Appalachian Football vs Georgia State

Here we go with Week 5

Georgia State (0-3, 0-0 Sun Belt) @Appalachian State (2-2, 0-0 Sun Belt) 

Saturday, Octber 1st, 2016 Noon EST

TV/Video: American Sports Network/ ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 68.19

Georgia State: 55.63

Home: 2.40

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 15 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -19

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 37, Georgia State 3, October 10th, 2015, Atlanta

       That sweet taste of victory is comforting and normal. The first month of the season ended on hard earned high note. Appalachian flexed its Group of Five muscle for its fifth straight win over a peer school, and second over the MAC in disposing of Akron in a high scoring affair. The concerns of an unhealthy Mountaineer offense were cured by an Akron defense that hasn’t had an answer for any of their opponents this season. App rang up 587 total yards, making it the third straight game where the Zips had given up more than 550 yards in a game. No Marcus Cox? No problem. Jalin Moore steps in and totes the ball close to forty times for 257 yards. The App State train is rolling again and it doesn’t matter who is on board. The focus now turns to the Sun Belt schedule, where the sights are firmly set on a championship. Georgia State gets their first crack at Black Saturday, and another chance to erase the zero from the win column. Not only are the Panthers sporting an 0-2 record against the Mountaineers in their short rivalry, but Georgia State is looking for their first win of the 2016 season. The odds are long that it happens this weekend, and the sledding doesn’t get any easier for the remainder of the season for the Panthers, who have had a week off since their last game. 

          The Georgia State Panthers were really hoping their program was turning a corner at the end of 2015, as they won their final four games to become bowl eligible and represented the Sun Belt in the Cure Bowl. More unlikely, was that the Panthers knocked off Georgia Southern in the final weekend of the regular season to get their sixth win. However, since that four game winning streak, Georgia State has put together another four game streak, all losses, including their bowl loss. In those four games, the Panthers have only eclipsed twenty points on one occasion, in their opener this season against Ball State. In that game, GSU led off the game with an interception return for a touchdown, but couldn’t hold on despite taking the early lead. 

          A lot has been made about the loss the Panthers suffered to Wisconsin in Camp Randall. Blindly comparing the 44 point loss that Akron suffered to the Badgers, and the narrow six point margin that Wisconsin edged Georgia State by is doing the game of football a complete injustice. Between the two teams, there were only 21 possessions in the entire game. Wisconsin ran 43 plays in the first half, yet only could manage two field goals. The Panthers ran 27 plays, punted twice, fumbled, and missed a field goal. Wisconsin was running basic plays, and kept Georgia State close enough to keep it interesting late. Akron played a terrible game against Wisconsin, trailing 16-0 before their third possession and never had any momentum. 

          Part of the Georgia State struggles can be attributed to their quarterback play. It has not been easy replacing Nick Arbuckle in Atlanta, but Utah transfer Conner Manning is doing his best. His results this season have been a little bit of a mixed bag. Remove the lopsided loss at Air Force, and Manning is completing well over 65% of his passes. He has gone eleven straight quarters without throwing an interception and threw for 269 yards against Wisconsin. His arm isn’t overpowering, but he knows what he can and can’t do. In 2015, with Arbuckle, the Panthers averaged 8.8 yards per pass, but that number has fallen to 6.2 yards per attempt this season with Manning. 

          The injury to Marcus Cox suddenly became an afterthought after what Jalin Moore was able to do to Akron. The luxury of having a loaded stable of running backs certainly bodes well for Cox, who can likely take his time getting back to near full health. After this weekend, Appalachian will have eleven days before a road trip to Lafayette, and another ten days before hosting Idaho. After what Cox did to the Panthers in 2014 in Boone, GSU focused on Cox in 2015, limiting him to only 81 yards on nineteen carries. A two-headed attack against Georgia State on Saturday might be more successful with Moore and Darryton Evans carrying the load against a defense that is giving up 325 yards per game on the ground. Ball State had 58 yards rushing at half against Georgia State before the Fightin’ Cardinals buried the Panthers for 267 yards on the ground in the second half. 

          Perhaps we can give Georgia State a slight benefit of the doubt for all the chunks of yardage they allowed on the ground this season. Ball State figured it out, while Air Force and Wisconsin just ran their offense as they saw fit. Trent Miles has had two weeks to think about Appalachian and to figure out a way to get his Panthers to be better on defense. It gets to a point for Georgia State, and other Sun Belt programs for that matter, they might try anything to get a win over Appalachian. Miles is in his fourth season and has won just seven games in that span. It’s not all doom and gloom for Georgia State, as they have two decent receivers who will help Conner Manning, in Penny Hart and Robert Davis. Manning and Georgia State need to get more vertical in the passing game, as that is where Mountaineer opponents have found some success. Manning has only been sacked four times this season, but has been hurried quite often. Manning will stand in the pocket and take the pressure, but it exposes him to many hits, and his passes are way off target. Georgia State needs to find some type of running game this season. They have been abysmal with only 137 yards on the year, only averaging 2.2 yards per carry. Last week we mentioned Akron’s time of possession being second to last in the country. Well, guess who is dead last? You guessed it. Georgia State. Football is easy. If you can run and stop the run on defense, you have a good chance, but the Panthers can’t do either this season, and that won’t help them win a game in Boone. 

The First Pick

Southern’s Daddy  13

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football @ Akron

Here we go with Week 4

Appalachian State (1-2) @ Akron (2-1)

Saturday, September 24th, 2016 3:30 EST

TV/Video: American SportsNetwork/ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

InfoCision Stadium

Surface: Prograss artificial turf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 67.56

Akron: 60.84

Home: 2.70

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 4 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -6

Series: first meeting

Last meeting: n/a

       After the one of tougher slates in recent memory to begin a season, Appalachian finishes off September with a road trip to Akron for its final non-conference game of the season. After this weekend, it’s all Fun Belt, all the time. The record the Mountaineers currently have is not a huge surprise, but the way the season has unfolded seems slightly unfulfilling. After a strong start at Tennessee, and a less than impressive win over Old Dominion, the Apps fell completely apart last weekend against Miami. The bright spots were few and far between and it didn’t appear the Mountaineers could do anything right. Throw in the injury to Marcus Cox, and the fans left Kidd Brewer with a really empty feeling last Saturday. It’s pretty obvious this team is in dire need of a win, just to get that feeling back before the games really start counting in conference play. To be honest, this game is about as close to being a must-win game as you can get. Another poor showing could create some panic among the natives, while a win would flip the script and provide some much needed momentum. Luckily, all the excitement of Volunteers and Hurricanes are behind us, and App can focus on good, old-fashioned boring football. 

