubt in the third quarter with a 54-yard touchdown run. Moore finished with a game high 104 yards on just 13 carries. 

The task has been quite simple for South Alabama in the last few weeks. Win one of your last three games and you’ll play in a bowl game. But here they are, still looking for one last win. They’ll  have nobody to blame but themselves. Enter Appalachian whose only losses this season are to potential conference champions. One could argue that Appalachian has won every game they were supposed to, or highly favored in. Too often this season, South Alabama gets lost on the field and plays the scoreboard way too much. The Jaguars like to throw the ball deep, but have not connected enough. Last week against Georgia Southern, it looked like the first few plays were scripted, and then they got away from what was working. If Cody Clements can stay upright and find their big tight end Gerald Everett, the Jaguars can stay in this game. Their problem is the inability to protect the passer, as evidenced by their 28 sacks allowed. Everett leads the team with 37 catches, but has only 14 catches in his last six games. If the Mountaineers decide to turn up the pressure, like they did against Louisiana, this could be a long game for the Jaguars. Appalachian should get their tenth win in similar fashion to last weekend. 

The First Pick:
Spotted Cats           13
Mountaineers         34

Louisiana @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 11

Louisiana-Lafayette (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (8-2, 5-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 28th, 2:00 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 100.7 Bristol

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.14
Louisiana: 53.48
Home: 2.68
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -23.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last meeting: App State 35, Louisiana 16   November 22nd, 2014, Lafayette, LA

In the past twenty days, the Mountaineers have played exactly one football game. That equates to a lot of time to rest, watch film and practice. It serves almost like a minicamp of sorts to iron out all of the wrinkles and sharpen the tools for a stretch run that likely includes three football games over a four week period of time, give or take a couple days. A lot attention has been paid to bowl scenarios and matchups in the down period we have had without football. A lot of uncertainty can be cleared up this weekend as Appalachian can help it’s own cause by winning and eliminating Louisiana from bowl contention. Almost hard to even fathom the kings of the Sun Belt over the past few years not being considered for a bowl game, but it’s the truth. The Cajuns had played in and won four straight bowl games in their backyard and it’s very likely, that one of their biggest rivals will be playing in a postseason game in “their” city. The Cajuns, however, still have plenty to play for. Their season isn’t technically over just yet. They still control their own bowl fate in terms of getting to six wins, but in order to get there, they’ll have to deal with twenty-two Mountaineer seniors who want a win in their final game at The Rock. 

Lousiana’s troubles in 2015 can be attributed to several different factors. The Cajuns have fielded several different starting lineups on the defensive side of the ball. Not once this season have the Cajuns fielded the same starting eleven in two games on defense. Louisiana has constantly been forced to rotate players in and out due to injuries and poor play. Seven different defensive backs have started a game. Seven is also the highest number of starts for any player at one position in the secondary. The boundary corner and the field corner have flipped sides of the field. Eight different players have started at linebacker and seven different players have started on their three man defensive line. 

The  perpetual lineup changes have led to a lack of chemistry that has really shown the last two games. South Alabama and New Mexico State put up the most yards that Louisiana has surrendered all season long. The Jaguars gained 495 yards while the Aggies accumulated 498 yards of total offense. In those two games, the Cajuns secondary gave up six touchdown passes combined. Take it a step further, and the Cajuns have allowed 12 scoring passes in their last four games. Last week, New Mexcio State completed just sixteen passes, but twelve of them went for first downs. 

The quarterback position is a true head scratcher. Louisiana likes to use a two quarterback system, but it’s like nothing you have ever seen. The Cajuns do not lean on a hot hand, or use a quarterback based on an opponents weakness. They just use them recklessly. They will change quarterbacks in the middle of a series, and even in the same sequence of downs. The “passing” quarterback, Brooks Haack has more interceptions than touchdown passes. The “running” quarterback, Jaelen Nixon has more touchdown passes than Haack on thirty-four fewer attempts. Nixon is the team’s second leading rusher with 403 yards. 

One constant for Lousiana has been Elijah McGuire, the junior running back who is rewriting the Cajun record book. McGuire is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. McGuire is 71 yards from eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards on the season. But, McGuire on the road this season has not been the same player as he has been in Lafayette. In his five road games thus far, McGuire has 296 yards, just under 60 yards per game. McGuire gains 3.5 yards per carry on the road this season, while his numbers at home are nearly double, at 6.7 yards per tote. Only two of his twelve rushing touchdowns are on the road. The only part of his game that improves on the road are his receiving statistics, gathering 23 of his 29 receptions away from home. 

The Mountaineers have been known to gamble this season, with their fake punts and field goals. Perhaps the biggest gamble of the season was giving Marcus Cox a week off in the game against Idaho. Cox was  suited up, but the Mountaineers had looked lackluster on offense the previous two weeks. Instead of asking his star to gut it out, Scott Satterfield looked to the healthier options at running back. Terrance Upshaw got the start, but was quickly supplanted by Jalin Moore. On the second drive of the game, the Apps turned to Moore who ran six times for forty-eight yards on a nine play drive that culminated with a Mountaineer touchdown. The gamble paid off and Jalin Moore became a household name. 

Louisiana has one road victory this season. It was a two point win over Georgia State, a game in which Panther head coach Trent Miles foolishly attempted a fake punt deep in his own territory with the lead. That allowed the Cajuns to kick the game winner and hold on. Georgia State did everything right that day and Louisiana, everything wrong. The Cajuns got the win but they didnt deserve it. In every other road game, they have lost by at least a touchdown this season. If you would have told a Cajun fan at the beginning of the season that they would lose to New Mexico State and beat Georgia State by two, they would have laughed at you. In fact, the Cajuns have only looked like the team we thought they were going to be in two games this season, in wins over Texas State and Northwestern State. The Cajuns will show flashes of brilliance here and there with the talent providing glimpes of their potential. Those big plays have not been there consistently. Luckily, the Cajuns are still in position to extend their season, but it makes one wonder if last weekend’s loss may have been too demoralizing to recover from. For Appalachian, the beat goes on. The Mountaineers looked like the team that started the season in the win over Idaho and two weeks to mend should do their bodies good. The Cajuns gave up chunks of yardage on the ground in their last two games to South Alabama’s Xavier Johnson and New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III. Louisiana’s weakness in the last handful of games plays right into the Mountaineers hand. Expect to see Appalachian win to send the seniors off in style. 

