Appalachian Football vs Toledo (Dollar General Bowl)

Appalachian State (8-4, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Toledo (11-2, 7-1 Mid-American)

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017 7:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

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

Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 33,471

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 66.89

Toledo: 74.57

Home: n/a

Toledo is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Toledo -7

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 31, Toledo 28, December 17th, 2016

Two separate journeys have landed two similar teams at the same destination for the second season in a row. We’re not in Montgomery anymore, but it might feel like it. It was just 53 weeks ago when the Rockets and Mountaineers played a splendid game in the Yellowhammer State’s capital city. The game was so great, the bowl committee’s could not pass it up. There were gripes from both fan bases about an App State/Toledo sequel. With the New Orleans Bowl enamored with bringing in fans, the Dollar General reps chose a game between two conference champions. Once you think about it, you really can’t ask for much more out of a bowl game. These two teams are eerily similarly in their makeup, but have taken different paths to Mobile. Toledo was the runaway favorite in the MAC, and cruised through conference play only stumbling to Appalachian bowl victim #1 in Ohio. The Mountaineers did everything but cruise this year, battling through a plague of injuries mid-season, and rallying late to finish the season in dominating fashion. The Rockets look pretty, already reaching eleven wins, playing in and winning their conference championship game, and doing it all with relative ease. The Mountaineers looked good winning in November, but every other game was a battle, trailing at many times in the second half, only to recover and pull it out. Those experiences on both sides will assist them as they look for victory in the Port City. 

The Rockets have not changed much in a year. They still have a lot of the same pieces they featured in Montgomery in 2016. However, there are some critical pieces that are missing, such as Kareem Hunt, who has moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs. Double-digit touchdown catching tight end Michael Roberts is with the Detroit Lions. All played significant roles, but Toledo has not missed a beat. Quarterback Logan Woodside is back and had another huge season. He completed 65% of his passes for 3,758 yards with a cool 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Woodside threw for 300 or more yards seven times this season, and has just one game this season where he threw for less than 200 yards. Fifteen of his touchdown passes came against Akron, twice, and Tulsa. That’s down from his 2016 season which saw Woodside throw 45 touchdown passes. 

Terry Swanson took over for Kareem Hunt at running back, and the Rockets have not missed a beat. Swanson caught just one pass for nine yards in the 2016 Camellia Bowl, but has 1,319 yards in 2017 on the ground with 14 touchdowns. Swanson has played a ton in his Toledo career, amassing 3,557 yards rushing, but 2017 marks his breakout season as a senior. Swanson has eight 100-yard rushing games this season, all Toledo wins. He was kept under 100 yards and did not find the end zone in both Toledo losses. Swanson is not alone in the backfield. Toledo also sports a pair of 600-yard plus rushers in Shakif Seymour and Art Thompkins. Seymour eclipsed 100 yards against Central Michigan and added twelve touchdowns on the season as the Rockets premiere red zone threat. Thompkins also had one game with 100 yards against Bowling Green, but has seen his role decrease throughout the season. Thompkins had double-digit carries six times in the Rockets first seven games, but has just 22 carries in the last six games. 

The Rocket wide receivers are dangerous, and led by the Johnsons, Diontae and Jon’Vea. The former is the leading receiver with 72 catches, 1,257 yards and thirteen touchdowns. Jon’Vea has nearly replicated his junior season in 2017, with a 41/675/5 line. Jon’Vea just had two catches for 22 yards in last year’s Camellia Bowl. Diontae missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. The more well known Cody Thompson, who burned App State last year was injured earlier this season and is out for the season. The Rocket receiving corps have put up the numbers, but its a completely different group than the Mountaineers saw in 2016. 

The Mountaineers are led by four-year starter Taylor Lamb whose passing stats will never match up with a player like Woodside yardage-wise, but the touchdowns and efficiency are there. Lamb and Woodside have nearly identical stats in the touchdown to interception ratio, but what Lamb gives you that Woodside cannot are his legs. Lamb’s ability to run has come at almost perfect times this season, whether its a designed play or a great read, Lamb’s decision making has been nearly flawless in the ground game. His forty-five yard per game average is an integral part of the Mountaineer offense. Lamb shredded Toledo last year for 126 yards on only nine carries. His 119-yard passing performance against Toledo was aided by several dropped passes.

This season, Lamb benefits from a receiving corps that is almost entirely different from this time last season. The only constants are Ike Lewis and Dante Jones. They caught four of Lamb’s fourteen passes in Montgomery. They other ten completions went to players who have either graduated or moved on in one form or fashion. Toledo will have to contend with Thomas Hennigan, who plays faster on the field than he does on tape. Hennigan’s 556 yards and 7 touchdowns are nearly unheard of by a Mountaineer freshman. Slippery Ike Lewis has exploded in his senior season for 666 yards and 8 touchdowns and is a terror in open space. Lamb will likely want to rebound from that performance against Toledo a year ago. 

With all the talk about the signal callers, this game could come down to which running game excels the most. Appalachian has found its footing in their last three games to close the season. Initially I was concerned with a three week layoff between the season finale and the bowl game. That notion was quickly dismissed, considering App State went sixteen days between Georgia Southern and Georgia State, without any bumps, and then really proved their point against Louisiana. They key to Appalachian’s win last year could repeat itself a year later. The Mountaineers kept the Rockets off the field in 2016, possessing the ball for over 35 minutes of game clock, allowing Logan Woodside to drop back to pass just 26 times. The Mountaineers have averaged over 300 yards rushing per game in their last three, and nearly got there against Toledo in 2016, racking up 297 ground yards. The App State defense also has to do their part. Keeping Toledo off the field is not just up to the offense grounding out first downs. It’s important to keep Toledo off schedule. Woodside will get his passing yards, but the App’s must limit the explosive plays and keep Toledo uncomfortable. In both Rocket losses this season, they struggled to run the ball and became one dimensional. The Mountaineers must be disciplined on first down and tackle well. Both teams are familiar with Ladd-Peebles Stadium. App beat South Alabama there in 2015, and Toledo won the GoDaddy Bowl after the 2014 season. The weather could provide an interesting challenge and completely change the way this game is played. Forecasters are calling for rain most of the day. Ball security will be increasingly important. These two teams combined for zero turnovers last year, but I expect we’ll see a couple on Saturday. Whoever takes care of the ball late will win.

