Appalachian Football vs Campbell

Appalachian State (1-1) vs Campbell (0-2)

Saturday, September 26th, 2020 12:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 24,050

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.61

Marshall: 36.08

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 38.85 points

Line: App State -35.5

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last Meeting: App State 66, Campbell 0, Boone, NC September 6, 2014

One cannot help but think about a lyric in a song that was written some time ago that may remedy some mourning over a football game outcome. “Every dog has its day, and every day has its way…of being forgotten.” This is not your typical start to this group of words on this corner of the web, but this creator needs to put it down. For every first, there is a worst, you just don’t know when to expect it. The Mountaineers scored their fewest points in a game in the FBS era last weekend. In a game played against an old rival, the battle resembled one that could have occurred 30 years ago. But once again, that is the past, and moving forward is imperative. Plenty of goals are still in reach, and there is plenty to play for. The next opponent is perceived to have lesser talent, but they have shown a ton of improvement and have brought the fight to each foe despite coming up short. The Mountaineers do need to put last Saturday’s performance behind, yet at the same time, learn from what left that bad taste lingering.

The next opponent is Campbell, an up and coming Big South squad that is allowed to play four non-conference opponents this fall. Whether or not a conference slate is played in the spring is yet to be seen. Regardless, the Camels have been a nuisance to Sun Belt opponents. Campbell really should have beaten Georgia Southern after taking at 13-6 lead into halftime and extending it to 20-6 just moments into the third quarter. However, the shorthanded and contact-traced Eagles stormed back with three straight scores to take a 27-20 late in the game. Campbell scored a touchdown with just fifteen seconds remaining and their failed two point conversion resulted in a 27-26 loss. Last Friday night, Campbell visited Coastal Carolina before a national audience on ESPN, and the short week may have worn them out. Coastal showed a balanced offense with an efficient passing game and were hardly tested. Campbell did close the game to two scores early in the fourth quarter, but the Chanticleers put any upset bids to rest by scoring on their next two possessions.

Former Carolina Panther fan favorite Mike Minter remains as head coach for the Camels. Minter is in his eighth year and has a 36-44 record. After going 3-9 in his first year, Minter has backed that up with five win seasons from 2014-2016 and six win seasons in each of the last three campaigns. In 2018, Campbell moved from the Pioneer League to the Big South and maintained their record. It seems Minter has what it takes and could be in line for another job if his heart so desires. These opportunities for the schools that are playing college football while others are not sure puts the spotlight on G5 and FCS teams that normally are relegated to being streamed. Every game that Campbell has played, or are scheduled to play, is on the road in 2020. At this point, it is unlikely that they are road-weary, but they are operating with fewer scholarships, and have been outscored in both games in the second half, by a 43-25 combined total.

The heart of the Campbell offense lies in the hands of Hajj-Malik Williams, their quarterback and leading rusher. Williams has 374 yards passing on the season, completing 56% of his attempts with 2 touchdown passes and one interception. His 178 yards gained rushing excludes the 43 yards he has lost on the ground, which comes to a sum of 135 yards net. Behind Williams is CJ Freeman with 120 yards across two games on 6.0 yards per carry. Bryant Barr has 83 yards on the ground to go along with two touchdowns. However, it is mainly the Hajj-Malik show. He was sharper against Southern than Coastal, where he was sacked five times to go with his twenty-five drop backs. Getting sacked one out of every six drop backs is not ideal. Tight end Julian Hill has caught five passes for 89 yards while Jalen Kelsey has snagged a team leading nine receptions for 98 yards.

Losing is one thing. Losing and scoring seven points is another. Although the Marshall game was not decided until late in the second half, there were some signs that it was over much earlier. Shockingly, App State just could not get the running game going, and there was another day of split carries between the backs. Perhaps in a tough game like the last one, it would be beneficial for one back to get the ball more often, but the late scratch of Marcus Williams Jr may have sent the coaches scrambling. Either way, there were not many open spaces to run to or through. Defensively the Mountaineers were kept in the game by the efforts of Trey Cobb who contributed on fourteen tackles. Kaiden Smith added ten tackles and D’marco Jackson added eight. As a unit, the Mountaineers broke up eight passes, which leads the country in that category, along with allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 40% of their passes.

Predicting a game with such a large spread can sometimes be quite easy, and other times it can be difficult. Campbell is not a true replacement for Morgan State. It might appear that way on paper, but it really is not the case. It’s quite possible that Hajj-Malik Williams is the best quarterback App State will play to date. Williams is a decent passer, but App State has deployed one of the best defensive backfields in the country in the seasons first two weeks. Similar to last weekend, App State will face a an offensive line with some experience and looks the part. One would think that Campbell would try and shorten this game and really try to lean on the Mountaineers defense. That serves multiple purposes, as in staying away from a secondary that has been super stingy and trying to copy a strategy of the Mountaineers previous opponents. Campbell may decide to take its chances on third down and limit mistakes. Whatever happens when Campbell has the ball, the App State offense needs to sharpen their craft and really focus on the little things that make them successful. The distractions have surely been plentiful and the weekly ins and outs of being tested and not having a normal college experience are depressing, but we are all going through it in some way or fashion. The Mountaineers will get one more game in an empty stadium, hopefully, before some spectators are allowed back to Kidd Brewer. In the mean time, the home team wins this one, but not as convincingly as they would probably like.

The First Pick

Humps 17

Mountaineers 41

#23 Appalachian Football @ Marshall

Appalachian State (1-0) @ Marshall (1-0)

Saturday, September 19th, 2020 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: CBS

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Joan C. Edwards Stadium

Capacity: 38,277

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.47

Marshall: 68.60

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.55 points

Line: App State -4.5

Series: App State leads 14-8

Last Meeting: Marshall 50, App State 17, Huntington, WV August 31, 2002

WxCrum Forecast:  Sunshine and lower 70’s

After months of preparation and anticipation, we all finally got to watch our favorite team on the gridiron. Most importantly, it was an escape from reality even if the situation did not feel exactly normal. And although it was not a perfectly played game, the result was and that afternoon was good enough. Now the focus shifts from a new rival to an old one. Nearly two decades have passed since the last time these former SoCon rivals have played. Since then, there have been twelve conference championships won between the two schools, eleven of those by App State. The schools have combined for fifteen bowl games in the same amount of time, with thirteen wins. If there is one thing these two schools and fan bases value, its winning. Anything less is intolerable. Marshall is coached by a man who has spent all but seven years of his life in the state of West Virginia. Likewise, App State is also coached by man who hails from the Mountain State, who gets a chance to coach his alma mater in front of family and friends and against his own college rival. With so many story lines heading into this matchup, you almost forget, there is a game to be played and viewed by millions of households. That’s right, even if your television still has a dial, or your home an outhouse, you can watch this game on CBS. Never has their been a better time for the Appalachian brand to be shown to a national audience.

Last weekend, Marshall was off, having a game previously scheduled with East Carolina postponed. So after stampeding Eastern Kentucky by the score of 59-0, the Herd got to rest and watch App State and Charlotte. Marshall is scheduled to host Charlotte in November, but likely had their eyes more focused on the Mountaineers. Marshall is 3-2 all time against Charlotte, but lost to the Niners in 2019. The Herd may have a pretty good bead on the Mountaineers considering all the similar opponents App State and Marshall have played over the years. In fact, this will be the Mountaineers third straight Conference USA opponent dating back to the New Orleans Bowl. The last time App State lost to a Conference USA opponent was in 2014 by one point to Southern Miss. The Mountaineers are 26-13 all time against current CUSA members. Eight of those losses were to Marshall.

