Appalachian Football vs Toledo (Camellia Bowl)

Here we go with The Camellia Bowl

Appalachian State (9-3, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Toledo (9-3, 6-2 Mid-American West)

Saturday, December 17th, 2016 5:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Cramton Bowl

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.65

Toledo: 74.17

Home: n/a

Toledo is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Toledo -1.5

Series: First Meeting 

Last meeting: n/a   
          It wasn’t long ago, although it seems like it, that Appalachian was reserved to playing out its season, needing help to either win a conference championship or play in a supposedly prestigious bowl game. The results from earlier in the day on November 26th, specifically Arkansas State’s loss to Lafayette, gave the Mountaineers a chance to clinch a share of the Sun Belt title. The idea of a conference championship was not even mentioned here three weeks ago. Winning  a share of the conference crown ultimately hindered Appalachian’s chances of heading to the French Quarter for bowl season. However, the opportunity to play one of the better Group of Five teams in Toledo provides plenty of excitement for both sides. Ohio didnt move the needle for Mountaineer fans in 2015, and they didnt need to, as the Apps were bowling for the first time in school history. Suddenly, the newness of competing in bowl games has worn off in year two of bowl eligibility, and the Camellia Bowl for a second consecutive season doesn’t stir the same excitement. But Toledo is not Ohio. It might be in Ohio, but its not the same. Toledo was the third best team in the MAC in 2016, mainly due to the emergence of Western Michigan, but that does not mean they are pushovers. They can easily win or lose on Saturday just as much as our Mountaineers might. If last year was any indication, we’ll are all in for a treat on Saturday. 

         Toledo has currently strung together seven straight winning seasons, while their last two coaches moved on to Power Five head coaching positions. Tim Beckman coached three seasons in Toledo before moving on to Illinois, while Matt Campbell coached four seasons before heading to Iowa State. Current first year head coach Jason Candle has been on the sidelines in Toledo since 2009, the last season the Rockets did not post a winning record. Candle hails from Division III super power Mount Union, where he lined up at wide receiver and eventually coached the position he played and coordinated the offense for two seasons before his tenure at Toledo began.  

          The Rockets sport an all time 10-5 record in bowl games, winning two in a row over Temple and the friends we all love to hate in Arkansas State. In fact, Toledo has played  the Red Wolves each of the past three seasons beginning with the GoDaddy Bowl at the end of the 2014 season. The Rockets and Red Wolves then faced off in a home-and-home in 2015 and 2016. Toledo won all three games convincingly. This season, Toledo suffered a tough luck loss in Provo, UT to Brigham Young in a high scoring affair, and lost to both participants of the MAC Championship game in Ohio and Western Michigan. 

         A lot of the attention that Toledo garners revolves around an explosive offense that racks up yards in bunches. The Rockets are fourth in the country in total yards, eighth in passing yards, 18th in scoring, and 16th in first downs. They live off the big play,  mostly through the air. Quarterback Logan Woodside has at least three touchdown passes in every game this season and has 6 games over 300 yards passing. That gives him an astounding total of 43 touchdown passes on the season, to only nine interceptions. That is a ratio of an interception for every for every 43.5 attempts, and Woodisde has only surpassed 43.5 attempts in one game this season. However, Woodside has managed four interceptions in his last three games, coming on just 96 attempts. The ratio over the last four games is an interception for every 24 attempts. 

           Woodside unloads the majority of his passes to four different targets. They all bring a different element for their offense to attack defenses. Cody Thompson is the leading receiver in terms of yards, with 1,170 and 10 touchdowns. Corey Jones leads the teams in receptions with 60 and used primary in the intermediate zones on the field. Jon’Vea Johnson doesn’t see the volume that Thompson and Jones do, but he makes up for that averaging close to twenty yards per catch to along with his ten touchdowns. Tight end Michael Roberts leads the team with 15 receiving touchdowns only 43 catches on the season. Kareem Hunt is beneficiary of all the passing that Toledo does as he is the their bellcow on the ground. Hunt has half the teams rushing attempts on the season to along with his 1,355 yards, and also is a threat in the passing game with 39 receptions. 

           Countering the Toledo air attack will be easily the toughest defense the Rockets have faced this season. Besides boasting the nations 6th best pass efficient defense, the Mountaineers have picked off twenty passes on the season, good enough for the third most in the country. Woodside managed a season low 229 yards and threw two interceptions against Western Michigan in his last outing. The Broncos are the only other team on Toledo’s schedule who rank in the top quarter of the country in both passed intercepted and pass efficiency defense. 

         The Mountaineers have a little bit of offense of their own, but take a completely different approach than Toledo. The Apps prefer to pass to establish run, while Toledo runs to establish the pass. Jalin Moore’s 1,367 yards leads the team, but Marcus Cox has been the thoroughbred for four years and his 872 yards in eight games are equally impressive. Taylor Lamb provides fleet feet in the running game when opposing defenses focus too much on Moore and Cox. Mountaineers quarterbacks have thrown touchdown passes to twelve different receivers on the season which keeps defenses honest regardless who lines up on the field. 

          With similar records in regular season play, this matchup is exactly what the Camellia Bowl wants in its third ever game. Both squads had a game early in the season that got away from them in the waning moments. The way Toledo lost at Brigham Young was almost as unexpected as the way the Mountaineers fell at Tennessee. Equally, both teams lost games in conference play that were decided by less than a touchdown that had major impacts on their respective conference races. But neither team, Appalachian or Toledo, really beat a team that they were not favored to. Unless you want to include Arkansas State falling hard to the Rockets after being favored by 4.5 points. That result was a small surprise then, but not so much now. So, both teams are looking for a signature win on their season. Both looking to get to ten wins. Both teams with exceptional talent in the backfield and signal callers that execute their game plans well.  But what sets these teams apart from the other? It’s clear that Appalachian’s defense is superior to that of Toledo. The Mountaineers’ bend a little, but dont completely break style compares well to Toledo that likes to spread you all over the field. Toledo’s red zone offense is seventh in the country, the App red zone defense also ranks seventh nationwide. Toledo will some matchups against the App defense, and vice versa. The real key to this game is what Appalachian does when it has the ball. Do they methodically ground the Rockets into the ground with their patient attack? Will Toledo have the ball enough to get to thirty points and score more than their defense allows. Ultimately, the thirty point mark is what both teams will be shooting for. I think Appalachian gets there first and shortens the game in the fourth quarter for their second bowl win in as many games. 