The First Pick

Bottle Rockets 31

Mountaineers 35

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

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

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017 2:30pm 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: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 64.88

Louisiana: 52.52

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 14.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -15

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 24, Louisiana 0, October 12th, 2016

On Saturday, Appalachian will play its 32nd game in the Sun Belt Conference, completing its fourth year since leaving the Southern Conference. Those were four quick years. To this point, the Mountaineers have compiled a 26-5 record in conference play, which is only matched by Arkansas State as the best record in conference play during that stretch. Appalachian has finished no lower than third in the conference standings every year. The only time Louisiana finished above the Mountaineers was in 2014, handing the Cajuns their only conference loss that season. The Mountaineers dominated that day, and have ever since in this short three game series. When the Mountaineers entered the Sun Belt, Louisiana was the top dog. They have a winning record against six current conference opponents, have a .500 record versus two opponents, and have a 7-8 record against Troy. Appalachian remains the only team the Cajuns have not defeated. The beatings have also continued to get worse each season, beginning with a nineteen point win in 2014, a 21 point victory in Boone the following season, and a 24-0 shutout by the Mountaineers a season ago. A win on Saturday would give App its second straight share of a conference title, and leave the Cajuns watching the bowl games from their couches.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have had their chances in 2017 to improve their record, but the warning signs came very early in the season. A close 51-48 win over SE Louisiana in an FCS tune up was the just the start. Three straight losses followed to up tempo Tulsa, UL-Monroe, and Texas A&M. The Monroe loss was an absolute shocker. Louisiana had won three straight and eight of nine games in the series. The Cajuns had to score thirty second half points just to hang with Monroe and tie the game at 43 before the Warhawks prevailed in OT. Louisiana surrendered 215 points in the first four games. The Cajuns then rallied for wins in three of their next four games, and kept their opponents from scoring 20 points in those three wins. But, its been ugly lately as the Cajuns have given up big numbers in their last three games; 50 to Ole Miss, 34 in a win over New Mexico State, and 34 to two-win Georgia Southern.

The Cajuns have had to use three different quarterbacks for significant stretches of the season. None of them are particularly good. Jordan Davis has played the most this season, and missed two games in there entirety due to injury. Davis has 1,281 yards, 9 TD’s and six interceptions and has been sacked ten times. Andre Nunez played decently in the four games he appeared in, take away the 47-3 whipping by Arkansas State. Nunez has not played since and has been concussed at least once this season. Freshman Levi Lewis inexplicably played in his third game last week against Georgia Southern, jeopardizing his redshirt status. Lewis was a prized recruit as a dual threat quarterback who played basketball and ran track in high school.

As the Cajuns could start a freshman at quarterback, they will definitely start a freshman running back in Trey Ragas, who is a load and a half. Just like all bigger running backs, you cannot allow them to get started. It will be a tall task for Appalachian. Ragas has one-third of the carries this season for the Cajuns, and he has toted the ball for 799 yards at a 5.9 yard per carry clip. He probably deserves more carries. He has only carried twenty or more times on one occasion, against New Mexico State, and he showed that he deserved it with a season high 132 yards and two touchdowns. Equally as dangerous is senior running back Darius Hoggins. He is a lot smaller than Ragas but provides a good change of pace. Hoggins is another candidate for more work, as he has not topped eight carries all season in a game. Equally surprising, Hoggins had a 75 yard touchdown run against Georgia Southern early on and carried just once more in the game.

This game comes down to Louisiana’s defense. They are downright atrocious. I couldn’t believe the difference when researching why they win, and why they lose. In their 6 losses, the Cajun have given up 49.6 points per game. In their wins, they have allowed 23.8 points per. That is less than half. Not sure I have ever seen such a discrepancy. Their five wins include zero teams at this point that are bowl eligible and their road wins include South Alabama, the most confusing team in the conference, and three win Idaho.

A healthy Jalin Moore is a very welcome sight. Moore might have been as healthy as he was all season last weekend. He received a season high 32 carries vs Georgia State, which topped his previous season high he had in the last game he played in at UL-Monroe. Moore has gone over 100 yards nine out ten times in his career when he received more than nineteen carries. The only exception was Miami. Four times he has reached the 200 yard mark in those same situations. Over a third of his carries have come in his last two games. He is now within striking distance of rushing for 3,000 yards in his career and only six other Mountaineers have accomplished that feat.

We all know why programs like UL-Monroe and South Alabama schedule multiple games against the SEC. They need the money from a pay game to support their programs. Louisiana choosing to play two road SEC contests does not make sense for a school with plenty of resources and facilities. Had they had a lighter schedule, they would not be fighting for bowl eligibility so late in the season. In 2016, it was Boise State and Georgia that littered the Cajun schedule and they needed wins in their final two games to go bowling. The nine win seasons are now a thing of the past, and mediocrity seems to be the goal anymore in Lafayette. So Saturday, Hudspeth and his Cajuns will hope to overcome a long hard trip to the mountains and try pull off another last game victory to throw current bowl projections in the shredder. Meanwhile, Appalachian has its eyes on a rather big prize. This game could certainly affect where the Mountaineers are heading later in December. A win on senior day coupled with another ring of the hand of a star studded graduating class is the goal. The Mountaineers likely have prepared for two different quarterbacks starting for Louisiana on Saturday. Coach Hudspeth wouldn’t tip his hand at his news conference, so the Apps will be pulling double duty in the film room. Regardless of who starts for Louisiana, they’ll have to take care of the football. Interceptions have been big in their losses, but so has their defense. The Cajuns will be facing their toughest defensive challenge of the season. The Mountaineers have improved dramatically in the last two games with the return of Devan Stringer and rank 33rd nationally. The top three defenses that Louisiana has faced this year are just inside the top sixty and they averaged just 15 points per game against those opponents. As much as the onus is on the Cajun offense to score, its reciprocal with their defense to keep their opponents off the board. They have not done that consistently enough this season and I don’t expect that balance to come together this weekend.

The First Pick

Green Peppers 16

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football @ Georgia State

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

Saturday, November 25th, 2017 2pm 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

Georgia State Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 62.72

Ga State: 55.16

Home: 2.31

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 5.25 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -7

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 17, Ga State 3, October 1st, 2016

Back in late August, on the opening Thursday night of the college football season, Georgia State lost their season and stadium opener to FCS Tennessee State 17-10. At that point in time, just about everyone had written off the Panthers. It seems nothing had really changed in previous seasons, but it was also the head coaching debut of one Shawn Elliott. That night has not defined the Georgia State season. It was likely exactly what they needed. They knew they had to get to work. Since, they have won every winnable game, and lost each one in which they were decided underdogs. Penn State and Troy are heavy hitters, and the Panthers were outscored 90-10 in those two games. The tilt with Appalachian was seemingly the toughest part of the schedule remaining. This season is already a success for Georgia State, getting to six wins and becoming bowl eligible, perhaps ahead of schedule. But suddenly, they have tripped into a dream scenario. They control their own destiny for a piece of the conference title and play their final two games in their home venue. Oddly, this will just be the Panthers fourth game at home this season, and are only 1-2 in the previous three games. Their tilt with Memphis was cancelled due to the fallout of Hurricane Irma. For Georgia State, a lot of things surrounding football have been new this season, and now they find themselves in another new spot; competing against a team that has had their number for the chance to play for their first conference trophy.

Georgia State did a little more than stumble into this situation. We should give them a little more credit than that. They do have a win in Monroe that App could not match. Otherwise, both App and State share wins over all other common opponents in Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina and Texas State. Neither of those schools have had good seasons to say the least, with Coastal and Southern picking up their first conference wins last weekend. The Panthers have just one comfortable conference win, beating Monroe by ten points, as the remaining games were decided by just one possession. The same can be said for App this season. Way too many close games, not enough domination, and a whole of newness in some critical places.