         For the majority of their existence, Akron football has been a major afterthought in the state of Ohio. The school holds a losing record all time, although only 17 games below the .500 mark. The Zips not only won their first bowl game in school history in 2015, but also won their first postseason game in school history as well. Akron previously lost the 2005 Motor City Bowl, and lost an opening round game in the I-AA playoffs in 1985. The 8-5 record that Terry Bowden led Akron to in 2015 was their first winning season since the 2005 season. It was the 7th winning season in Akron’s history since they made the jump from I-AA to I-A in 1987. Akron has been a member of the MAC since 1992 while serving as an independent for their first five years in FBS. 

        Akron’s season thus far has been quite interesting. The Zips started slow before eventually dispatching VMI 47-24 in their opening game. Akron only led by two points entering the fourth quarter, before scoring three unanswered touchdowns. Wisconsin rolled up 586 yards of offense on the Zips the following week en route to a 54-10 win. The win over Marshall garnered a lot of attention due to the lopsided score. Marshall jumped out to a 21-7 lead after the first quarter, until Akron scored 34 points in the second quarter and cruised to a 65-38 win. Akron was the beneficiary of a short fields and Marshall turnovers in a quarter where the defense and special teams both scored.

       Akron lives by their quarterback play. Thomas Woodson is averaging 298 yards passing a game through the air, but suffers under pressure. Wisconsin sacked Woodson three times and intercepted him once in holding the junior to 108 yards. Woodson threw for 407 yards and 379 yards against VMI and Marshall respectively. All ten of his touchdown passes came in the two Akron wins. Woodson is a true pocket passer and looks more like a fullback at 6’1 and 233 pounds than he does a quarterback. His favorite targets are JoJo Natson and Jerome Lane, who have been on the receiving end of six touchdown passes. Natson is a small guy who can really run, while Lane provides a big target at 6’3 and 220 pounds. 

          The obvious major concern for the Mountaineers this week is the availability of Marcus Cox, who is the bread and butter of the Mountaineer offense. His backups have potential, but have been shaky in limited action this season. Jalin Moore improved as the game went on last week, but has been generally been too antsy. Behind Moore, is freshman Darryonton Evans  who has shown potential, but is still very raw. Josh Boyd returned to practice this week after a injury sustained in fall camp. It remains to be seen how close Boyd is to game shape and conditioning. Whichever back gets the load will need to keep the chains moving in a positive direction to relieve pressure off Taylor Lamb, who is off to a very slow start. 

          Akron provides a challenge to Appalachian’s defense that was certainly exposed once again by an up tempo offense. The Zips love the big play and have no intentions of using the clock to their advantage. Akron is currently 127 out of 128 teams in time of possession, but it has been working for them. To only posses the ball for 22 minutes on average and still manage to put up over 40 points a game is saying something. Conversely, Appalachian is one of the leaders in the country controlling the clock and will need to use that to their advantage, not only keeping Akron off the field, but scoring when they do have the ball. The idea of a high scoring game does not play in App’s favor at this point. Akron is pretty sloppy in all areas of the game outside of their offense. They are the 3rd most penalized team in the country, have allowed the 5th most first downs, and are one of only 11 teams in the nation allowing over 500 yards of offense to their opponents. Only six teams have had two extra points blocked, including Akron, and place kicker Tom O’Leary has missed another extra point opportunity. The best path to victory for Appalachian will be to contain the Zip offense. Akron will certainly test the Mountaineers deep based on what Miami was able to do, and the big ball is such an important part of their game. Appalachian must play a better game in the secondary and keep receivers in front of them and be crisper while substituting or else it could be another long day. 

The First Pick
Buttons 26
Mountaineers 31

Old Dominion @ Appalachian Football 

Here we go with Week 2
Old Dominion (1-0) @ Appalachian State (0-1)

Saturday, September 10th, 2016 3:30 EST

TV/Video: American Sports Network, ESPN3, WCCB (Charlotte), WRDC (Triangle)

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.28

Old Dominion: 51.99

Home: 2.61

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -21

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 49, Old Dominion 0, September 26th, 2016, Norfolk, Va


Everyone has a story about the big fish that jumped off the hook, that you know, was like, “this long”.  Oddly enough, one never has any video evidence of how big that fish was or how close it was to really being in the boat. The analogy seems fitting for what occured last week in Knoxville, but DVR’s all across App Nation will have the evidence for years to come. Orange clad fans sang a similar song for those rooting for Appalachian in the parking lots afterwards. Condolences of “good game”, “ya’ll got a great team”, “I’m a huge fan”, “Win the rest of them”, have been heard on the plains in Auburn, the river banks in Chattanooga and the hills of southern Michigan. Nobody likes hearing those words after the toughest of losses, because it sure doesn’t make you feel any better. Those kind words were met with blank stares and utter exhaustion, but after the agony subsides, one realizes what they witnessed and what is to come. It is truly amazing how the lowest of lows can quickly be turned into oodles of optimism and anticipation. 

Tennessee has been beat to death. We’ve all had an extra two days to discuss, so it’s time to turn our attention to Old Dominion, and the Monarchs will have plenty of reason to get excited. A lot has been thrown around regarding the 49-0 thumping the Mountaineers dished out not even a year ago. Much like the second quarter from Clemson in 2015, Appalachian returned the favor in a 28-point second frame that gave the Mountaineers a five touchdown lead at half. The Mountaineers had two weeks to prepare for the Monarchs in 2015, and will have that advantage in 2016 as well. Due to weather, Old Dominion’s game with Hampton was delayed to Sunday afternoon. 

The Monarch faithful really like their chances in 2016 to breakthrough in Conference USA and earn their first bowl bid in school history. ODU will host CUSA heavy hitters Marshall and Southern Miss in consecutive weeks in November. A non-conference win over UMass in October would put them in striking distance for at least a 6 win season. The Monarchs return enough weapons on the offensive side of the ball to keep them in many games, but will hope a young defense can mature quickly. 

In a effort to keep their starting runningback fresh, Old Dominion handed off to Ray Lawry only 14 times in the opening win over Hampton. By the time Lawry had faced Appalachian in 2015, Lawry had nearly 60 carries in two games. Lawry looked solid in his limited role, eclipsing 100 yards and scoring one touchdown on the ground and finishing off a catch and run 59-yard touchdown score in the first quarter. Lawry is a workhouse and when healthy, ODU has shown it isn’t scared to give him ball continuously. Six times in 2015, Lawry went over twenty carries, but ODU was only 3-3 in those games. 

The quarterback Appalachian faced last year has now been relegated to a backup role and it was clear he was not ready in 2015 to handle the pressure. Shuler Bentley threw for only 133 yards and added two interceptions. This season, converted wide receiver David Washington appears to have a handle on the starting duties. Washington began his career at ODU as a quarterback, converted to receiver for most of 2014, and is now back under center. Many claim Washington is the best athlete on the Monarch roster. Washington is mobile and will run when called upon. Luckily for the Appalachian defense, they are familar with backfields that feature an athletic quarterback and a powerful tailback. 