The First Pick:

Peppers                  19

Mountaineers      38

Appalachian Football @ Idaho

Here we go with Week 10

Appalachian State (7-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) @ Idaho (3-6, 2-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 14th, 5:00 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 100.7 Bristol

Kibbie Dome

Surface: RealGrass Pro

Capacity: 16,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.33

Idaho: 48.81

Home: 2.76

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -19.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 45, Idaho 28 Saturday November 29th, 2014, Boone, NC

The tune might have changed slightly over the course of the last week or so, but the final chorus remains the same. Change a few notes, or even a word or two, and it will not matter. When the finals lyrics are sung, they include something like “compete for a conference championship and go to a bowl game.” That’s probably the words to a terrible song, but it works pretty good as a mission statement for a football program. Let us not forget how difficult winning football games can be. Even more trying, is completing a regular season with only one or two losses. Some of the best teams Appalachian has ever fielded have even had their troubles getting tripped up along the way. The seasons of 1995 and 2006 come to mind. In 1995, App finished 11-0 in the regular season, fell in the second round of the playoffs to Stephen F Austin, and finished 12-1. Disappointing end to the season, but a darn good season overall. In 2006, the Apps fell to NC State in the opener, but won the next 14 games. Pretty good season most would say. The difference of those two examples is simple. How you finish will be how you are remembered. That’s the chore for Appalachian over the next three weeks. Responding to adversity or a loss and forgetting it, putting it behind you and playing  the guy who in front  of you. All you can control is the future and and present, not the past. The past may define you, but learning from it is the greatest accomplishment.

At this point last season, this weeks opponents were on two different paths. Appalachian was in the midst of a program defining stretch of games, while Idaho couldn’t beat anyone, outside of New Mexico State. The Vandals appeared to look like the same team at the start of the 2015 season as they did in 2014. Idaho began with an 1-4 start, only edging the mighty Wofford Terriers by three points at home. After a bye week, Idaho looked like a completely different team for two weeks. The Vandals battled a bad connection on a flight to Troy in which they landed in Alabama five hours prior to kickoff, yet still managed to beat the Trojans 19-16. That Troy team was without the services of quarterback Brandon Silvers, but regardless, it was a shocking result. The following week, Idaho took care of Monore, 27-13 in a game that was only kept close by three Vandal turnovers. Suddenly, Idaho was 2-2 in Sun Belt play, and thinking about contending for a bowl bid.

The next two games on Idaho’s schedule were totally winnable, even though the Vandals had to hit the road. New Mexico State and South Alabama were struggling and it gave Idaho a chance to make some noise in the Sun Belt. Idaho led New Mexico State 20-0 late in the first half, and eventually 23-7 at halftime. A touchdown run by Matt Linehan extended the Vandal lead to 40-21 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. From that point on, New Mexico State outscored Idaho 27-7 to force overtime. Idaho gave up 311 fourth quarter yards before falling in extra time.

That was the first collapse. South Alabama might have been worse from a special teams perspective. After leading 24-7 at halftime, Idaho gave up the opening kicoff in the second half for a touchdown. Later  in the third quarter, an Idaho fumble was scooped up by South Alabama and returned for a touchdown. On the ensuing possession, the Vandal punt was blocked deep in their own territory. The Jaguars would score on the next play. The teams traded scores before Idaho fumbled a kickoff return and allowed South Alabama to open up a 38-31 lead. Idaho then threw an interception on their next drive, which led to another score for the Jaguars. Idaho would continue to fight, but when they needed a stop the most, down 45-38, they let South Alabama score on a one play drive to put the game out of reach. There was enough ridiculousness in those two games to last a season, but Idaho was able to squeeze it into two halves of two football games.

Much has been said regarding former Idaho receiver Dezmon Epps, who was leading the team in receptions and yards. We say former because Epps has been dismissed from the team this week. Epps was  on a very short leash after some trangressions that occured during the offseason. Epps could not follow the rules set out by Paul Petrino, and he was shown the door. Since then, Epps’s dismissal has opened the door for two receivers. Callen Hightower has taken the opportunity and run with it. Hightower has 38 receptions and 390 yards on the season, but half of that production has occured in the last two games. Hightower has 19 catches and 200 yards in the last two games, including his only touchdown of the year. Deon Watson had season highs last week with 7 catches for 109 yards, which makes up for 25% of his season receptions and just under one third of the yards.

Matt Linehan has played in every game this season for Idaho except for Arkansas State. Besides that, he has taken nearly every snap for the Vandals. Linehan  is second in the Sun Belt in passing yards per game, but just fourth in efficiency. His troubles come from having the second most interceptions in the conference and being only fifth among qualified quarterbacks in the conference in touchdown passes. Idaho’s inabilty to have a consistent running game has put a lot of pressure on Linehan. Elijah Penny has carried the majority of the load for Idaho in the running game, and when he is in the backfield, defenses have sold out on stopping him. His 4.7 yards per carry isn’t terrible, but its by far the worst of the Sun Belt’s leading backs. Idaho does not run a lot of read option, and when the tailback is behind the quarterback in the formation, it is a dead giveaway of a run.

It would be overkill, to pile on and speak to injuries that have occured on the Mountaineer offensive line. We all know about, and it has obviously affected the offensive chemistry. The Appalachian defense, despite giving up half their seasons points in the last two weeks, has still played pretty well considering the circumstances. Arkansas State could have easily made last week look even worse had Appalachian not stood tall and forced three second half field goals. After giving up two touchdown runs in the third quarter early, the Apps kept the offense in the game with those late stands. The defense easily could have folded, but kept on. The defense is the best side of the ball the Mountaineers have going for them, but  will need some help from the offense to sustain a drive or two to keep the defense fresh late in the game.

