App State Football vs #14 Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (4-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (6-0, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.98

Coastal: 76.86

Home: 2.75

Coastal is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.13 points

Line: Coastal -4.5

Series: App State leads 6-1

Last Meeting: App State 23, Coastal 34, November 21, 2020, Conway, SC

It’s been a long time since a game has played out like that. That could be a blessing and a curse. We all know that was not normal, and App State could not possibly play that poorly again if they tried. The most important part, is that not one player or coach will let that happen again. Another interesting aspect, is that several players on this team have actually been in this position before. They know what it is like to somewhat have their backs against the wall, knowing that the next loss, could derail any conference championship dreams. Last week was not everything, but this week has become that. After last week, its welcoming to play such a high stakes game in your own house. Only four Sun Belt teams have ever won at Kidd Brewer Stadium in seven seasons. It’s not been a welcome place to play for any opponents for decades. Coastal’s rise to fame will eventually end. Whether it ends against App State is yet to be seen, but they’ll have to earn it, because the Mountaineers will not go quietly.

A lot of fans have been yelling from the top of the mountain, “Coastal has not played anyone!!”. National pundits have said the same, “We’ll see what happens when Coastal is tested.” That time has come. The Chants benefitted from playing four games at home in their first five games. Coastal has also played some rather subpar teams, and that’s not hard to determine just glancing at their current resume. But, how bad is it? Excluding The Citadel, every single one of Coastal’s opponents currently sports a total defense that ranks 98th or worse in the country among 130 teams. On the other side of the ball, Coastal has faced just two top-65 offenses, with the three other teams ranking 116th or worse. Those two offenses were Buffalo and Arkansas State, which just happened to be the two teams that Coastal played on the road this season. The Red Wolves top-40 offense to date is only going to carry them so far, with the worst defense in the country. Buffalo is the school that gave Coastal the most fits, and are easily the best team the Chants have played this season. That’s not scoreboard reasoning, its statistically accurate. The Bulls are the only team Coastal has played with a top-100 offense (64) and defense (98).

Chanticleer quarterback Grayson McCall continues to lead a very explosive offense. In 2020, McCall did it with his arm and legs. McCall accumulated 569 rushing yards last season on 111 carries, seven going for touchdowns. In the first six games of 2021, McCall has just 82 yards on the ground this season on 32 carries. His yards per carry have been cut in half, down from 5.1 yards per tote last season. However, McCall has more than made up for that with his efficient passing. McCall has thrown just 22 incomplete passes this season, completing just shy of 80% of his passes. Numbers like that are completely unheard of. Against Buffalo, McCall threw his only interception of the year, and misfired on six passes, the most in any game this year. Last season, McCall completed 69% of his passes, but was just 12/21 (57%) against the Mountaineers. The sophomore has increased his passing yards per game by about 20 yards per game, but outside the rushing statistics, looks very much like the player from a year ago.

Shermari Jones and Reese White were valuable members of the ground game in 2020, but they were not in the spotlight with CJ Marable getting the majority of carries. Marable exhausted his eligibility and ended his final campaign in Conway with 887 yards on the ground and another 228 yards receiving. Jones and White are now the feature backs for Coastal and have provided the production lost from Marable, and to an extent, McCall. White has played in all six games this year, gaining 455 yards to date and has scored seven times. Jones has played in four games, and has accumulated 401 yards. Neither Jones or White have shown receiving chops on a consistent basis so far this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen Wednesday. As far as pass catchers, most of it comes from two guys. Javon Heiligh works as a traditional wide receiver role, and has three 100-yard games this season with four touchdowns. Heiligh also works as a punt and kick returner. Isaiah Likely is a major threat from the tight end position. Likely can block and run, and is a high end NFL prospect. He had a monster game last time out against Arkansas State, who did not realize he was on the field. Likely caught eight passes for 232 yards and added four touchdowns.

There is not much to review from last week. It’s very apparent it was just a bad day for the Mountaineers. Turning the ball over and failing to convert on any third down is going to put your team in a bad spot more times than not. Seems App State had the ability to get by the tired Marshall defense and Georgia State without the full compliment of running backs, but that just won’t fly against everyone. Getting healthy at certain positions is key. The need for a one-two running back punch was never more apparent than last week. Plain and simple, everyone needed to better. If you think losses are hard on fans, just think about how the coaches and student-athletes feel. When the bar is set high, and the expectations are to win each week, those losses can bring you down hard. But losses are needed to appreciate the winning, to remind us all, you cannot have good times without the bad. The Mountaineers will respond appropriately. There is no question they are ready for the task in front of them directly, and for the remainder of the season.

Last week, statistics went out the window. Statistics are not predictive, but can sway anyone’s opinion into how something might play out. Once again they are not absolute. Just about everything that was highlighted last week was a waste of time and space. It happens. That really makes a perfect transition for predictive measures regarding Coastal Carolina. Most of the time, they are one of the more explosive teams in the country. Also, most of the time, in this sample size, six times this season, they have not played offenses or defenses that are explosive. That collectiveness is what Coastal thrives on. The Chants thrive on teams that have difficulties scoring and stopping their opponents. Seems simple, but it can be more complicated. Stay with me here. The term “triple-option” in college football has historically meant a heavy emphasis on running the football, with a quarterback lining up under center, handing off to an upback, or showing a fake handoff and sprinting to the edge with another flanker or wingback in tow. Coastal’s version is a lot different. Sometimes the first and third option is the same player, and often a pass option is used. It’s nearly like the run based triple option and pass oriented RPO were meshed. Occasionally, the mesh point (handoff point between running back and quarterback) is enhanced to further stress the defense, making them stop and think, while the offensive players continue their attack. What we are getting at, is that winning on third down is not enough when you defend Coastal. You have to win on first and second down equally as much. Sure, Coastal is first in the country on third down conversions at nearly 62%. But, they have only attempted 55 third down conversions in six games. That is the lowest mark in the country as well. App State’s job on Wednesday night is too force inefficiency, or to borrow an old triple option term, keep them behind the chains. Offensively, the Mountaineers also provide a tough test for the Coastal defense. Once Coastal gets ahead in games, their defense typically sits back in zone coverage, and plays a “no doubles” defense, to avoid big plays. Against Arkansas State, who has no running game, you saw Coastal let everything happen underneath, and then they attacked the ball. Coastal will have to play downhill against App State, just like they had to when they went on the road at Buffalo. The Bulls ran 47 times for 262 yards on the Chanticleers and were 9/16 on third down. They gave themselves a chance by keeping the ball out of Coastal’s hands. If the Mountaineers can play that patient on offense, I like their chances.

The First Pick

Surf but no Turf 31

Mountaineers 34

App State Football @ Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.31

Louisiana: 70.17

Home: 2.55

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.59 points

Line: App State -5

Series: App State leads 8-1

Last Meeting: App State 21, Louisiana 24, December 4, 2020, Boone, NC

For a special group of super seniors, Tuesday’s game is a day they have looked forward to for over ten months. The implications of the App State-Louisiana game have been clear for a couple seasons, 2020 aside. If you want to host the conference championship game, you have to win this game. Reminder, a championship game did not take place last year. Doubt anyone needed reminding. For App State, this is the second game of the so-called revenge tour. Marshall was handled. Louisiana stands in the way next. Similar to App State, the Cajuns returned a lot of from last season’s team, but had some coaching turnover. Louisiana’s season to date from a win-loss perspective was expected, but it’s been a somewhat rocky journey. But really that does not matter. Just about every team in college football in 2021 has their flaws, and the cliché of taking one game at a time might have more meaning than ever. Both teams taking the field on Tuesday night will gladly walk away with a win of any sort.