App State fans like to crow about having the most successful Division I transition in history. Not many programs can argue with that reasoning. Except Marshall. Since moving up to FBS in 1997, Marshall is 12-3 in bowl games. Marshall also won five MAC championships in their first six seasons in the conference, but can only lay claim to one CUSA title since their last MAC title in 2002. Interesting enough, that was the last time App State and Marshall played. After the major transition success under Coach Bob Pruett, who won a school record 94 games from 1996-2004, Marshall missed on a hire in Mark Snyder. The Herd won just 22 games under Snyder, with never more than six wins in a season. Snyder resigned before the 2009 Little Caesars Bowl where they defeated rival Ohio. That brings us to present day Marshall coach Doc Holliday, who is in his eleventh year at Marshall, sporting a 78-50 record. Holliday is 6-1 in bowl games, his first blemish coming in 2019 to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl.

The Herd was absolutely dominant in their opening game. Quarterback Grant Wells is all the rage as he threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns in his debut on just twenty-three attempts. His backup Luke Zban was also 6/6 for 38 yards and one touchdown. Together they completed twenty-two passes to thirteen receivers. Marshall knew going in they could get a lot of players some game action. Eastern Kentucky was simply no match. In all, eight players had rushing attempts, most notably, Brenden Knox, the 2019 CUSA Player of the Year. Knox carried 18 times for 85 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Kentucky. Last year he had 1,387 yards and eleven touchdowns. Charlotte was one of five teams in 2019 that held Knox under 100 yards. In 2018, Knox saw his first significant game action of his freshman season against Charlotte and carried for 116 yards. The point, Charlotte doesn’t like to get beat by the running game, and Marshall has one. Besides Knox, Knowledge McDaniel ran 14 times for 93 yards. Grant Wells also added 44 yards on the ground.

It might have been sloppy at times, but the Mountaineers got it done last Saturday in convincing fashion over an undermanned opponent. Outside a couple correctable mistakes that led to Charlotte points, it was a really solid performance considering circumstances that were outside of anyone’s control. Zac Thomas was easily the most consistent offensive threat on the field for App State. Thomas completed two thirds of passes for just a little over two-hundred yards and averaged 9.7 yards per attempt. His interception was the product of a fourth down attempt deep in the opponents territory, which was inconsequential. Thomas was also steady on the ground, rushing for thirty-two yards, keeping the Niners guessing after chasing down the three-headed running back rotation. Marcus Williams Jr, Camerun Peoples and Daetrich Harrington accounted for 279 yards rushing on 42 combined attempts, which comes to 6.6 yard per carry average. The Mountaineers will take day in and day out.

Each week during an opposing coaches teleconference with media, questions are asked about what happened in the previous game, and what to expect in the upcoming game. It’s a familiar script. Doc Holliday was asked a lot of questions about Appy, …. errr….. App State. At one point he seemed annoyed by all the Mountaineer love by that he tried to change to subject back to his team. That’s the kind of attitude that App State fans can expect this weekend in Huntington, on and off the field. Just twenty-two games old, and eighteen years apart, this is still a historic rivalry. However, just about every single player on the field that will clash on Saturday was yet to attend a kindergarten class the last time these two foes played. It must be difficult for a coach to try and get their student-athletes up for a game where one of the main battle cries is, “This is a big deal to our fans”. That statement means more to some schools than others. This will be Marshall’s second home game of the season, with the previous game having fans in attendance. Appalachian has not had that luxury. Many times over its been said that App State fans feed off their team, and the team in turn feeds off its fans. However many black and gold faithful decide to make the trip to Huntington, it will be a hungry bunch that was robbed of a game day experience last weekend. In a reduced capacity stadium, they should represent well. Maybe having someone behind you will help in this game, which is projected to be a battle, just like most of them have been in the past between these two schools. Something will have to give on Saturday. Marshall put a lot points on the board, and gave up very little against Eastern Kentucky, but the Colonels are not App State. Marshall has a veteran team, but they still have a freshman quarterback, who will have two weeks between games. Business is about to pick up and the Mountaineers will be ready to answer that call.

The First Pick

Blundering Turds 24

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (0-0) vs UNC-Charlotte (0-0)

Saturday, September 12th, 2020 12:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN 2

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 24,050

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.69

UNCC: 50.51

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.5 points

Line: App State -17

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, UNCC 41; September 7, 2019, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Showers from early morning throughout out game. Mid 60’s 

We all know how atypical this season will be. For the majority of the summer we were thinking about Wake Forest and Wisconsin and a team that returns a lot of talent, with promising newcomers that had the potential of turning into a truly special season. And then it all broke loose. The games against Power Five schools are no more. One conference absolutely shut down for the fall, and another protected themselves from the uncertainty and potential embarrassment of a loss. About a month ago, a new slate of non-conference opponents have been lined up, which mixes the old with the new. In a season where local games are encouraged, but not too local, our brethren from Harrisburg will make a second visit to the High Country in as many seasons. The head coaches have appeared to become friends over the summer, have openly stumped to play more games against one another, and passionate debate already exists between each fan base. All the pieces are there for a budding rivalry. Except one thing. Eventually someone else has to win. That could occur this year, in a future bowl game, or it may have to wait another half decade or so. But in the mean time, the teams will play each other this Saturday, without your typical gameday atmosphere. Most of you will be without your regimented routine of a typical Saturday morning or afternoon. We all are going to have to find a different way to do what we love, and if we do truly love it, we will find a way.

Returning in 2020 for Charlotte will be Chris Reynolds, who will start at quarterback for the second straight season. Last year, he set a school record for touchdown passes with 22, which included four scoring passes against App State. Reynolds also set school records with 2,564 passing yards in a season and also a single game mark of 354 yards against UTEP. Luckily for Charlotte he is still just a junior and will be heavily relied upon for the 49ers in the running and passing game. He rushed for 791 yards in 2019, which was good enough for second on the team behind Bennie LeMay, who has graduated. Perhaps the most impressive feat for Reynolds were the three game-winning drives he helped engineer in the final five regular season games that propelled Charlotte to bowl eligibility. However, Reynolds was typically just as good as his offensive line in front of him. He was sacked 17 times last season, with 15 of those coming in losses. App State got to Reynolds four times last year, and Buffalo accumulated five quarterback sacks in the Bahamas Bowl.

Charlotte and Reynolds will depend on their top three returning receivers from 2019 to carry them this year. Victor Tucker led the 49ers in receptions, yards and touchdowns, putting up a 52/909/7 line. Tucker improved his yards per catch in 2018 from 13.2 yards per catch to 17.5 yards per catch in the 2019 season. His 1,621 receiving yards rank 3rd all time in Charlotte history. Second leading receiver Cameron Dollar pulled in 41 catches for 599 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 24-yard reception against App State last year. He started eleven of thirteen games and had a 157-yard performance against UTEP. Tyler Ringwood rounds out the returners, as he snagged 25 passes for 395 yards and five touchdowns last year. He is the biggest of the returners at 6’2 and 217 pounds. Ringwood was the leading receiver in the bowl game with five catches for 64 yards.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Charlotte offense is who will replace Benny LeMay, by far the most accomplished running back in their brief history. Returning is Aaron McAllister, who registered 380 yards on the ground last year. A newcomer might also have the inside track. Tre Harbison III is a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, who tallied back to back 1,000 yard season for the Huskies. Harbison III averaged nearly 93 yards per game on the ground for NIU, who went 5-7 last year. Harbison III started his collegiate career at Virginia before transferring. Officially, Charlotte has listed McAllister as the starter, but the feeling is Harbison will also get plenty of work.