The First Pick
Bottle Rockets 24
Mountaineers 30

Appalachian Football @ New Mexico State

Here we go with Week 12

Appalachian State (8-3, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ New Mexico State (3-7, 2-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 26th, 2016 4pm est

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Aggie Memorial Stadium 

Surface: Synthetic Turf

Capacity: 30,343

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.34

NMSU: 48.39

Home: 2.35

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

Sportsbook: App State -17.5

Series: First Meeting 

Last meeting: n/a   


          Two weekends ago was not an ideal situation. But this past week, could not have been written any better. Marcus Cox etched his name deeper into the App State annals by becoming the program’s all time leading rusher on a twenty-five yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The game was long decided, but up until that run, it was somewhat in doubt whether or not Cox would reach the record in his final game at The Rock. Cox managed two carries for 17 yards in the first quarter, and ended the first half with 61 yards on eight carries, not quite halfway to the 137 yards he needed.  But the third quarter was a different story. Nine carries for 55 yards made breaking the record almost inevitable, and the deed was done on his third carry of the fourth quarter. Cox was buoyed by big runs all game long, registering six that went for 12 or more yards. Most of us have been very fortunate to witness the greatness of this program over the last few decades. We all knew that Kevin Richardson would have a chance to chase down John Settle. We all knew that Kevin Richardson’s record would be broken eventually, but Marcus Cox topped him in quick fashion. The only doubt was the injury Cox suffered earlier in the year, not knowing when he would return to action. We have all been witnesses to individual history, but football is a team game and chasing a second consecutive ten-win season is the next hurdle for the Mountaineers. 

          Finally, after three seasons, Appalachian will have played all members of the Sun Belt in its twenty-fourth conference game. App has played five Sun Belt teams three times before finally heading to Las Cruces, New Mexico. The Mountaineers will play New Mexico State again next season in Boone, and then likely never again, as the Aggies were not extended a invitation to remain in the Sun Belt, and has opted to go independent in 2018. This has been the second stint in the Sun Belt for New Mexico State, and likely their last. The Aggies seem to have the worst luck over the course of the program’s existence as they have dealt with being indepedent on more than one occasion and were in the WAC when several teams left to join other conferences, leading to the ultimate death of football in the Western Athletic Conference. It seems nobody really wants New Mexico State at their party. 

          It has been since 1960 that New Mexico State has played in a bowl game, which is the longest streak in the country. The Aggies have played in three bowls games in their history without losing one, and have four conference titles to their name over the course of 118 years of football. The last season New Mexico State finished with a winning record was in 2002, and the time before that as 1978. The program has won just 40% of their games they have played. 

          This year’s Aggie team is making strides under fourth year head coach Doug Martin. They have found some offense in 2016 and knocked off Lousiana-Lafayette for the second straight season back in October. Their 3-7 record could be much better if they had not lost the services of star running back Larry Rose III for three games. Rose III was basically a twenty carry running back prior to his injury, and has been eased back. Last week in the win over Texas State, Rose III looked like his old self with 168 yards on the ground. The 50-10 win was the most lopsided of the season, as the Texas State busses were involved in an accident en route to the game, which was eventually delayed. 

             New Mexico State is the top passing offense in the Sun Belt as junior Tyler Rogers has tossed at least one touchdown pass in every game except one this season. He has eclipsed three hundred yards on three occasions, including a 445 yard performance against Troy where he was bogged down with five interceptions. Despite leading the conference in yards, as a team New Mexico State is only eighth of eleven Sun Belt teams in passing efficiency. The Aggies are one of four Sun Belt teams coming in at under seven yards per pass attempt. The volume comes from game flow, and when teams know its coming, its easier to defend down the field and in the pocket. The Aggies give up three sacks per game, while the Mountaineers are tied with Troy sacking the opposing quarterback twenty-six times this season. 

          We suggested the cure for the App State offense would be Monroe, and boy was it. The Mountaineers put up a season high 637 yards of offense, powered by a 429 yard effort on the ground, which was also a season high. The result was a 9.2 yards per play average, which is basically unheard of. Taylor Lamb was solid with a 208 yard game, including his sixtieth career touchdown pass to Ike Lewis from sixty yards out. Lamb added 92 yards on the ground while Jalin Moore chipped in a ho-hum 135 rushing yards on thirteen carries. The offense will look to feast again on a very subpar defense that ranks 118th in the country. 

        As much as Monroe was improving last week, we can not go with out saying how much better New Mexico State has played at home this season. All three wins by the Aggies this season have come at home, and their only home loss was to Georgia Southern, who they really should have beat. New Mexico State exploded for fifty points last week, which may have more to do with Texas State’s unfortunate drive to the game than what the Aggies were able to do. Texas State turned the ball over five times and likely had their minds somewhere else. Unfortunately for the Aggies, they face a statistical mismatch against the Mountaineers. The Aggies are going to need Appalachian to be completely uninterested in playing, force turnovers and score points on almost every possession. That is unlikely to happen, as the Mountaineers have defensively accepted every challenge that has been thrown at them in conference play. Expect the Mountaineers to test the outer edges of the Aggie defense as two of the better linebackers in the league, Rodney Butler and Dalton Herrington man the interior and weak side of the formations. Look for at least one sack from Keenan Gilchrist or Devan Stringer as both New Mexico State starting tackles are freshman. 

The First Pick

Toy Guns 13

Mountaineers 42

Louisiana-Monroe @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 11

Louisiana-Monroe (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (7-3, 5-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 19th, 2016 2:30 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.65

ULM: 48.85

Home: 2.29

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 25 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -25.5

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 59, ULM 14,  October 17th, 2015, Monroe, LA   

          Last weekend was not an ideal situation. There are plenty of situations that happened during the game that could have flipped the script, and put Appalachian in the position they would prefer to be in. Alas, we all must wait and watch and take care of the business that we can control. We can make sure that we appreciate another set of seniors who sacrificed two years of postseason football with our presence on Saturday. It’s the last home game of the season, and it will be a long winter before we enter the gates at Kidd Brewer in 2017. A ten win season is still well within reach. A second bowl apperance in as many years is also on the horizon. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, an improving Monroe squad comes to Boone with all the confidence in the world after consecutive victories over South Alabama and Georgia State. These Warhawks need a win to keep their slim bowl hopes alive, and you can guarantee they’ll try anything to make that happen. The Mountaineers’ job is to keep that from happening. Putting aside a tough loss is hard, but its time to move on and get back on track. 

          First year Monroe head coach Matt Viator is one of three Sun Belt head coaches to get a win in Boone, it just happens that his win came in 2009 as head coach of McNeese State. Viator left his alma mater after ten years as head coach and seven seasons as an assistant. This season will be his first as a head coach with six losses, as he never finished below .500 while in Lake Charles. Viator was actually recruited by Monroe, formerly Northeast Louisiana, out of high school as a quarterback, but instead chose to stay close to home, and went to McNeese State. 