When reviewing Louisiana’s schedule this season, you will see that the Cajuns are 4-1 with a loss to Texas. A game where some experts thought that Louisiana would give the Longhorns the game, actually turned into a twenty point blowout as Texas pulled away in the second half. The experts may have expected the Cajuns to compete due to their win over Iowa State last year, which was mostly fueled by special teams play. More on special teams later. However, it is difficult to look at Louisiana’s four wins and say, you know what, that game was a coin toss, and they pulled it out. First, we see that they squeaked by Nicholls State at home. Louisiana was up 27-10 late before allowing two fourth quarter scores to Nicholls. Then the Cajuns smacked around once proud Ohio 49-14, just five days after Ohio lost to FCS Duquesne. Not sure what Ohio was thinking with that scheduling, playing a tough road game on a Thursday after playing the previous Saturday. The following wins over Georgia Southern and South Alabama were both tight games. Louisiana held off Southern 28-20 and edged the Jaguars 20-18. Two conference road wins will never disappoint a coach. It’s not easy to win in Paulson, no matter how much longer a coach is hanging around. The South Alabama game was also played in a downpour. However, in both conference wins, the opposing team scored very early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to one possession, yet Louisiana found a way.

Tuesday night will be the seventh time that Levi Lewis has dressed for a football game against App State. Even in 2017, when Lewis appeared in just four total games, one of those games was against the Mountaineers. There has not been another opposing quarterback in the history of this blog, that has been written about more times. We know who he is, what he is capable of, and also, what he is not capable of. Lewis remains a dual-threat quarterback, averaging 24.4 rushing yards per game. That figure is down slightly from last year when he ran more than any other season in which he was a full time starter. Lewis is passing for close to 220 yards per game which is negligibly different from previous seasons. Basically, Levi Lewis has been a very steady quarterback for several years. He has not improved greatly, nor has he regressed either. The Cajuns need him to play well to win, and he usually does.

For teams like Louisiana who spread the ball among three running backs, it helps to look at the overall picture instead of breaking down one player at a time. Those three have 131 carries for 712 yards and have added nine touchdowns. That works out to 5.4 yards per carry between the trio. Chris Smith has the most carries (52), but the fewest yards (231). Emani Bailey has more yards (249), and the fewest carries (34). Montrell Johnson is a freshman, and leads the group with four touchdowns, all those coming against Ohio. All three had light workloads against South Alabama last week. They combined for just 23 carries, but amassed 170 yards. Not long ago, Louisiana was eyeing to have three 1,000 yard rushers in a season. That lofty goal was not achieved, but the Cajuns are a long way from getting there in 2021. As a team, the Cajuns are 59th in the country in rushing offense at 166 yards per game. That’s a rather pedestrian ranking compared to what Louisiana had been accustomed to.

The tone was set from the opening drive last weekend. The Mountaineers were expecting Georgia State to run the ball and shorten the game, but they also knew at some point, they were going to have to score touchdowns. So the Panthers attempted that strategy on the first drive of the game. Incompletion. Interception. The Panthers had a turnover before they gained a yard. Three and a half minutes of game time later, the Mountaineers punched it in the end zone and never looked back. The Mountaineer defense finished the game with three interceptions, and added four sacks. Most importantly, Georgia State was held to a 20% conversion rate (3/15) on third down, and three red zone drives resulted in just three made field goals. The Mountaineers did not run wild, but managed 4.1 yards per carry. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Chase Brice, who arguably had his best day in the black and gold. His 326 passing yards was a career mark and his three touchdown passes were the most in a game since 2018, when Brice helped Clemson beat Louisville 77-16.

Much like last week, deferring any information from the previous years game lends absolutely zero direction as to how this year will play out. If you remember, last year’s game was played in a torrential downpour, both quarterbacks played poorly, and numerous mistakes were made on both sides of the ball. Tuesday night should be clear and mild for mid-October. So just because the Cajuns were able to finally get a win over the Mountaineers last December, does not mean they have figured out App State. The injury bug has settled in around the Cajuns this year, which has decimated their offensive line. That is as much to blame for the struggles, or lack of consistent success Louisiana has had on the ground compared to years past. Those struggles have put the Cajuns in unfavorable third down situations. On the season, Louisiana has converted third downs just 31.7% of the time, which is 111th in the country. The Mountaineer defense has been downright nasty on third downs all season, allowing opponents a paltry 29.7% success rate, which ranks 17th nationwide. On the flip side, Louisiana is one of the worst in the country from stopping their opponents on third downs, allowing a 45% success rate. Staying on the field is important in football, because if you have the ball, and can drive, chances are you can score more points. That leads us into the next telling statistic that derives from said conversions. App State averages 32 minutes of possession a game. That’s the best figure in the conference. Louisiana is the exact opposite, maintaining possession for just 27 minutes a game. That’s the worst figure in the conference. Starting to sound like Marshall a little bit huh? The Cajuns have outscored their opponents in the first half this year 78-50, but are dead even in the second half. Add the kickoff return threat from running back Chris Smith, and you see where this is going. A defense that fades in the second half due to being on the field too much, but has been buoyed by special teams, which gives the illusion of a great team. Marshall has more talent, but Louisiana plays better situational ball, turning the ball over less, and playing within themselves. A lowing scoring 2019-type game would not be surprising, but the Mountaineers might have a better defense than two years ago, and the Cajuns definitely do not have the same defense as then.

The First Pick

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 31

App State Football @ Georgia State

Appalachian State (3-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (1-3, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021 2:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.98

Georgia State: 61.65

Home: 2.77

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.56 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last Meeting: App State 17, Georgia State 13, November 14, 2020, Boone, NC

In light of the recent trend that the coolest, most important event that just occurred being the most significant, we’ll say this: Last Thursday night, with Kidd Brewer Stadium covered in black and gold and sprinkled in kelly green, brought back so many emotions, it was hard to contain. It legitimately felt like a big time event. Seeing the Herd run out in all white, just like a quarter century ago, was icing. Seeing the trash talk commence early was exactly what that rivalry was all about years ago. It was special. Now we transition from a rivalry of decades ago, to a friendship that has lasted decades. With each game this friendly competition gets overplayed, overtyped and overanalyzed. The two head coaches just want their players to succeed. The internal battle of Shawn vs. Shawn will be reminisced about around campfires in the Blue Ridge mountains in due time. This weekend is all about getting conference play off on the right foot. In a super competitive eastern division, getting the first win, is the most important.

There is going to be a lot, and I mean a lot of, emphasis placed on Georgia State narrowly losing to Auburn. Talk like that is good to motivate players, and keep them from downplaying an inferior opponent. Georgia State did not suddenly figure it out last weekend. They capitalized on an Auburn team that had their feelings hurt the week before at Penn State. Also, an Auburn team that is working with a new head coach. The Panthers other three opponents were not working with new head coaches in 2021, and those games were ugly for more reasons than one. Army pummeled Georgia State 43-10, and outgained the Panthers 356-177. The next week was worse. North Carolina beat down the Panthers 59-17. The Heels more than doubled up Georgia State in total yards, 607-271. The following game, the Panthers took care of Charlotte by a score of 20-9. The 49ers and Panthers combined for 78 rushing attempts. The difference was that Georgia State was able to run against Charlotte, and stop the 49ers ground game. Georgia State outrushed Charlotte 298-118. After three games, the Panthers were averaging less than 16 points per game.

The Panthers bumrushed Auburn in the second quarter last week, scoring three touchdowns and leading 24-12 at the half. Auburn managed just four first half field goals. Georgia State put together a non-scoring 44-yard drive on their first possession of the second half, but then proceeded to go 3 downs and out on their next four possessions. Their next drive lasted five plays but only consumed twenty yards. Their final two possessions also only covered twenty yards. In all, the Panthers gained 85 second half yards, with over half coming on one drive. Zero points were scored. Auburn woke up, and finished them. Georgia State cannot afford to go scoreless in the second half and expect to beat any SEC school, much less the Sun Belt. At minimum, the Panthers needed to allow fewer possessions to Auburn just by grinding out a few more first downs in the second half, and that might have altered the final score. That is asking a lot from a team ranked 111th in first downs, averaging just 17.5 per game.