Over the course of this off season, the same questions were asked over and over by many regional media outlets. How do you replace this guy and that guy? The answer is not simple, but it can be. Neither Darrynton Evans nor Akeem Davis-Gaither are walking through that door and onto the field. App State coaches learned how to best use their talents, and they will do the same with those who fill those roles for the first time. We have yet to see Marcus Williams Jr, or Daetrich Harrington or Camerun Peoples in a full-time role. We might not see them that way either. But, if it had to come to it, fans should feel comfortable if any of those three were to get the majority of carries. An embarrassment of riches, some might call it. In their careers, all three average over 5.2 yards per carry. Nick Hampton and Brandon Harrington may not be household names yet, but their time is coming. Nick Hampton had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in a semi-reserve role as a redshirt freshman. Harrington played in eleven games as a true freshman. He was too good to sit out a season and that alone should get you excited about his future.

With media availability being somewhat limited, fewer stories seem to have trickled out in the weeks leading up to season. It is just a little bit tougher getting all the electronics set up for video conferencing compared to grabbing a coach or player after practice. In a typical year, one would have expected a story about how UNCC finished their 2019 campaign to gain bowl eligibility. After a very rough 2-5 start, the 49ers needed everything in those last five games to go their way, and they did. Finishing a season with 5 straight wins is similar to the way App State finished their 2014 season with six wins in their last six games. App State was ineligible for a bowl game in their second season of transition, but this was UNCC’s first postseason game. Maybe the bad taste of getting thumped by a MAC school has dampened some of that excitement and momentum. App State wouldn’t know. What we do know is what Charlotte lost year, which were some pretty important players on both lines and also at linebacker. They have had just one year under Will Healy, who is showing he can recruit to the suburbs, but only has one year under his belt doing so. Charlotte is still working with another coaches players which might be real the difference on the field on Saturday. Last year’s statistics are pretty meaningless, especially considering both teams will have new offensive coordinators. One cannot simply look at points per game or first downs from nine months ago and make hypothetical guesses based on that information. This game is unchartered territory for both teams. Next week, that lack of atmosphere will become more normalized, and become less of an issue, but this week, it remains a huge mental hurdle to overcome for both sides. Less so for the Mountaineers who get to sleep in their own beds and play in the stadium they have practiced in. Charlotte has not been to an empty Kidd Brewer Stadium. It may not seem like a major factor to some, but its on everyone’s minds.

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 21

Mountaineers 38

#20 Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (11-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 7th, 2019 12:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Sirius XM Channel 81

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 80.15

ULL: 74.69

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.78 points

Line: App State -6.5, opened -3.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last meeting: App State 17, Louisiana 7, October 9, 2019, Lafayette, LA

WxCrum Forecast: Cold, Lower to mid-40’s for game; mostly sunny

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. Or at least it seems like this show does not end, and honestly, who can complain. After the Mountaineers cruised to a Black Friday win over Troy, it set the table for a Sun Belt Championship rematch with Louisiana. The Cajuns are the most familiar of foes in the very brief history of FBS football for Appalachian. This will be the eighth meeting in six seasons and fourth in the last season and a half. That span stretches just 21 games and 413 days. Two teams that have now become so familiar with one another that they can nearly anticipate just about any move a player will make due to copious amounts of film consumed. This game might not come down to who had the most talented team overall, but who plays the best on one single Saturday afternoon. Both sides have what it takes to lift the trophy, but only one will. A battle will take place between schools who have been on this stage before, and another who is trying to get back.

So what has happened since the last time App and Louisiana played. The Cajuns have not lost for one. They have won by double digits in every game they have played outside of last week against Monroe. That game is somewhat of a blip on the radar. You could also look at the South Alabama game as being another outlier. A game where the Cajuns won, but also gave up some yards and points. As much as some defensive and offensive numbers for App and Louisiana have mirrored each other, they are just that, averages. Let’s break down the first half and second half of Louisiana’s Sun Belt season. The Cajuns played four opponents with a combined record of 28-20, three of which are bowl eligible, and gave up 64 points, an average of 16 points per game. That was the first four games with two played at home, and two on the road. In the second half, with equal home and road games, the Cajuns gave up 67 points in four games, for a 16.75 points per game average. None of those four teams are bowl eligible and their combined record is 16-31.

We know just about all we need to about Louisiana. We have have heard about their glorious running game, the Cajun Trinity, as they like to call them. Louisiana wanted to get all three to 1,000 yards rushing on the season, but they failed to reach that mark. Elijah Mitchell finished seventh in the conference with 1,007 yards on 6.0 yards per attempt and 14 rushing touchdowns. Mitchell had scored touchdowns in every game until he played App in October, when he was held out of the end zone and to just 68 yards on 13 carries. Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas carried the ball for 104 times each in the regular season, but Ragas missed the Texas State game with an injury. Both have averaged right at 70 yards a game for the season, with Calais finishing the year with 818 yards and six touchdowns. Ragas concluded the season with 777 yards and eleven touchdowns. Quarterback Levis Lewis remains a threat to run, but has depended up on his arm much more down the stretch of the season.

Another thing that has changed for Louisiana since October 9th is their passing game. For a majority of the year, the Cajuns and Levi Lewis threw for under 200 yards a game. The lone exception was a 267-yard performance in the opening game. But in three of the last four weeks, Louisiana has eclipsed that threshold. First it was 296 yard effort against Coastal. The passing game took a week off against South Alabama, until it went for 273 yards against Troy and 270 yards against Monroe. Lewis also recorded nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions in those final four games, including two games where he threw three touchdown passes each. Lewis has only thrown three interceptions all year long, and is also on a five game streak without throwing a pick. Two of his three interceptions came away from Cajun Field, against Arkansas State, and the neutral site game against Miss. State in New Orleans.

A team effort on Friday dispatched Troy, mostly led by Zac Thomas who set career marks all night long in several categories. Thomas tossed for 326 yards and four touchdowns, with 140 yards going to Thomas Hennigan on eleven receptions.The game pushed Thomas to 2,427 yards and 24 touchdown passes on the season. Darrynton Evans had a light night of work with just 16 offensive touches, but made the most of them with 109 total yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers pushed Evans to a very square 1,250 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on the season. Evans was honored as the Sun Belt offensive player of the year on Wednesday afternoon, along with Akeem Davis-Gaither being honored as the Sun Belt defensive player of the year. Davis-Gaither did a little bit of everything all season long, with 85 tackles, 13.5 for loss, including 6 pass break ups, one interception and one blocked kick.

The series between App State and Louisiana took a turn in 2018. After four fairly one-sided scores, the Cajuns made a change at head coach, and it paid off. Billy Napier was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year after a three game improvement in the won-loss record. It was an interesting selection as there were easily three other challengers. Napier, in his press conference, sort of downplayed playing at Kidd Brewer Stadium by saying “It’s not like we are going to play at Lambeau Field”. He later corrected/caught himself and went on to say it was a great environment and its a great place to play football. Napier will always be reminded, wink wink. But still, in the last three games between the Mountaineers and Cajuns, the margins have all been ten points or more. A few weeks back, the game was dominated by defense and field position. It was a game you rarely see in college football anymore. It’s a game I do not think we’ll see on Saturday. One team is going to score some points. The Mountaineers have put up some serious digits this season on home Saturday games. In all those games they had one week since the prior game, which resulted in a scoring average of 48.2 points per game, and eclipsed 50 points in three games. They will have had one extra day to prepare. In games where App has had more than the traditional game week to prepare, all they did was knock off ETSU, these same Cajuns, Monroe and South Carolina. They gave up just 36 points in those four games. Long story short, the Mountaineers will be prepared to win this game because all of the preparation has led them to this moment. Most importantly, they have been there before and know what it takes to win this game. Louisiana’s moment might come in the near future, but it’s not this weekend.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 28