         Prior to last weekend, Monroe had lost every road game in the 2016 season. The Warhawks are forced to play an unbalanced out of conference schedule in order to pay the bills, by visiting two Power Five schools. They had been outscored  in those games by 178 points combined with four of those opponents scoring over 0ver fifty points. Luckily, Monroe was handed the gift of a Georgia State program that checked out, and subsequently fired their coach. Monroe grounded out the win last week the same way most teams beat the Panthers this season, by sticking to the running game and wearing a defense out that was always on the field. 

         Monroe teams from the past have not been able to run the ball effectively, but Matt Viator has quickly remedied that deficiency. The Warhawks have not been incredible on the ground this season, but they have committed to that being a big part of their offense. They have run for over 100 yards in eight of their ten games, and have eclipsed 200 yards on four occasions. Eight of their nineteen rushing touchdowns this season have come in the last two games. New starting quarterback Caleb Evans has been effective running the read option with 80 yards rushing in the last weeks, while Thomas Koufie had a breakout game against Georgia State with five rushing touchdowns and 201 yards. Evans replaced Garrett Smith, who was lost for the year to injury during the Texas State game.                

          The Mountaineer offense will look to get its groove back, and the Monroe defense might be the cure. The Warhawks are 121st nationally defensively and allow 245 yards on the ground. Additionally, the Warhawks have surrendered twenty touchdown passes while only intercepting four passes all season long. The big story this weekend is obviously whether or not Marcus Cox will break Kevin Richardson’s school rushing record in his final home game. Needing 137 yards, Cox would have to surpass his season average of 96.5 yards per game, and his 108 yard average against Monroe in two career games. Factor in that Jalin Moore and Cox have pretty much split carries the last three weeks, chances are Cox will need a long run to get to 137 this weekend. 

        We shouldn’t look past Monroe this weekend. They are playing better and really starting to find themselves. The difference for them in the last two weeks has been staying in games. Georgia State answered Monroe scores on several occasions, but instead of rushing to panic, they stuck to their game plan and it worked. The same thing happened against South Alabama when they trailed by a touchdown on three different occasions. They have improved, but maybe not enough for this weekend. The outside chance of getting bowl eligible is a nice story. That ends soon. Appalachian is going to give it to Monroe where it hurts. The Warhawk offense might stick around longer than the Mountaineers want them to by refusing to look at the scoreboard and playing with their heads down. The Warhawks have been terribly slow starters this season, scoring a mere 47 first quarter points. Appalachian counters, with the second quarter being their highest scoring quarter, while also allowing the fewest points in the second frame. This sets up for the typical, get a lead at half and cruise to the finish game for the Mountaineers. However, I can see a few late scores for Monroe if they can handle the possible snow flurries and quick temperature change from Friday to Saturday. 

The First Pick

Aces and Eights 19

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football @ Troy

Here we go with Week 10

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-0 Sun Belt) @ Troy (7-1, 4-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 12th, 2016 3:30 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Veterans Memorial Stadium Stadium

Surface: AstroPlay

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.18

Troy: 71.41

Home: 2.40

Troy is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 1.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Pick’em

Series: App State leads 3-2

Last meeting: App State 44, Troy 41 (3OT), October 31st, 2015, Boone, NC   

         The Sun Belt will not hold a conference championship football game until 2018, but in the meantime, Appalachian and Troy are the closest you can get to such a game. Without a true round robin schedule, this game doesn’t act as a de facto championship, as those pesky Red Wolves of Arkansas State loom next week for Troy, and sport an unblemished conference record. There still exists a really good chance that a split conference title will occur. Arkansas State will be rooting for Troy this weekend with plans to knock them off next Thursday, and Appalachian will be doing the same in reverse, hoping to beat Troy , and hope the Trojans respond a few days later. Either a tie for first or second place will likely occur between these three teams and create a pecking order as the bowl season plays out. Neither wants to travel terribly far, or play in the Dollar General Bowl just days before Christmas. Thus, the importance of this next week in the Sun Belt. For Applachian, this game is about more than just a bowl spot. It’s all about winning a conference championship. The Mountaineers have finished second twice in their first two seasons in the Belt. It’s time to take that next step in their nearly unmatched transitional success at college football’s highest level. 

          A challenge like this is what dreams are made of for every player and coach. Beating up on teams that have less talent will only take you so far. Troy and Appalachian are clearly the two best teams in the Sun Belt this season. Forget about the records, and compare these two teams statistically and they are near images of one another. Both teams can run the ball, and stop the run. Both create issues on defense with turnovers, sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The difference in a game where matchups are so close on paper comes down to execution in key situations where an offense throws something at a defense they are not ready for. Simply running your offense in a game of this magnitude won’t get either team any where close to winning a title. 

          The majority of Troy’s success is due to the consistency of their offense. It might take them a couple series to figure out what is going to work well against your scheme, but they’ll find it and attack. The Trojans have three games with 300 yards passing and four games where they have eclipsed 175 yards rushing. They have scored on the ground and in the air at least once in every game. The task for Appalachian is real, but they must depend on what got them to this point: running to the ball, finishing each tackle and leaving no doubt. 

         Beyond steady play, Troy likes to push the tempo on offense. Constantly, Troy wants to get on the ball after a gain, by avoiding a huddle and trying to snap the ball before the play clock hits twenty seconds. On many occasions, receivers are not running routes to get open, but really to make the defense cover a part of the field that will not be targeted. Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers rarely works through his progressions, rather focusing on throwing the ball to a spot and putting the onus of making a play on his receivers. Coach Neal Brown knows exactly how important Silvers is to the team and wants to keep Silvers upright in the pocket, and the best way to accomplish that is for Silvers to get rid of the ball quickly. 

         Unlike Texas State, the majority of Troy’s passes lands in the hands of two receivers. Emanuel Thompson and Deondre Douglas lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but seven other receivers have played in every game. Nine different pass catchers have caught touchdown passes and seventeen have a caught a pass throughout the year. Watch out for Tevaris McCormick, who has three touchdowns on just fourteen receptions, and averages over eighteen yards per catch. Jordan Chunn gets all the love running the football, averaging 112.4 yards per game and has an impressive 899 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. Hs is a bigger back that churns out 5 yards per attempt, and has a touchdown in every game this season, except Clemson. Oddly enough, Chunn has alternated his four 100-yard rushing games this season. He would be due for a 100-yard game this weekend, but three of his four such games have occured on the road. 