The Mountaineer offense was not called on to make many plays last week. Their job was to control the clock, give the defense a blow or two and take care of the ball. Despite the conservative game plan, Appalachian had every opportunity to pull it out. Marcus Cox was his typical steady self, pacing the rushing attack with 115 yards, while also making a spectacular move to stay on his feet to lead to the second, and final, touchdown for the Mountaineers. Deltron Hopkins was used in misdirection plays successfully. Although his statistics counted as receptions, those plays are really runs by design. 

How about that Mountaineer defense? I am not sure anyone expected that level of quickness, discipline and gang tackling from that group. Jalen Hurd might not get 28 carries in a game for the remainder of the season for Tennessee. Hurd had two games where he amassed 28 carries or more last season, and in those games he averaged 3.6 ypc against Florida and 4.4 ypc versus Missouri. Appalachian held Hurd to 3.9 yards per carry. Joshua Dobbs did not have a negative rushing yard day in all of 2015, yet the Apps held him to -4 yards on nine carries and was also sacked twice and pressured on two other occasions. 
Nobody is expecting a sequel in 2016, but to imagine anything different with the effort the Mountaineers displayed in Knoxville last week would be laughable. This game could be uglier than last year in Norfolk, but the scoreboard is unlikely to represent it. Last year, the Apps were just seven point favorites on the road, but the feelings of the players after a less than stellar result at Clemson, and the attitude that has been displayed this week are reciprocal. Not only will the Mountaineers respond to the current challenge, but they must. An unfavorable result this weekend is hard to imagine and the thoughts of being 0-2 early in the season could be dangerous. Old Dominion has a much better offense than they displayed in 2015, but it will always be tough to gauge early results against lesser teams. Their weakness relies in the back seven of their defense. The Monarchs cannot afford to sell out and stop the run. They just don’t have the options to defend off the play action pass. Old Dominion will have to play a massive game in the trenches to keep it close. All the pressure is on their defensive line to defend the multiple looks Appalachian will throw at them and even their best is likely insufficient. 

The First Pick

Lioness  19

Mountaineers  38

Louisiana @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 11

Louisiana-Lafayette (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (8-2, 5-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 28th, 2:00 EST

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.14
Louisiana: 53.48
Home: 2.68
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -23.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last meeting: App State 35, Louisiana 16   November 22nd, 2014, Lafayette, LA

In the past twenty days, the Mountaineers have played exactly one football game. That equates to a lot of time to rest, watch film and practice. It serves almost like a minicamp of sorts to iron out all of the wrinkles and sharpen the tools for a stretch run that likely includes three football games over a four week period of time, give or take a couple days. A lot attention has been paid to bowl scenarios and matchups in the down period we have had without football. A lot of uncertainty can be cleared up this weekend as Appalachian can help it’s own cause by winning and eliminating Louisiana from bowl contention. Almost hard to even fathom the kings of the Sun Belt over the past few years not being considered for a bowl game, but it’s the truth. The Cajuns had played in and won four straight bowl games in their backyard and it’s very likely, that one of their biggest rivals will be playing in a postseason game in “their” city. The Cajuns, however, still have plenty to play for. Their season isn’t technically over just yet. They still control their own bowl fate in terms of getting to six wins, but in order to get there, they’ll have to deal with twenty-two Mountaineer seniors who want a win in their final game at The Rock. 

Lousiana’s troubles in 2015 can be attributed to several different factors. The Cajuns have fielded several different starting lineups on the defensive side of the ball. Not once this season have the Cajuns fielded the same starting eleven in two games on defense. Louisiana has constantly been forced to rotate players in and out due to injuries and poor play. Seven different defensive backs have started a game. Seven is also the highest number of starts for any player at one position in the secondary. The boundary corner and the field corner have flipped sides of the field. Eight different players have started at linebacker and seven different players have started on their three man defensive line. 

The  perpetual lineup changes have led to a lack of chemistry that has really shown the last two games. South Alabama and New Mexico State put up the most yards that Louisiana has surrendered all season long. The Jaguars gained 495 yards while the Aggies accumulated 498 yards of total offense. In those two games, the Cajuns secondary gave up six touchdown passes combined. Take it a step further, and the Cajuns have allowed 12 scoring passes in their last four games. Last week, New Mexcio State completed just sixteen passes, but twelve of them went for first downs. 

The quarterback position is a true head scratcher. Louisiana likes to use a two quarterback system, but it’s like nothing you have ever seen. The Cajuns do not lean on a hot hand, or use a quarterback based on an opponents weakness. They just use them recklessly. They will change quarterbacks in the middle of a series, and even in the same sequence of downs. The “passing” quarterback, Brooks Haack has more interceptions than touchdown passes. The “running” quarterback, Jaelen Nixon has more touchdown passes than Haack on thirty-four fewer attempts. Nixon is the team’s second leading rusher with 403 yards. 

One constant for Lousiana has been Elijah McGuire, the junior running back who is rewriting the Cajun record book. McGuire is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. McGuire is 71 yards from eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards on the season. But, McGuire on the road this season has not been the same player as he has been in Lafayette. In his five road games thus far, McGuire has 296 yards, just under 60 yards per game. McGuire gains 3.5 yards per carry on the road this season, while his numbers at home are nearly double, at 6.7 yards per tote. Only two of his twelve rushing touchdowns are on the road. The only part of his game that improves on the road are his receiving statistics, gathering 23 of his 29 receptions away from home. 

The Mountaineers have been known to gamble this season, with their fake punts and field goals. Perhaps the biggest gamble of the season was giving Marcus Cox a week off in the game against Idaho. Cox was  suited up, but the Mountaineers had looked lackluster on offense the previous two weeks. Instead of asking his star to gut it out, Scott Satterfield looked to the healthier options at running back. Terrance Upshaw got the start, but was quickly supplanted by Jalin Moore. On the second drive of the game, the Apps turned to Moore who ran six times for forty-eight yards on a nine play drive that culminated with a Mountaineer touchdown. The gamble paid off and Jalin Moore became a household name. 

Louisiana has one road victory this season. It was a two point win over Georgia State, a game in which Panther head coach Trent Miles foolishly attempted a fake punt deep in his own territory with the lead. That allowed the Cajuns to kick the game winner and hold on. Georgia State did everything right that day and Louisiana, everything wrong. The Cajuns got the win but they didnt deserve it. In every other road game, they have lost by at least a touchdown this season. If you would have told a Cajun fan at the beginning of the season that they would lose to New Mexico State and beat Georgia State by two, they would have laughed at you. In fact, the Cajuns have only looked like the team we thought they were going to be in two games this season, in wins over Texas State and Northwestern State. The Cajuns will show flashes of brilliance here and there with the talent providing glimpes of their potential. Those big plays have not been there consistently. Luckily, the Cajuns are still in position to extend their season, but it makes one wonder if last weekend’s loss may have been too demoralizing to recover from. For Appalachian, the beat goes on. The Mountaineers looked like the team that started the season in the win over Idaho and two weeks to mend should do their bodies good. The Cajuns gave up chunks of yardage on the ground in their last two games to South Alabama’s Xavier Johnson and New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III. Louisiana’s weakness in the last handful of games plays right into the Mountaineers hand. Expect to see Appalachian win to send the seniors off in style. 