The ground game is there for Georgia State, but they are running well for one reason. They have be good at it. It’s just about their only option right now. Quarterbacks Cornelius “Quad” Brown IV, and Darren Grainger have combined to lead one of the worst passing attacks in the country. The Panthers enter this weekend ranked 119th in passing efficiency, 125th in passing yards per game, and 123rd in completion percentage. This is not an option team. You would expect teams like Navy and Georgia Southern to be down there. Brown showed promise last year, throwing for over 2200 yards with seventeen touchdown passes. He also averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. That figure is down to 4.3 yards per pass in 2021, and he has not played the last two weeks. Grainger has appeared in every game, but has started the last two, and his production shows the direction that the Panthers are going. Grainger has 34 rushing attempts for 111 yards the last two games. Add to that, he has dropped back to pass 36 times in those two games, and has been sacked five times.

There were a lot of things that happened in the win against Marshall. When the offense runs 92 plays, your result is a stat padding game. Usually those games are blowouts, and this was not. That Thursday night will be remembered for a long time. Perhaps the most memorable performance came from Nate Noel. After a first half that saw just 18 yards on three carries for Noel, he exploded in the second half. Noel ran for 65 yards in the third quarter, and 104 yards in the fourth quarter. But more than anything, we will remember what Noel did not do. He did not score a touchdown in the closing minutes. In that scenario, possession was more vital than points, as Noel secured a first down, and fell to the ground at the five yard line. That play allowed the Mountaineers to kill the clock and secure the win. Can you say enough about Corey Sutton? It’s possible. Sutton was targeted 17 times by Chase Brice, catching ten balls for 127 yards, while also adding another toe-tapping highlight reel catch for a touchdown. Lest we forget Thomas Hennigan, who also turned in a 123-yard performance on nine catches. And of course, we could not go on with mentioning a tough effort by Cam Peoples, carrying the ball 25 times for 78 yards in just two and a half quarters of playing time. Peoples punched in three touchdowns, and really set the table for Noel in the game’s final twenty minutes.

We all know the series record. Seven games played, and seven games won by App State. The closest games in this series were both played in Boone. In 2016, App State scored a late touchdown for the final margin in an otherwise uneventful 17-3 win. Last year, Jacob Huesman willed the Mountaineers down the field with a late fourth quarter score that gave App State its first lead, and eventually App State held on to win 17-13. That’s it. Those are the two closest games this series has had. Those also represent the fewest points (17) App has scored in the series. Otherwise, the Mountaineers have averaged 42.6 points per game in the five other contests. Additionally, there has not been a close game played in Atlanta, regardless of which former professional stadium or park it was played in. The Mountaineers have averaged 41.3 points across three games in Fulton County. All of this is the past. The 2020 game has no bearing on this Saturday, and neither does Georgia State’s close call with Auburn. This is a completely different game. Unimpressive football is unsustainable for continued success. That is exactly what Georgia State’s offense has shown this season. Listen, the Panthers are going to lean on the running game behind a very experienced offensive line, but until they develop a more consistent passing attack, they will struggle. A lot of the reasons why App State and Georgia State played so close last year are gone. One, obviously being Corey Sutton, and a less than healthy Thomas Hennigan. Those guys are now in peak form, and the App State offense has all the confidence in Chase Brice to get the ball to them. Despite playing three run oriented teams in Army, Charlotte, and Auburn, the Panthers rank just 117th in team passing efficiency defense nationwide. The Panther defense has registered zero interceptions, but have allowed 915 passing yards and eight touchdown passes. The fifteen yards per catch allowed is also eye-popping. The Mountaineers will not forget the way they played last year offensively, and you can expect a little more firepower than what you saw in 2020. I highly doubt Georgia State can score twenty points in this one, and the Mountaineers will score plenty more.

The First Pick

Blue Kittens 17

Mountaineers 34

App State Football vs Marshall

Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Marshall (2-1, 0-0 CUSA)

Thursday, September 23rd, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.52

Marshall: 70.10

Home: 3.00

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 6.42 points

Line: App State -7.5

Series: App State leads 14-9

Last Meeting: App State 7, Marshall 17, September 19, 2020, Huntington, WV

For those who were looking for normalcy in Boone this past weekend, you got it, and then some. It was a busy weekend in the High Country. The eighth-largest crowd in Kidd Brewer Stadium history was treated to a big win over a former foe. It was a great day, but it was not perfect. Several adjustments will be made between games. There were fumbles on and off the field, and although the game day experience might not exactly be like riding a bike, the opportunity to jump back on does exist. That’s the beauty of it all. If everything was always perfect, it would get boring pretty quickly. We didn’t drive to the mountains for boring. We drive to see what we have yet to discover. We hike the same trails to relive an experience, and see it for the first time all over again. A lot of supporters will be doing the exact same thing on Thursday. Most App State students were but a twinkle in their parents eyes the last time Marshall played in Boone, and others have been waiting for this moment for a quarter century. Let us all appreciate it.

If this past weekend helped you relive the memories of the SoCon yesteryear, enjoy the the more vintage and seasoned brand of Marshall this weekend. Elon and Marshall did not cross paths in the Southern Conference, but those schools membership tells a great story about App State’s history in the last 30 years. Marshall left the SoCon in 1996, and became members of the Mid-American conference for eight years. Elon joined the SoCon in 2003. Those two moves along with others got people around App State thinking about FBS, or as it was referred to then, Division I. Marshall joined Conference USA in 2005, about the same time of App State’s resurgence in I-AA/FCS football. The Marshall games in the late 1980’s and 1990’s were intense battles. App State missed those games, and Georgia Southern helped bridge that gap, that Elon and other small private schools could not provide. Marshall went on to great success, winning I-AA titles, which was what they needed to move to FBS. App State’s playoff success in the 2000s stoked the desire to play teams like Marshall again. Last year, App and Marshall scheduled a series to work around the pandemic. This week’s game is the first leg of a separate home and home agreement that was announced in June 2015, and will be completed next year in Huntington.

Last season’s scheduling of the Marshall game was a win on paper, but was not exactly what a coaching staff wants at the last minute. You prep all offseason for the first few games, and then poof, Wake Forest and Wisconsin are gone, insert Conference USA. It did not help that App State had to deal with pandemic issues leading up to the game, and were trying to discover their identity with limited practice times and groupings. Long story short, it was not our best showing, and Marshall stuck to their game plan, and won an old-fashioned game. The Herd took that momentum and won five more games, to start the season 7-0, and then things went south. Marshall lost their last three games, getting shutout by Rice, stymied by UAB 22-13, and falling flat in their 17-10 Camellia Bowl loss to Buffalo. In all three games, Marshall was dominated in time of possession. This season, Marshall has soundly defeated two teams in Navy and NC Central. Navy has scored ten points combined in two games this season. NC Central has scored forty-three points in their two wins over Alcorn State and Winston-Salem State. And then, there is the debacle of last Saturday night. East Carolina scored 21 unanswered fourth quarter points to steal a win on the road from the Thundering Herd.

Seems that Marshall success has gone the way of its sophomore quarterback Grant Wells. The Mountain State native has already thrown for 1,110 yards in 2021, and has eclipsed 300 yards passing in every game, a feat he accomplished just twice last season. However, Wells is streaky, and when he is up, so is Marshall, and likewise when he has a rough game. He threw 18 touchdown passes in ten games last year, and half of those touchdown passes came in two games, against Eastern Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. On the the other hand, seven of his nine interceptions last season came in two games, in which Marshall was shutout by Rice, and narrowly won 20-9 over Florida Atlantic. Wells’ touchdown/interception ratio might be leveling out in 2021, with four touchdown passes and five interceptions, but that includes interceptions in each game. Thursday comes down to which version of Grant Wells shows up for Marshall.

App State was somewhat accused of sleepwalking on Saturday, but in the end, Elon never threatened the Mountaineers at all. Sure, Elon was annoying with 14 first downs, which is actually a pretty good number for a defense, but it felt like a lot more. Meanwhile, the Phoenix did not want to succumb to the ground game, and limited the Mountaineers to 187 yards rushing. That forced App State to probably throw the ball a handful of times more than they wanted. Chase Brice put up his largest yardage total (293) of the young season, which lead to big games from Corey Sutton and Malik Williams. Both eclipsed 120 yards receiving on the day, with Williams catching the 50-yard touchdown pass from Brice. Camerun Peoples was limited to eleven carries, which could be a signal that he might have a larger workload this week with the quick turnaround. Nate Noel finished with 73 yards on seventeen carries. The best stat line was produced by the defensive side of the ball. D’Marco Jackson turned in a thirteen tackle, three sack and 4.5 tackle for loss performance that had not occurred in college football in quite some time.