Forget the point spread, and all the other nonsense. This game against Idaho is going to be a tough one. Idaho’s strength plays right into the weaker part of the Appalachian defense. Any team that can pass the ball and protect their quarterback just a little bit is going to be a threat every weekend. The Vandals have cut down on their sacks allowed from last season nearly in half. Idaho leads the conference in first   downs per game and is tied for first in third down conversions. The Idaho defense has been so awful the last two games, thay they are bound to make some improvements. But, if they can not adjust and their defense continues to play matador in the second half, this is a game that Appalachian should win with ease. The Mountaineers took a hit when they lost one offensive lineman. When the Apps subsequently lost their center, the offense stalled and was not able to produce points until the game was out of reach. The hope is that Appalachian can take advantage of a good matchup. With the running game against Idaho’s depleted defense to sustain drives and eventually wear out the defense, all while keeping Idaho’s offense of gaining any type of flow. I want to see Appalachian at least resemble what it looked like in the first half of the season. I fully expect the new starters on the line to take advantage of their opportunity and play well enough to get the Mountaineers their eighth win of the season.

The First Pick:

Vandalism            27

Mountaineers      41

Arkansas State @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 9

Arkansas State (5-3, 4-0 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (7-1, 4-0 Sun Belt)

Thursday November 5th, 7:30 PM 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

Kidd Brewer Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 73.57

Arkansas State: 63.06

Home: 2.78

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -11

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last Meeting: App State 37, Arkansas State 32; November 15, 2014 (Jonesboro, AR)

Weather: Partly to mostly cloudy with drizzle possible late, High: Mid 60’s, Lows: Upper 50’s

Turns out that Halloween night at The Rock was a little more scary than anyone was accustomed to. The Trojans had several tricks up their sleeve, but it was the Mountaineer fans who were treated to a thrilling triple overtime victory. Troy played just about their best game of the season, and Appalachian was just good enough to hold on. The proverbial “trap” game was just that. The Mountaineers managed to eek out a game that many were not expected to be that much of a contest. Fortunately, Appalachian outscored the Trojans despite being outplayed and outcoached for much of the game. That result  has allowed Appalachian to regroup. When a team plays poorly, there is nothing more they want to do than get back out on the field and prove themselves. For the second time in a few weeks, Appalachian has to make a quick turnarond and play on Thursday night, with only five full days of rest between games. The Mountaineers have practiced without pads part of the week in an effort to allow their bodies to heal before what will be an epic battle with Arkansas State. Both teams sit atop the Sun Belt standings with unblemished 4-0 records at the midway point of the conference season. The winner gets a full game lead in the standings with only three games left to play, and a little breathing room. Everyone involved in a college football program, from cheerleaders and fans, trainers and the marching band lives for games like Thursday night, in front of a national audience with everything on the line. It’s time to show the world once again what Appalachian State is all about. 

Arkansas State has strung together four straight wins after  a brutal stretch to start the season. The Red Wolves played two Power Five opponents and upstart Toledo, games which they lost, to start the season 1-3. Southern California and Toledo were both ugly losses on the road, where Arkansas State only managed 13 points in the two games combined. Arkansas State hosted then 21st ranked Missouri and took  a lead at halftime, but could not hold on, being outscored 17-3 in the second half. 

Even though the Red Wolves have taken care of business in conference play, it has not been pretty. They have conceded 127 points in their last four games, three of those being at home, which averages out to 31.75 points per game, which is slighty higher than their season average of 31.6 points per game. I can hear you asking, how is that “not pretty”. Three of those four schools, Idaho, Georgia State and South Alabama all scored more points on Arkansas State than their own season averages. All three scored at least seven more points in those games than their current scoring averages to date. Louisiana scored three fewer points than their average, but still managed to roll up 485 yards of offense, which is almost 70 yards more than their season average of 415 yards. The point: The Red Wolves defense is ripe for the picking. 

The flip side of the defensive argument is how good Arkansas State is on the offensive side of the ball. The offense is healthy this season, unlike last years matchup between the two teams. Senior Fredi Knighten is the most important cog for this team. If he is in a rhythm, the Red Wolves are diffcult to stop. Knighten is another signal caller  that has missed some time this year with injuries so his statistics are low by comparison. He has only played in five or six games, depending which website you trust, and has totaled 631 passing yards and nine touchdowns. His biggest threat is his abilty to run, not only to by time in the pocket, but to scramble for first downs. Knighten has the fourth most rushing yards on the team even with missing those games, totaling 216 yards. 

What Arkansas State wants to do is the run the ball. They make no bones about it, but they are not a traditional power running team. They love to get the ball outside to their backs in hopes they can make a play in the open field. Michael Gordon is the leader of the bunch with 622 yards and six touchdowns, but has made the most of it, with less than 13 carries per game. Freshman Warren Wand is listed third on the depth chart, but is second on the team in carries and yards. Wand is only 5’5″ but can burn rubber, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. JD McKissic is the leading receiver with 38 receptions and 392 yards, but is also used in the running game. His twelve attempts are not a ton, but McKissic embodies what the Red Wolves want to do on offense by getting athletes open and let them run. Coverage and tackling will very important for the Mountaineer defense on Thursday night. 

The Mountaineer offense was not spectacular, but it was just good enough when it counted. Thirteen tough points were scored in the overtime periods. The way overtime works creates a lot of highs and lows. One minute, the calls are a bit conservative while playing with your back to the wall, while the next, you can play a bit more loose. In a game where points were important, Zach Matics was nothing but perfect, hitting all of his extra points and field goal attempts. Matics has completely redeemed himself in 2015 in a big way. His opening field goal against Georgia Southern may be the most underrated points of the season, answering the Eagles opening drive. Matics will be trusted again Thursday night in a game that appears to favor a shootout where points will be at an ultimate premium. 

Arkansas State is extremely fortunate to be in the position they are in at this point in the season. Back on October 13th, they trailed South Alabama by 11 with thirteen minutes to play in the game. Suddenly, the Jaguars folded up and played not to lose, and Arkansas State managed to score 29 points in the next six minutes of game time, and won going away. A similar situation occured in last years game between App and Ark. State. The Mountaineers clawed back from a 14 point deficit in the first half to lead 37-20 late in the game and Arkansas State scored two late touchdowns to draw within five points. The Red Wolves do not give up. The 145 points they scored last year in the fourth quarter were the most points they scored in any quarter for the entire season. The fourth quarter this season is where Appalachian has scored the fewest points, only 38. Last week against Troy, Appalachian could not hold a lead and were shutout in the final period of regulation. In order to combat a comeback attempt, Appalachian must establish the tempo of the game from the opening kick. The Mountaineers were schooled on pace of play last week by Troy and will likely have worked hard in practice to defend an Arkansas State team that also likes to run a lot of plays. I expect Taylor Lamb to work well out of the play action game and make the Red Wolves secondary chase some deep passes, which in turn wll help the running game. The Mountaineers won’t cover, but they’ll win and remain in first place. 