The First Pick:

Peppers                  19

Mountaineers      38

Appalachian Football @ Idaho

Here we go with Week 10

Appalachian State (7-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) @ Idaho (3-6, 2-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 14th, 5:00 EST

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol

Kibbie Dome

Surface: RealGrass Pro

Capacity: 16,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.33

Idaho: 48.81

Home: 2.76

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -19.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 45, Idaho 28 Saturday November 29th, 2014, Boone, NC

The tune might have changed slightly over the course of the last week or so, but the final chorus remains the same. Change a few notes, or even a word or two, and it will not matter. When the finals lyrics are sung, they include something like “compete for a conference championship and go to a bowl game.” That’s probably the words to a terrible song, but it works pretty good as a mission statement for a football program. Let us not forget how difficult winning football games can be. Even more trying, is completing a regular season with only one or two losses. Some of the best teams Appalachian has ever fielded have even had their troubles getting tripped up along the way. The seasons of 1995 and 2006 come to mind. In 1995, App finished 11-0 in the regular season, fell in the second round of the playoffs to Stephen F Austin, and finished 12-1. Disappointing end to the season, but a darn good season overall. In 2006, the Apps fell to NC State in the opener, but won the next 14 games. Pretty good season most would say. The difference of those two examples is simple. How you finish will be how you are remembered. That’s the chore for Appalachian over the next three weeks. Responding to adversity or a loss and forgetting it, putting it behind you and playing  the guy who in front  of you. All you can control is the future and and present, not the past. The past may define you, but learning from it is the greatest accomplishment.

At this point last season, this weeks opponents were on two different paths. Appalachian was in the midst of a program defining stretch of games, while Idaho couldn’t beat anyone, outside of New Mexico State. The Vandals appeared to look like the same team at the start of the 2015 season as they did in 2014. Idaho began with an 1-4 start, only edging the mighty Wofford Terriers by three points at home. After a bye week, Idaho looked like a completely different team for two weeks. The Vandals battled a bad connection on a flight to Troy in which they landed in Alabama five hours prior to kickoff, yet still managed to beat the Trojans 19-16. That Troy team was without the services of quarterback Brandon Silvers, but regardless, it was a shocking result. The following week, Idaho took care of Monore, 27-13 in a game that was only kept close by three Vandal turnovers. Suddenly, Idaho was 2-2 in Sun Belt play, and thinking about contending for a bowl bid.

The next two games on Idaho’s schedule were totally winnable, even though the Vandals had to hit the road. New Mexico State and South Alabama were struggling and it gave Idaho a chance to make some noise in the Sun Belt. Idaho led New Mexico State 20-0 late in the first half, and eventually 23-7 at halftime. A touchdown run by Matt Linehan extended the Vandal lead to 40-21 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. From that point on, New Mexico State outscored Idaho 27-7 to force overtime. Idaho gave up 311 fourth quarter yards before falling in extra time.

That was the first collapse. South Alabama might have been worse from a special teams perspective. After leading 24-7 at halftime, Idaho gave up the opening kicoff in the second half for a touchdown. Later  in the third quarter, an Idaho fumble was scooped up by South Alabama and returned for a touchdown. On the ensuing possession, the Vandal punt was blocked deep in their own territory. The Jaguars would score on the next play. The teams traded scores before Idaho fumbled a kickoff return and allowed South Alabama to open up a 38-31 lead. Idaho then threw an interception on their next drive, which led to another score for the Jaguars. Idaho would continue to fight, but when they needed a stop the most, down 45-38, they let South Alabama score on a one play drive to put the game out of reach. There was enough ridiculousness in those two games to last a season, but Idaho was able to squeeze it into two halves of two football games.

Much has been said regarding former Idaho receiver Dezmon Epps, who was leading the team in receptions and yards. We say former because Epps has been dismissed from the team this week. Epps was  on a very short leash after some trangressions that occured during the offseason. Epps could not follow the rules set out by Paul Petrino, and he was shown the door. Since then, Epps’s dismissal has opened the door for two receivers. Callen Hightower has taken the opportunity and run with it. Hightower has 38 receptions and 390 yards on the season, but half of that production has occured in the last two games. Hightower has 19 catches and 200 yards in the last two games, including his only touchdown of the year. Deon Watson had season highs last week with 7 catches for 109 yards, which makes up for 25% of his season receptions and just under one third of the yards.

Matt Linehan has played in every game this season for Idaho except for Arkansas State. Besides that, he has taken nearly every snap for the Vandals. Linehan  is second in the Sun Belt in passing yards per game, but just fourth in efficiency. His troubles come from having the second most interceptions in the conference and being only fifth among qualified quarterbacks in the conference in touchdown passes. Idaho’s inabilty to have a consistent running game has put a lot of pressure on Linehan. Elijah Penny has carried the majority of the load for Idaho in the running game, and when he is in the backfield, defenses have sold out on stopping him. His 4.7 yards per carry isn’t terrible, but its by far the worst of the Sun Belt’s leading backs. Idaho does not run a lot of read option, and when the tailback is behind the quarterback in the formation, it is a dead giveaway of a run.

It would be overkill, to pile on and speak to injuries that have occured on the Mountaineer offensive line. We all know about, and it has obviously affected the offensive chemistry. The Appalachian defense, despite giving up half their seasons points in the last two weeks, has still played pretty well considering the circumstances. Arkansas State could have easily made last week look even worse had Appalachian not stood tall and forced three second half field goals. After giving up two touchdown runs in the third quarter early, the Apps kept the offense in the game with those late stands. The defense easily could have folded, but kept on. The defense is the best side of the ball the Mountaineers have going for them, but  will need some help from the offense to sustain a drive or two to keep the defense fresh late in the game.

Forget the point spread, and all the other nonsense. This game against Idaho is going to be a tough one. Idaho’s strength plays right into the weaker part of the Appalachian defense. Any team that can pass the ball and protect their quarterback just a little bit is going to be a threat every weekend. The Vandals have cut down on their sacks allowed from last season nearly in half. Idaho leads the conference in first   downs per game and is tied for first in third down conversions. The Idaho defense has been so awful the last two games, thay they are bound to make some improvements. But, if they can not adjust and their defense continues to play matador in the second half, this is a game that Appalachian should win with ease. The Mountaineers took a hit when they lost one offensive lineman. When the Apps subsequently lost their center, the offense stalled and was not able to produce points until the game was out of reach. The hope is that Appalachian can take advantage of a good matchup. With the running game against Idaho’s depleted defense to sustain drives and eventually wear out the defense, all while keeping Idaho’s offense of gaining any type of flow. I want to see Appalachian at least resemble what it looked like in the first half of the season. I fully expect the new starters on the line to take advantage of their opportunity and play well enough to get the Mountaineers their eighth win of the season.

