#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

Appalachian Football @ North Carolina

Appalachian State (2-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. North Carolina (2-1, 1-0 ACC)

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: Fox Sports Southeast

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

Kenan Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 50,500

Surface: RootZone 3D Blend AstroTurf 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.40

UNC: 76.43

Home: 2.64

North Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.67 points

Line: North Carolina -3

Series: North Carolina leads 1-0

Last meeting: UNC 56, Appalachian 6; September 21, 1940, Chapel Hill, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Sunny with temps in the low to mid-80’s

So, we have a big football game on our hands? Is that what people are telling me? Last I checked, it’s still September. Hard to have a big game this early in the season. Important games are usually slated for December, or late October against some school from south Georgia. Rings and trophies are absent for this matchup. Oh, bragging rights, you say? We got bragging rights. It’s nothing but a few spoken words, but words that some have been waiting to utter their entire lives. Finally, the Mountaineers have a chance to pound their chests while both squads are on somewhat of an equal playing field. Even when App State played Wake in 2017, the scholarship count might have been equal, but a few of those men in black were FCS recruits. And for many of those who were not FCS recruits, they were still quite young. In early 2017, the FBS transition for App State was still in its infancy. Fast forward two years, and now the Apps have a full FBS cupboard. Athletic budgets aside, this is as equal a footing as App State has had against any of the Tobacco Four on the gridiron. Counting Duke, but probably should not. So yeah, this is finally about bragging rights. It certainly helps boost the confidence of App fans that we have had success at this level. It helps that we have that culture, and that expectation to win. It helps that we really really, want to beat the ever-living you know what out of those Heels, even if it isn’t at their signature sport. So, Mountaineer fans will load up the tailgate wagons and drive themselves to the destination of the next battle. They will give their ALL, and if it does not work out in their favor, they’ll try again the following week.

The Tar Heels have played three games this season, but arguably, they have only played three quarters of football. Of the seventy points the Heels have scored this season, thirty-eight of them have been scored in the final frame. That’s roughly 54% of their points scored in 25% of game action. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize that the other 46% of Carolina’s points occurred in 75% of play. Choose your narrative. The Heels can hang around long enough in games, stay within striking distance until they kick the offense into high gear late. Luckily for the Heels, they have been able to keep opponents under 30 points in all their games. Wake jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and held on for dear life, winning 24-18. Eventually a team will run away from them. But, they do have the ability to come back, and strike quickly. On their two touchdown drives against Wake, the Heels went a combined 160 yards on 11 plays in just 4:38 of game time. Similar situation against South Carolina. Two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, 14 plays, 193 yards, 5:37 of clock used. That’s getting it done.

All the talk in Chapel Hill this football season has been about Mack Brown, the former App State head coach from way back in 1983. Stop reading this if that is the first time you are hearing about this news. The rest of talk has been about freshman QB Sam Howell, the Sun Valley product who spurned Florida State late in recruiting. It’s early in his career, but he’s played well in spots, and has looked really bad in others. Howell has not taken every snap, but most of them. Howell has 701 yards and 6 touchdowns in three games. He has not thrown an interception, but he has been sacked twelve times. That’s a lot even if he had taken every snap. Overall, the Carolina quarterbacks have been sacked thirteen times on the season, which is 125th out of 130 teams in the country. App State head coach Eli Drinkwitz described Howell as a player who believes in his abilities and has a big, talented arm. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t look at the stat sheets and assume Howell doesn’t like to tuck and run. His sack yardage factors into his rushing totals. Take those out, and he has 20 carries for 62 yards.

North Carolina’s running back room is a mystery. You have two guys with somewhat identical statistics. They have combined for 77 carries and 440 yards between them, but just one rushing touchdown. All together, the entire rushing attack is just 79th in the country, at just under 160 yards a game, and 3.83 yards per carry. However, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have pretty much split carries in the first three games. In the first two games it was mostly Williams who looked like the better back. He had 28 carries for 178 yards against South Carolina and Miami. Then suddenly, against Wake, he was held to just 27 yards on nine carries. His fumble in the first quarter that set up a Deacon touchdown might have had something to do with his poor performance. Michael Carter received 16 carries against South Carolina, eleven against Miami, and then thirteen against Wake. Williams role kinda plunged, while Carter’s stayed consistent. Carter had 96 yards against Wake on thirteen carries, but fifty of those yards came on one play. Take that away and he had a 3.83 yard per carry average for the game, which is oddly the same average as Carolina’s season total.