Mountaineers 42

#22 Appalachian Football @ Troy

Appalachian State (10-1, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ Troy (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt)

Friday, November 29th, 2019 6:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Veteran’s Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: ProGrass

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 79.00

Troy: 61.82

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 14.86 points

Line: App State -12.5

Series: App State leads 4-2

Last meeting: App State 21, Troy 10, November 24, 2018, Boone, NC

Forecast: Mostly Sunny with temperatures in the mid-60’s

Last Saturday was an emotional day of sorts. A fine group of seniors could have played their last game in Boone, but they took care of business and received help from across the conference. Now the door is open to potentially play another game at home. That’s music to you ears. Tuesday evening was also emotional, as the Mountaineers were once again passed over in favor of your Power Five Flavor of the Week, and dropped one spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. What’s that motto again? Keep the Chip. The season’s goal is now directly in front of App State. Their destiny is in their hands. Win at Troy. Play at home for the conference title. One more game in Boone, in December. But you cannot look ahead, because its all about being 1-0 this week. Troy has plenty to play for. They are looking to get their sixth win, and potentially play in a bowl game. After all they went through this season on the injury front, that would be a great way to finish their season. No offense to Troy, but App State is not in the business of making friends. They have goals to accomplish of their own and they have come too far to let it all go to waste.

Troy is arguably the most interesting story in the Sun Belt this season. Like Appalachian, the Trojans lost their former head coach due to success. Neal Brown fled to the Big XII and West Virginia, in what seemed like a pretty easy fit for the other Mountaineers. In comes Chip Lindsey, which gives App back to back weeks with new head coaches as their opponent. Lindsey and Eliah Drinkwitz are pretty familiar with each other. Both spent times on the plains of Auburn around Gus Malzahn. Despite their years of employment not directly overlapping, you can probably assume these two know each other just as much as any two sets of coaches in the Sun Belt. They have been mentioned at least once over the years in the same coaching search at places such as Tennessee. Had Lindsay landed the Tennessee job while at Auburn, Drinkwitz was being rumored as a potential Lindsay replacement at Auburn. Chances are more likely these guys have shared a cup of coffee, er cinnamon bun, er Diet Mountain Dew, in many diners across the southeast on more than one occasion.

Two years ago, when App State and Troy were slated for a end of season game, the Sun Belt surely had one thing in mind: Set up the drama prior to the championship game. That worked in 2018, when App knocked off Troy and it set up the inaugural championship game in Boone. Nobody in 2019 expected Troy to be fighting for bowl eligibility on the last weekend of the season. But, here we are. Troy lost one of the best running backs in the conference in BJ Smith just two games into the season during the loss to Southern Miss. That was the double whammy that should have keyed many into what Troy would be dealing with. That loss also shed light on a very vulnerable secondary that has been eaten alive by just about everyone in the Sun Belt. Southern Miss threw for 514 yards. Two weeks later, Arkansas State, 455 yards. Coastal Carolina, 285 yards. Louisiana last week, 344 yards. It was a season high for Southern Miss, Louisiana and Arkansas State, and the third highest total by Coastal on the season.

Many of you were probably really surprised to see Troy’s humiliating loss to Louisiana last week. Hard to understand how a team with bowl eligibility on the line would get sucker punched by a score of 53-3. It was likely Troy’s worst game of the season outside of Missouri. Troy has been able to run or throw the ball for at least 212 yards in every game this season, so they can beat you in a number of ways. The Louisiana and Missouri games were the only ones where that magical 212 yard run/pass mark was not achieved. The Trojans scored a combined 13 points in those two games. Both of those games were on the road. In home games, Troy has not had a let down. They have been downright nasty at home, in a good way. The Trojans have amassed a whopping 518.6 yards per game and scored on average 42.8 points per game at home this season.

The App State defense held Texas State to its lowest output of the season in another bad weather game at Kidd Brewer. The Bobcats had put up back to back 400+ yard offensive games, but the Mountaineers cut that total in half. Over one-fourth of the yards Texas State gained was on one play, the touchdown pass right before the half. The Bobcats had thirteen possessions in the game, and nine of them went for 13 yards or fewer. You cannot ask for much more. Meanwhile, the offense played it somewhat close to the vest, which was all that was necessary. The Mountaineers churned out 280 rushing yards, led by Darrynton Evans with 154 yards and three touchdowns. Marcus Williams Jr added 78 yards. The bad news however, came when Corey Sutton suffered a season-ending injury. That obviously has a serious impact on the passing game, as Sutton is a transcendent weapon in this offense, and was always a threat to take the top off a defense.

Last year’s game between Troy and App State was an absolute classic game. It was billed by some as the real conference championship game. Whoever would come out of that game was sure to beat whatever came out of the west division. That same scenario will not play out this time around. Troy remains a dangerous team, with plenty of weapons and enough defense to beat a team if they are not having their best game. Troy is still the third highest scoring offense in the conference at 35.7 points per game. They have gained the second most yards on offense in the Sun Belt. They have the third best rushing defense, and are tied for the most interceptions. But the Trojans record remains a game below .500 because they have had trouble stopping teams. They have the worst pass defense in the league and give up 33.5 points per game. They have played in a lot of shootouts. They let several teams embarrass them up and down the football field. And that might be what we are in store for this weekend. Don’t be surprised to see a back and forth affair between two offenses who know how to get in the end zone. The difference will be those few precious possessions that one defense is able to stop an offense with a turnover, whether on downs, or by giving up the football. Those turnovers will be huge in a game like this where momentum will be of the utmost importance. Whichever team can establish the run, and force their tempo upon the opposing defense also stands a great chance of winning. In the end, App State’s defense will get more stops than Troy.

The First Pick

T-roy 21

Mountaineers 35

#23 Appalachian Football vs Texas State

Appalachian State (9-1, 5-1 Sun Belt) @ Texas State (3-7, 2-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019 2:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.60

TS: 48.83

Home: 2.31

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 32.08 points

Line: App State -30

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 38, Texas State 7, November 10, 2018, San Marcos, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Rain with temperatures creeping close to 50 for a high.

By late Saturday night, App State had worked their way into a rout of Georgia State by doubling them up on the scoreboard. The day did not start that way. After a late morning report that indeed Dan Ellington would suit up and start for Georgia State, questions were bouncing off all social media walls. It had not exactly been reported what Ellington’s injury was, but if you had watched football before, you knew it was serious. And then, we move onto the actual game itself. The Mountaineers fall into a 21-7 hole and things appeared bleak. Luckily for App State, Corey Sutton and Shaun Jolly can catch football in a variety of ways, and can also score touchdowns. Most of the day was spent in slight disoriented panic until order was restored moments before halftime. The Mountaineers do not win games like that often, and that is a true testament to the resiliency of this team. This was not trailing by a touchdown out of the gate at North Carolina, or by a field goal at South Carolina. This was a two touchdown deficit. Thankfully, the Mountaineers got it together and return home for hopefully the second of the last time of the season.

New Texas State head coach Jake Spavital is in charge of starting over in San Marcos. Since the Mountaineers have joined the Sun Belt, no team has more permanent head coaches than Texas State, with three. The Statesboro Eagles have also had three head coaches, but one left for greener pastures. So, let’s rephrase. The previous two head coaches at Texas State, prior to Spavital, resigned and were fired, respectively. All in all, not good. Texas State did not give Everett Withers a full recruiting class. Now Spavital is a really young offensive mind, which is all the rage at any level of football right now. Digging deeper, administrations and front offices love the Air Raid concepts that Spavital learned from Dana Holgorsen, Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury. Spavital has coached a long list of successful college quarterbacks in his coaching career that has lasted just over a decade. They include Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, and Johnny Manziel who spent time in the NFL, and Kyle Allen, Kyler Murray and Will Grier, who remain rostered by NFL teams.