From 1977 through 1996, App State and Marshall played every single season, including twice in 1987. Throughout the 23 games series, neither team has played more than two games in a row in its home turf. Neither team has won more than four games in a row against each other. App had a four game winning streak to start the series, and Marshall currently holds a three game winning streak. It’s a real life cliché. Throw out the records. It has been a while since App State last beat the Herd in Boone. Twenty-seven long years. That night in 1994 was glorious. Scott Satterfield ran the option and pitched it to Chip Hooks repeatedly. Johnny Smith pulled down an interception and took it in for the go-ahead score, that would provide the final margin. Students could not control their excitement as attempts to remove the goal posts began before time expired. Only Jerry Moore could get everything organized long enough for the final seconds to tick away. And once again, the lights will be on at Kidd Brewer for one of the best Group of Five matchups of the weekend. This matchup was one that App State has circled. The Herd knocked App State out of the Top 25 last year and have not sniffed it since. Players and coaches might not care about that, but the fans do. We remember that painful feeling. Marshall has an offense that has the ability to score a lot of points. They have one speed, and that’s go. They like to move the ball up and down the field. The problem is the Herd’s defense. East Carolina blistered them for 561 yards. A very bad Navy team still managed 398 yards. How has Marshall surrendered all these yards without letting everyone score? It doesn’t help that Marshall has thrown six interceptions as a team, and has fumbled seven times, while losing three of them to inferior opponents. That also goes back to that time of possession battle that mentioned earlier. It’s a trend that dates back to last season. If Marshall turns the ball over three times, which is their average this season, it will be a long night in Boone. Mind you, they have been turning the ball over to teams that are clearly not as powerful as App State is on defense. Which leads to another interesting stat. Marshall has allowed just two sacks all season, while App State has nine defensively. It all comes down to how App defends Wells, and he has just been too streaky in his last several games to expect Marshall to come out on top.

The First Pick

Blundering Bessies 21

Mountaineers 31

App State Football vs Elon

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Elon (1-1, 0-0 CAA)

Saturday, September 18th, 2021 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.47

Elon: 38.55

Home: 3.00

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 41.92 points

Line: no line

Series: App State leads 32-9-1

Last Meeting: App State 31, Elon 21, September 21, 2013, Boone, NC

Chalk another one up in the “Close, but no cigar category.” A loss to Miami was probable, but a gut wrenching loss decided in the final moments was not what App State fans had in mind. Have we not suffered this fate enough? The close calls can kill you. They stick for awhile. Almost to the point that nothing matters as we stare into a campfire for moments on end trying to comprehend what your eyes just witnessed. Well, that’s at least what I did. Truth is the last close calls we had actually went our way. How quickly we forget needing to block a field goal at North Carolina to avoid overtime. Remember when everyone’s heart stopped beating as a football fluttered out of the back of a Columbia end zone. That pendulum has swung both ways. We all want them all, but these things have a way of evening out. Doubtful anyone would trade either Carolina game for Miami, or the others. Yet, the result brings outs a complicated range of emotions, and of wanting more. The only way to get past it, is to play ball.

It has been eight years since App State and Elon played, way back in 2013, when the star of the game was some freshman running back named Marcus Cox. It was the final year in the Southern Conference for both schools. Elon has been in the Colonial since 2014, and it was not a pretty start. Elon went 7-27 from 2014-2016. Elon then hired Curt Cignetti, who improved the Phoenix to 14-9 over two seasons before Cignetti was hired by James Madison to the same position. In 2019, Elon elevated Tony Trisciani to head coach after a stint as defensive coordinator. Trisciani was the defensive backs coach at Elon in 2006 when Armanti Edwards made his third career start and totaled 263 yards and added two touchdowns. That stat had little to do with Elon 2021, but why not mention Armanti when you can. Elon went 5-6 in 2019, did not play a fall season in 2020, but did play an abbreviated schedule this past spring, winning one game over Davidson, and losing five games. Among those five losses were a three point loss to #1 James Madison, and two losses to Richmond, and a 42-20 loss to Gardner-Webb. Almost forgot how weird FCS football can be.

Elon stands at 1-1 entering the renewal of the rivalry that never was. The Phoenix have played two barnburners, suffering a two point loss to Wofford, and securing a one point win over Campbell. The Phoenix warded off a two point conversion attempt by the Camels with 11 seconds left in regulation as Campbell went for the win. Campbell also attempted such a feat at Georgia Southern last season. Campbell still has dual threat Hajj-Malik Williams playing quarterback, and he burned Elon for 220 total yards and three touchdown passes. Wofford’s quarterback is Peyton Derrick, who spent his first two years of his career in Boone. Derrick was responsible for a 4th and 2 pass to Dominique Heath at Penn State that set up a touchdown. Derrick ran for 67 yards on just five attempts against Elon and threw for 155 more. After two weeks of mobile quarterbacks, the Elon defense will see a more pocket-oriented Chase Brice. Wofford averaged six yards a carry on the Phoenix defense, and four players logged rushes of over twenty yards. Wofford also completed passes of 33 yards and 71 yards.

Senior quarterback Davis Cheek is in his fourth season for Elon, and he brings plenty of experience with him. He will be playing in his 32nd career game on Saturday, and has thrown for 6,205 yards, with 38 career touchdown passes to just 17 interceptions. His sophomore campaign was cut short due to an injury, but Cheek has started every game in which he has appeared. In 2017 and 2019, Cheek surpassed 2,000 passing yards in each season, and had career highs in touchdown passes both years with fifteen total. He is well on his way to a career year, with four touchdown passes and 581 yards passing in just two games. Cheek did not play in the spring season of 2021. The ground game is not the forte of the Phoenix, as they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on the young season. Three receivers have caught 33/51 completed passes from Cheek and all of his touchdowns. Jackson Parham leads in yardage with 168. Chandler Brayboy has pulled in 12 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Kortez Weeks touts a 10/121/1 line.

With two games under our belt, the App State offensive and defensive leaders are beginning to take shape. The running back race is a figurative dead heat. Camerun Peoples has 195 yards and three touchdowns. Nate Noel has 177 yards on the season. Both have carried the ball exactly thirty-one times. Peoples is better downhill runner, and is tough to stop once he gets wound up. Noel was bottled up mostly by Miami, but found better running room in the second half. The trio of Thomas Hennigan, Corey Sutton and Malik Williams continue to lead the Apps in receiving, catching 25 of the 41 completed passes from Chase Brice. Each have a touchdown and have at least seven catches. DeMarco Jackson leads the team with 18 total tackles, with 11 unassisted. Steven Jones also has also 11 solo tackles, and is second on the team with 13 combined stops. TD Roof and Caleb Spurlin follow closely behind with 11 tackles each, with Roof sporting 2 sacks. Trey Cobb and Nick Hampton also have ten tackles each.

This will be the 997th football game in Elon history, and their 246th game as an FBS program. Elon has never defeated an FBS program in their history. Elon has not defeated App State since 1964, covering a span of 18 games. When Elon joined the Southern Conference in 2003, they were very bad. From 2007-2009, the Phoenix were actually decent, but still could not beat App State. Even as their time together in the SoCon dwindled, Elon’s success waned, but they still played tough games against the Mountaineers. It was just never meant to be. Now we find ourselves back down memory lane again in 2021, and we all hope its ends up just like it always has. It seems over the years, when Elon can hire a decent head coach, at some point, that coach will win a few games, and then head elsewhere. Nothing says that Tony Trisciani can’t become that next guy, but he has not had the time yet at Elon to make that happen. Maybe that’s why they decided to play a spring schedule without their starting quarterback. Eight games were scheduled, and six were played. One would figure that would give you an advantage, playing a spring schedule, but those affects on players and coaches at this point is relatively unknown. Elon’s inability to run the ball should be a major concern, especially this week. The Mountaineers have allowed 3.9 yards per game to FBS opponents, while Elon has gained 3.4 yards in the fall compared to just 3.0 yards per carry in the spring. Expect to see the Phoenix in a lot of 3rd down and long situations. Those will play into Cheek being harassed in the pocket. The App State defense already has six sacks in two games against above average mobility quarterbacks. Elon has only defended 41 pass attempts as a defense in two games. Part of that is playing Wofford, but even the Terriers and Peyton Derrick threw the ball around a little more than most of us remember seeing. That could be a real issue going from SoCon/Big South wide receivers to App State’s super senior quartet. Not sure how quickly this one gets decided, but the margin should be considerable by halftime.