The First Pick:

Lil’ Red Riding Hood 23

Mountaineers 30

Troy @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 8
Troy (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (6-1, 3-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 31st, 3:30 PM 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 100.7 Bristol
Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 23,150
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 73.49
Troy: 55.71
Home: 2.71
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -24
Series: Series tied 2-2
Last Meeting: App State 53, Troy 14; October 18, 2014 (Troy, AL)
Weather: Sunshine early with building clouds, High: Upper 50’s, Lows: Upper 30’s, South winds 5-10mph

It was more than just a night to remember. It was a night that put things back in their proper order. A little smack talk never hurt anyone leading up to last Thursday night, as long your team can back it up. The Mountaineers backed it up and then some, by rolling their nemesis into the ground with a 31-13 drubbing that looked a lot worse. But in the end, those Eagles will never run out of excuses. They have never lost a game; it is always someone else’s fault for their poor play. Hopefully for Georgia Southern, all that complaining will come to an end. Who are we to kid? That’ll never happen. In the meantime, Appalachian looks to continue their quest for a ring in 2015, and the Troy Trojans are the next team in the way. Just a little over a year ago, the turnaround started with a trip to Troy. Appalachian was an underdog, coming off what could be argued as the worst loss in recent memory. Suddenly, on that Saturday afternoon 375 days ago, the switch was flipped. Something happened, and the Mountaineers have not looked back since. In the last thirteen games, the Mountaineers have shut down their opponents, surrendering just 15.6 points per game, including three shutouts. The brevity of such dominance is rare in this modern football game, where scores can resemble the college basketball game more often. That consistency has spanned over a year, not just a spurt of games. This what we are all accustomed to. The plan has worked and the swagger and spirit has returned to the top of the mountain in a scary way.
As much as last year was a turning point for Appalachian, it was in a very different way for Troy. Their beloved coach, Larry Blakeney, who spent 23 years manning the sidelines was in his final year. Blakeney won eight conference titles and two bowl games while transitioning Troy out of Division II, through I-AA and eventually to the FBS ranks. Enter Neal Brown, the second youngest coach in all of FBS football for his first head coaching job of his career. Brown was a former offensive coordinator at Troy before moving on to the same role at Texas Tech & Kentucky. Brown is finding his way as a head coach, much like Scott Satterfield did a couple seasons ago. It is a difficult balancing act to play upperclassmen when there are younger guys who you like for your system. Brown is doing just that right now. Slowly, Troy will be a force once again in the Sun Belt.
The Trojans have been looking for balance throughout the 2015 season, and it all came together last weekend at New Mexico State. You might say, well, a lot of teams have found balance against New Mexico State. That is correct, they have, but occasionally, a team needs a confidence booster to realize what it is that they can achieve. The Troy defense is a vastly improved bunch from 2014. The Trojans have decreased opponents scoring by close to ten points in just one season. They are allowing 76 fewer yards per game and have slowed the ground game of their opponents by 1.5 yards per carry. One last boring statistic: In 2014, Troy gave up 2.9 rushing touchdowns a game, and in 2015, 1.5 per game.
Troy’s offense is led by its three-headed monster in Brandon Silvers, Brandon Burks & Teddy Ruben. Silvers had his best game of the season last weekend, throwing for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the thumping of New Mexico State. Coming into the game, Silvers had eclipsed the 200 yard mark in only one other game, in the Trojans other win of the season against Charleston Southern. Seven of his nine touchdowns on the season came in the two wins, while Silvers has two touchdown passes and three interceptions in four losses in which he appeared. Silvers was injured in the loss at Mississippi State , suffering a high ankle sprain and a concussion. In his absence, Troy used two quarterbacks in the loss to Idaho, neither which were very effective. Dallas Tidwell threw for 168 yards and one touchdown on 50% passing while Dontreal Pruitt combined for 111 total yards (70 passing, 41 rushing) and threw two interceptions.

Brandon Burks is the senior running back who lives and dies off of his big play ability. His 621 yards on the season are good enough for 5th in the Sun Belt, while his 88.7 yards per game puts him at seventh. Burks has totaled 313 of his 621 yards on the longest carry in each of his respective games this season. Unbelievable right? Over half of his yards on seven carries. The Trojans depend on Burks to break a big one. Burks means almost as much to Troy as Matt Breida does for Georgia Southern. They need him to be fantastic. Last Thursday, the Mountaineers kept Breida in check, and thus kept the Eagles in check.

Teddy Ruben is an extremely versatile wide receiver He does a little bit of eveything for the Trojans. He is 5th in the Sun Belt in receiving yards and receptions per game, 5th in kick returns,  and 2nd in punt returns. In his last two games, Ruben has gone over  100 yards and snagged three touchdown passes. After only catching twelve passes in his first three games of the season, Ruben has hauled in twenty-one passes in the last four games. Similarly to Burks, most of Ruben’s yards have come on the big play. Of his 468 yards, 221 have occured on his longest reception in each game this season.