We have finally reached that part of the career of Darrynton Evans. We are just past the midway point of his eligibility, yet he already holds a school record with three kickoff returns for a touchdown, a mark formerly held by Jimmy Watkins. We have only seen eight kickoff returns for touchdown in App State history since 1966. Evans has three of them, one in each full season he has played. He also currently holds the career kickoff return average record, which currently sits at 26.5 yards per return. That is an entire yard higher than Charles Fowler, who sits in second place. This is mentioned for one reason. Evans is special. We have seen phenomenal play makers at App State over the years, but Evans could be the best. Aside from kickoff returns, in Evans’ last eight games, he has 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

Looking for bright spots outside Evans’ game against Charlotte is somewhat tough. It’s been a long time since App State has played that poorly in a second half, and still managed to pull out a win. The warning shot was fired. The Mountaineers have given up five passing touchdowns in 2019, compared to only eight last season. Opponents yards per attempt is also up by nearly 2.2 yards per attempt. Defending third downs is easier when the offense you are facing has further to go. App State is just 70th in third down defense in 2019, allowing a .370 conversion rate, compared to just .317 a year ago. North Carolina is struggling mightily on third downs, and that has to be something App State takes advantage of on Saturday. Part of why Wake was able to win last week, is that the Heels had two first downs and were 0-8 on third down conversions in the first half.

Let’s try and remove the colors and letters from the jerseys for a moment. This game appears to be pretty even on paper. If anything sets these two teams apart, its experience. Appalachian clearly has the upper hand in that department. But is that experience occasionally a detriment? Are the Mountaineers too set in their old ways, or is this random sputtering on both sides of the ball a real concern. Mind you, this is the second straight game, where both teams have mostly a new coaching staff. Eventually the newness is no longer an excuse, because we are at the quarter pole of the season. There have been nearly as many practices in September, as there were in August, as there were in the spring. It’s time for both teams to step up if they want their seasons to extend past twelve games. Per usual, all the pressure is on the home team, North Carolina. They are supposed to win, right? The Heels have more resources at their disposal. It’s just a tuneup game. The Tar Heels have still yet to score thirty points in a game, despite their abundance of chunk plays with their offense. The problem is the red zone. Now, you can look up that Carolina has scored on every possession they have had in the red zone, and then also notice, they have only made 11 trips in three games, good enough for 109th in the country. You also notice they have scored just five touchdowns in those situations. The Tar Heels are tied for 3rd in the country in red zone field goals. That’s not a statistic you want to be good at. Sure, points are great, but most days, 6 > 3. You know what’s coming, It’s App red zone statistics. The Mountaineers have scored touchdowns on nine of ten red zone chances. Appalachian is one of three teams in the country(Baylor, Navy), yet to kick a red zone field goal. On one hand you have team that kicks a ton of field goals, and the other that has not kicked any. It’s not the deciding factor in football games, but it is a major situational variable in who has a better chance to win. Another key, turnovers. Again, I believe both these teams are pretty even, so something has to give eventually. North Carolina sits at +.33 on the season in margin, while App State is +1.50. The winner of this game likely also wins that pesky turnover battle, and I’ll take the more experienced offense that has played together over a patchwork offensive line with a true freshman quarterback.

The First Pick

Wethers 23

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs Middle Tennessee (New Orleans Bowl)

Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Middle Tennessee (8-5, 7-1 C-USA)

Saturday, December 15th, 2018 9:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlote WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte WAVO 1150 AM; Raleigh/Durham Buzz Sports Radio 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM, The Ticket 620 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Capacity: 76,468

Surface: Act Global UBU Speed S5-M Synthetic Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.67

Middle Tennessee: 65.73

Home: n/a

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

Normalites 16

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana (Sun Belt Championship)

Appalachian State (9-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (7-5, 5-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 1st, 2018 12:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlote WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte WAVO 1150 AM; Raleigh/Durham Buzz Sports Radio 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM, The Ticket 620 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Satellite Radio: Sirius 119, XM 202

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.00

Louisiana: 58.94

Home: 2.28

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -17

Series: App State leads 5-0

Last meeting: App State 27, Louisiana 17, October 20, 2018 Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Rain chances increasing throughout day, Temps near 50

For the first time in Sun Belt history, two schools will be playing their ninth conference football game for a pretty huge trophy, and the right to play in the New Orleans Bowl. Our Mountaineers were good enough all season to be the first to ever host the conference championship game. That was the goal when the game was announced. It was the goal when the format for qualifying was announced. It was the goal prior to every conference game being played. App State lost a home game in September, but getting a make up date in December is almost as sweet. With another ten win season in reach, another trophy to place in the case, comes the ending of another record breaking season on the mountain. It’s been a great ride but it’s not over yet. We all have a duty to give this team our ALL one last time at The Rock.  