What you see, is what you get with the Texas State schedule and won-loss record. Not sure Bobcat fans could have expected anything else. Texas State won their FCS game against Nicholls State, edged South Alabama in a coin flip game, and beat a full strength Georgia State squad back in September in triple overtime at home. All three of their wins have come at home. But its those road games where Texas State doesn’t show up. In those four games, the Bobcats have been outscored 157-41, but to some decent teams in Texas A&M, Southern Methodist, Louisiana and Arkansas State. Yet, this will be the Bobcats longest road trip of the season by a lot. With nothing to play for except pride, can the Bobcats mount an effort that would send shockwaves through the conference?

The reason Jake Spavital was hired was to find and develop a quarterback at Texas State. That has been their sore spot for years. Spavital might still be looking. Tyler Vitt started the season for the Bobcats, but eventually gave way to Gresch Jensen. During the UL-Monroe game, Jensen was concussed and Vitt was back to being the starting quarterback. Neither Jensen nor Vitt have appeared in every game. That leads to part of the struggles of this Texas State offense, which is averaging just 18.7 points per game. The two have combined for 18 interceptions on the year and just 13 touchdown passes. The twelve picks thrown by Vitt is really mind boggling when you consider he has played in just seven games. Both quarterbacks have completion percentages in the low 60% range. Jensen is a transfer from Fullerton College in California, while Vitt is a sophomore at Texas State. Last year, Vitt threw for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the loss to App State.

After scoring just one offensive touchdown against South Carolina the Mountaineers exploded for eight touchdowns against Georgia State. The first two offensive series for App State were three and outs that resulted in -5 yards of offense. After a first quarter touchdown, another punt and interception resulted, and then the touchdowns flowed. While the offense was lighting up the scoreboard, the defense turned away Georgia State on eleven straight possessions. By that time, the game was firmly in hand. Both sides of the ball looked ugly early on, but as soon as App State made their adjustments, it was light outs. Corey Sutton and Darrynton Evans were responsible for two insane plays, one a juggling pinball catch, and the latter a heads up, hand on the ground touchdown run after the appearance of being down by contact. For a game that began with so much angst and anxiety, the Mountaineers cruised to their fifth road win of the season.

The spread for this week’s game is the biggest of the season in Sun Belt play for the Mountaineers. The difference between this spread and the South Alabama game is all about where the game is being played – in Boone. Texas State does not do many things well on the football field. They cannot convert or defend well on third downs. They are one of the worst teams in the country as far as moving the ball on offense, and they just don’t score enough. Because of their inability to move the ball and score, their defense is eventually worn down as a game progresses. Now regardless of their struggles, they will throw the ball around a lot. Despite their hideous touchdown-interception ratio, the Bobcats are third in the league with 244.6 passing yards per game. Yet, they are on the low end in the conference with just 6.6 yards per attempt. Texas State throws a lot of short passes and they are second in the conference in completions and attempts. Running the ball just does not suit them. They are dead last in the conference by a large margin with just 83 yards per game on the ground. Ninth place Arkansas State has Texas State cleared by 50 yards per game. They’ll struggle to get to 1,000 yards rushing as a team over twelve games. That’s a tough way to win football games in college, where having a running game does matter. The Mountaineers will have their way with Texas State in an old fashioned “name your score” type game.

The First Pick

TeisCats 10

Mountaineers 42

#20 Appalachian State vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (7-0, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs. Georgia Southern (4-3, 2-1 Sun Belt)

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 8:00pm

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.62

GS: 61.70

Home: 2.54

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.46 points

Line: App State -16.5

Series: App State leads 19-14-1

Last meeting: Georgia Southern 34, App State 14; October 25, 2018, Statesboro, GA

WxCrum Forecast: Rain and cooling temperatures

We’ve been through this plenty of times. This is the most underappreciated and intriguing rivalry in college football. This will be the thirty-fifth installment that might need a little seventy proof to get through it all if the weather forecasters call it correct. Nothing is more right in the world than when Georgia Southern comes to the Southern Appalachian mountains and the first good bite of winter just happens to coincide with it. They hate to see it. But before or after the chill comes, a football game needs to be played and revenge must be sought. Now one could probably say that after every game these two have played over the course of the years. So many times, has the team that was favored to win actually lost. So many times the best team, was not the best team for one night. And whether those teams have had to experience the sticky humidity of Statesboro, or bone-chilling winds of Boone, the battle between these two schools has rarely been short on drama. From Georgia Southern jumping into the Southern Conference in 1993, to the Eagles thumbing a ride to the Sun Belt with Appalachian in 2014, the home teams rarely treat the opponents with warm wishes. All Hallow’s Eve 2019 will bring out all the tricks, and maybe, they will even play a football game.

Scanning through the Eagle schedule in 2019, looking for quality wins is a tough task. Southern’s best win of the season might have been their triple overtime win at home to Coastal Carolina. After that, you see South Alabama, New Mexico State and FCS Maine. The fact that the Eagles needed five overtimes over two games to beat the worst team in the conference in South Alabama and bottom half Coastal Carolina suggests one thing. Are the Eagles also in the bottom half of the conference, or are they just finally settling into their slot after two up and down years. We can all agree that Southern was not a 10 loss team in 2017, but they also were not a 10 win team in 2018, but that’s not what the history books will reflect. As weak as the wins have been for Southern, their losses are all to really good teams. Louisiana State, Minnesota and Louisiana are all going bowling baring a collapse, and all three could be playing in their conference championship games.

The Georgia Southern offenses of old are known for high scoring, high yardage, lots of possession and frustrating defenses with their patient ways of keeping the other team off the field. That’s not the way things in 2019 are going for the Eagles. Now, they have had a semi-difficult schedule, but they are not blowing away inferior teams like they should. Forget what happened in their 41-7 win last week against New Mexico State, a team without a conference or much hope. Southern is still just 92nd in the nation in scoring at 25.1 points per game. Even if the Eagles hit their average on Thursday night, that would be enough to beat App State just once this season. Limit these numbers to just conference games, and Southern is averaging 24.6 per game. Removing points scored in two games that went to overtime and you have the Eagles scoring just 17 points per game in regulation conference games, with two of those coming against Sun Belt bottom dwellers.

Due to suspensions and injuries, Georgia Southern has had many people carry the ball this season. As we all know it starts with Shai Werts, the leader, the quarterback, and primary ball handler. Werts has played in five of seven games, and has 303 yards rushing on 68 attempts, but interestingly, no rushing touchdowns. Oklahoma State transfer JD King has played in all seven games, and leads the team with 435 yards on 107 attempts, which works out to 4.3 yards per carry. Wesley Kennedy has played in just three games, but has 38 carries, nearly thirteen totes a game, and has quickly amassed 312 yards. Kennedy had a 71-yard touchdown run last week. However, most of Kennedy’s work came against Coastal Carolina where he had 24 of this 38 carries on the season. He’s one of their better backs despite getting less work. Logan Wright has chipped in 294 yards in five appearances and Matt LaRoche has played every game and added 267 yards. With Werts’ injury history, its possible we see backup quarterback Justin Tomlin at some point, who is equally capable from a talent standpoint, just lacks the experience of Werts.