The First Pick:

Vandalism            27

Mountaineers      41

Troy @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 8
Troy (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (6-1, 3-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 31st, 3:30 PM EST
TV/Video: ESPN3
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol
Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 23,150
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 73.49
Troy: 55.71
Home: 2.71
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -24
Series: Series tied 2-2
Last Meeting: App State 53, Troy 14; October 18, 2014 (Troy, AL)
Weather: Sunshine early with building clouds, High: Upper 50’s, Lows: Upper 30’s, South winds 5-10mph

It was more than just a night to remember. It was a night that put things back in their proper order. A little smack talk never hurt anyone leading up to last Thursday night, as long your team can back it up. The Mountaineers backed it up and then some, by rolling their nemesis into the ground with a 31-13 drubbing that looked a lot worse. But in the end, those Eagles will never run out of excuses. They have never lost a game; it is always someone else’s fault for their poor play. Hopefully for Georgia Southern, all that complaining will come to an end. Who are we to kid? That’ll never happen. In the meantime, Appalachian looks to continue their quest for a ring in 2015, and the Troy Trojans are the next team in the way. Just a little over a year ago, the turnaround started with a trip to Troy. Appalachian was an underdog, coming off what could be argued as the worst loss in recent memory. Suddenly, on that Saturday afternoon 375 days ago, the switch was flipped. Something happened, and the Mountaineers have not looked back since. In the last thirteen games, the Mountaineers have shut down their opponents, surrendering just 15.6 points per game, including three shutouts. The brevity of such dominance is rare in this modern football game, where scores can resemble the college basketball game more often. That consistency has spanned over a year, not just a spurt of games. This what we are all accustomed to. The plan has worked and the swagger and spirit has returned to the top of the mountain in a scary way.
As much as last year was a turning point for Appalachian, it was in a very different way for Troy. Their beloved coach, Larry Blakeney, who spent 23 years manning the sidelines was in his final year. Blakeney won eight conference titles and two bowl games while transitioning Troy out of Division II, through I-AA and eventually to the FBS ranks. Enter Neal Brown, the second youngest coach in all of FBS football for his first head coaching job of his career. Brown was a former offensive coordinator at Troy before moving on to the same role at Texas Tech & Kentucky. Brown is finding his way as a head coach, much like Scott Satterfield did a couple seasons ago. It is a difficult balancing act to play upperclassmen when there are younger guys who you like for your system. Brown is doing just that right now. Slowly, Troy will be a force once again in the Sun Belt.
The Trojans have been looking for balance throughout the 2015 season, and it all came together last weekend at New Mexico State. You might say, well, a lot of teams have found balance against New Mexico State. That is correct, they have, but occasionally, a team needs a confidence booster to realize what it is that they can achieve. The Troy defense is a vastly improved bunch from 2014. The Trojans have decreased opponents scoring by close to ten points in just one season. They are allowing 76 fewer yards per game and have slowed the ground game of their opponents by 1.5 yards per carry. One last boring statistic: In 2014, Troy gave up 2.9 rushing touchdowns a game, and in 2015, 1.5 per game.
Troy’s offense is led by its three-headed monster in Brandon Silvers, Brandon Burks & Teddy Ruben. Silvers had his best game of the season last weekend, throwing for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the thumping of New Mexico State. Coming into the game, Silvers had eclipsed the 200 yard mark in only one other game, in the Trojans other win of the season against Charleston Southern. Seven of his nine touchdowns on the season came in the two wins, while Silvers has two touchdown passes and three interceptions in four losses in which he appeared. Silvers was injured in the loss at Mississippi State , suffering a high ankle sprain and a concussion. In his absence, Troy used two quarterbacks in the loss to Idaho, neither which were very effective. Dallas Tidwell threw for 168 yards and one touchdown on 50% passing while Dontreal Pruitt combined for 111 total yards (70 passing, 41 rushing) and threw two interceptions.

Brandon Burks is the senior running back who lives and dies off of his big play ability. His 621 yards on the season are good enough for 5th in the Sun Belt, while his 88.7 yards per game puts him at seventh. Burks has totaled 313 of his 621 yards on the longest carry in each of his respective games this season. Unbelievable right? Over half of his yards on seven carries. The Trojans depend on Burks to break a big one. Burks means almost as much to Troy as Matt Breida does for Georgia Southern. They need him to be fantastic. Last Thursday, the Mountaineers kept Breida in check, and thus kept the Eagles in check.

Teddy Ruben is an extremely versatile wide receiver He does a little bit of eveything for the Trojans. He is 5th in the Sun Belt in receiving yards and receptions per game, 5th in kick returns,  and 2nd in punt returns. In his last two games, Ruben has gone over  100 yards and snagged three touchdown passes. After only catching twelve passes in his first three games of the season, Ruben has hauled in twenty-one passes in the last four games. Similarly to Burks, most of Ruben’s yards have come on the big play. Of his 468 yards, 221 have occured on his longest reception in each game this season.

One would have never guessed Appalachian was facing the second best defense in the conference in Georgia Southern last week. If anything, the offense was its usual balanced self. Taylor Lamb patiently surveyed the field for open receivers and was completely satisfied by throwing the ball away instead of forcing it into coverage. The Mountaineers leaned on one receiver for really the first time all season. Simms McElfresh caught six passes for 66 yards, the most of any Mountaineer receiver in a game this year.  Marcus Cox took advantage of his 21 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the bigger story was Jalin Moore, who received a carry high in carries with eleven in the game which he turned into 53 yards. It was the sixth time this season that the Mountaineers ran the ball 40 times or more in a game as a team.
It is easy to understand that Troy is excited about what they were able to accomplish against an 0-7 team last weekend, getting their first win against an FBS opponent this season. So much that one of their players spouted off to the media that they are about to dominate their next game. Makes one wonder if said player even checked the schedule. It’s fun to be excited, because you can ignore facts. Realistically, this game is a complete mismatch. Troy, with their third ranked Sun Belt defense believes they will keep Appalachian from scoring, something only Clemson has done this season. The best way for Troy to do that is to keep the Mountaineers off the field. That will be a chore in itself. The Trojans have given up 6 minutes of possesion to their opponents this season. Two minutes on the season, is a lot to give up, and six is enormous. Six minutes of a game is ten percent, so that is a pretty big deal. Part of the reasoning behind that is their lack of a run game. Last week, Appalachian took away the running game of Georgia Southern, by cutting their season rushing average in half, and then some. Troy is ninth in the conference at 123 rushing yards per game, ahead of Georgia State and Monroe. The longest carry the Mountaineers have given up all season is 30 yards. It will be tough for Troy to break a long run against this stout Mountaineer defense. Appalachian will force Troy into being one dimensional on offense and make them pass against the best secondary in the conference. That’s not a good idea against Latrell Gibbs and company. The Mountaineers win this one going away.