          The Mountaineer running attack has really rounded into form with back-to-back games right at 300 yards on the ground. The effectiveness of Marcus Cox and Jalin Moore cannot be understated. Moore has extended his streak of 100-yard games to six, and has at least one 20-yard run in each games. After shouldering a heavy load of carries in his first two starts against Akron and Georgia State, Moore has only one 20+ attempt game in his last four and is gashing defenses to the tune of 7.3 yards per carry during the same time frame. Cox has returned with renewed sense of urgency from his injury, also racking up seven yards per carry in his last two games. Cox has 100 yards rushing in every game he has finished this season, excluding Miami where he was injured. 

           Something is going to give on Saturday. If Troy’s fourth ranked run defense can hold Appalachian to anywhere near their defensive average, it will not be a game that Appalachian wins. Stubbornly, the Mountaineers will run until it works. The Apps have called at least 37 running plays in every game, and five times have run 47 times or more. Last year, the Mountaineers totaled 248 rushing yards against Troy. That is the Mountaineers identity, and it’s not going away just because of some numbers that Troy has accumulated against a less than impressive schedule. Five of Troy’s eight opponents are ranked 104th in the country or worse running the football. New Mexico State (104th), Idaho (106th), South Alabama (114th), Massachusetts (122nd), & Georgia State (126th) are all averaging 134 yards a game or less on the ground. Austin Peay, Troy’s opening game opponent, is 47th of 122 teams in the FCS at 165 yards per game on the ground. The Apps will get theirs on the ground, which in turn always helps the passing attack. In turn, Troy will get their passing yards. We all know Appalachian doesn’t mind giving up a play or two in the middle of the field, but clamps down at the right time. Outside of their Power Five opponents, both teams will be facing their toughest test of the season, but it’s the Mountaineers that have been tested more often this season and last. Troy is good, but they aren’t great yet, and they will not be sneaking up on Appalachian like they did last season. 

The First Pick

T-Roy 20

Mountaineers 27

Texas State @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 9

Texas State (2-5, 0-3 Sun Belt ) @ Appalachian State (6-2, 4-0 Sun Belt) 

Saturday, November 5th, 2016 3:30 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.79

Texas State: 42.77

Home: 2.44

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 31.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -32

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 41, Texas State 34, October 4th, 2004, Boone, NC


         Everyone has a favorite restaurant they prefer to have a decent meal. Generally that meal is one that is prepared the same way every time. Perhaps you might skip lunch in preparation for this great meal so you can make room. Occasionally that grand dish doesn’t perform up to standards. Perhaps there are new cooks in the kitchen. Maybe the waitress didn’t remember put on the same perfume or the tea isn’t sweet enough. Maybe the meat or fish was not as fresh and did not deliver. The meal still filled you up, and you’ll still go back to the restaurant, but you leave a little unfulfilled. That’s the best I can describe last week’s experience at Georgia Southern. At the end of the day, a win over the Eagles in Paulson will do the trick. It does not mean any less in the win loss column, but it does not feel right when the students are not telling you that you are number one, while dropping a four letter word or two. Georgia Southern, please come back. We need you to be competitive for the Sun Belt to be fun. Please, get it figured out. In the meantime, we’ll keep knocking off Sun Belt opponents one by one waiting for your return. 

          Texas State is the next victim for the Mountaineers. It’s that simple. The Bobcats, formerly of the FCS and in their sixth season of FBS football have had mixed results. Many forget that Texas State was 7-5 and 5-3 in Sun Belt play in 2014, but were left out of the bowl picture. Late season wins over Arkansas State and Georgia State turned out to be, too little, too late for Texas State. Outside of that one winning season, Texas State has a couple of 6-6 seasons in their short tenure in FBS. Some remember the Texas State debacle in the 2005 FCS playoffs which directly impacted Appalachian’s first national chmapionship. The fourth seeded Bobcats took a knee late in the fourth quarter of a tied game with three time outs to head to overtime. Northern Iowa prevailed in the extra period of that semifinal, and the rest is history. 

          This season has not been kind to Texas State. It’s never easy when a new coach takes over. Everett Withers, the former Mountaineer, is doing his best with fewer than the max of 85 scholarships due to massive turnover in the offseason. That has led to a ton of first year players getting significant minutes early on in their career. Eventually, that will payoff, but in the current moment, it leads to disappointment. Texas State made some noise early this season in its first game with a triple OT win over Ohio. That has been the only D-1 win for the Bobcats to date. Texas State gets the three leaders of the Sun Belt in their final five games along with Idaho and New Mexico State on the road. They are unlikely to be favored in any of those matchups. 

         Withers and his staff rolled up tons of offense in two years at James Madison, and that is the plan as well in San Marcos. They intend to run upwards of eighty offensive plays a game with plans of slowly wearing out defenses. The Bobcats are averaging about 38 passes a game, but aren’t really moving the ball down the field. They live for the short pass, and hoping a receiver can make a play with it, rather than relying on the quarterback to make a throw. Quarterback Tyler Jones is averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt, and only 10.4 yards per completed pass. As a team, Texas State’s 4.7 yards per play is dead last in the Sun Belt. Their inability to drive down the field, and volume of clock stopping incompletions have led to a poor time of possession margin. The Bobcats are losing that battle by nearly nine minutes per game. 

           We will see Texas State throw the ball all over the yard and to a bevy of receivers. Six of them have over twenty receptions, including leading rusher Stedman Mayberry who also leads the team in receptions. Mayberry’s receptions also do not go very far, averaging 7.6 yards per catch. Mayberry tacks on just over 60 yards rushing per game, but you’ll only see him get around 15 carries. The Bobcats have just two 100-yard receivers on the season, and both came in their wins. 

          After a somewhat nervous first fifteen minutes in Statesboro, the Mountaineers finally settled down and slowly destroyed Georgia Southern, scoring the game’s final 34 points. The level of dominance led to one of the most lopsided results in the series. Appalachian rolled up 299 rushing yards while also holding the Eagles to just 65 yards on the ground. That same story might be repeated this weekend against Texas State.  The Bobcats are giving up 234 yards a game on the ground while Appalachian is second in conference play with 208 yards via the run. Appalachian nearly had three players break the century mark against the Eagles, and having two break 100 yards against Texas State seems like a really safe bet. 

