anyplace Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Middle Tennessee (8-5, 7-1 C-USA)
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Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 75.67
Middle Tennessee: 65.73
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -7
Series: Middle Tennessee leads 2-1
Last meeting: Middle Tennessee 35, Appalachian 10, November 28, 1992, Murfreesboro, TN
WxCrum Forecast: n/a
There is no reason to pretend like we have all been here before. Change is inevitable. What makes you a man is how you react to it. Due to the unchartered territory of success that App State football has experienced for the last several years, it steered them into other unknown waters. No matter what happens over the course of the next couple days, the Mountaineers will be led by a interim coach on Saturday, one who could very well be coaching his last game in the black and gold. A lot of things remain up in the air, and because of that, the focus of the remaining coaches and players is at a premium. For one last game week, travel day, and gameday, a group may convene for the final time together in their lives. Some might get new jobs, may retire, graduate or transfer. But one thing is for certain, they have an opportunity in front of them to prove the world wrong. Although they may be favored to win, a lot of experts will look at them like underdogs. Over the years of App State football, the experts have been critiquing this program over and over: “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never make it”, “You are making a mistake”. Every single time, this program has answered the bell, and proved all the doubters wrong. The never quit, never die attitude of App State football is ingrained in everyone who has come through the High Country, and it’s not stopping now.
Middle Tennessee and App State have plenty in common. Both formerly of Division I-AA, the Blue Raiders and Mountaineers met twice in the playoffs, both meetings occurring in Murfreesboro, TN. The Blue Raiders won both of those games. Middle’s first year in FBS was 1999 and they spent fourteen seasons in the Sun Belt, winning the conference championship twice. In fact, the 2006 title was the last conference championship for Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders won Conference USA’s east division this year, but fell in the championship game to Alabama-Birmingham. Over the years, the Blue Raiders have faced many Sun Belt teams, beyond their involvement with the conference. Among those, Louisiana, Arkansas State, Troy, Georgia Southern, and plenty others. Despite the limited history between App and Middle, both schools have played a bunch of the same programs over time.
The Middle offense starts and ends with their quarterback Brent Stockstill who might go down as the best in program history. Stockstill is the son of head coach Rick, and has been a consistent player as a four year starter, take away a few games he lost to injury during his junior season. Stockstill is going to throw the ball anywhere from thirty to forty times in a game, and he is going to be on target. He has been sub-60% completing passes just once this season. Stockstill was injured in the Florida International game, and only threw seven times for twenty-eight yards. That was one of the five losses for Middle. In the other four losses, Stockstill threw at least one interception. Now, three of those fives losses were to SEC teams. The other two, Stockstill either didn’t play the whole game (FIU), or threw multiple interceptions (UAB).
The Middle wide receivers are dangerous. The offensive staff does a good job getting players open with their creativity, which allows for the receivers to work well with the ball in their hands. Ty Lee is the leading receiver with 67 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught a pass in every game this season, and went over 100 yards twice, and all his touchdowns have come in the last seven games. Lee has 26 catches in his last four games, including 366 yards. Patrick Smith is a senior who is the second leading receiver, with 54 catches for 526 yards and six touchdowns. His lines are very up and down. Smith can have a one or two catch day, or he can catch eight or nine passes in a game. It doesn’t matter who they play, Smith can be active in losses or inactive in wins.
The last time we saw the Mountaineers, some were wet, others perhaps covered in confetti, but all of us, were celebrating winning the first ever conference championship game in Sun Belt history. The second win of the season over Louisiana was a bit of a mudbath, you know had the field been made of actual grass. Neither team eclipsed a hundred yards passing, and both team rushed for 200 yards. There were eighty-eight running plays and thirty-five passes. The difference was App State turning over Louisiana twice, both on interceptions. Darrynton Evans ran for 111 yards, and added a 97-yard kickoff return on the Mountaineers opening possession. The Mountaineer defense turned in their tenth game of the season allowing fewer than twenty points, and gave up just one touchdown and four field goals.
Bowl games are so much fun. Schools get an extra game to play against teams they do not typically get a chance to schedule during the regular season. App State and Middle are separated by just 340 miles. More games against peer schools should be scheduled, but it’s not that easy. Brent Stockstill is their Taylor Lamb, breaking tons of school records, including 300-yard pass games, completions, and touchdown passes. He seems to play well if he is on the field. He does not throw a lot of interceptions and scores points when they have the ball. If there one negative trait of the Middle offense, it’s that they do not score touchdowns enough in the red zone, at just a 57% clip. They have made up for it with sixteen made field goals in the red zone, which ups their total red zone conversion rate to 87.8%, which is good enough for 36th in the country. But, we all know about the App State defense. Despite allowing 81.8% of red zone possessions to end in a score, they are giving up just 2.25 red zones possessions a game. The touchdown conversion rate is just 48%. Appalachian will be just happy allowing the Blue Raiders to kick field goals all game long. Another key factor in postseason football is third down conversion rate. Middle is just 80th in the country converting third downs at a 37.8% clip, while App defends the third down at a 31.2% clip, which is tenth nationally. Couple that with App giving up only 3.58 yards per rush, and Middle coming in with the 104th ranked rushing offense. It appears that if App can continue what they have been doing all year long, being stout against the run, and forcing long yardage on third downs, it should be plenty to keep Middle out of the end zone in the French Quarter.
The First Pick