If ever there was a time for a bad day, the App State offense chose a good day to have one. South Alabama did not offer much of a challenge for the Mountaineers, who won handily 30-3. App State ran for 313 yards as a team, with most of the work coming from Marcus Williams Jr and Raykwon Anderson. The two combined for 193 yards on just fifteen carries. Thomas Hennigan was the leading receiver with 6 catches for 58 yards and the lone touchdown reception. It was a sluggish game in regards to red zone and third down performance, where App State has been extremely effective all season. Still, the defense was spectacular, limiting South Alabama to just one third down conversion and just 139 total yards. For the second straight week, App State forced the starting quarterback of the opponent out of the game.

The most talked about event for this Thursday night absolutely has been about weather. When is it getting here? What will it be? Wind? Cold? Delays? SNOW? If you are reading this, you are aware. Boone weather is unpredictable. Been that way forever, and it is not changing. A huge advantage would seemingly play into the team that runs the ball better. That’s what most people would say. The difference is the weather is actually more on the minds of Georgia Southern than it is the home team. They only have to think about it every couple of years. App State coaches, players and staff are immune to it. It is a part of the every day life of being a Mountaineer. So, let us go back to this whole, running teams play better in the rain mess. Southern has been a running football team whenever they have been good, and they have been good a lot. No denial there. Now App State likes to run the pigskin quite a bit as well. Also, have been good at that quite often. Southern is 7th in the country in rushing offense at 260 yards per game, give or take a tenth. Appalachian is 14th in the nation at 244 yards per game. But, it is App State that has a higher yards per carry average as a team by over six-tenths of a yard, and only trail Southern in total rushing yards by 110 yards, and have done that on 62 fewer attempts. Now ask yourself, which team does the weather favor in inclement conditions. The key plays in this game will be third downs. Both teams are exceptional in their third down defense, so the onus will be on the offenses to convert in what might sub-optimal conditions. Especially considering both offenses are toward the back end in first downs in the nation. Now the reason Georgia Southern is 129th in the country in first down offense is mainly due to their third conversion percentage and their yards per play. The Eagles have converted just 28.2% of the time on third down, which is 128th out of 130 teams. Conversely, the Mountaineers have absolutely crushed opposing offenses this month. Their third down defense allows just a 29.9% conversion rate. Consider that the Southern offense is just averaging 308 yards of total offense a game, which is 121st in the country. This is a bad looking Georgia Southern offense. They are not getting anywhere with the ball, and it shows on the scoreboard, which is the most important measure. The Mountaineers keep the Eagles off the field and roll to a big win.

The First Pick

Gnats 14

Mountaineers 35

#24 Appalachian Football vs UL-Monroe

Appalachian State (5-0, 2-0 Sun Belt) vs. UL-Monroe (3-3, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 19th, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.53

ULM: 58.25

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21.71 points

Line: App State -14.5

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last meeting: App State 45, UL-Monroe 52; November 4, 2017, Monroe, LA

WxCrum Forecast: Pleasant, Temps warming to mid-60s by kickoff

Let’s call it a hurdle cleared. Zac Thomas sure looked he was surpassing the last obstacle of the evening when he pranced over the goal line to silence all the Louisiana ladies in attendance on Wednesday night. A big conference road win was secured with bookend plays by the Mountaineers that summed up the evening. Demetrious Taylor’s pushover sack on the opening offensive series for the Cajuns began a night of a relentless App State defense that was finalized by the Lafayette leap into the night by Thomas. This result was extra rewarding, considering it was a spot where some skeptics perceived a potential Mountaineer loss. It was also rewarding in that the win vaulted App State to complete control of the east division of the conference. And then Saturday came, and the scoreboard watching commenced. A couple results bounced the Mountaineers way, and by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, it was inevitable. App State was ranked again. Barely a year since it happened before, here we are again, recognized by the coaches and writers of college football. However the number isn’t the goal, it is just along the path to achieve the goal. Absolutely nothing has been accomplished after five games. The Mountaineers have plenty of work in front of them and it starts with getting some revenge against Monroe.

The last time the Warhawks started conference play at 2-0 was in 2017, a year in which their season ended with a 4-8 record. That season also marked the last time these two schools played, and Monroe defeated an injury-plagued Mountaineer team in a shootout. App State missed Monroe on the 2018 schedule, which means we have to remind ourselves what they have been up to since the last time we played. Monroe has a record of 9-12 combined over the end of 2017, all of 2018, and six games this season. Those twelve losses are as follows: Five conference games, six power conference games and one upper echelon group of five game. The wins consist of six conference games (South Alabama and Texas State twice, Coastal and Georgia Southern), two FCS games and one average group of five team. That’s the predicament that UL-Monroe has always been in. Never beating anyone as an underdog, and winning most of the games they were supposed to. Six of their nine wins have come to bottom of the barrel FBS schools and FCS schools, and we all know those two designations are separated in name only.

Still, games have to be won, and Caleb Evans has essentially done that for Monroe for what seems like forever. A true dual-threat quarterback, Evans is the reason the Warhawks sit at 2-0 in the Sun Belt, and find themselves as the leader in the West Division. Evans has thrown for 1,397 yards with ten touchdowns to just four interceptions. Evans also has 341 rushing yards on the season, which puts him third in the conference in total offense with 289 yards per game. His production is not based on a couple good games here and there. He is a consistent performer. Evans has tossed for at least 176 yards in every game, and rushed for no less than 22 yardsin each contest. He is currently on a three game tear where he has averaged 265 yards passing and 65 yards on the ground. However, Texas State last Thursday night was the first game where he failed to throw a touchdown pass.

The Warhawk defense is not the best in the world. They will give up some yards, first downs and allow opposing offenses to move the ball. What they lack in stoutness, they make up plenty for in aggressiveness. Out of ten Sun Belt teams, Monroe is ninth in total defense and last in rushing defense. However the Warhawks are tied for the lead in the conference with seven interceptions. If you are trying to guess what game plan App State might try to employ, perhaps look no further back than last week. Why test a defensive backfield that is known to jump routes? Because double moves and pump fakes work. Any time Eli Drinkwitz sees a challenge, he embraces it. App State has the most efficient passing game in the Sun Belt for a reason, despite having the fewest touchdown passes in the league. That is all thanks to league-low number of interceptions and league-leading completion percentage. So as enticing as it may be to run the ball on a defense that struggles in that area, do not be surprised if Monroe gets challenged all over the field.

Last Wednesday night was not the best display of two powerful offenses. But that’s not to say that good offense was not at work. The most amazing part of the nineteen play drive to seal the game was that every single play went for positive yardage except one run play. Another incredible part of that drive was that it included four conversions for first downs on either third or fourth down. Two of those conversions gained exactly the yardage needed in order to move the chains, and one conversion was gained via penalty. On top of that, the throw to end zone on fourth down from the twenty-five yard line is simply a great play call. More times that not, a college defender is going to interfere on those plays, especially on a back shoulder throw. It’s just up to the officials to throw the flag, and there was precedent earlier in the game with pass interference calls that were thrown with minimal contact. Prior to the final first down being gained, App State had just moved into field goal range, and gave the ball to Evans twice, while also forcing Louisiana to use their final two timeouts. Once those timeouts were gone, the game was firmly in the hands of the App State offense, and they finished the drive.

Welcome back, App State defense of yesteryear. That was a sight for sore eyes. Louisiana was more of a one-dimensional team than Monroe will be this week, but the linebackers answered the call with excellent play all evening. The running game on both sides of the ball was a complete push. Each team ran for 3.7 yards per carry. The difference was keeping Louisiana uncomfortable. Five of the top six tacklers for the Mountaineers were linebackers, accounting for 35 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. When it wasn’t the linebackers, the defensive line was equally responsible for limiting the Cajuns. Another blocked field goal and an additional 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks were contributed by Demetrious Taylor, George Blackstock and E.J. Scott.