One would have never guessed Appalachian was facing the second best defense in the conference in Georgia Southern last week. If anything, the offense was its usual balanced self. Taylor Lamb patiently surveyed the field for open receivers and was completely satisfied by throwing the ball away instead of forcing it into coverage. The Mountaineers leaned on one receiver for really the first time all season. Simms McElfresh caught six passes for 66 yards, the most of any Mountaineer receiver in a game this year.  Marcus Cox took advantage of his 21 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the bigger story was Jalin Moore, who received a carry high in carries with eleven in the game which he turned into 53 yards. It was the sixth time this season that the Mountaineers ran the ball 40 times or more in a game as a team.
It is easy to understand that Troy is excited about what they were able to accomplish against an 0-7 team last weekend, getting their first win against an FBS opponent this season. So much that one of their players spouted off to the media that they are about to dominate their next game. Makes one wonder if said player even checked the schedule. It’s fun to be excited, because you can ignore facts. Realistically, this game is a complete mismatch. Troy, with their third ranked Sun Belt defense believes they will keep Appalachian from scoring, something only Clemson has done this season. The best way for Troy to do that is to keep the Mountaineers off the field. That will be a chore in itself. The Trojans have given up 6 minutes of possesion to their opponents this season. Two minutes on the season, is a lot to give up, and six is enormous. Six minutes of a game is ten percent, so that is a pretty big deal. Part of the reasoning behind that is their lack of a run game. Last week, Appalachian took away the running game of Georgia Southern, by cutting their season rushing average in half, and then some. Troy is ninth in the conference at 123 rushing yards per game, ahead of Georgia State and Monroe. The longest carry the Mountaineers have given up all season is 30 yards. It will be tough for Troy to break a long run against this stout Mountaineer defense. Appalachian will force Troy into being one dimensional on offense and make them pass against the best secondary in the conference. That’s not a good idea against Latrell Gibbs and company. The Mountaineers win this one going away.


The First Pick:
T-Roy                 14
Mountaineers   38

Georgia Southern @ Appalachian Footballl

Here we go with week 7

Georgia Southern (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (5-1, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday October 22nd, 7:30 PM 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
Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf 

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 71.23

GS: 70.32

Home: 2.66

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -6.5

Series: App State leads 16-13-1

Last Meeting: Georgia Southern 34 App State 14; September 25, 2014 (Statesboro, GA)

Weather: Mostly sunny and clear Mid 60’s during tailgate and Mid 50’s at end of game

           Somehow, we have all made it to Wednesday.  But this hump day is unlike any other, its also our “Friday”, or Gameday Eve. Whatever you generally refer to as the day before the game day, it has a different feel. One cannot simply go to work or the grocery store this week in Boone without small talk about what will take place under the lights on Thursday night. It’s more than just a football game this week. A national television audience has brought an increased media presence to the High Country for Appalachian to show to the world what makes it a special place. Mix in the the opponent, easily the most hated of them all, and Thursday night has all the makings to be a night to remember. Luckily, there is something  to play for this season. Only two years removed from the Southern Conference, Appalachian and Georgia Southern have quickly vaulted to the top of the Sun Belt. As much as things change, they seem to stay the same. These two rivals have made the transition look incredibly easy. They are a combined 19-2 against Sun Belt opponents in their short history in the league. As it was the premier battle in the FCS for over two decades, it remains that way in the Sun Belt. In 2014, the conference rolled out the red carpet for App and Southern, pitting them against one another in their first Sun Belt game in their schools history. This season, the game is the main event on the Sun Belt calendar as perennial Sun Belt stalwarts Arkansas State and Louisiana were the warmup game on Tuesday. The winner gets a leg up in their conference title race and perhaps preferential treatment when bowl selections are made in about six weeks. Lastly, the winner gets to say to the loser, “We beat you” for the next calendar year.

            Southern’s option offense is basically the same style we have seen for years, with one major difference. Predominantly, the quarterback will take the snap from the shotgun or pistol compared to under center. Taking the snap from under center can be more difficult to defend as the quarterback can get lost behind the offensive line and the dive play can be very successful if the correct blocks are made. The shot gun formation gives an athletic backfield like Southern’s a better view of the outside running lanes, which is where Matt Bredia is really is difficult to defend. For Appalachian, getting to the outside will be paramount in containing the option. The Mountaineers must force the Eagle backs to think about where they are going when they get outside the hash marks. More thinking means less running and more time for the defense to pursue the ball.

     Offensively, both Georgia Southern and Appalachian are hitting their stride at the midway point in the season. Instead of looking ahead to this Thursday, Southern put up season highs in points and total offensive yards in their win over New Mexico State, while Appalachian also put up a season high in points, and eclipsed 650 total yards for the second time this season. The Mountaineers 654 yards against Monroe fell just short of the 677 yards they gained against Howard in the season opener. 

        By now, we all know the Eagles names. We know about Kevin Ellison and his ability as a runner and passer. Last year he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in both categories and became the 6th player in Southern history to pass and run for 2,000 yards in a career with his numbers against New Mexico State. Ellison was forced to sit out two games earlier this season, suffering from academic issue  in the past school year. He has started all four games since his return and is averaging a very balanced 157 yards of total offense per game. Quarterback Favian Upshaw is rotating in every third series to give defenses a different look. Upshaw is considered by some to be the better passer, but his four interceptions in twenty-five total pass attempts tells a different story. 

     Another Eagle name Mountaineer fans are all to familiar with is Matt Breida, the lightning fast running back. Breida is unequivocably the bread and butter for Southern. When he is on, Georgia Southern wins. It’s that simple. Breida can change direction at any time, but his most important assett is his quickness. He can get to a hole in the defense and make everyone on the field chase him. It’s not often you see a running back average 10.4 yards a carry this late in the season. His 148 yards per game rushing not only leads the Sun Belt, but is also good enough for third nationally. L.A. Ramsby is the third leading rusher for the Eagles. Ramsby is a power back that is difficult to take down. He provides a perfect compliment to Breida. Ramsby’s six touchdowns are second only to Breida’s eleven scores. 

           Appalachian has stayed true to their word all season long as far offensive strategy goes, with intentions to run the ball to get favorable matchups in the secondary, and win those 1-on-1 situations. It’s no secret, yet hardly anyone has been able to hold them down long. Monroe had a quick start last weekend, and surely there were many Mountaineer fans sweating in the first half. Appalachian was patient, waiting for their defense to make big plays and for Taylor Lamb to find open receivers deep in the Wahawk secondary. Lamb was his brilliant self, throwing for 261 yards on only fifteen attempts, while never being sacked. Marcus Cox ran for  a somewhat quiet 122 yards and two touchdowns. Terrance Upshaw looked like he was 100% after battling an injury over the last couple weeks,  running for 76 yards on only nine carries.            