           The goal is not to make it sound like Texas State isn’t very good.  That’s pretty evident. They aren’t very good and just about every Texas State weakness plays right into a Mountaineer strength. Be prepared, this could be a very boring game to watch as a fan. Appalachian’s real challenge will be to keep from looking ahead to their next game while at the same time, playing loose and avoiding injuries. The health of this Mountaineer team is a major plus at this time of the season, and backups have had the chances to get plenty of playing time. That really showed against Georgia Southern last week when twenty-four different players made a tackle, and the leading tackler, Eric Boggs had just six stops. That is the fewest tackles that the leading tackler for an entire game has had this season. Georgia Southern had zero plays that went for over 20 yards and did not eclipse 100 total yards until the last drive. Long story short, this defense is playing outstanding. To think, that after four Sun Belt games, the black shirts have yet to give up a touchdown that has mattered in the least bit is really astounding. Forget that the offense is not quite what we want it to be. It’s plenty for the best defense in the conference and a top twenty defense nationwide. This offense will be more than enough to take on the 121st ranked defense in Texas State. The Bobcats are worse than Akron on defense in total yards and touchdowns allowed per game and they get to deal with Appalachian’s full compliment of backs. This will be decided quickly, and the only question is the margin. 

The First Pick

Strutters 7

Mountaineers 42

Appalachian Football @ Georgia Southern

Here we go with Week 8

Appalachian State (5-2, 3-0 Sun Belt) @ Georgia Southern (4-3, 3-1 Sun Belt)

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 7:30 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Paulson Stadium

Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.59

Ga Southern: 62.73

Home: 2.42

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 5.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -5

Series: App State leads 17-13-1

Last meeting: App State 31, Ga Southern 13, October 22nd, 2015, Boone, NC

         Robbed of anticipation and talk, both smack and small, is the main issue for fans when they deal with midweek football. Especially, when the next game on the schedule is your most hated rival, that time to relax before the next game does not exist. The last win was, literally, almost yesterday, and it’s time to get geared up for another one. But, this one is not just another, it’s Southern. Dust off all your cliche rivalry talk, because it all applies. Is there another rivalry that has been so intense in such a short amount of time? These two schools have only played thirty-one games in their history, and only twenty-five games in the modern era, yet it seems every time they tee it up, it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys. The faces may change, but the disdain remains. This group of Eagles are enduring the strife of a new coaching staff that wants to do things differently with the same ingredients and get the same results. It’s not working out like they wanted. Appalachian enjoys its snugness of a tight coaching staff that maintains their winning ways and the proof is in the pudding. The Mountaineers are a win away from being bowl eligible, and Southern needs this game even more, as their schedule just gets tougher down the stretch. Thursday night might not be a turning point in this rivalry, but the winds are blowing a different direction this season in the Sun Belt. 

         It’s hard to imagine a Georgia Southern team with three losses before the end of October. The first true sign that the Eagles were stumbling occured about a month ago. Southern was visiting Western Michigan, a team they had handled easily in Statesboro a year before. The Broncos suffocated the Eagles rushing attack, limiting the big plays and keeping Matt Breida and Kevin Ellison below four yards per carry on the night. Since then, Western Michigan continues to row the boat as they find themselves ranked 20th in the country this week. Perhaps, the ultimate “uh-oh” moment for Southern came in their loss to Arkansas State. The Eagles were thoroughly dominated by the Red Wolves, but were able to hold a two score lead into the fourth quarter, thanks to five turnovers committed by Arkansas State. The Eagles play calling was their ultimate demise, electing to pass late in the game with a lead compared to milking the clock. Arkansas State scored in the closing seconds for a stunning come-from behind win. 

          Southern picked up a win over NMSU last weekend, just like Idaho did the week before playing Appalachian, to end their three game losing streak. However, the road victory did not lack for excitement. The Eagles did just enough for a 22-19 win over the now 124th ranked defense in college football. Both Southern and NMSU turned the ball over three times while The Eagles were outgained by the Aggies by a 432-404 margin. Matt Breida was held to 41 yards on fifteen carries. Kevin Ellison completed all eight of his passes, seven to Southern receivers and one to NMSU. 

          The fact is that Southern is slowly moving away from Willie Fritz football, who bolted to Tulane, into the offensive style of Tyson Summers, which calls for less option based running plays and a more run-pass option dimension. It’s not Georgia Southern football. We all remember Chris Hatcher and Brian Van Gorder and their efforts of modernizing football down in east Georgia. It didn’t work and they didn’t have a job long. The Eagles have three 100-yard rushing efforts on the season, two by quarterbacks. Not LA Ramsby. Not Matt Breida. Not Wesley Fields. Demarcus Godfrey ran for 124 yards against Savannah State, but has not carried the ball since. 

           Southern still employs the two quaterback system, generally starting the game with Kevin Ellison, and working in Favian Upshaw and rotating the two as the game allows. Unfortunately, the Southern offensive line has dropped off severely and Ellison and Upshaw have taken many hits in the last few weeks. Arkansas State made a point to gang tackle Ellison at every chance, while Georgia Tech used Upshaw as a punching bag. Upshaw did not play against NMSU and Tyson Summers did not show any of his cards when updating the media on the health of his signal callers ahead of this week’s game. Summers went so far as to say he could play three quarterbacks on Thursday night. 

          The defensive strategy the Mountaineers rely on was on display, front and center. Idaho could only manage a late touchdown and four field goals. It was the exact struggle we mentioned last week regarding Idaho. Not enough touchdowns, too many field goals. Appalachian may have allowed 295 passing yards, but it was a very quiet 295 yards. Appalachian was constantly disruptive, picking off Linehan three times and sacking him on four instances. The secondary occasionally gets up a bad reputation, but they remain in the top thirty in the nation in passing efficiency defense, having only allowed eight passing touchdowns in seven games. The Mountaineers twelve interceptions are also good enough for seventh nationally. 
           Georgia Southern will return home to Paulson for the first time in forty days. The Eagles spent an extra day in New Mexico for some reason. You would think after all that time away from home, Southern would like to get back as soon as possible. Neither App or Southern resemble their squads from two years ago, when the two faced off in their first ever Sun Belt game, and they aren’t the teams from one year ago either. But, if anything, the one common denominator from 2015 to ’16 is the App defense. Generally, you look at any football team, averaging 265 yards on the ground and think you have a big challenge ahead. This is a regressing Eagle team, averaging just a mere 4.6 yards per carry, and forcing the issue, running the ball just over 57 times a game. The Southern staff wants to throw more, but they don’t have the pieces in place yet to fully commit. The fact that Matt Breida has 378 yards and only one touchdown rushing is criminal. The Eagles have scored 204 points this season, but over one-fourth of those points were scored in their opening game against Savannah State. Since then, the Eagles have been stuck in the twenties for five of their last six games. They have the talent to do much more than they have, but they have not been put in the situation to succeed. Meanwhile, Appalachian has a chance to get a big road win, and they may finally have the services of Marcus Cox back on the field. If Cox is near 100%, his fresh legs will be a huge advantage for the Mountaineers on Thursday, and for the rest of the season. 