Since the last time these two teams played, the Cajuns have won four of their five games, with the only loss coming to Troy 26-16, a nearly identical score as the previous App State game. That stretch included a shootout victory over Arkansas State which helped propel the Cajuns to where we are today. That head-to-head win gave them the needed tiebreaker to advance. Wins over Georgia State and South Alabama were semi-expected, but both of these Sun Belt cats gave the Cajuns some fits. Georgia State trailed by just two points entering the fourth quarter and South Alabama had the game tied in the third quarter and the margin cut to ten points in the fourth. Both of those wins were at Cajun Field, while the ultimate clinching game against UL-Monroe included a buzzer-missing field goal by the Warhawks.

Louisiana is going bowling, which many experts did not project heading into the season. The Cajuns were 3-4 when they left Boone the last time, which did not leave much margin for error for bowl eligibility, much less an appearance in the conference championship game. Oddly, the Cajuns are playing for said title after allowing more points this season then they have scored. In their defense, they have allowed just 31.4 points per game in their last five contests, which is down from their overall season average of 34 points per game.

The Louisiana offense has not changed since the last time the Mountaineers have seen them. The three-headed rushing attack is led by Trey Ragas who has 1040 yards and eight touchdowns. Elijah Mitchell tacks on 866 yards and twelve touchdowns and Raymond Calais is not far behind with 711 yards and six touchdowns. Ragas got just four carries against Georgia State, making way for Calais, who had three touchdowns in that game to go along with 186 yards. Ragas also had a light day against South Alabama with ten carries for 53 yards. However, he bounced back with a season high twenty-three carry day last week vs. UL-Monroe which was also enough to give him his sixth 100-yard rushing day of the season. Calais seems to be the hotter hand of late, based on usage, but all three of these backs can get it done.

Senior Andre Nunez continues to rotate with sophomore Levi Lewis every fourth series. It’s something that Billy Napier has stuck with throughout the season. That leaves Nunez  with most of the statistics. In the first meeting, Nunez threw for 108 yards against the Mountaineers. No interceptions, no touchdowns. It was the first game of the season where Nunez did not throw a touchdown pass. Two games later, Nunez was unable to throw a touchdown pass against Troy. That’s the only two games all season that happened. Despite Nunez’s nineteen touchdown passes, five came against New Mexico State, the week before the Cajuns played the Mountaineers. Since the last meeting with App State, Nunez finished the season with eight touchdown passes to six interceptions, throwing a pick in every game except Georgia State. 

This game was not an offensive spectacle for the Mountaineers, but it also did not have to be. It was clear that controlling the clock was an important factor. The Mountaineers held an eleven minute edge in time of possession. Gaining 201 yards on the ground on forty-five attempts was plenty to keep Troy off the field. It was the most rushing yards the Troy defense had allowed all season, besting UL-Monroe’s 200-yard performance. Darrynton Evans’ 58 yard run was the longest run the Trojans had given up all year. App needed that because the 113 yards passing was the fewest Troy had given up all season. Really, this game belonged to the defense. The four turnovers the Mountaineers forced was the tied for the most of the season against Troy. The longest punt return Troy allowed, was to Clifton Duck. And it was the only game Troy threw two interceptions, and their fewest points scored (10) all season. 

At this point of the season, it’s pretty clear how both teams plan on winning the game. The Louisiana approach is to wear another team down with the running game, keep opposing offenses off the field and keep their thin defense as fresh as possible. The fewer plays they have to defend, the less points they give up. The Cajuns scored 31 or more points in their seven wins, for an average of 45.5 points per game. In their 5 losses, they averaged 19 points, never scoring more than 28. Look at those numbers and think about the game App State likes to play. They like to keep people from scoring (15.4 ppg). They like to stop the running game (3.4 ypc). That 3.4 yards per carry that App has given up all season long is exactly how many they allowed to Louisiana in the first game (41-140). The job the Mountaineers did on the Troy running game last week might have been a sneak preview for this weekend. If the App defense is dialed in, this could be a long day for the Cajuns. Although App State scored just three touchdowns last week, and just 27 points the last time out against Louisiana, I’m kind of expecting a statement game from the Mountaineer offense. The home field advantage is huge in a game like this, especially considering four of the five Ragin’ Cajun losses this season have come on the road. The Cajuns have also not left the state of Louisiana for a game in four weeks, while the Mountaineers will be playing their third straight home game. The conference championship trophy is already in Boone. It won’t be leaving any time soon. 

 

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 14

Mountaineers 37