When glancing at Georgia State, not a lot jumps off the paper. They are an above average passing offense, below average on the ground, and their defense plays good, and not great or spectacular. Their punting is bad, and they lose just about all of their fumbles. They have missed over half of the field goals they have attempted and have a hard time converting red zone chances for touchdowns. Yet, you do not become 6-3 by accident. Sure, there is some bad football in the Sun Belt this season, and neither Georgia State or Appalachian has been immune to the lackluster play.

Georgia State does have a couple tells when it comes to them playing well. This statistic does not mean everything, but it does mean something. Sophomore wide receiver Penny Hart is an all-Sun Belt caliber receiver, and he is a big reason why the Panthers are in the position they are in. However, they need him to be on, and involved from the start. The Panthers are 6-0 when Hart hits at least 85 yards receiving and averages over ten yards per catch. Conversely, Georgia State is 0-3 when Hart has fewer than 56 yards in a game and averages less than ten yards per reception. Containing Hart is a big key for Appalachian. The Mountaineers have contained Hart so far in his career, holding him to a 3/13 line last year, and 5/47 line in 2015. Hart played in just a few games in 2016 and redshirted after an injury.

Panther signal caller Connor Manning has had an improved season over 2016, where he threw thirteen interceptions to just sixteen touchdown passes. His accuracy has improved by nearly ten percentage points from one season to the next, which has helped his yards per attempt average by nearly a whole yard. Despite only throwing six interceptions this season, four of those came in the losses to Troy and Penn State. The Panthers have won every game in which Manning has more touchdown passes than interceptions, and threw just one TD pass combined in the three losses. Last season Manning threw a touchdown pass in every game except one, against Appalachian State, where he was picked off four times.

The win over Georgia Southern feels like decades ago, although it was nice to get some time off for team that severely needs to heal some wounds. The game against the Eagles was not remarkable by any stretch. It was pretty basic, and workmanlike. The Apps got the job done, sending Georgia Southern back down the mountain for the fifth time in a row with a loss. The game was not really decided until the fourth quarter, but the Eagles never really threatened, managing just a pair of field goals. Marcus Williams Jr. rumbled for 130 yards on twenty-eight carries. The freshman is up to 395 yards on the season, with all but 52 of those yards coming in the last four weeks.

What we have is two teams that are even in the standings, but have had two completely different seasons. They have both had some close games, but the expectation of each program and their respective win-loss records could not be further apart. Georgia State is in the midst of their first season finishing with a winning record. They are not there yet, and they didn’t quite get there in 2015 either. For Appalachian, we all know that 6-4 is below the expectations set for this season, but once again, there is still plenty to play for. We have not seen the Mountaineers on the field since November 9th, two days prior to when South Alabama did their part in beating Arkansas State and opening the door for others to claim a share of a conference title. This is different than in 2016, when an Arkansas State loss opened the door for the Mountaineers before their game at New Mexico State. This time around, the Mountaineers have had time to let that scenario simmer. Georgia State was also on bye last weekend, but this team has never been there. That coaching staff and that team have never prepared for a game that has so much up for grabs. How will they handle that moment is yet to be seen. What we do have for Appalachian is a team that has been there before. It has played in big games, with an occasional loss, but mostly wins over the last two-plus seasons. That experience is invaluable. What App cannot do is play from behind like they have in every road game this season. A quick start is a must, and possession for both teams is critical. Georgia State will not wow you with their running game, but they know it is necessary to attempt to run. The threat must be there, or else the App defense will begin teeing off. A turnover in the second half will turn the tide in this game, and I think its the App defense that is due for a score.

The First Pick

Still Southern’s Daddy 17

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (5-4, 4-1 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (0-8, 0-4 Sun Belt)

Thursday, November 9th, 2017 7:30pm 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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 62.25

Ga Southern: 45.87

Home: 2.14

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

Sportsbook: App State -17.5

Series: App State leads 18-13-1

Last meeting: App State 34, Ga Southern 10, October 27th, 2016

Boy, did this season come crashing down in a quick hurry. Three games left, none of them guaranteed and it’s November and the Mountaineers aren’t bowl eligible yet. Is it finally the right time for this season to turn around? We might be past that point. How difficult is it to pick everything up after a couple of soul crushing losses. Is it the right time, for your winless and most hated rival to see blood in the water. Georgia Southern would love nothing more than to finish off the Apps slim hopes of a conference title. They would never stop talking about it down there in Statesboro. And that is exactly the reason why we can’t let it happen. The motivation to just beat Southern is all you really need. Nobody gives a darn at this point what the records are. Nobody will care that you beat a spread. When they ask in twenty years what your record was when you played Southern, that will be what really matters. Ten seasons ago, App produced one of its most dominant teams, perhaps ever, but they didn’t beat Southern. We all know how much that games eats at those past legends to this day. These seniors have a chance to become to the first group of players to play in three bowl games in their three seasons of eligibility. That should be your motivation. Get over last weekend, and make a name for yourself that nobody will forget.

Goodness gracious. Where can we start with Georgia Southern? After just eighteen games, Southern relieved their coach, Tyson Summers, and began preparing for the future. They got a head start on searching for their fourth full time head coach this decade, while at the same time giving long time Eagle assistant Chad Lunsford an opportunity to audition for the job. In two games, Lunsford’s Eagles have failed to score twenty points in either contest and have averaged just over four yards a play combined in both games.

So what are the Eagles good at this season? Not really much of anything. Obviously, they are still running the ball, trying to get better with a traditional Southern attack on the ground. They do average 202 rushing yards per game, which is good for 33rd nationally, but they are the only team in top 50 in the country that averages less than four yards per carry, at 3.81 per carry. The Eagles have ten rushing touchdowns on the season. Just ten. That’s usually been done in two games by the Eagles, not eight. At 17.6 points per game, the Eagles rank 121st in the country. They have scored 17 points or fewer five times, and haven’t score more than 27 points in any game. The Eagles inability to score leaves their defense vulnerable, keeping them on the field forever, and eventually get gassed, and scored on. The defense is giving up 38.4 points per game. That is nearly a three touchdown margin per contest. This is not just a team with a bad record, its a team that is just plain bad.

The Southern leaders are familiar faces for Mountaineer coaches. Freshman quarterback Shai Werts made a late visit to Appalachian in his recruiting process before signing with the Eagles. Werts is your typical dual-threat quarterback, perfect for the Georgia Southern system, but he needs time and help. Werts leads the team in rushing attempts, is second in yards, and had two of his better games of the year after sitting out with an injury for the UMass game. Last weekend, Werts had a 22/28 passing game for 147 yards and a touchdown. Those aren’t crazy numbers, but for a Georgia Southern signal caller, you’ll take that every day. Werts’ leading receiver, Obe Fortune was also a former App recruit, and was committed to the Mountaineers for some time before changing his mind. Fortune’s 15 catches have covered 189 yards which includes a 50 yard touchdown.