The First Pick

The Blues 21

Mountaineers 31

Idaho @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 7

Idaho (4-3, 2-1 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (4-2, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 22th, 2016 3:30 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.66

Idaho: 53.23

Home: 2.42

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -21

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 47, Idaho 20, November 14th, 2015, Moscow, ID

       If a football season were a mall parking lot, the Mountaineers just rolled over the speed bump and are on their way towards the second half of the season with games in six straight weeks. The Mountaineer defense is rounding into form after laying a zero on the Ragin’ Cajuns. More impressively, the Apps are doing it with a bunch of unfamiliar names in key spots. Linebackers Eric Boggs and John Law played minimally in the win over Louisiana, which paved the way for standout performances by their backups. Meanwhile, Idaho is rolling about as well as they ever have in the FBS. With four wins, the folks in Moscow are thinking about a bowl trip as they close their time at the FBS level. Pretty ironic, in the following season that Idaho announces to reclassify to FCS for football, that they have their best season in many years. Don’t blame Idaho for their geography. They knew when they joined the Sun Belt that is was going to be a short relationship, as the Sun Belt chose to go young and east for their future memberships. This will likely be the Vandals second and final trip to Boone for some time. They couldn’t have picked a better time of the year to visit, as the leaves are holding on for dear life and some Appalachian alums from far and wide make the annual trek to Boone for homecoming festivities. 

        Idaho’s football season has sputtered to an extent, but their big win over New Mexico State last week has garnered some attention. The Vandals hold a series lead over the Aggies by a count of 16-7. That makes up for over half of their all time wins over Sun Belt schools, which total 31, but not all count as Sun Belt league wins. The other three wins by Idaho this year are over UL-Monroe, UNLV and Montana State, which are a combined 7-13 on the season. Respectively, their Sagarin ranks are, 152, 114, and 187. Coincidentally, all those wins are by three points. But, just like Appalachian, the Vandals have two losses to Power 5 schools in Washington & Washington State. 

         By this point, most are familiar with Vandal quarterback Matt Linehan and his football family tree. We covered that two years ago and beat writer Bret Strelow did so more recently. Linehan has eight touchdown passes in seven games, but his passing numbers have not been fantastic. Linehan has only eclipsed 250 passing yards once this season, against NMSU, and half of those eight touchdown passes came last week as well. Linehan accumulated 476 passing yards against the Aggies and misfired on just seven of his pass attempts. He added a rushing touchdown and 28 yards on the ground in that win. 

      The Vandals will use five receivers on the field in many situations but three of their pass catchers make up for over half of their completed passes on the season. Deon Watson has caught 26 passes for 380 yards. Alfonso Onunwor sports a 27/283 slash while Trent Cowan adds 23/256. There is not a ton of difference between the trio. Watson broke out last week for 129 yards and a touchdown as did Onunwor, who had 117 yards and a touchdown. Cowan added 64 yards. All three performances were their season highs. Jordan Frysinger is sneaky, with only eight catches on the year, but averages 25.5 yards per catch, and has all of his catches in two games. 

          Appalachian took no prisoners last week in Lafayette. Several items are obvious, such as the shutout, the big day from Shaedon Meadors and the continued consistency from Jalin Moore. Not to be outdone, Colin Reed got his first start and found the end zone. Death, taxes, and App State tight end touchdowns are the only sure things in life. It’s nice to see that the Mountaineers can plug and play at several positions on both sides of the ball. The defense finished with ten tackles for loss and five sacks while keeping Cajun all-purpose threat Elijah McGuire to 53 yards on eleven touches. Overall Louisiana running backs could only muster 3.4 yards per carry. With only three points allowed in the last two games, Appalachian has vaulted to 19th in all of FBS in points allowed at 18.8 per game. 

          At first thought, the twenty-two point margin at open, now 21, that Appalachian was favored by in this game seemed like a lot for a team that has left half of the playbook in the locker room at halftime for most of the season. That’s not a bad thing really. Crusing to wins may be boring for the fans, but it is exactly what every football coach in America wants. Back to spread talk. The Apps pushed with the Vandals in 2014 with a seventeen point win, and covered a big 19.5 points last year in Moscow. In both instances, the Sagarin ratings were right in line with Vegas and that seems to be the case this season. This result all depends on how Idaho finishes their drives. It has been a season long  issue until last week, that the Vandals move the ball between the twenties, until they get to the red zone, and the space to work with gets tighter. As the field shrinks, there is less space for all those receivers to run and Linehan seems to get antsy in the pocket. Linehan will roll out, further decreasing the size of the field to work with, and his accuracy suffers when he scrambles. Idaho also lacks the ability to run the football between the lines, which leaves them to pass into the end zone. Luckily, Idaho has one of the best punters and kickers in the country in Austin Rehkow, who has 14 field goals in 2016. He can keep them close early, but chances are you aren’t beating Appalachian with field goals. The odds of Idaho and their 105th best red zone offense facing off against the Mountaineers and their 21st best red zone defense spells trouble for the Vandals. The Mountaineers will impose their will on the Vandals and wear them out late in this one. 

The First Pick

Starches 16

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football @ Louisiana

Here we go with Week 6

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

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016 8pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN
Cajun Stadium

Surface: Pro Grass Synthetic

Capacity: 41,426

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.22

Louisiana: 54.57

Home: 2.45

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 28, Louisiana 7, November 28th, 2015, Boone

       This feels like the longest bye week in recent memory, yet all of a sudden, it has ended really quickly. Games played on a Wednesday are totally different than a game on a Thursday. The Mountaineers will get two long breaks between games in October, compared to last season, when Appalachian was dealt a hand that sandwiched a Halloween game between two Thursday night games. Eleven long days will have passed before kickoff on Wednesday, and then another half fortnight before the next kickoff at home vs Idaho. This will be the first time Applachian will have dealt with such a schedule, whereas Louisiana is slightly more familiar with a true midweek game. Louisiana lost twice last season in midweek games, both on the road. The Cajuns won two mid week games in 2014, and two out of three such games in 2013. That experience by the Cajun coaching staff will certainly be in their favor compared to the Mountaineers. You can count Appalachian’s midweek games on one hand. Two of those games have come against Gerogia Southern, and the other against Arkansas State. The Mountaineers, in their third road game of the season, will need to retain copious amounts of energy for this primetime conference fight on national television in order to keep pace in the Sun Belt. 