The First Pick

Resurrectionists 14

Mountaineers 56

App State Football @ #22 Miami

Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Miami (0-1, 0-0 ACC)

Saturday, September 11th, 2021 7:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL

Capacity: 64,767

Surface: Bermuda Grass

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.58

Miami: 75.80

Home: 2.37

Miami is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.59 points

Line: Miami -9.0

Series: Miami leads 1-0

Last Meeting: Miami 45, App State 10, September 17, 2016, Boone, NC

If you were lucky enough to be in attendance at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday or Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday evening, you were treated to some pretty fantastic performances. Attend both? Bucket list weekend. Obviously the win on Thursday is what we are here to talk about. Hey look, we beat East Carolina for the first time in 46 years. We all knew we were a better program, but you need that scoreboard to back it up. The score is what gets etched into the history books forever. Another opportunity exists this weekend. Miami is reeling a little bit. Fans are super disappointed about not being able to compete with one of the best dynasties in all the sport. It almost feels like the shoe is on the other foot circa 2016. App State wanted to beat Miami five years ago. There was hope, and Miami was down, but they were still Miami with little ol’ App State on the schedule, in just their third full year of FBS football. Now, App State can beat Miami? Are we trying to convince ourselves of that again, or does there exist optimism with facts to support it? Miami is not going to hand it to App State — they’ll have to have to earn it. Just the way we like it.

We venture back to the time machine in Week 2 to complete a two games series that came together out of nowhere nearly 6 years ago. It was a first of its kind scheduling event for App State, to host their initial Power 5 opponent in Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Apps are returning the favor almost five years later. That series potentially opened the door for the Mountaineers to schedule the likes of other directional “Carolina” schools to eventually, maybe not, come to Boone. Looking at you, Gamecocks. Regardless, this return trip to Miami was scheduled before App State played in its first Camellia Bowl, which tells you exactly how quickly things can change in college athletics. In 2015, Miami was not performing, but they were still the Hurricanes, Despite that, they were able to roll the Mountaineers pretty easily in 2016, who were still working with FCS-type talent at many positions.

If you thought comparing the one opponent that App and ECU had in common last week was wild, just hang tight. Based on the ACC’s decision to play one nonconference game in 2020, the opportunity for common opponents was minimal. Miami chose to play UAB in its opening game last year, and won 31-14 over the Blazers. The week before, UAB beat Central Arkansas 45-35, but the last game UAB played prior to that was their 31-17 loss in the 2019 New Orleans Bowl to App State. Now those games were a long time ago, and likely do not mean much, but they remain interesting. Last year Miami was 8-3, and played six games against teams sporting a record over .500, and went 3-3 in those games. All of their 2020 losses were to bowl eligible teams in Clemson, North Carolina and Oklahoma State. Coupled with the opening week loss to Alabama, the Hurricanes have lost three straight football since last season. Enjoy the irony here, in that Miami’s last win in football was over Duke. Certainly those dots have been connected by now.

The Miami offense goes through their Heisman candidate D’Eriq King, who is in his second season with the school since transferring from Houston. A major offseason story for King and the ‘Canes was his recovery from an ACL injury he suffered in the bowl game against Oklahoma State. King had no issues moving around in the pocket, and using his legs to escape the pass rush when pressured against Alabama. Still, King was sacked four times, lost a fumble on one sack, and had two interceptions. One of the interceptions was a tipped pass, and the other, King just threw into too much traffic. Only twice did King throw passes over twenty yards against Alabama. King netted ten yards on his nine carries against Alabama, and rushed more times than any other Hurricane in 2020. His receivers are really good, top to bottom, but none are head and shoulders above the rest. That’s not intended as bulletin board material, but more as a compliment. Several of them can hurt you. More importantly, Miami is really good at tight end with Will Mallory who was fifth on the team in receptions in 2020, while backing up Brevin Jordan who was a fifth-round selection of the Houston Texans. In all, Mallory and Jordan accounted for 60 receptions for 905 yards and eleven touchdowns for offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee last season.

For an opening weekend of college football, App State could not have asked for much better. Defeating an in-state rival on a neutral field in front of a national audience is the kind of stuff memories are made of. Old friends made new friends in downtown Charlotte on a perfect day and night for football. The new guy, Chase Brice, probably thinks he could have played better, but you will not find any complaints here. Forget the pedigree, expectations or uncertainty, Brice helped choreograph an App State win. The newspaper article might not land on the refrigerator door, but it was the first step in the right direction for the entire offense. A very balanced attack looked nearly unstoppable in the second quarter when the Mountaineers rallied from a 6-0 deficit to lead by two touchdowns at halftime. Ten players caught passes with Thomas Hennigan and Corey Sutton leading with four receptions and one touchdown each. The Mountaineers run defense allowed just 86 yards on the ground and Pirates committed one, two, or too many penalties to hang with App State.

This could be one of the tougher matchups to predict. Miami played the defending national champion last week, and one the best programs in college football history that remains in the middle of a historic run. Alabama has been making a lot of programs look bad on any given day. Can we actually read anything into that game? Does it tell you anything about Miami? Just because Miami could not keep up with Alabama last week does not mean that they cannot have a successful season, and make a lot of teams look bad. It’s almost like it is Week 1 all over again for Miami. The Hurricanes response this week will be critical. Manny Diaz and staff really need a win. We know how this works for App State. Not a must win, but in order to take the next step as a program, beating Miami will go a long way. It’s not often that the Mountaineers get their opportunities to play a game like this after having one under its belt. Prior to 2019, games against Georgia, Tennessee and Penn State were on opening weekend. In 2019, App State took advantage of having worked out some kinks to knock off North and South Carolina. Is that the recipe for P5 success? We’ll see. But we do know, that in 2020, Miami secured double digit margins of victory over five opponents. Those opponents were UAB, Louisville, Florida State, Pitt and Duke. Those teams were a combined 21-30 last season. There might not be much to this, but it does seem to be worth noting. Manny Diaz has long been known as a good defensive coordinator, but the Canes surrendered 27ppg last year and 408 yards per game in total offense. The Hurricanes scheme tends to use their overall speed to create havoc for opposing offenses. They tout their tackles for loss and turnovers in the media guide. That could be a major key for App State on Saturday. Limit negative plays, such as penalties, and take care of the ball. But is the havoc defense enough? If those negative plays are limited, and the turnover jewelry stays in its trunk, does a good defense exist? One last thing on D’Eriq King. He is 24 years old, and six projected starting NFL quarterbacks are younger than he. At Houston he played wide receiver in his first two seasons before moving to quarterback on a more full time basis in his later years, while still running the football quite a bit. He’s played a lot of football, yet has appeared in just sixteen games in his last three years of football, while also rehabbing an injury.

The First Pick

Depressions 30

Mountaineers 21

App State Football vs East Carolina (Duke’s Mayo Classic)

Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs East Carolina (0-0, 0-0 AAC)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, NC

Capacity: 75,412

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.55

East Carolina: 62.31

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11.24 points

Line: App State -10.5

Series: App State leads 19-12

Last Meeting: ECU 35, App State 13, September 1, 2012, Greenville, NC

And we are back. As in college football is back, but most importantly, fans in the stands are back. Hopefully we are past limited attendance and other measures that kept that lifeblood out of college athletics last season. Also back, is a matchup between App State and East Carolina for the first time in nine seasons. For the first ever, these two schools on the opposite ends of the state, will face off on the gridiron as FBS institutions. This will be the first game of a scheduled four game series, with App State hosting the first game in Bank of America Stadium this year and concluding with alternating games on campus sites from 2024-2026. As is normal practice in scheduling college football games way in the the future, this series was announced in early 2017. Since then, East Carolina has fired and hired another coach, while App State has just hired two coaches. The two programs have somewhat gone in opposite directions since the agreement was made, which surprises nobody considering their fans barbecue preferences.