The First Pick:
T-Roy                 14
Mountaineers   38

Appalachian Football @ Louisiana-Monroe

Here we go with Week 6

Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) @ Louisiana-Monroe (1-4, 0-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 17th, 7 PM EST
TV/Video: ESPN3
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol

JPS Field at Malone Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf 
Capacity: 30,427
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 69.83

ULM: 55.84
Home: 2.76
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 17 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -11.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last Meeting: App State 31, ULM 29; November 8, 2014 (Boone, NC)
Weather: Mostly sunny and clear 77/51

          Business has suddenly picked up in college football. Behind us are the money games and out of conference matchups. From here on out, the games are all about  the business of winning a conference championship. No disrespect to Georgia State. We know that you are a considered a conference game, but it just doesn’t feel like it. At least not yet. What really feels like Sun Belt football is playing the Louisiana schools on the road. No disrespect to the Georgia Dome, it is a nice facility, but the Panthers are lost in there. The real work is now before Appalachian as they travel to a more hostile atmosphere, one  where Mountaineer fans will be more scarce than they have been at any point this season. The most difficult part of the week will be focusing on the present and not looking ahead. To this point in the season, Appalachian  has been able remain on task, taking care of every opponent, not named Clemson, with ease. Forget about whether or not this team has been tested. The test has been about making improvements from one game to the next while also getting valuable playing time for those whose names may be called on down the line. The Warhawks will provide the next test. A team that has played a tough schedule will be looking to turn the tide in front of their home crowd. Hopefully, the Mountaineers have done their homework. 

           Monroe faces an uphill battle most years in regards to how they arrange their schedule. Regularly, the Warhawks are forced to schedule multiple Power Five schools in the same season in order to be able to fund their programs. ULM is one of the smaller schools in Sun Belt, with enrollment below 9,000 and their athletic budget represents that. In the past they have played two and three of those schools in the same season. It does not help their record, but it does help the pocketbook. This season, ULM will collect checks from Alabama, Georgia and Hawai’i. Their lone win was FCS Nicholls State. 

          Since the last time Appalachian played ULM, the Warhawks have played Georgia Southern twice, losing both, and have beaten New Mexico State along with Nicholls State. Monroe and Appalachian seem to be heading in different directions, as Appalachian has now won ten of its last eleven games. Monroe appears to be a very similar team that Appalachian played last year, with an offense that has its moments, but sputters for the most part. The Warhawk defense still likes to play very physical, but has been on the field a tremendous amount of time this season and it has shown. Monroe is giving up 34 points a game and has let teams gash them on the ground to the tune 243 yards per game. 

          Monroe has been forced to start redshirt freshman Garrett Smith at quarterback who has had some struggles this season. A lot of the Monroe offense is based on short throws that are easy to help Monroe run the ball. The idea is to get Smith in rhythm and build his confidence. Smith has thrown all but eleven passes this year for the Warhawks, who as a team has only been able to muster 5.9 yards per pass attempt. Thats a miniscule number at any level of football. Smith is the least effeicient quarterback in the Sun Belt of those who are qualified. His nine touchdowns passes are good enough for fourth in the Sun Belt, but his seven interceptions are second to only South Alabama’s Cody Clements who has played an extra game. 

           Ajalen Holley is who the Warhawks will lean on in the passing game. The junior is second in the conference in several receiving categories including receptions (39), yards (480). Holley has stepped in nicely for injured wide out Rashon Ceasar, who was a favorite to be a first team all conference selection. Ceaser had 26 catches for 272 yards in three games before being lost for the season to injury. Holley will be the target of a lot of Smith’s passses. Outside of Ceaser and Holley, no other Warhawk pass catcher has eclipsed 100 yards on the season. The ULM running game isnt much to speak of. Kaylon Watson leads the team with 155 yards on the season on only 39 carries. Garrett Smith has more official carries with 55, but his sacks count toward his rushing total, which account for a lot of lost yardage. Smith has 136 yards on the season, and likes to get those on mostly quarterback draws with empty backfields and five wide receiver sets. 

          Mountaineer fans should not have been surprised to see Georgia State sell out to stop the run last weekend. After Marcus Cox rumbled for 250 yards and three touchdowns last season against Panthers, they had only one hope to stay close, which was stacking the box and forcing Tayloor Lamb to throw. Considering Lamb’s perceived struggles, more due to a rough patch of weather, that was not a bad gamble on the part of Georgia State. But Lamb made the Panthers pay with a 45 yard completion on the first drive, a 29 yard touchdown pass on the second drive, and another 49 yard completion on the third drive. All of those big plays set up points and a quick 17-0 lead that Appalachian never relinquished. Instead of Nick Arbuckle being considered the better passer, it was Lamb who lit up the dome for 314 yards and  three touchdown passes to three different receivers. Lamb also added 53 yards on the ground, on four carries, inlcuding a 41 yard scamper in the second quarter that got the Apps out of the shadow of their own goal line. 

          As has been the story all season long, the Mountaineer defense put on another show against Georgia State. The defensive backfield did a great mixing coverages and forcing Arbuckle to think twice before throwing. Arbcukle was sacked twice and only managed a pedestrian 166 yards in the air while the App front seven held the Panthers to only 59 rushing yards on the game. It was the third time this season the Apps have held an opponent to less than 60 yards on the ground. The Mountaineers lead the Sun Belt in total defense by almost a 100 yards and have only allowed 11.4 points per game, a category which they lead by nearly two full touchdowns. The list goes on, but the picture has been well painted. This defense is not a beneficiary of a somewhat weak schedule. This is a dominant defense. Enter Monroe and an offense that has lacked consistency and a young quarterback who leans heavily on one receiver. This is potential disaster waiting to happen for the Warhawks this weekend. Monroe’s chance to win this weekend will be to do what Georgia State did. Try and stop the run and hope that they can catch Taylor Lamb on a bad day. Betting against the most efficient quarterback in the league might not be wise, but Monroe is going to have to take away something from Appalachian. The start of this game will be very important. Appalachian has outscored oppponets 45-3 in the first quarter this season while the Warhawks have been outscored 41-10. If those trends continue look for the Mountaineers to make easy work of ULM for their second conference win. 