Jalin Moore has had his setbacks this season. From one injury to the next, in and out of practice to putting up the performance he did last weekend without being 100% healthy. It will be mostly forgotten, but he did something that can maybe spark this team by showing some fire when the chips are stacked against you. Moore scored three straight touchdowns for the Mountaineers last weekend. He accumulated 198 total yards, highlighted by his 75 yard touchdown reception. He showed how to be a leader this past week without always being on the field during practice, but giving everything he had when his number was called. Despite this injury riddled campaign, he has still managed 5.0 yards per carry for the year and has amassed 717 total yards in the eight games he has played in.

We’ve all known what kind of team we have had for several weeks now. This is not a group than can overcome multiple mental mistakes and win comfortably. Twice in the past two weeks the defense has given up the go-ahead or tying score in the final moments. That is not what we have come to expect from a Mountaineer defense. It’s super disappointing to say the least, but it is a part of the growing pains of a team that is evolving with new contributors in places where we have been accustomed to familiar faces. The pains hurt, but they’ll pay off in the future. Beau Nunn and Colby Gossett can’t man the right side forever. We’ll be thrilled to have hopefully have three returning offensive lineman next season with significant playing time. There are plenty similar examples all over the field. Although those faces have to eventually change, this rivalry doesn’t. Just about every time Georgia Southern comes to Boone, especially in the modern era, the game has been played in the month of October. The last time this game was played in November in Boone was in 1939. Southern has won in Boone once in the month of November, in the series first game in 1932. Appalachian has won three straight in this series on three occasions, and can make it a fourth on Thursday night by getting back to the basics of playing sound defense. App has shown it can score points if it wants to, but sustaining drives has been the winning formula for this program over the last couple seasons. I am looking for the defense to make up for lost time and send the Eagles back down south for the winter.

The First Pick


Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football @ Massachusetts

Appalachian State (5-2, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs Massachusetts (1-6, FBS Independent)

Saturday, October 28th, 2017 3:30pm est

TV/Video: NESN/Eleven Sports

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

McGuirk Alumni Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 17,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 64.23

UMass: 53.34

Home: 2.18

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 9 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -4.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 28, UMass 17, December 15th, 2006

          The Chanticleers weren’t quitters. They fought hard in a game where they were basically outmatched. After falling in a 14-0 hole, they easily could have rolled over, taken their beating and strutted their way back toward the low country. Not only did they own the second quarter on the way to a halftime lead, they made an ugly score look respectable late in the game. Both teams left points on the field, and for Appalachian, that has become a novel normal. Whether it’s missed field goals or inexplicably attempting a two point conversion, eventually the Mountaineers will suffer from one of these gaffes. Might not be this week, this season, or next, but we as fans must take the good with the bad and trust the work that goes on behind the scenes. Those that work hard every day want to fix it as much as we want it fixed. This weekend presents a different challenge. The Apps step out of conference play and accept a summons from an old friend from a decade ago. A friend without a conference, without a real bowl tie-in and without a true rival they play yearly. The last time these two played, there was quite a bit more at stake, but even then, UMass was the challenger, as they will also be considered on Saturday. They have nothing to lose,, while the Mountaineers need to keep the train on the tracks. 

          Massachusetts sports a similar look as Coastal Carolina when you glance at their schedule. Sure, Coastal had a couple games where they got beat pretty badly, but the Minutemen have had zero such games. Of their six losses, four were by one possession and two were by ten points. They can hang around. Forget their loss to Coastal Carolina in early September, which seems like ages ago. Every team has a different slant now, especially Appalachian.

          The Minutemen have the complexion of some teams that Appalachian has lost to in the past. Look no further than early playoff exits at hands of Villanova and Maine. Now this is not a lazy comparison of teams from the northeastern part of the country that play a different brand of football. Typically, the speed isn’t there, but the size is definitely present. They will not sneak up on you, but they will line up right across from you and force their will. UMass has a 270 pound fullback and a starting offensive line that averages 324 pounds and has only one lineman in the two-deep listed at 6’3″ or shorter. Add to that three tight ends listed at 6’5″ and 250 pounds. Prior to last weekend, this mammoth line had just three 100-yard rushing games to their credit, but exploded for 320 yards last week over Georgia Southern. The flipside of being so big on the line, the Minutemen have given up 32 sacks in seven games. 

         Massachusetts has played from behind a lot this season, which has actually helped them constantly work on their passing game. But, in the same breathe, they have been very successful in doing so. Typically a team that plays from behind a lot, you’ll see a lot of interceptions thrown. Not with the Minutemen. Their 16 touchdown passes to only two interceptions is pretty astonishing. They like to feed their tight ends who’ll occupy the middle of the field, a spot where App struggled last week to contain Coastal Carolina. They are about as dangerous as an offense can be, they just do not have the results and the confidence to show for it. 

          Just about every time Taylor Lamb has had a rough game, he responds with an excellent performance and silences the haters. Over the years, Lamb has not received the credit he deserves, as a lot of that gone the way of the defense that backs him up or to his great running backs he has been blessed with. When he was younger, he had to develop chemistry with older receivers, and now that he is the old guy, he’s had to adjust to connecting with younger targets. Lamb is just a baller, plain and simple. If he is called to run, thats what he’ll do. If his arm is needed to save the day, he’s ready for that as well. He was seven yards away from breaking two records set by Armanti Edwards in the same game. Who saw that coming so quickly?

          UMass had three weeks to prepare for the beatdown they gave to Georgia Southern last weekend. That is very rare to have that much time between games.  They were originally slated to face South Florida, but the game was rescheduled at the request of the American Athletic Conference in the wake of Hurricane Irma. That’s what can happen to you when you do not have a conference. So, UMass gets a mid season break and adds a game at the end of the season with FIU. Generally, I like playing teams that have recently come off of a big game, whether that be their first win of the season, running up a bunch of yards, scoring a bunch of points or being the beneficiary of several turnovers. UMass did all of those things last weekend. They’ll be facing a different kind of team this weekend. Georgia Southern’s struggles have been well documented, and plenty of things were going on off the football field as opposed to on it. App State has had its struggles this season, but for the most part, have overcome for them.. The Mountaineers have shown this season their ability to keep their head down, keep battling, by making adjustments and sticking with the plan. UMass will attempt to confuse the App State running game by stacking the linebackers in the gaps, and it ill be up to App to get to the perimeter as quick as possible. A game played outside the hashes will favor Appalachian. Keep an eye on Marcus Williams Jr with a full week  of practice under his belt if Jalin Moore can’t play. Hell give UMass a look they haven’t seen yet. 