        The biggest issue facing the Cajuns coming into this game is the overall health and experience of their defense. The defensive line has been decimated with injuries; too many to list here. The linebackers are really solid and experienced while the secondary is their major weakness. The Cajuns have had to backfill with junior college transfers and they have been abused to the tune of 298 passing yards allowed a game. Only five schools surrender more yards in the air. Remember the terrible Akron secondary? The Cajuns are worse. The 11 touchdown passes they have given up occured in four games, and they have also allowed 260+ passing yards in four of five games. Just to be clear, the Cajuns haven’t given up one or two big days to skew the statistics, they have been equally horrendous for the better part of the young season. 

          This Cajun team isn’t far off from having a really nice season. Forget their 2-3 record. They lost two overtime games on the road their last times out and their first loss, Boise State, is now 5-0 and ranked 15th in the AP Poll. However, the Cajun losses are pretty easily explained. Anthony Jennings, the Louisiana State graduate transfer, has thrown six interceptions in his last three games. The Cajun defense has allowed a 92% score rate while defending the red zone, with half of those going for touchdowns. They are giving up nearly five red zone possessions per game at the same time. 

          This season for the Cajuns really has to be put into perspective. They have now lost in consecutive years to New Mexico State. Numerous wins were stripped of the program in the off season, including two bowl victories. They lost to Tulane despite throwing an 0/16 on third downs to the Green Wave offense, but were -3 in the turnover department. Lousiaina rolled up 256 yards rushing against South Alabama and still managed to escape by just five points. This team can put up some yards, and they have athletes all over the field, but their discipline, whether it be game flow, time of possession, whatever, just is not quite there to be a consistent winning football team. 

          It has been awhile since we’ve been able to review the Georgia State win. The most important part, was another win in the Sun Belt. After three seasons, the Mountaineers have allowed 6 points to Georgia State. The defense corralled four interceptions, and shut down any threat from the Panthers. The Taylor Lamb led offense once again, did just enough to get by. After a scoreless first half, Jalin Moore housed another long touchdown run, and the offense put the game on ice with a decisive fourth quarter touchdown drive to keep the Panthers at bay. 

          Back to the scene of the crime in 2014. The Mountaineers were fresh off a win over Arkansas State, and the season that started 1-5 had come full circle. The Mountaineers thumped Louisiana 35-16, and obtained their sixth win, a huge milestone for the first year in FBS football. Louisiana had been bowling for three straight years and were the class of the Sun Belt. At that point in time, it was the most impressive win for Appalachian in its short FBS history. Fast forward nearly two years, and it’s arguable that the roles have been reversed. It’s the Cajuns that are teetering, with an 8-11 record since that initial loss to the Mountaineers. Anthony Jennings was supposed to be a good quarterback for Louisiana. He was close to getting benched against New Mexico State, before reserve quarterback Jalen Nixon broke his ankle. Now Mark Hudspeth is stuck with a guy who lost his job at Lousiana State, and would have lost it again if not for an injury. The entire game for Louisiana starts with him. I know, Elijah McGuire is a good running back, but his presence will not be felt if Jennings cannot get it going at some point. If the Mountaineer defense can beat Jennings, the Apps will win. It does not matter to me right now who starts at running back for Appalachian. The Cajuns will give up the most yards on the ground that they will have surrendered this season, and the Mountaineers will hit just enough plays in the passing game to gut out a win. 


The First Pick

Green Peppers 20

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football vs Georgia State

Here we go with Week 5

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

Saturday, Octber 1st, 2016 Noon EST

TV/Video: American Sports Network/ ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 68.19

Georgia State: 55.63

Home: 2.40

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 15 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -19

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 37, Georgia State 3, October 10th, 2015, Atlanta

       That sweet taste of victory is comforting and normal. The first month of the season ended on hard earned high note. Appalachian flexed its Group of Five muscle for its fifth straight win over a peer school, and second over the MAC in disposing of Akron in a high scoring affair. The concerns of an unhealthy Mountaineer offense were cured by an Akron defense that hasn’t had an answer for any of their opponents this season. App rang up 587 total yards, making it the third straight game where the Zips had given up more than 550 yards in a game. No Marcus Cox? No problem. Jalin Moore steps in and totes the ball close to forty times for 257 yards. The App State train is rolling again and it doesn’t matter who is on board. The focus now turns to the Sun Belt schedule, where the sights are firmly set on a championship. Georgia State gets their first crack at Black Saturday, and another chance to erase the zero from the win column. Not only are the Panthers sporting an 0-2 record against the Mountaineers in their short rivalry, but Georgia State is looking for their first win of the 2016 season. The odds are long that it happens this weekend, and the sledding doesn’t get any easier for the remainder of the season for the Panthers, who have had a week off since their last game. 

          The Georgia State Panthers were really hoping their program was turning a corner at the end of 2015, as they won their final four games to become bowl eligible and represented the Sun Belt in the Cure Bowl. More unlikely, was that the Panthers knocked off Georgia Southern in the final weekend of the regular season to get their sixth win. However, since that four game winning streak, Georgia State has put together another four game streak, all losses, including their bowl loss. In those four games, the Panthers have only eclipsed twenty points on one occasion, in their opener this season against Ball State. In that game, GSU led off the game with an interception return for a touchdown, but couldn’t hold on despite taking the early lead. 

          A lot has been made about the loss the Panthers suffered to Wisconsin in Camp Randall. Blindly comparing the 44 point loss that Akron suffered to the Badgers, and the narrow six point margin that Wisconsin edged Georgia State by is doing the game of football a complete injustice. Between the two teams, there were only 21 possessions in the entire game. Wisconsin ran 43 plays in the first half, yet only could manage two field goals. The Panthers ran 27 plays, punted twice, fumbled, and missed a field goal. Wisconsin was running basic plays, and kept Georgia State close enough to keep it interesting late. Akron played a terrible game against Wisconsin, trailing 16-0 before their third possession and never had any momentum. 

          Part of the Georgia State struggles can be attributed to their quarterback play. It has not been easy replacing Nick Arbuckle in Atlanta, but Utah transfer Conner Manning is doing his best. His results this season have been a little bit of a mixed bag. Remove the lopsided loss at Air Force, and Manning is completing well over 65% of his passes. He has gone eleven straight quarters without throwing an interception and threw for 269 yards against Wisconsin. His arm isn’t overpowering, but he knows what he can and can’t do. In 2015, with Arbuckle, the Panthers averaged 8.8 yards per pass, but that number has fallen to 6.2 yards per attempt this season with Manning. 

