Appalachian State (7-4, 5-2 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (6-5, 3-4 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 25th, 2023 3:30pm EST
Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), 103.9FM/1250AM (Marion), Varsity Network App
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 71.23
Georgia Southern: 62.65
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11.01 points
VegasInsider Line: App State -8.5
Series: App State leads 20-16-1
Last Meeting: App State 48, Georgia Southern 51, November 26, 2022, Statesboro, GA
It’s difficult to describe if you were not present last week, but everything about last Saturday felt like big time football. Compliments to James Madison for a great environment and thanks to College Gameday. We all knew what the panelists would say last week. They were present to tout their hosts. As expected, as App State received the same treatment from the crew last season. But that week is behind us. The list of schools who want to be App State’s rival is long. Get in line JMU. Meanwhile the last game of the season gives us the school who is in front of that line. The gap between the Eagles and whoever else is next is still wide. It will be hard for anyone to supplant the hate and respect that App State and Georgia Southern have for each other. So be thankful for what you have this week. Give thanks for what makes you happy, and what makes you angry. Even if what gives you those feelings are the same thing.
Earlier this season, people wanted to believe that Georgia Southern might be a legitimate threat to contend for the Sun Belt East. Over the course of time, just about everyone has had an inside line for just that. About a month ago, the Eagles were sitting at 3-1 in conference play with their only loss to James Madison. They had four winnable games in front of them, but three of those games were on the road. First came a loss at Texas State in which the Eagles lost by three touchdowns, but it was truly never that close. The Bobcats once led 45-10 before the Eagles closed the gap. Then the Eagles went to West Virginia to face a Marshall team that had scored less than ten points in each of their previous three games. Southern gave up 38 points to a redshirt freshman quarterback, which included a kickoff return touchdown to begin the game. Then Old Dominion stymied the Eagles on Senior Night in Statesboro, playing a one score game, and defeating the Eagles for the first time in their schools’ history.
Briefly, we need to discuss this Georgia Southern defense. The 38 points they surrendered to a struggling Marshall team is eye-opening. But if you look back through the entire season you will realize this has been a struggle all year. The Eagles have given up 27 or more points eight times. They have allowed 35 or more on five occasions. So, let’s dissect those five teams. One is currently 4-7 UAB, who is winless on the road this year, but is 21st in total offense in the country. Wisconsin has the 80th best total offense in term of yards, and has scored just 28 offensive touchdowns this season, five on the Eagles. James Madison dropped a 41-spot on Southern while the Dukes’ offense averaged 7.1 yards per play. Texas State scored 45 points on eleven possessions. Seven of their first eight possessions were scores. The other was a fumble. Southern surrendered two second half leads to Marshall and the Herd fumbled four times, but the Eagles only fell on one of them. Marshall converted just two of nine third downs and lost the turnover battle by two.
It’s safe to say that optimism has transitioned into confidence. Going into last week, you could safely assume a good college football game was upon us. Comparing statistics only goes so far when you have good teams facing off against each other. Eventually those kinds of games come down to a few plays on either side. Making those plays was none other than each team’s quarterback and best wide receiver. The Dukes had only given up two touchdown passes in the previous five games, and Joey Aguilar threw three scores, two to Kaedin Robinson, including the walk-off winner in overtime. Another silent assassin was Eli Wilson. Per usual, nobody covers the App State tight end, and Wilson had a career day with four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. Neither team could run the ball on Saturday, so it came down to Joey Aguilar making the extra play in overtime.
The evolution of the new Mountaineer defense continues. The Dukes are a well balanced offense that leaned more toward the pass. They had not been a top team in the conference running the ball and the Mountaineers held them to their second-lowest rushing output of the season of just 61 yards. But lately the Dukes had leaned more into the pass which might have played right into the Mountaineers newfound strength. Jordan McCloud still put a solid 289 yards passing, but most of those yards came late in the fourth quarter when Madison was making their late push. The hard work was done in the first half. The six first half possessions for Madison resulted in three punts, two turnovers and one made field goal. As we documented last week, Madison made their pushes in the third quarter most of the year. Madison came out in the third quarter and punted twice and missed a field goal. Even when the Mountaineers played softer late in the fourth quarter, they still forced long touchdown drives of sixteen and twelve plays to keep momentum at bay.
The game this weekend appears to be between two teams heading opposite directions. Both teams are streaking, the Mountaineers winning four in a row, while the Eagles have dropped three straight. Most of us know how dangerous this game is annually, and especially so when it appears that one team is considered highly favored over another. More often than not in this rivalry its harder to win the game you are supposed to win. The new Georgia Southern presents a different kind of challenge than the Mountaineers have seen most of the year. In the second year of Clay Helton’s transformation, he was not as lucky as 2022 in getting the quarterback in the transfer portal he wanted. Davis Brin does lead the conference in passing yards over McCloud of JMU and App State’s Aguilar, but he is not efficient. Even with close to 100 more attempts than Aguilar, he lags in touchdown passes. Part of that is the entire Georgia Southern offense stalls in the red zone. The Eagles have crossed their opponents 20-yard line on 51 occasions but have managed just 26 touchdowns. Seventeen other times the Eagles kicked field goals. It leads to having a great statistic of scoring 85% of the time down close, but that’s simply way too many field goals and not enough touchdowns over the course of a season. It’s great for Southern that they have a good kicker who is accurate and can boot touchbacks 70% of the time, but that’s not winning them enough games in Statesboro. Ultimately their season has come down to offense and defense. Midway through the season, something changed. In their first six games of the season, Southern threw the ball for 331.5 yards per game on roughly 48 attempts per game. During those games they also ran the ball about 27 times a game. In the last 5 games, those numbers have shifted substantially. The Eagles have dipped to 262 yards passing per contest on just 37.4 attempts, while their total rushes have increased by six to 33 per game. Sure, there are fewer conference games early on, but those are balanced out by non-conference games against game that include fewer peers. Roughly, these numbers represent a 20% shift in play selection, from passing to running. Passing yardage went down around 20% as well, but rushing yardage only increased by 11.4 yards a game or just over 10%. Georgia Southern was not tricking anyone. Opposing coaches noticed it, adjusted, and the Eagles have not been as explosive as they were in the first half of the season. A team that commenced an uptick in running plays, with their top running back Jalen White potentially missing the game, against a defense that went from allowing 206 rushing yards a game in their first eight games to just 103 yards a game in their last three seems like a bad mix. If the Mountaineer defense can continue limiting those opportunities, and tackle well in the open field, it could spell a long day for Southern. The Mountaineers must make sure they do not lose this game based on last week’s result. I think its behind them and they are ready for the next step.
The First Pick