The First Pick

Colonials 28

Mountaineers 40

Appalachian Football vs Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (4-2, 3-0 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (1-5, 0-3 Sun Belt)
Saturday, October 21st, 2017 3:30pm 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: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 67.26

Coastal Carolina: 44.45

Home: 2.07

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

Sportsbook: App State -24

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 55, Coastal Carolina 14, September 29th, 2012

          I’m still not quite sure what happened last Saturday. Wait a minute, thats exactly how we started this thing off last week. But the statement still applies to this week. Let’s run with it. Overcoming a deficit in a football game is one thing. Overcoming a twenty point deficit is another. Coming from behind on the road to win is really difficult. Doing all those things, all while having scored zero points in the first half is pretty miraculous. The second half could not have started any worse. An Idaho interception on a tipped pass could have spelled doom for the Mountaineers chances. But the Apps never wavered. In true Mountaineer fashion, they hunkered down and got to work. The rest is history. One long drive led to another. Fourth downs were converted time and time again. The defense, which didnt quit as the half began, decided to bring pain on the Idaho offense. Quarterbacks were sacked, and balls were fumbled, almost mysteriously. The result was another heart stopping victory, the third in as many games in Sun Belt play. An unblemished record in conference play may have been expected by some at this point, but the path was not one anyone could have predicted. The ride has been fun, and we’re only halfway home. 

           We would have never guessed a decade ago that Coastal Carolina would join a conference with Appalachian. It was more likely that conference would have still been in the FCS. But here are the Chanticleers, in their first full year in FBS football. The growing pains have been plenty for Coastal. Their season in 2017, started similarly to how Appalachian started their FBS journey in 2014. Coastal sits at 1-5 , and that lone win is over a very bad Massachusetts team that has yet to win a game. They have been in several games, and have been blown out just twice, last weekend at Arkansas State, and earlier in the season to Western Illinois. They have hung around with UL-Monroe, who is a team you have to outscore this season and also with Georgia State. In both games, they never quit, even after being down multiple scores, and kept it within one score at the end.         

          Coastal is in the middle of arguably is toughest stretch of the season. The Arkansas State-App State double on the road is a daunting task. Prior to the season, Coastal had an outside chance of finishing in the middle of the Sun Belt, but those plans were sidetracked when head coach Joe Moglia had to take a medical leave, and Jamey Chadwell from Charleston Southern, was thrust to into the head coach role. Chadwell was the coach as CSU when they defeated the Mountaineers in 2013 during their final year in the FCS. That was Scott Satterfield’s first year as a head coach as well. 

          The offense that Chadwell ran in 2013 is still with him and his Chanticleers. They love formations with two backs in the backfield, and rarely run a play without a fake, some misdirection or an option run. It’s the true definition of the run-pass option attack. Defenses must be disciplined in their scheme and keep their eyes on their own assignments. The idea is similar to triple option football, but with a more traditional passing game mixed in. It leads to a very balanced offense for the Chanticleers. They do run a little bit more than they pass. Their individual numbers don’t look great across the board, but they do an admirable job with what they have. The phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of their parts” fits this team perfectly. 

          Appalachian was very far from from perfect on Saturday. Understatement of the year, I know. The fact is they were killed with poor field position in the first half, and as we learned in the days after the game, Idaho had been prepping to beat the Mountaineers in every single practice since the end of last season. It’s not easy being the top dog . Everyone is trying to beat you, especially the likes of Idaho and New Mexico State, who’ll likely never ever get that chance again. The individual performances were not fantastic against Idaho, but luckily Ike Lewis saved the day. His one headed catch of a Taylor “Not Tyler” Lamb pass was beautifully secured and Lewis did the rest. That’s always been the issue with Ike, makes the routine plays look difficult, and the tough plays look easy. But, when he gets a hold of it, he can be electric. He has suddenly become App’s lone home run play guy, as Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams’ yards per catch have dipped under ten this past weekend. 

          As if App was not already dealing with enough injuries on offense, they were dealt a huge blow with news that broke late Wednesday. Terrence Upshaw suffered an injury that will require surgery, and will end his season and his career at Appalachian. At times, Upshaw appeared to be the better runner in certain situations and his loss will certainly be felt. How his role is filled will be interesting to discover on Saturday. Back to the game at hand. It’s painfully obvious, App needs to find a way to start the game better. At this point, it has not hurt the Mountaineers yet, but its inevitable that it will at some point. The Mountaineers have been a much stronger second half team, mostly out of necessity. The game that was most interesting to me that was a good comparison as to how this game will be decided was when Coastal hosted Georgia State. The Panthers opened the game with a kickoff return touchdown, and cruised to a 21-7 first half lead. However, the Chants clawed back before falling 27-21. Georgia State has a decent defense, but their offense can be lacking at times. Sound familiar? A lot of folks think that Coastal might be one of the worst teams in the FBS. But at the same time, they have not looked terrible all the time. I wouldnt be surprised by any result this weekend, and I’ll side with what is most likely to occur. Apps win, but covering that big spread will be tough. 

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 20

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football @ Idaho

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

Saturday, October 14th, 2017 5pm 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

Kibbie Dome

Surface: RealGrass Pro

Capacity: 16,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 68.09

Idaho: 54.68

Home: 1.97

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

Sportsbook: App State -13

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 37, Idaho 19, October 22nd, 2016

        I’m still not quite sure what happened last Saturday. A game that was really sputtering along for three quarters suddenly became a shootout that was going to come down to one play made or not made by either side. Fortunately, Eric Boggs lays out to trip up a New Mexico State receiver on fourth down, a review finally favors the Mountaineers, and the ball changes hands and Jalin Moore ices it. There were several times in that fourth quarter that many fans surely had the same feeling in their gut that I did. “Uh, if we aren’t careful, we’re gonna lose this one.” Both teams seemed to be playing for the fourth quarter. New Mexico State went from a quick strike offense, to a ball controlling unit in hopes to wear out the App defense. The Mountaineer offense stubbornly kept forcing the ball to the running backs, in hopes that the big one would finally hit. Eventually they did, as Jalin Moore’s final six carries went for 129 yards, nearly half of his total. Next up is another team exiting the Sun Belt looking for their shot at the defending champ. Even worse, App has beaten these guys three times already, and perhaps, like New Mexico State, we’ll never play these guys again. This is Idaho’s last stand in big boy football and they’ll be looking to sack one last big time opponent before their days are numbered in the Sun Belt. 

           Idaho’s season in 2016 could not have been scripted any better, outside of the inevitable sendoff from the Sun Belt, the Vandals finished the regular season at 8-4 and went on to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl over Colorado State 61-50 in a non-overtime game. Things haven’t been as smooth in 2017, as the Vandals beat Sacramento State 28-6, but then fell to UNLV, who lost to Howard, and Western Michigan. After a double-overtime win over now 1-4 South Alabama, Idaho got two weeks to prepare for a Louisiana team that was giving up the most points in the FBS. Idaho managed just a touchdown and three field goals and fell to the Cajuns, a team they had beaten a year ago. Idaho is now floundering with a 2-3 record, and the path to six wins looks daunting. The Vandals still have to play App, and have road games at Mizzou, Troy and New Mexico State.