That’s just a distraction. In so many words, that was what Eli Drinkwitz exclaimed regarding App State’s inclusion into the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches poll. Now most of us have been here before, but it did not last long. Many coaches on this staff have been ranked before, and they know how to handle it. App State did not have that luxury last year. It was unchartered territory for basically everyone involved. With ten days between games compared to just five days in 2018, things are different. However, the buzz does not feel the same. Everyone remembers the first time, but the second time, it’s almost old hat. Speaking of distractions: Homecoming. It means more for the older crowd than it does for most students, but it also invites a crowd that is more interested in the social setting compared to the game being played. Maybe that fresh shiny number next to App State’s name will keep few more eyes glued to the product. Speaking of, the Mountaineers have shown they can win in all types of situations in just five games. High-scoring, low-scoring, and one-possession games have all happened before the leaves have changed. Last week’s game was supposed to be high scoring but we were all duped into falling in love with the statistics. Monroe will be jacked to play this game. Matt Viator will not admit it, but he has a crush on App State football. He’s beaten App State twice, once with Monroe, and the other with McNeese State. He is also embracing a challenge, and that will certainly spread to his team. Yet, Monroe has an ugly defense that will give up some field, and a penalty ravaged team that is currently is the 7th-most penalized team nationwide. The Warhawks are giving up over 75 yards per game to the yellow handkerchief. App State continues to convert on third (50%) and fourth (100%) downs at a ridiculous rate on the year, both which are top marks in the Sun Belt. The Mountaineer offense does not need much more help from opponents to score points, so if Monroe plays sloppy, most of the patrons will leave Kidd Brewer Stadium happy.

The First Pick

Where they at tho? 25

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 8:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.77

ULL: 69.81

Home: 2.60

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.36 points

Line: Opened App State -2; Moved to ULL -2, Settling around ULL -1

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last meeting: App State 30, Louisiana 19; December 1, 2018, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Kickoff Temps in the low 80’s cooling to mid-70’s, muggy

Seems like it has been forever since App State football has been considered an underdog in a conference game. It’s been so long that most of us are not even sure how to think about it, or even what it felt like since the last time it happened. When was it? It wasn’t November 12th, 2016 when App played Troy on the road. That game was considered a dead heat, a pick’em. You actually have to go all the way back to November 22nd, 2014. The opponent was Louisiana. We have to go back to the first year App State was in the Sun Belt to find a game in which they were not favored. It’s been a fun ride. Might as well not even show up. Quite honestly, it is shocking, no matter how you look at it. It’s shocking that it has been that many games, and even more shocking that a three-time defending conference champion, who has never lost to their next opponent, who beat them twice last year alone, and is currently undefeated, on a ten game winning streak spanning over two seasons and two head coaches, is an underdog. Keep the chip indeed. But that is exactly what this program is all about. It was just this past December when App State was left for dead, with a skeleton crew of a coaching staff given basically no chance to win despite being favored by just a touchdown, in the state of Louisiana. We all know how that turned out down in the Big Easy. Continue to doubt this program haters. We’re here to prove you wrong.

We all saw this coming last season. Right after Louisiana’s loss to Coastal Carolina at home in 2018, something changed. The Cajuns had lost a couple lopsided games to Alabama and Mississippi State, but the cure came in the way of Texas State and New Mexico State. Two games in which Louisiana scored 108 points combined. Texas State actually had a decent defense. The Cajuns continued to score on every team remaining on the schedule not named Troy or Appalachian State. In 2018, Louisiana scored ten points against Mississippi State. A year later, they lost by just ten points. Scoring isn’t everything, but it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to play ahead, then play from behind. It also helps when you have an offensive line that is exceptionally big. Aside from the center, the Cajuns are 6’4″ or taller, 300 pounds or heavier at both tackle and guard positions. You don’t average 314 yards a game on the ground with just decent running backs. Improved offensive line play is a big part of the reason the Cajuns won the west division in 2018, and are off to a 4-1 start this year.

But hey, those running backs are still very good. They score touchdowns, and get tons of yards. That’s not even the impressive part. At 7.3 yards per carry, as a team, that’s good enough for second nationally. The 1,570 yards rushing is the most in the country. The 22 rushing touchdowns is also tops nationally. Elijiah Mitchell and Trey Ragas have touchdowns in every game this season. Mitchell has 402 yards rushing and Ragas is sixth in the country with 548 yards. Ragas also has a silly 9.8 yards per carry average. However, over half of those team rushing yards, and touchdowns came against Liberty and Texas Southern. The Cajuns abused those two opponents to the tune of 847 yards and eleven touchdowns, including eight against Texas Southern in a 77-6 win. The Cajuns ran for 9.7 yards per carry in those two games combined. In the last two games against Ohio and Georgia Southern, Louisiana amassed just 560 rushing yards total on 6.4 yards per carry, which still looks pretty good, especially on the road.

Cajun quarterback Levi Lewis has made tremendous strides since last season. It helps that he has this great running game behind him, and is not asked to do too much, but when his number is called, he has excelled. Lewis has completed 65% of his passes for 980 yards and has eight touchdown passes to just two interceptions. He’s mobile, and can buy time in the pocket, but doesn’t run the ball unnecessarily. Similarly to Coastal’s Fred Payton, his experience has helped his confidence and allowed him to play faster. A lot of Louisiana’s success will start and end with Lewis. If he can make some plays in the passing game, it could turn into a long night for the Mountaineer defense.

Nearly two weeks ago, we gushed about how well Zac Thomas played against North Carolina, and then all he did was follow it up with an even better performance. Thomas finished 19/ 23 for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The junior is now completing 71.4% of his passes on the season. His rushing statistics have kind of yo-yo’ed as the season has progressed. After a 57-yard rushing performance the previous game, Thomas was held to just ten yards on six attempts against Coastal. However, Thomas did find a tight end, Colin Reed for his first catch of the season, an 11-yard touchdown grab. He also spread the wealth among his top three receivers, Corey Sutton, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams. All three had five or more catches and no fewer than seventy-five yards.

For the first time in 2019, someone other than Darrynton Evans had the most yards for App State in the running game. Daetrich Harrington led the way with with 71 yards on eleven carries. It was a season high in both categories, which also included the Harrington’s first touchdown of the season. Evans carried fifteen times for 60 yards, which in enabled him to keep his wind, but also not get worn down in a game that included a two hour delay. This was likely a one-time deal, a forced hand, for lack of a better term. Don’t expect the split of carries to change any time soon. Evans is the lead back, and Harrington/Williams will get their opportunities as well. Both backs are getting work in every game, despite Harrington (28) slightly outpacing Williams (22) in the carries department.