The First Pick:

Gold Beaks 10

Mountaineers 35

Wyoming @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 4
Wyoming (0-4, 0-0 Mountain West) @ Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 3rd, 3:30 PM
TV/Video: ESPN3
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 23,150
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 68.53

Wyoming: 42.37
Home: 3.37
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 29.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -25.5
Series: Wyoming leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Wyoming 53, Appalachian 7; September 4, 2004 (Laramie, Wyo.)
Weather: Rain and gusty winds likely. Temps  steady in the low to mid 50’s

         Winning football games are hard. Over the course of a game, eleven players on the field at a time must beat another eleven players over three hours and 150 plays or so. When your team scores more points over that period of time, it is a satisfying feeling. The margin of defeat can sometimes get in the way of how satisfying those feelings are. Appalachian shuting out Old Dominion on Saturday to the tune of 49-0 was widely unexpected. A game where the oddsmakers and the Sagarin ratings index lined up was also quite irregular. Perhaps the drubbing that ODU received from NC State the prior week was enough to lean in Appalachian’s favor by over a full touchdown. Maybe it was the respectable, scoreboard-doesnt-tell-whole-truth loss the Mountaineers suffered at the hands of Clemson. Somewhere between those two results was the actual truth: Appalachian laid down a soul-crushing beatdown of the Monarchs. If the game were played nine more times, you’ll plausibly see closer scores, but unlikely a different result. The Mountaineers are playing that well right now on the defensive side of the ball. Wyoming will bring a talented but young and inexperienced group to the mountains to face a team that is on fire, who has won eight of nine games while recording three shutouts in the same span.  
          To be brutally honest, Wyoming has had a tough start to their 2015 season. The Cowboys schedule set up nicely before Mountain West conference play was to begin, with three home games in their first four games. But the Cowboys had trouble mounting the horse and stumbled to North Dakota, an FCS school in their opener. The following week, 4,500 fewer fans showed up to watch the Cowboys get thumped by an Eastern Michigan program that has been in the dumps for years. Washington State and New Mexico continued the trend with double digits wins over Wyoming. Beyond being 0-4, and losing every game by over ten points, Wyoming has surrended 207 yards rushing per game to their opponents and allowed 5.2 yards per carry and twelve rushing touchdowns. This bodes well for Appalachian, who is fresh off a 303 yard rushing performance last weekend. 
         Wyoming is in need of several recruiting classes in order to get the program turned around. Currently, Wyoming is playing more freshmen and redshirt freshmen than almost any other FBS program in the country. Only Clemson has played more of those types of athletes this season. Likely, the Pokes will continue to take their lumps playing so much youth, but that is exactly the risk Appalachian State took in 2013. Without a postseason to play for, Scott Satterfield decided to prepare for the future and that seems to be paying off. Eventually the ahletes get older and better and the results will show. In the meantime, the Cowboys  will have a tall task in front of them to avoid losing ten games this season. 
          Allthough many losses are on the horizon for Wyoming, they will be entertaining to watch. They like to run their offense with tempo and their preference is the power running game. They employ several tight ends in their sets and use the wide receivers to block quite often. With the Pokes having to play from behind most of the season, it has led to some decent looking statistics for quaterback Cameron Coffman. The redshirt senior leads the Mountain West in passing yards at 314 yards per game. Coffman started his college career at Indiana, where he averaged 248 yards per game as a Hoosier. Coffman looks a lot like Johnny Manziel in the pocket as he is quick enough to avoid a rush and keep the play alive, but Coffman doesn’t  like to scramble upfield. His prefence is to keep looking downfield and hit an open receiver. Coffman’s athleticism will be fun to watch, especially if Appalachian shys away from sending pressure. 
             Sophomore running back Brian Hill has hit the century mark twice this season, in the last two games, and will be one Appalachian must keep an eye on early in the game. Hill appears to be in line for an increased role this Saturday as senior Shaun Wick has already been ruled out to an injury. Wick had a chance of becoming Wyoming’s all time leading rusher entering the season. Hill is a bigger back at 6’1 and 204 pounds and really fits what coach Craig Bohl wants to do with the power running game. Hill lined up several times against Washington State as the wildcat option and was successful in those situations. Hill ran for 242 yards against Eastern Michigan, the fourth highest total by any FBS back this season. Hill had more yards on fewer carries that ODU’s Ray Lawry did against the same Eastern Michigan team. 
          After another strong performance from the Appalachian offense at ODU, the Mountaineers will face an opponent for the second straight week that struggles defensively and the weather pattern appears to nearly mimic the conditions from last weekend. The App running game will once again be called on to help control the clock and battle the conditions. Even more so than last week, the ground attack will play right into a major weakness for Wyoming. Wyoming is also thin on the edges of their defense. The Pokes do have two 300-pound tackles, but at the defensive end, the size drops to 250 pounds on both sides. That is great size for a pass rusher, but it is improbable that Appalachian passes much this Saturday. Taylor Lamb only threw fifteen passes against ODU and four went for touchdowns. 

          Seems like a lazy gameplan doesnt it? With the rain, let’s run the ball, because that’s what we do well and what they don’t. Eventually, Appalachian will run into some resistance with a strategy like that. In meantime, the Mountaineers are going to ride the horse that got them where they are. Hopefully Appalachian can get to a point in the game where we can see them using several backs and keeping Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw  fresh before the conference slate begins. Jalin Moore had a fantastic touchdown run last weekend and Josh Boyd was also impressive on his five carries. Wyoming is gonna score some points this weekend. The Cowboy offense has shown enough versatility this season to able to take what the opponent gives them and adjust during the game. The big difference for Wyoming is that they will be facing their toughest test on offense by facing the Mountaineer defense. The previous three FBS defenses the Cowboys faced are not much to speak of. Eastern Michigan is ranked 118th in total defense. New Mexico comes in at 68th, much of that due to their ball control option offense, and Washington State is ranked 61st, with an incredibly weak schedule that includes Rutgers & FCS Portland State. I think the spread might have gotten out of hand this week and expect for Wyoming to keep it interesting early, but everything about this game points to an easy Mountaineer win.


The First Pick:

Cowgirls 20

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football @ Clemson

Here we go with Week 2
Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ #12 Clemson (1-0, 0-0 ACC) 

Saturday September 12th, 12:30 PM

TV/Video: ESPN3 

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 100.7 Bristol

Memorial Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Capacity: 81,500
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

App State: 64.61

Clemson: 86.55
Home: 2.65

Clemson is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 24.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Clemson -18.5
Series: Clemson leads 4-0
Last Meeting: Clemson 23, App State 12, Septeember 6th, 1997        
Weather: Partly sunny skies with spotty chances for an afternoon shower. Lower 80’s/70

          Occasionally, the results you hope for might not be what is best. As much as a lopsided win can be fun to celebrate it can lead to a false sense of security. It does not hurt to have to endure some adversity along the way. Unfortunately, that adversity can be found off the field. In a few short weeks, the Mountaineers team had been dealt an emotionally difficult hand. As if the loss an ex-teammate due to a senseless act, and a current player lost for a non-football injury were not enough, the Apps were left with news that was unimagineable. The loss that Devan Stringer suffered with the passing of his young daughter is an event no parent prepares for. A tragedy like this reminds us that sometimes the football crossing the goal line is not most important. Look no futher than the words of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson when passing prayers along to Stringer. Watson and Stringer are childhood friends who have been there for each other during tough times. A topic like this is not easy to talk about, but eventually it’s more than just football, it’s about family. 