         Matt Linehan has been the Idaho starting quarterback essentially since he stepped on campus. He’s been above average overall, but has not had the surrounding talent he deserves. This season is no different. Linehan has basically one receiver that over half his attempts go to and that’s Jacob Sannon. Linehan is up to 1075 passing yards on the season, which is well off pace for his previous three seasons. He’s averaging 215 yards a game in 2017, and his next lowest total was his freshman season, when he averaged 230 yards per game. His high water mark was when he threw for 273 yards in the win over South Alabama. He’ll have a shot to get to 10,000 career passing yards this weekend. In three games against the Mountaineers, Linehan has completed 61% of his passes for 745 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. 

          Back to Jacob Sannon, his 33 catches leads the team by a good bit. His next closest competition is Alfonso Onunwor who has 17 catches. Sannon is a senior who is finally getting his chance to shine. Eventually, his final season in Moscow will be his most productive, as he has already achieved career marks in yards and receptions. Aaron Duckworth has also been around awhile for the Vandals. Also a senior, Duckworth is averaging six yards per carry on the ground and leads the team with 439 rushing yards. He’ll have an outside chance at rushing for 1,000 yards this year. 

          Hey, look, that Mountaineer running attack got its groove back a bit. The offensive line paved the way for 350 yards on the ground on just thirty-eight attempts. What it came down to was continuing to work on big plays. Of those thirty-eight attempts, nearly a third of them, thirteen to be exact, went for 10 yards or more. Moore had seven such runs, Taylor Lamb three, and Terrance Upshaw three. Seven of Moore’s carries went for ten or more yards and accounted for 212 of his 241 yard total. It might not have been pretty the entire game, but when the stars aligned, they did in a big way. I’d expect to see more of the same this weekend against the 91st ranked run defense in football. 

          Nobody could have said they had seen an App State football team successfully secure six interceptions in one game prior to last weekend. Unfortunately, the Apps needed every last one of those interceptions to win the game. That doesn’t happen often. The so-called “double hat trick” or “Six-Pick” game comes at a perfect time. Idaho, which likes to the throw the ball more than most in the Sun Belt, is reminded this week on film what can happen when you mess with the Legion of Boone. Last year, Clifton Duck snagged a pair of interceptions off of Linehan. Josh Thomas corralled the other. And now enter Tae Hayes, who was one acrobatic play away from an unheard of four interceptions last Saturday. Combine that with a Idaho passing that game looks a little off at the moment. Certainly they could get it together this weekend, but it doesn’t look promising. Idaho has struggled to score this season like they did in 2016, where they hit the 30 point mark on seven occasions. This season the Vandals have scored 16 points twice, 28 points twice, and needed nine overtime points in Mobile to get to 29 points in that win. In this series, App has won by margins of 17, 18 and 27 points. If anything, App has proven in it’s two Sun Belt wins that a lot can change in a years time, and that everything is earned on the football field. But, Idaho has not shown much of doing anything exceptionally well this season. They are a true middle of the road team in 2017, and I think Appalachian has more than enough firepower on both sides of the ball to win this one. 

The First Pick

Starches 18

Mountaineers 33

Appalachian Football vs New Mexico State

Appalachian State (2-2, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs New Mexico State (2-3, 0-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 7th, 2017 3:30pm 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: 67.40

New Mexico State: 58.11

Home: 1.94

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 37, New Mexico State 7, November 26th, 2016

          The last two weeks, have felt like years. Bye weeks can be like that, forget what happened in the previous game. Forget that the last opponent was a long lost rival, a game that had been eagerly anticipated, and ended with an unfortunate thud. I’ll never look at the number 19 the same ever again. The 19th amendment of the US Constitution gave women the right to vote, but I’ll be thinking about Wake Forest. Adele’s debut album was titled “19”, but I’ll be thinking about untimely penalties against Wake Forest. The atomic number of Potassium is 19, which has the oddest symbol of the periodic table; the letter “K”. In that football game we all love, the letter K stands for kicker, and of course the kicks we didn’t convert against Wake Forest. So the next time you eat a banana, you’ll think about Wake Forest. Try and forget that for the time being, and lets turn our focus to an improved New Mexico State team that looks to make a statement on their way out of the Sun Belt. Their sites are set on a bowl game, and they have an offense that can make that happen, especially in a down year for the Sun Belt. It’s rare that Appalachian loses a Homecoming game, but the Aggies are just the kind of team that can make it interesting. 

          Even though New Mexico State sits below .500 on the season, their losses are extremely respectable. Arizona State & Troy were lucky enough to get by in one possession games, and Arkansas got up early and held serve for the remainder of the game last weekend. The wins the Aggies have under their belt are against New Mexico and UTEP. Two teams that mean so much from a rivalry perspective, that wins over those schools were included in Doug Martin’s new contract that didn’t increase his salary but was very incentive laden. A victory over either school gives Martin a $5,000 bonus. He’ll also receive an additional $20,000 bonus for six wins or a bowl invite. 

          New Mexico State was trending up last year. Remember, the Mountaineers and Aggies teed it up in one of the final games of the 2016 season. New Mexico State beat Louisiana last year, and should have beaten Georgia Southern. They played South Alabama within a touchdown on the road in their final game. This improvement was in the works last season. Now they had their blowout games, but that hasn’t been the case this year. They lost to Arkansas by 18 points. In 2016, they had six such losses of 18 points or more.  

          The Aggies employ a typical three headed monster on offense, a tall pocket passer behind center, a very experienced running back and big target to throw to down the field. Tyler Rogers missed the App game last year due to a injury in practice the week of the game. Rogers is in the top ten in the country in several passing categories. Not in the Sun Belt, in the country. This is a team that likes to toss the ball around the yard. Rogers trails only UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph in passing yards. He’s fifth nationwide with 15 touchdown passes. His favorite target, Jaleel Scott has 543 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Scott can catch the ball all over the field and has sure hands. His lanky frame doesn’t have blazing speed, but his wide catch radius makes it easy on Rogers to find him. Larry Rose III ranks in the top ten for active FBS running backs in his career. Despite averaging just over four yards a carry, Rose III also an impact with his receiving skills, as he has snagged twenty-two passes this season. As Rose III goes, so do the Aggies. He has 38 carries for 243 yards in two Aggie wins, and just 33 carries for 154 yards in their losses.  

        Appalachian took the lead away from Wake Forest on three different occasions the last time out. They had nine more first downs, nearly two hundred more yards passing, and still outpossesed the Deacons by nearly eleven and a half minutes. It was a game that featured fewer than forty points, but only four punts, and zero turnovers. Taylor Lamb had a big day, with 372 passing yards, spread out among eight different receivers, all catching at least two passes. The Mountaineer running game is still a work in progress, but Terrance Upshaw worked hard for 86 yards whole Jalin Moore struggled and was clearly not 100% healthy. 