           Statistical comparisons can make for a lot of great conversation leading up to the game, but the real fun part about the game of football is seeing how teams react when things do not go their way. At some point in the game on Thursday, one team is going to be playing from behind. Both teams have not done a whole lot of playing from behind this season. Take away their games against Power 5 opponents, its pretty foreign. Georgia Southern trailed Western Michigan for four minutes and nineteen seconds in the first quarter of their second game of the season. That’s it. They have held the lead ever since. Idaho tied the Eagles for 16 seconds, and then Matt Breida went 83 yards for a touchdown on the next drive. Appalachian trailed for a total of seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds against Monroe last weekend and calmy took a ten point lead before halftime. That is all the Mountaineers have trailed this season, once again, outside of Clemson. The Mountaineers hold a significant defensive advantage in this matchup. This team does not like giving up points. Period. The Eagles, on the other hand, have given up some points in several of their games. On the season, Southern has surrendered 25 points per contest. Although neither Appalachian or Georgia Southern have played really tough schedules to date this season, Appalachian has the upper hand. Georgia Southern could be without several key defensive starters due to injuries and targeting punishments. Two will serve the suspensions in the first half while another did not return last week after his injury. The first half will be extremely critical in this game. Appalachian will need to take advantage of those Southern losses and roll to a lead at halftime. With the way the Mountaineers rotate players  on both sides of the ball, I fully expect the Apps to be the fresher team in the second half and thwart any chance the Eagles have of mounting a comeback. 

The First Pick:

More Beaks 24

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football @ Louisiana-Monroe

Here we go with Week 6

Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) @ Louisiana-Monroe (1-4, 0-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 17th, 7 PM 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 100.7 Bristol

JPS Field at Malone Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf 
Capacity: 30,427
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 69.83

ULM: 55.84
Home: 2.76
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 17 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -11.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last Meeting: App State 31, ULM 29; November 8, 2014 (Boone, NC)
Weather: Mostly sunny and clear 77/51

          Business has suddenly picked up in college football. Behind us are the money games and out of conference matchups. From here on out, the games are all about  the business of winning a conference championship. No disrespect to Georgia State. We know that you are a considered a conference game, but it just doesn’t feel like it. At least not yet. What really feels like Sun Belt football is playing the Louisiana schools on the road. No disrespect to the Georgia Dome, it is a nice facility, but the Panthers are lost in there. The real work is now before Appalachian as they travel to a more hostile atmosphere, one  where Mountaineer fans will be more scarce than they have been at any point this season. The most difficult part of the week will be focusing on the present and not looking ahead. To this point in the season, Appalachian  has been able remain on task, taking care of every opponent, not named Clemson, with ease. Forget about whether or not this team has been tested. The test has been about making improvements from one game to the next while also getting valuable playing time for those whose names may be called on down the line. The Warhawks will provide the next test. A team that has played a tough schedule will be looking to turn the tide in front of their home crowd. Hopefully, the Mountaineers have done their homework. 

           Monroe faces an uphill battle most years in regards to how they arrange their schedule. Regularly, the Warhawks are forced to schedule multiple Power Five schools in the same season in order to be able to fund their programs. ULM is one of the smaller schools in Sun Belt, with enrollment below 9,000 and their athletic budget represents that. In the past they have played two and three of those schools in the same season. It does not help their record, but it does help the pocketbook. This season, ULM will collect checks from Alabama, Georgia and Hawai’i. Their lone win was FCS Nicholls State. 

          Since the last time Appalachian played ULM, the Warhawks have played Georgia Southern twice, losing both, and have beaten New Mexico State along with Nicholls State. Monroe and Appalachian seem to be heading in different directions, as Appalachian has now won ten of its last eleven games. Monroe appears to be a very similar team that Appalachian played last year, with an offense that has its moments, but sputters for the most part. The Warhawk defense still likes to play very physical, but has been on the field a tremendous amount of time this season and it has shown. Monroe is giving up 34 points a game and has let teams gash them on the ground to the tune 243 yards per game. 

          Monroe has been forced to start redshirt freshman Garrett Smith at quarterback who has had some struggles this season. A lot of the Monroe offense is based on short throws that are easy to help Monroe run the ball. The idea is to get Smith in rhythm and build his confidence. Smith has thrown all but eleven passes this year for the Warhawks, who as a team has only been able to muster 5.9 yards per pass attempt. Thats a miniscule number at any level of football. Smith is the least effeicient quarterback in the Sun Belt of those who are qualified. His nine touchdowns passes are good enough for fourth in the Sun Belt, but his seven interceptions are second to only South Alabama’s Cody Clements who has played an extra game. 

           Ajalen Holley is who the Warhawks will lean on in the passing game. The junior is second in the conference in several receiving categories including receptions (39), yards (480). Holley has stepped in nicely for injured wide out Rashon Ceasar, who was a favorite to be a first team all conference selection. Ceaser had 26 catches for 272 yards in three games before being lost for the season to injury. Holley will be the target of a lot of Smith’s passses. Outside of Ceaser and Holley, no other Warhawk pass catcher has eclipsed 100 yards on the season. The ULM running game isnt much to speak of. Kaylon Watson leads the team with 155 yards on the season on only 39 carries. Garrett Smith has more official carries with 55, but his sacks count toward his rushing total, which account for a lot of lost yardage. Smith has 136 yards on the season, and likes to get those on mostly quarterback draws with empty backfields and five wide receiver sets. 

          Mountaineer fans should not have been surprised to see Georgia State sell out to stop the run last weekend. After Marcus Cox rumbled for 250 yards and three touchdowns last season against Panthers, they had only one hope to stay close, which was stacking the box and forcing Tayloor Lamb to throw. Considering Lamb’s perceived struggles, more due to a rough patch of weather, that was not a bad gamble on the part of Georgia State. But Lamb made the Panthers pay with a 45 yard completion on the first drive, a 29 yard touchdown pass on the second drive, and another 49 yard completion on the third drive. All of those big plays set up points and a quick 17-0 lead that Appalachian never relinquished. Instead of Nick Arbuckle being considered the better passer, it was Lamb who lit up the dome for 314 yards and  three touchdown passes to three different receivers. Lamb also added 53 yards on the ground, on four carries, inlcuding a 41 yard scamper in the second quarter that got the Apps out of the shadow of their own goal line. 