East Carolina and App State were in different places nine years ago. That was the last time these two in-state rivals met. In 2012, East Carolina went 8-5 and lost the New Orleans Bowl to Louisiana. Their regular season schedule included games against North & South Carolina, Southern Miss, UAB and Marshall. Those were the schools App State wanted to play, and at that time, moving to FBS was in the works. In nine short years, App has now played those schools, and beaten most of them. East Carolina was in Conference USA, and App State wanted to be in a conference with the Pirates. But as the college football world turns, now both schools are in difference conferences and their trajectories have changed immensely. The Pirates have played in just two bowls since the 2012 season, defeating Ohio in 2013, and losing to Florida on January 3rd, 2015, after the culmination of the 2014 season. Since App has been bowl eligible in FBS, East Carolina has not appeared in a bowl game.

East Carolina and App State have not shared many common opponents in the last two seasons, and using data from 2020 games for comparisons sake might not make the most sense. Nonetheless, we do have one opponent from last year that was certainly eyebrow raising for both schools. It’s not often you can glean much from many Georgia State games, but its what we have. East Carolina got slapped around by the Panthers last year in Atlanta, to the tune of a 49-29 final score. The Pirates scored first to lead 7-0, but Georgia State answered with four unanswered touchdowns and won going away. The biggest takeaway from this game is how easily Georgia State moved the ball compared to how difficult it was for East Carolina’s offense to get going. The Panthers averaged 3 more yards a play on offense. But this game had a little bit of everything, with six combined turnovers, a punt return touchdown, two interception return touchdowns, and twenty accepted penalties between the two teams.

The Pirates return of a slew of offensive skill talent for the 2021 season. Holton Ahlers returns at quarterback and will be in his fourth year at ECU. Ahlers has 25 career starts under his belt. He started every game in 2019, and all but one game in 2020 due to pandemic protocols. Ahlers is a dual-threat left-handed passer that saw some of his numbers dip in 2020 after a stupendous year in 2019, where he passed for 3,387 yards and ran for another 359 yards. Ahlers has run for over 1,000 yards in his career, but the majority of that was accumulated during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In 2020, Ahlers ran for just 109 yards. Wide receivers CJ Johnson and Tyler Snead are the top returners at the position. Johnson caught 54 passes for 908 yards during his freshman campaign in 2019, but was limited somewhat in 2020 to nineteen receptions. However, Johnson did average 21.3 yards per receptions last year and remains a serious weapon for Ahlers. In the slot, Tyler Snead is a workhorse, logging 134 career receptions in twenty-five games. Snead isn’t much to look at, standing all of 5’7″ and weighing in at 174 pounds, but he is reliable and gets the job done. Snead also serves as the Pirates punt returner and kick returner.

It has been a long offseason, but not a lot has changed, thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted to collegiate athletes. That led to a flurry of graduating seniors deciding to come back and play another year for the Mountaineers, mainly because, last year did not turn out how they wanted, and they did not want to be remembered that way. So when the depth chart was officially released on Monday, you saw a lot of the same faces. Seemingly, four positions groups had little to no change at the top. But new faces have emerged in key spots, and fans and media have talked about them for months. Quarterback Chase Brice and the “new” guys on the offensive line have dominated those conversations. Sure, Brice is new, but he has been here since the spring with “new” offensive coordinator Frank Ponce. The left side of the offensive line is not new to App State, just to the starting roles, with true freshman behind them. Does live game chemistry need to be developed for some of these players? Sure, but we have to stop acting like all of these faces are, well, new.

Under Mike Houston, the Pirates have typically had enough offense to win football games. East Carolina averaged 26.8 points per game in 2019, and 30.2 points per game a season ago. The real issue comes down to defense. In 2019, the Pirates allowed 33.7 points a game and 35.4 last year. The point differential shrunk, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. East Carolina has the same defensive coordinator from a season ago, and they have stressed forcing turnovers. There is trendy train of thought in some football circles that turnovers, and not yards allowed or other metrics, are the key to a successful defense. Obviously turnovers are big, and East Carolina forced 18 turnovers in nine games a season ago. That was good enough for 25th in the country in total turnovers gained. Yet, gaining turnovers only goes so far, when a team also turns it over themselves. The Pirates gave away 21 turnovers, which was 122nd in the country, which is not good. Eventually, you have to stop the opposing offense. The Pirates were not good at that in 2020 either. East Carolina allowed 6.2 yards per play, and 447 yards per game. When you think about all these big numbers allowed on defense, forcing turnovers is just about the only option to give your team a chance to win. Not to mention, that of that 447 yards allowed per game, over 200 yards were given up on the ground. App State eclipsed that mark in eight games last season. With the Mountaineers breaking in a new quarterback, what better way to make him feel comfortable than to hand it off forty times. That’s not my suggestion, and honestly feel that is semi-lazy. It’s the first game, but that does not mean we have time to keep things simple. I’m expecting a balanced attack from the Mountaineers, with a lot of intermediate passing with well-timed deep shots down the field. If East Carolina wants to contend, they are going to have to be better on both sides of the ball after halftime. The Pirates were outscored in the third quarter 79-27 last season.

The First Pick

Scallywags 20

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs North Texas (Myrtle Beach Bowl)

Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs North Texas (4-5, 3-4 CUSA)

Monday, December 21st, 2020 2:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 600 AM Winston-Salem, 1270 AM Charlotte, 1450 AM Hendersonville, Sirius XM 80, TuneIn App

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.19

North Texas: 54.14

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.05 points

Line: App State -19.0

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

It has taken a little longer than usual, but we have made it to the end of another college football season. This season was long haul for a lot of people involved. Many were responsible for making sure we could be entertained with this game in the safest way possible. In as much as we all want a break from all the stress, there are others who do not want it to end for plenty of reasons. We get to this point of the season annually. The mixed of emotions of the season being over for fans, but careers over for good, for a lot of great players. We are all fortunate that Zac Thomas, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams’ last game was in 2020, and not last year. It’s likely, for one last time we get to cheer for some players who first made memories in Happy Valley, and then New Orleans twice with a stop in Chapel Hill in between. Its surreal that this journey ends just miles from the Grand Strand, where many were heartbroken just weeks ago. For one last time, give your all in 2020, and hope we do not have to do it like this, ever again.

For the third straight season, the Mountaineers are matched up against an opponent from Conference USA in their bowl game. Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham were dismissed in New Orleans and now comes North Texas. This will be App State’s third Conference USA opponent in 2020, all with green as their primary color. North Texas lost to UNC-Charlotte by a score of 49-21, and did not play Marshall. Now, App played Charlotte a long time ago. Comparing those games are impossible. Some players that played in those games in September, are not playing now. But that game, in a nutshell can be one that describes the North Texas season. They lost by four scores. In their other four losses, the Mean Green lost by ten points or more in each game. Twice they lost by thirty points. The losses gut ugly fast. The wins, became less impressive as the season wore on. Four wins total, with one over relative FCS newcomer Houston Baptist. The remaining three wins were over Middle Tennessee, Rice and UTEP, who combined for an 8-14 record.

Although quality wins are lacking for the Mean Green, their offense does not lack for firepower. A lot of that offense was due to Jaelon Darden, who decided to not play in the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Darden was impressive in nine games, catching 74 passes for 1,190 yard and 19 touchdowns. He will be missed by North Texas. The next best receiver had 25 catches for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s a major drop off. Still, this offense averaged 515 yards per game, which was seventh nationally. The Mean Green passed for 284 yards per game, which was 22nd in the country, and 230 yards a game on the ground, which is 13th across the land. Darden may have been a large piece of that, but he was not everything. But the problem for North Texas is a very bad defense. How bad? How about 126th out of 127 teams bad. UL-Monroe went 0-10 this year, and still have gave up 45 fewer yards per game than did North Texas.