          A lot of the talk leading up this game has centered around the New Mexico State offense, and how much better they are. A good offense can help a defense improve just by default really. More time to rest and adjust, and you can pay defense a lot looser with the lead. While Appalachian was resting last weekend, preparing for the Aggies, the New Mexico State defense spent 41 minutes on the field defending the Razorbacks. Arkansas churned out a balanced 494 yards of total offense. At halftime of that game, Coach Doug Martin was interviewed, and mentioned that he was surprised how much Arkansas threw the ball. Immediately, all I could think about was him perhaps saying the exact same thing the following week. Out of necessity, the Mountaineers have been putting the ball up in the air more often. Now, that New Mexico State defense doesn’t really do anything exceptionally well. They are ranked in the mid-80’s in total defense, which is below average, and that team has a lot of travel miles on them between games. They have forced a few turnovers, but most of those came in their blowout of UTEP where they snatched five interceptions. UTEP started 0-5 this season and their coach just resigned. To quickly summarize, that is where this game is going to be won and lost. I have no doubt that New Mexico State might get a bunch of yards, but they have to be able to finish. App State has one of the best red-zone defenses in the country, allowing just five touchdowns in twelve attempts on the young season. The Aggies will have some drives, but App has also done well in forcing three and outs all season. The Apps must cut off those drives quickly and keep the New Mexico State offense off the field. 

The First Pick

Toy Guns 21

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs Wake Forest

Appalachian State (2-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs Wake Forest (3-0, 1-0 ACC)

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017 3:30pm 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: 67.25

Wake Forest: 76.81

Home: 2.41

Wake Forest is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Wake -4

Series: Wake Forest leads 14-7-1

Last meeting: Wake Forest 20, App State 10, September 8th, 2001

Ya’ll, it has been a long time coming for this one. Think about all the events and memories that have been made in your life since the last time Appalachian and Wake Forest met on the gridiron. If you had a child born in 2001, they are getting their drivers license this year. Dale Earnhardt’s death was still fresh on many Carolinian minds and the World Trade Center was still standing. A lot has changed, but the hunger for these two schools to play football hasn’t diminished. Eighty-eight miles of US 421, partially named by famous stock car drivers on some stretches, is all that separates these two schools. Unfortunately, college football started becoming less about the game on the field and more about padding the back pockets of those who keep watch over athletics. Appalachian and Wake could have easily scheduled a win, or gone on the road to get a paycheck and keep the budgets in the black. Thankfully, these two schools have remembered what is important about one of the experiences of college football. Packed stadiums, plenty of atmosphere and a competitive spirit inside and outside the lines. Conference footprints have expanded so that the parishioners at service on Sunday do not recognize the schools opponents. Its hard to explain how much this just feels right. Appalachian and Wake Forest belong in the same breath. Even with scholarship discrepancies in the past, these two schools were neck and neck on the field more than enough times. Neither side wants to lose and both expecting a win. I’m not sure college football gets any better than that. 

In 2001, the Deacons went 6-5, but did not get a bowl invitation. Since then they have had five winning seasons, and played in six bowl games. The 2011 was the oddball, finishing 6-7 after a bowl loss to Mississippi State. Most notably, the Deacons were ACC champions and played in the Orange Bowl in 2007, but fell to the eventual conference mate Louisville. Last season was the first winning season for Wake since 2008, getting a win in the Military Bowl and finishing 7-6. As has been the luck for Appalachian’s out of conference opponents, Wake has jumped out of the gates hot with three wins in rather dominating fashion to start the 2017 campaign. 

In those three games, Wake has benefited from a stronger than usual defense, and an offense that has put a lot of points on the board. Wake has sixteen touchdowns and they have all been scored by the offense except one, a thirty yard interception return vs. Utah State. The Deacons have been balanced, with seven rushing touchdowns, and eight passing touchdowns. Senior quarterback John Wolford has contributed nine of those scores, three with his legs and six with his arm. Wolford has been surprising, but more importantly he has played smart, not throwing an interception. In fact, the Deacons have just one turnover on the season, an interception thrown by their third string quarterback. 

Greg Dortch is one guy the Moutaineers must know where he is on the field at all times. Dortch has four touchdowns, leads the team in receptions and yards, and also returns kickoffs and punts. He has the abilty to burn you with his speed as he did vs Utah State on a catch and run or go up and make an acrobatic play in the end zone and get a foot down for a score, like he did at Boston College. The Demon Deacons have this kid for three more seasons, so this won’t be the last time Appalachian has to worry about him, as he’ll be a senior when the Mountaineers return to Winston-Salem in the 2020 season. 

Wake Forest takes a committee/all hands on deck approach to their running game. Four players have at least 26 carries on the season, including Wolford. Cade Carney and Matt Colburn will not burn you, but they move the pile and are tough to tackle. Arkeem Byrd fits the bill as a more traditional back at 6-1, 190 pounds. Byrd is also a redshirt freshman and will be around for awhile. Appalachian’s coaches will be familiar with him as they recruited and offered Byrd early in the 2015 recruiting process. 

We’ve got to the point where we have to mention last week’s game. The Apps played about thirty minutes on Saturday in San Marcos, but gutted out a conference win. It was one on the lowest offensive outputs in terms of yardage in a win in a very long time. What is worse, is that several players felt the effects of the physical game well into the early week. Those day-to-day injuries typically heal enough once Saturday comes around, but it is something to keep an eye on. If anyone had a good performance, it was Terrance Upshaw. Most of his work came in the fourth quarter, and he scored the go-ahead touchdown. Upshaw didn’t lose a yard on any of his fourteen carries, which went for sixty yards and a touchdown. Upshaw now leads the team with 163 yards on the season. Taylor Lamb follows with 117 yards and Jalin Moore has 109 yards. 

Another solid performance was turned in by the App State defense. They gave up one score over the top, but kept Texas State in check for the remainder of the game. They gave up a few yards, but didn’t allow a red zone touchdown. Anthony Flory was named the conference defensive player of the week with his nine tackles and two sacks. The Mountaineers repeatedly assualted Damian Williams, but that sucker just kept getting up. 

Last week, I was all types of wrong in the closing paragraph. It could not have been worse. The bigggest miss in a long time. Something about last week was not right. Not sure what it was, but found myself pacing in the hours before kickoff. The nerves were obviously warranted. A lot of comparisons have been made to Miami from a year ago, leading into this game with Wake Forest. I cant buy them. This week will be different because it has to be. We have been warned. We have been through this “host a P5 program” at Kidd Brewer before. The Mountaineers probably played the worst game of the season last weekend. It has to get better and maybe it was a perfect time for a wake up call. I’m confident in saying that Kidd Brewer will be a much different place to play for Wake than it was when they visited Chestnut Hill in Massachusetts. The Deacons will likely be playing their best opponent of the young season as well. No offense to Presbyterian, Boston College, and Utah State. They arent exactly football hotbeds. They dont have the athletes that App has. Besides Wake limiting the opposing quarterbacks they have played, those signal callers they have faced have been pretty bad against everyone. Presbyterian QB Ben Cheek completed 2/9 passes for 41 yards vs. the Deacs. This season Cheek has still completed just 33% of his throws for 204 yards in three games, and he is their starter. Same story for Boston College. They played two guys behind center against Wake. They were a combined 18/41 for just 163 yards, which is under four yards per attempt. On the season, the primary BC starter is under 5 yards per attempt. That’s simply not good. Utah State: same stuff, different day. Their two QB’s combined for a 15/37 day last weekend, or a 40% completion rate. Their yards per attempt was higher than BC, right around 6 yards per, but that was buoyed by a 77 yard passing touchdown. Take that out, and guess what, exactly four yards per attempt. I don’t think Wake has played a competent QB yet and I think App’s defense has too much pride and talent to roll over and let anyone drop forty points on them like Wake has done to their opponents this season. It’s going to be a hard fought game, but in the end, this Saturday is for Appalachian. 