          As has been the story all season long, the Mountaineer defense put on another show against Georgia State. The defensive backfield did a great mixing coverages and forcing Arbuckle to think twice before throwing. Arbcukle was sacked twice and only managed a pedestrian 166 yards in the air while the App front seven held the Panthers to only 59 rushing yards on the game. It was the third time this season the Apps have held an opponent to less than 60 yards on the ground. The Mountaineers lead the Sun Belt in total defense by almost a 100 yards and have only allowed 11.4 points per game, a category which they lead by nearly two full touchdowns. The list goes on, but the picture has been well painted. This defense is not a beneficiary of a somewhat weak schedule. This is a dominant defense. Enter Monroe and an offense that has lacked consistency and a young quarterback who leans heavily on one receiver. This is potential disaster waiting to happen for the Warhawks this weekend. Monroe’s chance to win this weekend will be to do what Georgia State did. Try and stop the run and hope that they can catch Taylor Lamb on a bad day. Betting against the most efficient quarterback in the league might not be wise, but Monroe is going to have to take away something from Appalachian. The start of this game will be very important. Appalachian has outscored oppponets 45-3 in the first quarter this season while the Warhawks have been outscored 41-10. If those trends continue look for the Mountaineers to make easy work of ULM for their second conference win. 


The First Pick:

Gold Beaks 10

Mountaineers 35

Appalachian Football @ Old Dominion

Here we go with Week 3

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Old Dominion (2-1, 0-0 CUSA) 

Saturday September 26th, 3:30 PM

TV/Video: American Sports 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 100.7 Bristol

S.B. Ballard Stadium

Surface: Astroturf GameDay Grass 3D

Capacity: 20,118

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 60.99
Old Dominion: 51.31

Home: 2.65

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -7.5

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Weather: Mostly cloudy to cloudy and breezy. Rain likely throughout the day. Low 70’s 


          According to Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson, games like this weekend’s are the ones the conference needs to win. After a couple weeks of paying the bills, Appalachian travels to Norfolk for more than just a football game, but for an audition of what could be at the end of the regular season. Appalachian and Old Dominion have the same mindset when it comes to  games between fellow members of the Group of Five conferences. The games are highly important to each program’s place within the Group of Five. Each win is one game closer to getting to six wins, which is the minimum requirement to be considered for the post season. When bowl committees are looking for schools to invite to their game, they want to know who wins on the road and who sells tickets. Neither team wants to be sitting at 6-6 hoping for a telephone call that may never come. Old Dominion and Appalachian are both in their first year of bowl eligibilty and it would mean a lot for both schools to reach that goal this season. Both schools fan bases expect to win. Anything short of that will be a disappointment and leave their team sitting with an even win-loss record or less. 

          Old Dominion has arguably fielded the best startup program in recent memory. In only their 7th season of football, the Monarchs have accomplished just about all you can ask for in that short period of time. In the two years they were eligible for the FCS playoffs, they qualified. Honestly, Old Dominion has been spent more time transitioning their program as a startup in FCS and later into FBS than they have been eligible for any conference title or postseason game. In 2014, the Monarchs finished 6-6, their fewest wins in program history. They have done it right by winning games throughout their short history, but FBS football is a different animal. The Monarchs endured a five game losing streak last season before finishing with three wins to close the season. 

          Along with getting the transition to FBS football behind them, Old Dominion is now transforming its once pass happy offense to a style that is more run heavy. Part of that is due to redshirt freshman quarterback Shuler Bentley. Once an offense that would routinely pass the ball 40-50 times a game, Bentley has only dropped back seventy-seven times this season in three games, an average of just under twenty-six passes per game. Bentley is only completing 53% of his passes and averages under six yards per attempt. Fortunately, Bentley has managed the game well only turning the ball over once in those three contests. 

          Luckily, Shuler Bentley has Ray Lawry to help take the heat off of him in the backfield. Lawry was leading the country in rushing yards prior to Old Dominion’s game against NC State last week. But Lawry was held in check by the Wolfpack defense to the tune of 15 yards on eleven carries. Much like what Clemson did to Appalachian the week before, they focused on the Monarch strength, completely took it away and forced a young quarterback to make some throws with pressure in his face. Even after last weekend, Lawry is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has 453 yards on the season. Seven of the ten Monarch touchdowns this season have come form Lawry. Old Dominion goes as Lawry does. If he is getting his yards, it bodes well for the Monarchs to run him behind a very big offensive line. 

             The Monarch defense has never really been one to write home about, but they believe they are making strides in that department. It does not seem to show in the statistics. Old Dominion has left their defense on the field for over 32 minutes a game on average. NC State held a 2-1 time of possession advantage over the Monarchs. The two FBS opponents ODU has faced have scored 34 and 38 points, respectively. Eastern Michigan has been one of the worst FBS programs for a very long time and NC State is not close to contending in the ACC this season. 

          Appalachian will have had two weeks to recover and stew over their lopsided loss to Clemson when the ball is teed up this Saturday. The team was so ready to get back to work on Tuesday after a long weekend, that Scott Satterfield called it the best practice of the season. The bye week appears to have been a highly  needed repose from the grind of practice that has been continuous since early August. Many newspaper articles have cited the bad taste after what happened in Clemson. The defense played better than the final score, but the offense had one of their worst games since last season. Turnovers are the undoing for any football team at any level. It was going to be tough for Appalachian to pull off a win, and nearly impossbile being -3 in the turnover battle. 
           The first two games have served as an exhibition of sorts. Appalachian has faced both ends of the spectrum of college football, the good and the really bad. The next ten games will all be played against Group Of Five teams. This is the time for Appalachian to prove who they really are. Old Dominion will be playing their third straight home game, and Appalachian could serve as a swing game for them. Next week Old Dominion faces Marshall on the road in their Conference USA opener. I hate using the term, but this game has some “trap”-like tendencies. Defined as the game between two very big games, Old Dominion may not be done licking their wounds from a very physical game against NC State. If anything, the Mountaineers will be fresh and looking to enact some frusturation on their next opponent. They key to this game is simple. Whichever team is able to stop the opposing running game the best will likely win. Ray Lawry is the guy that carries the ball for Old Dominion with 70 carries in three games. The Monarchs substitute him out sparingly. Appalachian will rotate Marcus Cox(36-204) and Terrance Upshaw(18-115) in effort to keep both players fresh, not only for this game, but for the remainder of the season. So not only do I feel that Appalachian can run better, but I think they can stop the run better from ODU. The edge at quarterback also leans the way of the Mountaineers with Lamb having an extra year of expeience, and hungry to get on the field to attone for his miscues at Clemson. Regardless of what the weather does this weekend, I just think Appalachian is better this Saturday. 