Both squads have a lot good things going for them. Louisiana fell off the face of the earth in the waning years of the Hudspeth era, but have quickly rebounded after a really smart coaching hire. Sometimes, those good hires come with consequences. Billy Napier has already received a one year extension, which usually means, agents are talking, working for their clients and the school is looking for monetary protection. It’s a smart play. App State just went through that process. The reality is that the previous six games played between App State and Louisiana mean nothing. In the fans eyes, its been six dominating games in a short period of time. The current coaches have not faced off, and Napier has coached in just two of the six games. Eli Drinkwitz will be coaching just his fifth game as the head man. This will be his first true road trip, a journey outside of the borders of North Carolina. But, this will not be first time Drinkwitz has ventured to Louisiana, much less Cajun Field. In 2012, Arkansas State and their running backs coach, Drinkwitz, pummeled the Cajuns 50-27. The familiarity with the Sun Belt may have not been the sole reason App hired Drinkwitz, but it sure did not hurt. You want game analysis? We can do that for a little bit. The Cajuns and Apps will bring a lot of offense to the game. The question comes down to which defense makes a decent play at the right time. The Cajun defense gets a lot of help from their offense. They are not as good as where they are ranked nationally in many defensive categories. Likewise, App State’s defense is not as bad as where they are ranked in the same statistics. We’ve honed in on turnovers for multiple weeks, and it absolutely comes into play again. It’s not lazy, it’s just very important in games with high rates of offense. The Cajuns have fumbled eleven times this season and lost seven of them, including two last week at Georgia Southern on muffed punts. App State has yet to fumble this season, and has thrown just two interceptions. Louisiana’s turnover margin is in the red on the season, while App maintains a top fifteen ranking. If the turnovers happen, they will be huge, for either team. With all the offense this game features, it will be those defensive plays that win, and the Mountaineers have been more opportunistic than the Cajuns.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 38

Mountaineers 45

Appalachian Football vs Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (3-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. Coastal Carolina (3-1, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.32

CC: 58.28

Home: 2.46

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18.5 points

Line: App State -16

Series: App State leads 5-0

Last meeting: App State 23, Coastal Carolina 7; November 3, 2018, Conway, SC

WxCrum Forecast: Partly Cloudy, chance of rain, Temps Upper 70s to Low 80’s

Typically, after the Super Bowl is played, the season is over. Well, lets just say, most of the non-conference schedule over. As much fun as last week was, it will not amount to a Chapel Hill of beans if the Mountaineers do not keep the train rolling. It’s perfect timing that a conference opponent comes after such an important win like last week. The ability to focus should not be difficult. After all, the reason student-athletes come to Boone to play football, is for the rings. Coastal Carolina is ring game number one. You have our attention. The last instance a game of importance occurred, it was followed by Lenoir-Rhyne. So it’s easy to see how this is much different. Major news outlets are not crawling all over campus looking for the next big story about little App State. Why? Because this was not a Super Bowl. This was the expectation. This was just another game on the schedule. For every radio personality who attempts to validate a loss because the opponent wanted it more than your team, you are not doing yourself any favors. For every backhanded compliment in a newspaper, once again no favors. If we played every game on paper, we would not have any fun. Let’s keep playing the games on the field. It’s more fun that way.

Unlike the quick strike Tar Heels from a week before, Coastal Carolina is a ball control offense and they are not afraid to show it. They are averaging a whopping 35:18 of possession a game. That’s good enough for eighth in the country. That number is almost unheard of. They have controlled the ball for no less than 32:53 in each game. Part of that success is an offense that is perfect on fourth down conversions. Eight attempts, all successful. A third down conversation rate of 43% is also above average, good enough for 48th in the country. For the Chanticleers, its all about a very balanced offense that is averaging 245 yards on the ground, and 211 in the air per game. The Chants are also 4th in the country in first downs, with 109 through four games. That patience to move the ball one set of chains at a time is what has set them a part from their opponents this season.

Which, leads to their strength of schedule. Or shall we say weakness of schedule. I am sure they are happy to be 3-1 right now, and that helps build tons of confidence with a very young roster. But guys, they have played absolutely nobody. Now Eastern Michigan was a bowl team last year that Georgia Southern needed to beat with a late field goal down at the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery. But Eastern Michigan snuck by Coastal to give them their lone loss, and needed four interceptions to do it. Then, Coastal beat Kansas by a thrilling score of 12-7. Kansas might have Les Miles as their coach, but they still have Kansas football players. The Chants added lopsided wins over FCS Norfolk State, and UMass, who is the worst team in FBS.

Of the 981 net rushing yards that Coastal has gained this season, CJ Marable has gained 398, or just over 40% of the team’s total. Marable depends on the volume and is a very consistent runner. His average of 5.2 yards per carry is not deceiving. His longest run of the season is just 28 yards. He is going to get his yards if he gets his carries, which he will. He is averaging 19 carries a game, and his lowest total was last week against UMass, in which carried the ball 15 times. Last year against App, Marable was nowhere to be seen, garnering just three carries for minus-one yard. Marable is also the team’s leading receiver at 13 catches for 157 yards. He had seven receptions in the opening game against Eastern Michigan, and just six since. Marable also leads the team with six total touchdowns. Coastal’s second leading rusher is actually their backup/change of pace quarterback Bryce Carpenter. Most of his 179 yards on year came against UMass where he ran for 102 yards on twelve carries. Since we are talking about Carpenter, we’ll continue. His role has increased slightly as the season has wore on, especially as a passer. He is more efficient than their starter, Fred Payton, and has three touchdown passes to zero interceptions.

Payton has started every game for Coastal this season, and has had up and down stat lines throughout. After throwing the ball 43 times, including four interceptions, in the opener against Eastern Michigan, Payton has been asked to throw just 46 times since then, in three games. The game plan against Kansas seemed to be the reasoning against throwing the ball, and Norfolk State was a mismatch, where the passing game was not needed. However, Payton was asked to throw against UMass, where he was 16/18 for 203 yards, but still threw an interception. With Payton’s five interceptions to four touchdown passes, we might see more of Bryce Carpenter, especially considering his increased playing time of late.

There has not been enough talk about Zac Thomas from last weekend’s win. The star of the game was Demetrious Taylor for obvious reasons. In his fifteenth career start, Thomas engineered numerous scoring drives, was plenty accurate, flipped fields on a busted play, and kept the ball on a read play for a critical third down conversion late in the game. The numbers may not have eye-popping or jaw-dropping, but the body of work was exquisite. Thomas did not throw for a touchdown, but didn’t need to with Darrynton Evans scoring three of his own on offense. Thomas had a season high for completions, attempts and yards passing. But, more importantly, he had a season high in rushing yards. Thomas’s ability to run brings another weapon to the table that a defense has to account for. His 50-yard run on 3rd down and 7 set up the second field goal to narrow the deficit to 7-6. His five yard carry on 2nd down and goal from the seven yard line gave way to Evans, who punched it in and extended App State’s lead to 27-10 late in the second quarter. Finally, the twelve yard run on 3rd and 5 from the Mountaineer thirty yard line was a back breaker for the Heels, who had burned two timeouts on the previous downs.

Try to look past Coastal Carolina’s schedule and convince yourself how they are going to win on Saturday. First thing, control the ball, don’t turn it over, play error free and mistake free football. Coastal has been able to control the ball flawlessly. They know they are undermanned, and a beautiful way to combat that is to shorten the game. Turnovers were a big key last week for App State, and they took advantage. The Mountaineers increased their turnover margin on the season to +1.67, good enough for four-way tie for sixth in the country. Coastal sits dead even on turnover margin, which is 59th nationwide. Penalties are big. Appalachian has been atrocious this season, averaging eight flags per game for just over 85 yards. Coastal Carolina is sixth in the country in penalty yards for teams that have played four games. The Chants have been flagged eighteen times for 154 yards. Defensively, the Mountaineers absolutely cannot give a team cheap yards and extend drives to a team that likes to shorten the game and possess the ball. Cannot stress that point enough. This analysis might seem short and tidy, but I really believe that is what we are dealing with. A team that presents like an old school option oriented club that likes to lean heavily on their game plan. This game has some serious shootout potential. The App State defense has been around enough to make some plays here and there this season, and that has kept them afloat, but if Coastal plays to their strengths plays keep away, this one could be closer than expected.

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 22

Mountaineers 37