The First Pick

Top Hats 22

Mountaineers 27

Appalachian Football @ Texas State

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Texas State (1-1, 0-0 SBC)

Saturday, September 16th, 2017 7pm est
TV/Video: ESPN3
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN
Jim Wacker Field at Bobcat Stadium
Surface: Fieldturf Duraspine Pro
Capacity: 30,000
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 68.77
Texas State: 46.29
Home: 2.41
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -23
Series: App State leads 2-0
Last meeting: App State 35, Texas State 10, November 5th, 2016
         College football’s preseason is over and its time to for the real games to start. The games that determine a conference champion and defines where your team plays in the postseason if they deserve it. For the first time in Appalachian’s history, they will play a football game in the state of Texas. It was not long ago, the Mountaineers had not won a game east of the Mississippi River, but it’s inclusion in the Sun Belt has allowed for wins in Idaho, New Mexico and Louisiana. Hopefully that trend continues for the Mountaineers in conference play. Texas State is on an upswing, but its been a slow process for Appalachian alum Everett Withers. They’ve installed an offense and defense that resembles what the Mountaineers are currently running. The talent is not completely there, but similarly to what Appalachian faced a few years ago, they are playing younger players who just lack experience. Eventually they’ll catch up, but it will take a lot of work to learn how to win, especially for a program whose last winning season was in 2014. That season did not result in bowl berth for the Bobcats, and the bottom fell out in the last two seasons, winning only five games in that span. Appalachian looks to stay the course and keep piling up wins in Sun Belt play as the season wears on. Before 2017 concludes, the Bobcats will likely trip someone up, just not this weekend. 

         Texas State started off the season with a win over Houston Baptist, an FCS school in the Southland Conference, which includes the likes of McNeese State, Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas. That game was a little closer than it should have been, as the Bobcats edged out the Huskies by nine points. Houston Baptist had a Sagarin rating in the twenties, and Texas State should have won more comfortably. Colorado disposed of Texas State with ease last weekend. The Buffaloes were 36 points favorites, but failed to cover in a 37-3 final. Texas State only trailed 14-0 at halftime before Colorado got serious and put them away with seventeen third quarter points. 

         In both games, Texas State managed to eclipse the 150 yard rushing mark. They ran the ball 41 times vs Houston Baptist and 47 times versus Colorado. Last year, the Bobcats couldn’t run the ball if they wanted to. App held them to 14 rushing yards on 28 carries. This sudden improvement is noticeable. Where Texas State continues to struggle is passing the ball. With only 262 yards in the air in two games, to go along with two interceptions thrown and zero touchdown passses, the Bobcats are still a work in progress on the offensive side of the ball. 

            Damian Williams is one of the Bobcat quaterbacks, transferring in from Mississippi State as a graduate. He appeared in six games in both 2013 and 2014, redshirted in 2015, and played in five contests in 2016. Williams is dual-threat quarterback who is fourth on the team with 47 rushing yards and is the only quarterback to throw in both contests this season. Freshman Willie Jones III, has also played in both contests, but stuck to running the ball vs Houston Baptist. Jones completed both his passes vs Colorado, but was also sacked twice. 

           The Bobcat running backs are a mixed bag. A quick look shows three backs are getting the majority of the carries. Anthony Taylor has 85 yards on sixteen carries, with a long of 55. Take out that long run, and you have fifteen carries for thirty yards, or two yards a carry. It’s the same story for Anthony Smith, 82 yards on 12 carries, with a long of 48. Take out the max, and you have eleven carries for 34 yards, which equates to just over three per carry. Robert Brown Jr does it a little differently, with the most carries among running backs with 22 for 73 yards. His ten yard long does not affect his average of 3.3 yards per tote.                            

            Taylor Lamb nearly had a perfect game in the air (12/15 327 yards, 5 TD’s). Sometimes you don’t complete 80% of your passes in practice. Just to put this performance in perspective, Lamb threw a touchdown pass for every three attempts he dropped back, and every 2.4 attempts he completed a pass. The five touchdown passes were a career high, eclipsing games versus Texas State (oh!) in 2016, Old Dominion and Arkansas State in 2015 in which he threw for four touchdowns in each game. It was only his fourth 300-yard passing game of his career, but we know he is as equally dangerous on the ground. However, Lamb was quiet on the ground, likely by design, with only 9 yards vs Savannah State. Lamb had averaged 71 yards per game on the ground over the last seven games. Last week also gave Lamb 18 straight games with at least 100 yards passing. The game propelled Lamb over 7500 yards passing in his Appalachian career.

         The Mountaineer defense was incredibly impressive. Savannah State managed just 114 total yards and only converted one of its thirteen third down attempts. The Tigers ran fifty-one plays and gained roughly 2.2 yards per play, while earning just six first downs. Twenty-nine Mountaineers assisted on a tackle over the course of the game and three sacks were recorded by four relatively unknown Mountaineers. Caleb Spurlin and Demetrius Taylor each had one, while Cameron Pack & Josh Houser combined for another.

        Moving the ball on a stout Mountaineer defense will be the biggest challenge for Texas State on Saturday. The commitment to the run for Texas State is admirable, but faces a hungry front seven from Appalachian. Outside of a couple long runs given up at Georgia, the Mountaineers have been extremely steady in the early going. The Apps have held its first two opponents to a combined 3.9 yards per rush, and are likely better than that this weekend. Getting Texas State in a long yardage situation on third down seems like a good strategy for a team that struggles to throw downfield and has converted just six of its twenty-nine third downs on the young season. Coach Withers mentioned earlier this week that he wants to makes teams one dimensional as a defefensive strategy, so their focus will be on trying to stop the Mountaineer running game, and forcing Taylor Lamb to throw the ball. If I were coach, I would be careful trying to sneak up a safety in run support. Lamb showed last week what happens when you get overzealous and give him an open throwing lane or a free running tight end. Lamb finished and did so in quick order. Just when you expect both tight ends to stay in and block, one of them releases and the coverage doesn’t have time to rotate. The wishing well at the San Marcos Outlets might be full of Coach Withers maroon pennies this week if he thinks he can slow down a team that ripped his group for 303 ground yards and four passing touchdowns a season ago. 


The First Pick

Kitties 14

Mountaineers 35