The First Pick:
Lioness 21
Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football @ Clemson

Here we go with Week 2
Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ #12 Clemson (1-0, 0-0 ACC) 

Saturday September 12th, 12:30 PM

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 100.7 Bristol

Memorial Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Capacity: 81,500
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 64.61

Clemson: 86.55
Home: 2.65

Clemson is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 24.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Clemson -18.5
Series: Clemson leads 4-0
Last Meeting: Clemson 23, App State 12, Septeember 6th, 1997        
Weather: Partly sunny skies with spotty chances for an afternoon shower. Lower 80’s/70

          Occasionally, the results you hope for might not be what is best. As much as a lopsided win can be fun to celebrate it can lead to a false sense of security. It does not hurt to have to endure some adversity along the way. Unfortunately, that adversity can be found off the field. In a few short weeks, the Mountaineers team had been dealt an emotionally difficult hand. As if the loss an ex-teammate due to a senseless act, and a current player lost for a non-football injury were not enough, the Apps were left with news that was unimagineable. The loss that Devan Stringer suffered with the passing of his young daughter is an event no parent prepares for. A tragedy like this reminds us that sometimes the football crossing the goal line is not most important. Look no futher than the words of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson when passing prayers along to Stringer. Watson and Stringer are childhood friends who have been there for each other during tough times. A topic like this is not easy to talk about, but eventually it’s more than just football, it’s about family. 

          By scheduling Clemson, the Mountaineer athletic program will receive a nice pay day of around $900,000 to help fund their other sports. On the other hand, its an opportunity for Appalachian to showcase its name on a national stage. It is also a chance for just over a dozen Mountaineers to showcase their skills in their home state, where Clemson may have overlooked them in the recruiting process. Often these games are scheduled with an easy win for the home team in the back of their minds. Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney has been very public about how he feels about Appalachian this weekend. He knows his team has to be ready for an opponent that is on a roll, given a seven game winning streak spanning since last season. Clemson is young team at several key positions as Louisville lurks in the back of their minds next Thursday night.

          The youth can mostly be found on the offensive side of the ball for Clemson. Left tackle Mitch Hyatt is a true freshman and he will have to deal with Mountaineer senior defensive end Ronald Blair, who has 13.5 career sacks and has started every game he has played in. Sophomore Artavis Scott caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown last weekend against Wofford. Scott led the Tigers in receptions and touchdowns catches as a freshamn in 2014 with 76 catches and eight touchdowns. Scott was also back for punt and kickoff retuns last week. If you can’t tell, Clemson wants to get Scott the ball. Sophomore Wayne Gallam is the starting runningback. He led the team with 92 rushing yards against Wofford.  Gallam also led the Tigers in 2014 with 769 yards rushing. 

         Clemson’s defense is loaded with prototypical size at every position. Their tackles are all 295 pounds or more. The ends are 270, and the defensive backs all tip the scales at 195. You get the point, it’s an impressive unit. Clemson held opponents to 260 yards and 16.7 points in 2014, and didnt miss a beat against Wofford last weekend. Appalachian fans are very familar with how disciplined a team must be to defend the option. Lucikly, Clemson had more than a week to prepare for the wingbone option that Wofford employs, but it may not have mattered. Clemson held the Terriers to 213 total yards, and only 123 of those on the ground. Wofford had only nine first downs in the game, and their lone touchdown came after Clemson muffed a punt. 
          All in all, Clemson and Appalachian had very similar games for their openers. Both teams took care of business in games where they were highly favored. Both scored 49 points, and had their games under control in the early going. Both teams were able to play a lot of players and stay relatively fresh while also not showing the other much of their offense. Scott Satterfield has hinted at adding a couple of different wrinkles for his own offense. While Appalachian prefers an uptempo offense, its backbone is based on ball control. Clemson prefers to get plays off very quickly, giving no time for the opposing defense to rest or get lined up. 

          Marcus Cox did, after all, lead the Mountaineers in rushing on Saturday, but for the most part it was a group effort. Cox had an easy eleven carries for 105 yards, in which most came on a 68-yard touchdown run. In all, nine different Mountaineers carried the ball for total of fifty-six carries. That theme continued from fall camp, where Cox  stepped aside in order to get some of the younger backs some repetitions. Jalin Moore carried nine times for 69 yards and a touchdown. Backup quarterback J.P. Caruso even showed some of his wheels with six carries for 66 yards. In total, 376 yards were racked up on the ground for a team average of 6.7 yards per carry.  

          We move on from Howard, to Howard’s Rock down in Clemson, better known as Death Valley. Clemson has won over 70% of their games at home which include four victories over the Mountaineers. The last time, 1997, I remember riding around Clemson, most likely looking for a place to buy a box of fried chicken, when I heard the Clemson radio shout as they started their pregame. “It’s a beautiful day in Clemson and we are ready to put a whoopin’ on the Mountaineers” I’ll never forget that. If anything, Tiger fans walked out Memorial Stadium wondering just who Appalachian State was. Clemson won that game by eleven points, but it was way to close for comfort. Appalachian’s unspoken motto of “anyone, anyplace, anytime” was never more true that day, as I am sure it will be on Saturday. Clemson has plenty of talent, and will more than likely win this football game, but Appalachian won’t let it come easy. This group of Mountaineers has something special brewing this season. They might have just enough experience and and enough chemistry to make it really tough on Clemson. Taylor Lamb has enough poise to drive this team down the field and score points and there are plenty of Mountaineer weapons in his aresenal. The difference in this game will be how well the Appalachian defense does its job. Clemson likes to get in an offensive rhythm with their quick pace. The Mountaineers must keep everything in front of them to have a chance. I just think Clemson has one too many athletes this weekend. 

The First Pick:

Tigger 38

Mountaineers 24