For most of the season, North Texas used has used two quarterbacks and they could not be more different. Austin Aune has played in eight games and started three. Aune is a redshirt sophomore, but was born in 1993. He was a second round draft pick by the New York Yankees out of high school. He enrolled at North Texas in 2018 and sat out after transferring from Arkansas. Aune had a career high five touchdown passes in the most recent win over UTEP. Jason Bean has played in seven games, starting in six of them. He’s also a redshirt sophomore, but can not rent a car like his teammate. The simple comparison is that Aune is the passing quarterback and Bean is the runner. However, both share similar statistics as far as touchdown-interception ratio and completion percentage. The ball comes off of Aune’s arm effortlessly, as one would expect from a former minor league outfielder. Bean is a former high school track star and has piled up 336 yards rushing and 7.8 yards per carry on the season.

For much of last week, it looked like App State might fall again to their bitter hated rival, but the Mountaineer defense stood tall late and gave Nate Noel and Jalen Virgil the opportunity to make plays. It was a satisfying, chippy win, regardless of how it unfolded. Zac Thomas bounced back from a pick-six to throw touchdown passes to Virgil and Thomas Hennigan. App State scored twenty-seven second half points and rallied from 14-0 deficit. Winning is hard enough, and its more difficult to win in Statesboro. It may have acted as a springboard into the bowl game, where the Mountaineers landed a geographically friendly bowl location, even if the start time is undesirable. Still, the Mountaineers might have one of the better crowds it will have all season rooting them on. Some streaks have been broken this season, but one that remains is an unblemished mark in bowl games. Finishing the season with a win, and more hardware, is the goal this week.

Just like how last weekend was odd in that App State and Georgia Southern were playing on a Saturday, this will be the first time in six appearances that App State will play its bowl game on a non-Saturday. Not just any day either, a Monday afternoon. Luckily, the date only has an effect on the fans, and typically not the players and coaches. However this is an inaugural bowl game, in a year unlike any other, so why not Monday afternoon football? Unfortunately, the last time the Mountaineers played in this stadium, they lost the chance to achieve one of their goals. Yet, an opportunity to continue an unprecedented streak still exists. North Texas will be playing in their eleventh NCAA-sanctioned bowl game in program history. They have just managed two wins. This will be the fourth time that Seth Littrell is taking the Mean Green to a bowl game and they have yet to win one yet. Their last two losses were exceptionally lopsided, losing to Troy 50-30, and by thirty-nine points to Utah State last year. A trend has seemed to develop. North Texas can score some points sometimes, and occasionally, when they do not score, they get beat pretty bad. Seems simple enough. App State is by far the best defense that North Texas will have played this season. Rice played the Mean Green close, but eventually fell 27-17 after blowing a 10-0 lead on the road. Rice might be the next best defense that North Texas played, and that is asking a lot. Never thought 2020 would bring Rice football to this corner of the internet. North Texas is going to have to do better than their season average of allowing 4.5 touchdowns per game in order to give themselves a chance to win. App State has scored 31 points or more in every bowl game in their history, while allowing just 11.33 points per game in their last three bowls. It’s a mismatch on paper, and that should carry over to the scoreboard on Monday afternoon.

The First Pick

Green with Envy 20

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football vs #21 Louisiana

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt)

Friday, December 4th, 2020 8:30pm 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: 31,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.30

Louisiana: 76.59

Home: 1.03

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.74 points

Line: App State -2.5

Series: App State leads 8-0

Last Meeting: App State 45, Louisiana 38, Boone, NC December 7, 2019

It’s finally Louisiana week…. again. We had all hoped to do this for the third straight season, but this year is not the same as any other. So we settle to makeup a postponed game that was scheduled to have occurred two months ago. Although a trophy is not on the line in this edition, bragging rights remain like they always do. Louisiana is tired of it. They are tired of looking at 0-8, tired of hearing about it, and they want to do something about it. On the other sideline, a team wants to continue that streak and send out a fantastic group of seniors, if its their last game, out on the right note. Louisiana certainly does not want to think about a loss for two weeks before having to travel back to the east coast to play another conference championship game on the road. And the Mountaineers want to strive for another ten win season before playing their most hated rivals in the regular season finale. Both teams have reasons to look ahead, but don’t expect this game to lose one bit of luster because a trophy is nowhere to be seen.

The Ragin Cajuns win over then-ranked #23, now-ranked #12 Iowa State has been viewed positively, then negatively, and now again in a more beneficial light. Fact is, when that game was played in mid-September, it was the opening game for both teams, and it’s much easier to sneak up on a Power Five opponent fresh out of the gates. There is no doubt that Iowa State is a good team, probably a better team than they were nearly three months ago, but it’s hard to put much stock into a team you beat three months ago during a pandemic. Nonetheless, Louisiana beat Iowa State, and then proceeded to play four games that were decided by one possession, three in conference, and one out of conference. The Cajuns needed overtime to beat Georgia State, a 53-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Georgia Southern at home, lost to Coastal on a late field goal at home, and then edged UAB with a fourth quarter touchdown to win. The Cajuns trailed UAB after every quarter of that game, except the one that mattered, the fourth. Its arguable that every single one of those games could have had a different result. In the last month, the Cajuns have defeated Texas State, Arkansas State, South Alabama and UL-Monroe. Neither of those teams are exactly lighting the world on fire, as South Alabama has the best record at 4-6 overall. That’s the Sun Belt West for you.

Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis will be playing his sixth game in his career against App State on Friday night. It might not be his last one, as the senior announced his intentions to return to school in 2021, taking advantage of an NCAA rule. Lewis saw mop up time in the 2017 game in which App blistered that Cajuns for a 63-14 win. Like every other Cajun footballer, Lewis has never defeated App State. What has been asked of him in 2020, is slightly different than years past. The Cajuns have typically relied on a dominant running game, which has only helped Lewis throughout most of his career, but that ground attack has not been as fruitful. Lewis is throwing for about seven more yards per game in 2020 than 2019, and that’s really not a big deal one way or the other. However, his wide receivers have tailed off as well. Lewis had only thrown seven interceptions in his career in thirty-two games coming into 2020, but has thrown seven picks in just nine games this season. His accuracy has dropped a couple percentage points and so has his touchdown passes per game. In addition, Lewis is running the ball more than he has in the previous two seasons. which includes five rushing touchdowns.

These names are all so familiar. Elijah Mitchell is coming off back to back seasons with 1,100+ rushing yards and double digit touchdowns. Mitchell had four 100+ yard rushing games in 2018, five such games in 2019, but has only run for 100+ yards once in 2020. For his career, Mitchell has averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the ground, but that number is reduced to 4.7 yards per carry when you single out his performances against App State. He has never hit 100 yards in a game against the Mountaineers, but has come close. App State has contained him before and must do so again on Saturday. Trey Ragas and Mitchell look like nearly the same guy on the stat sheet, but they are different backs. Ragas is listed an inch shorter and about twelve pounds heavier than Mitchell. Ragas scored three of his seven touchdowns against Texas State, which also featured his only 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Ragas started the season slow, but has produced lines of 131-75-78-95 in the last four games. That is good for right at 95 yards average per game as the season closes.

If kickoff times are any indication of how well App plays, the night time has been the right time. Earlier this season, the Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State on a weeknight with 45 offensive points. Last week, App State added 47 more points in another game that was played mostly under the lights. And then comes the 8:30pm start, that will only bring more of a Boone chill to the night. It’s not the story, but it is a variable the Cajuns have to account for. Another would be a resurgent offense that put on a decent display last week. The first three offensive scores of the game were made by App State playmakers in Camerun Peoples, Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan. Peoples finished with 95 yards rushing after a 63-yard touchdown run. Williams caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score, and Hennigan had one of his more active games in a quite a while since nursing a leg injury, with six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Zac Thomas threw four touchdown passes on a pretty flawless night to four different receivers.