          The injury to Marcus Cox suddenly became an afterthought after what Jalin Moore was able to do to Akron. The luxury of having a loaded stable of running backs certainly bodes well for Cox, who can likely take his time getting back to near full health. After this weekend, Appalachian will have eleven days before a road trip to Lafayette, and another ten days before hosting Idaho. After what Cox did to the Panthers in 2014 in Boone, GSU focused on Cox in 2015, limiting him to only 81 yards on nineteen carries. A two-headed attack against Georgia State on Saturday might be more successful with Moore and Darryton Evans carrying the load against a defense that is giving up 325 yards per game on the ground. Ball State had 58 yards rushing at half against Georgia State before the Fightin’ Cardinals buried the Panthers for 267 yards on the ground in the second half. 

          Perhaps we can give Georgia State a slight benefit of the doubt for all the chunks of yardage they allowed on the ground this season. Ball State figured it out, while Air Force and Wisconsin just ran their offense as they saw fit. Trent Miles has had two weeks to think about Appalachian and to figure out a way to get his Panthers to be better on defense. It gets to a point for Georgia State, and other Sun Belt programs for that matter, they might try anything to get a win over Appalachian. Miles is in his fourth season and has won just seven games in that span. It’s not all doom and gloom for Georgia State, as they have two decent receivers who will help Conner Manning, in Penny Hart and Robert Davis. Manning and Georgia State need to get more vertical in the passing game, as that is where Mountaineer opponents have found some success. Manning has only been sacked four times this season, but has been hurried quite often. Manning will stand in the pocket and take the pressure, but it exposes him to many hits, and his passes are way off target. Georgia State needs to find some type of running game this season. They have been abysmal with only 137 yards on the year, only averaging 2.2 yards per carry. Last week we mentioned Akron’s time of possession being second to last in the country. Well, guess who is dead last? You guessed it. Georgia State. Football is easy. If you can run and stop the run on defense, you have a good chance, but the Panthers can’t do either this season, and that won’t help them win a game in Boone. 

The First Pick

Southern’s Daddy  13

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football @ Akron

Here we go with Week 4

Appalachian State (1-2) @ Akron (2-1)

Saturday, September 24th, 2016 3:30 EST

TV/Video: American SportsNetwork/ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

InfoCision Stadium

Surface: Prograss artificial turf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 67.56

Akron: 60.84

Home: 2.70

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 4 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -6

Series: first meeting

Last meeting: n/a

       After the one of tougher slates in recent memory to begin a season, Appalachian finishes off September with a road trip to Akron for its final non-conference game of the season. After this weekend, it’s all Fun Belt, all the time. The record the Mountaineers currently have is not a huge surprise, but the way the season has unfolded seems slightly unfulfilling. After a strong start at Tennessee, and a less than impressive win over Old Dominion, the Apps fell completely apart last weekend against Miami. The bright spots were few and far between and it didn’t appear the Mountaineers could do anything right. Throw in the injury to Marcus Cox, and the fans left Kidd Brewer with a really empty feeling last Saturday. It’s pretty obvious this team is in dire need of a win, just to get that feeling back before the games really start counting in conference play. To be honest, this game is about as close to being a must-win game as you can get. Another poor showing could create some panic among the natives, while a win would flip the script and provide some much needed momentum. Luckily, all the excitement of Volunteers and Hurricanes are behind us, and App can focus on good, old-fashioned boring football. 

         For the majority of their existence, Akron football has been a major afterthought in the state of Ohio. The school holds a losing record all time, although only 17 games below the .500 mark. The Zips not only won their first bowl game in school history in 2015, but also won their first postseason game in school history as well. Akron previously lost the 2005 Motor City Bowl, and lost an opening round game in the I-AA playoffs in 1985. The 8-5 record that Terry Bowden led Akron to in 2015 was their first winning season since the 2005 season. It was the 7th winning season in Akron’s history since they made the jump from I-AA to I-A in 1987. Akron has been a member of the MAC since 1992 while serving as an independent for their first five years in FBS. 

        Akron’s season thus far has been quite interesting. The Zips started slow before eventually dispatching VMI 47-24 in their opening game. Akron only led by two points entering the fourth quarter, before scoring three unanswered touchdowns. Wisconsin rolled up 586 yards of offense on the Zips the following week en route to a 54-10 win. The win over Marshall garnered a lot of attention due to the lopsided score. Marshall jumped out to a 21-7 lead after the first quarter, until Akron scored 34 points in the second quarter and cruised to a 65-38 win. Akron was the beneficiary of a short fields and Marshall turnovers in a quarter where the defense and special teams both scored.

       Akron lives by their quarterback play. Thomas Woodson is averaging 298 yards passing a game through the air, but suffers under pressure. Wisconsin sacked Woodson three times and intercepted him once in holding the junior to 108 yards. Woodson threw for 407 yards and 379 yards against VMI and Marshall respectively. All ten of his touchdown passes came in the two Akron wins. Woodson is a true pocket passer and looks more like a fullback at 6’1 and 233 pounds than he does a quarterback. His favorite targets are JoJo Natson and Jerome Lane, who have been on the receiving end of six touchdown passes. Natson is a small guy who can really run, while Lane provides a big target at 6’3 and 220 pounds. 

          The obvious major concern for the Mountaineers this week is the availability of Marcus Cox, who is the bread and butter of the Mountaineer offense. His backups have potential, but have been shaky in limited action this season. Jalin Moore improved as the game went on last week, but has been generally been too antsy. Behind Moore, is freshman Darryonton Evans  who has shown potential, but is still very raw. Josh Boyd returned to practice this week after a injury sustained in fall camp. It remains to be seen how close Boyd is to game shape and conditioning. Whichever back gets the load will need to keep the chains moving in a positive direction to relieve pressure off Taylor Lamb, who is off to a very slow start. 

          Akron provides a challenge to Appalachian’s defense that was certainly exposed once again by an up tempo offense. The Zips love the big play and have no intentions of using the clock to their advantage. Akron is currently 127 out of 128 teams in time of possession, but it has been working for them. To only posses the ball for 22 minutes on average and still manage to put up over 40 points a game is saying something. Conversely, Appalachian is one of the leaders in the country controlling the clock and will need to use that to their advantage, not only keeping Akron off the field, but scoring when they do have the ball. The idea of a high scoring game does not play in App’s favor at this point. Akron is pretty sloppy in all areas of the game outside of their offense. They are the 3rd most penalized team in the country, have allowed the 5th most first downs, and are one of only 11 teams in the nation allowing over 500 yards of offense to their opponents. Only six teams have had two extra points blocked, including Akron, and place kicker Tom O’Leary has missed another extra point opportunity. The best path to victory for Appalachian will be to contain the Zip offense. Akron will certainly test the Mountaineers deep based on what Miami was able to do, and the big ball is such an important part of their game. Appalachian must play a better game in the secondary and keep receivers in front of them and be crisper while substituting or else it could be another long day. 

The First Pick
Buttons 26
Mountaineers 31