Besides the obvious lopsided nature to this series, it has always been intriguing how it has unfolded. The first four installments were surprising, yet validating wins by App State that proved to themselves and others they could compete in FBS football. The first game was the closest, a dominating 19 point win in Lafayette. Then App won by 21 points, 24 points and then 49 points. When Billy Napier was hired, things quickly changed. Since 2018, all four games have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Last year’s Sun Belt Championship game was a cakewalk of sorts for App State, but Napier kept them fighting until the bitter end. This year, a Sun Belt title will not be on the line, but you would expect a similar game to unfold as we have seen in three of the last four games. Both teams have taken a small step back on offense in 2020, but that is mainly because both teams were exceptionally good last season. The Cajuns averaged 257 yards a game last year on the ground while also scoring close to 38 points per game. Those numbers have decreased to 217 yards rushing a game and 35 points per game. The rushing drop off is most significant while the 2020 points average is buoyed by a 70-point outburst last week. Remove that game, and the Cajuns have scored just under 31 points per contest. That’s nearly a whole touchdown less from one year to the next. The reason is the Cajuns do not have a game changing wide receiver. They have spread the ball around a lot this season, as three pass catchers have eclipsed just 300 yards receiving on the season. It’s been more of a plodding offense compared to 2019. More plays run, but less points scored. The 2019 Cajuns possessed the ball for 30:24 a game and converted close to 48% of their third downs. In 2020, the Cajuns have lost nearly two minutes a game of possession, down to 28:28 on average, and converted just over 42% of their third downs. Likewise, App State has not been as dominant, but the falloff has not been as severe as it has for Louisiana. This one comes down to quarterbacks. We have veteran players who have played in a lot of big games, but one has been more accomplished, and that’s the difference. Zac Thomas has not had big passing yard games against Louisiana in the past, but he hasn’t needed it. In 2018, Thomas ran 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns in two games, and last season, backed it up with 28 carries for 88 yards and two more scores in two games. Levi Lewis can run too, but he won’t be asked to carry it like Thomas will.

The First Pick

LaLa 24

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football @ #15 Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (6-1, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (7-0, 5-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 21st, 2020 Noon EST

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

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.85

Coastal Carolina: 71.50

Home: 1.73

Coastal Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.38 points

Line: Coastal Carolina -5.5

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, Coastal Carolina 37, Boone, NC September 28, 2019

In the past, a trip to the beach was a reason to celebrate. Whether it be a family vacation, a senior week or a church youth group trip. You went to celebrate something as a reward for working hard on a project, a semester of school or to just get away from the weekly grind and recharge your batteries for a couple days. That was what some App State fans got to enjoy on their “beach trip” in 2018. Fast forward two years and the vacation has quickly turned into a business trip. Not many saw this coming. Coastal has become the darling of America in an otherwise gloomy time of our nation’s history. Quickly their antics and celebrations became something to help people forget what ails them. But, eventually the fun ends. The ferris wheel stops turning, the buffet runs out of popcorn shrimp, and the 18th hole looms large in the distance. The credit card bill comes at the end of the month and its time to pay for all the fun you have had for the last few weeks. Hopefully, you didn’t exceed your limit.

The upstart Chanticleers have taken advantage of a schedule that has really worked out for them. Now look, winning your first seven games is not easy task, and it’s not all luck. They edged Kansas for the second straight year, and abused Campbell early on. Then came four Sun Belt games against teams that Coastal had lost to the previous year. In three of the four losses in 2019, the Chanticleers were competitive, losing to Georgia State by ten points, three points to Georgia Southern in overtime, and by one point to Arkansas State. They turned those three close losses into dominating, multiple score wins over those three schools. The fourth was Louisiana. After the Cajuns throttled Coastal 48-7 in 2019, revenge was served with Coastal winning by a field goal in the closing seconds. Oddly enough, the Chants are 2-1 all time against Louisiana, with both wins coming in Lafayette. As you can see, this has been a slow and steady climb for Coastal, not just an overnight Cinderalla story.

As the Chanticleers were growing last year as a team, their results were misleading. It was pretty evident at that time that Coastal was still missing a piece here and there. While App State fans chalked up a 56-37 shootout last season to a semi-new coaching staff that was feeling out their players, and an odd weather delay in Boone, Coastal’s quarterback of the future was watching from the sidelines and waiting his turn. That has become the big difference in the 5-7 season in 2019 and a 7-0 record this year. Grayson McCall has played more like a veteran quarterback than a redshirt freshman. McCall has 16 touchdown passes to his name while just throwing one interception. That’s impressive at any level of football for any snapshot of a season. McCall has added four more scores on the ground and is a true dual threat quarterback. He’s thrown exactly twenty-four passes in the last three games in which he appeared, which shows that Coastal has been able to do exactly what they want to on offense.

As much love as the Coastal defense deserves, its the offense that really should get all the credit. Despite the triple-option base, the Chants pass more than any option based attack. It’s just that many times, the first option can be a pass, or the third option could be a pass. It requires discipline to run and to defend. When run well, the defense becomes the benefactor because they are never on the field. Thus, the onus for Coastal is to remain efficient passing the ball on Saturday. Players like Jaivon Heiligh has to continue to be someone that be counted on. Heiligh has been consistent all year, but is also on a hot streak, with at least five catches in each of his last five games, and his yardage totals look like this: 93-108-107-81-95. He’s also scored touchdowns in five of seven games played. CJ Marable has really emerged in the passing game as well. More commonly known for running the ball, Marable has been happened to quietly sneak out of the backfield, as he is second on the team with twenty receptions on the season. He has also scored via the pass similarly as Heiligh, with five straight games with a receiving touchdown. He does not got the volume of his teammate, but he makes the most of his chances.

For a good part of last Saturday, the only part of the day that was perfect for the Mountaineers was the weather. That can be good news and bad news in Boone. However, App State found a way to get it done, even after a day where there were thirteen combined punts between the two teams. Six players caught at least two passes, as tight ends Miller Gibbs and Henry Pearson snagged seven combined passes for 62 yards. The ground game was mostly stuck in the mud, with just 131 yards in all, but once again, when it counted, Camerun Peoples did the job. Peoples accounted for 25 yards on the drive that resulted in the go-ahead score, and another 21 yards on the final drive of the game, that melted the clock away. On those last two drives, predominantly guided by Jacob Huesman, Peoples gained forty-six of his sixty-seven rushing yards. No other back got the rock in the late stages of the game, and this could be a glimpse into the future for the App State offense.

There is not much to dislike about the matchup this weekend. Players and coaches live for these kind of games, where they can test their preparation and their teams skills in game that has a tremendous impact on the remainder of the season. Sure, you can say that App State needs to win this game in order to put them in position to play for the conference title. Well, so did the last game, and so will the next game after Coastal. But this challenge is not new to App State. It is new to Coastal Carolina. Being undefeated is not easy. It comes with attention, and pressure and can take the focus of just playing the game. Unfortunately for Coastal, they have had an extra week to think about being undefeated, before playing a school they have never beaten. All of this while trying to manufacture a rivalry and build a game up more then it perhaps needs to be. This is close to being a game where you throw the statistics out the window, because App State and Coastal are at or near the top of so many categories. Both teams can tout a balanced offense and a stout defense. They both get after opponents quarterbacks and protect their own. The similarities are almost endless on paper. But that is not where this game is played. At some point, the game is no longer played on social media or in television interviews. It happens between the lines. Both teams will want to control the clock and keep the other offense off the field, but it might be tough for either offense to get going. If anything, the Mountaineers’ tough game last week may have set them up perfectly for a game that may look the same. This game could come down to mistakes and who makes the fewest for sixty minutes. Coastal is one of the last penalized teams in the conference, and they need that continue. An option offense does not mix well with penalties. It thrives off manageable down and distance scenarios. If a couple extra flags fly, Coastal could be stuck trying to convert long yardage situations against an App State defense that is playing as well as it has all season long.

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 20

Mountaineers 27