          By scheduling Clemson, the Mountaineer athletic program will receive a nice pay day of around $900,000 to help fund their other sports. On the other hand, its an opportunity for Appalachian to showcase its name on a national stage. It is also a chance for just over a dozen Mountaineers to showcase their skills in their home state, where Clemson may have overlooked them in the recruiting process. Often these games are scheduled with an easy win for the home team in the back of their minds. Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney has been very public about how he feels about Appalachian this weekend. He knows his team has to be ready for an opponent that is on a roll, given a seven game winning streak spanning since last season. Clemson is young team at several key positions as Louisville lurks in the back of their minds next Thursday night.

          The youth can mostly be found on the offensive side of the ball for Clemson. Left tackle Mitch Hyatt is a true freshman and he will have to deal with Mountaineer senior defensive end Ronald Blair, who has 13.5 career sacks and has started every game he has played in. Sophomore Artavis Scott caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown last weekend against Wofford. Scott led the Tigers in receptions and touchdowns catches as a freshamn in 2014 with 76 catches and eight touchdowns. Scott was also back for punt and kickoff retuns last week. If you can’t tell, Clemson wants to get Scott the ball. Sophomore Wayne Gallam is the starting runningback. He led the team with 92 rushing yards against Wofford.  Gallam also led the Tigers in 2014 with 769 yards rushing. 

         Clemson’s defense is loaded with prototypical size at every position. Their tackles are all 295 pounds or more. The ends are 270, and the defensive backs all tip the scales at 195. You get the point, it’s an impressive unit. Clemson held opponents to 260 yards and 16.7 points in 2014, and didnt miss a beat against Wofford last weekend. Appalachian fans are very familar with how disciplined a team must be to defend the option. Lucikly, Clemson had more than a week to prepare for the wingbone option that Wofford employs, but it may not have mattered. Clemson held the Terriers to 213 total yards, and only 123 of those on the ground. Wofford had only nine first downs in the game, and their lone touchdown came after Clemson muffed a punt. 
          All in all, Clemson and Appalachian had very similar games for their openers. Both teams took care of business in games where they were highly favored. Both scored 49 points, and had their games under control in the early going. Both teams were able to play a lot of players and stay relatively fresh while also not showing the other much of their offense. Scott Satterfield has hinted at adding a couple of different wrinkles for his own offense. While Appalachian prefers an uptempo offense, its backbone is based on ball control. Clemson prefers to get plays off very quickly, giving no time for the opposing defense to rest or get lined up. 

          Marcus Cox did, after all, lead the Mountaineers in rushing on Saturday, but for the most part it was a group effort. Cox had an easy eleven carries for 105 yards, in which most came on a 68-yard touchdown run. In all, nine different Mountaineers carried the ball for total of fifty-six carries. That theme continued from fall camp, where Cox  stepped aside in order to get some of the younger backs some repetitions. Jalin Moore carried nine times for 69 yards and a touchdown. Backup quarterback J.P. Caruso even showed some of his wheels with six carries for 66 yards. In total, 376 yards were racked up on the ground for a team average of 6.7 yards per carry.  

          We move on from Howard, to Howard’s Rock down in Clemson, better known as Death Valley. Clemson has won over 70% of their games at home which include four victories over the Mountaineers. The last time, 1997, I remember riding around Clemson, most likely looking for a place to buy a box of fried chicken, when I heard the Clemson radio shout as they started their pregame. “It’s a beautiful day in Clemson and we are ready to put a whoopin’ on the Mountaineers” I’ll never forget that. If anything, Tiger fans walked out Memorial Stadium wondering just who Appalachian State was. Clemson won that game by eleven points, but it was way to close for comfort. Appalachian’s unspoken motto of “anyone, anyplace, anytime” was never more true that day, as I am sure it will be on Saturday. Clemson has plenty of talent, and will more than likely win this football game, but Appalachian won’t let it come easy. This group of Mountaineers has something special brewing this season. They might have just enough experience and and enough chemistry to make it really tough on Clemson. Taylor Lamb has enough poise to drive this team down the field and score points and there are plenty of Mountaineer weapons in his aresenal. The difference in this game will be how well the Appalachian defense does its job. Clemson likes to get in an offensive rhythm with their quick pace. The Mountaineers must keep everything in front of them to have a chance. I just think Clemson has one too many athletes this weekend. 

The First Pick:

Tigger 38

Mountaineers 24

Howard @ Appalachian Fooball

Here we go with Week 1:
Howard (0-0, 0-0 MEAC) @ Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) 

Saturday September 5th, 3:30 PM

TV/Video: ESPN3 

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville
Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 60.85

Howard: 31.66

Home: 2.65
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 32 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: no line

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a        

Weather: Mostly cloudy skies. Rain chances dimishing throughout the day 71/63

           It has been a long fourteen years since Appalachian has hosted a football game in Boone on the opening weekend of the college football season. And in those fourteen years, much has changed on the mountain. Some things don’t change however, and that is the excitement that builds each season for Mountaineer  football. This years team leaves behind the past two years that were pretty atypical for this program. The transition from one division to the next isn’t for just anyone. For Appalachian it came with a multitude of growing pains on the field and on the sideline. Freshman were all over the field the last two seasons, learning the difference between Western Carolina and South Alabama. Scott Satterfield had his plate full as well as he had to learn the hard way in his first eighteen games what it takes to be a head coach. Fast foward to 2015, and all those freshman are now starting with loads of experience under the belts. The head coach and his staff figured out the brand of football it takes to win in the bowl division. And now, the Mountaineers, who are not far from removed 1-6 and 1-5 starts the last two seasons, are suddenly considered contenders in the Sun Belt and favorites to secure a bowl bid in December. Until then, there is plenty of work to do and it starts this weekend with the Howard Bison. 

          Although Appalachian is somewhat familiar with schools from MEAC, this will be its first meeting against Howard. North Carolina A&T has faced the Mountaineers more than any other MEAC team. Despite a decent record of 11-3 against MEAC opponents, schools from that conference have given Appalachian some of their more embarassing losses. in 1993, NC A&T stunned Appalachian on the road in the season opener. That game was especially puzzling considering App had beaten A&T in November of 1992 by a score of 42-6. In the first round of the 1999 playoffs, Florida A&M controlled the clock with its short passing game and knocked out the 4th ranked Mountaineers out of the playoffs early. And then there was the 2013 home openeer that A&T defeated App, that is still too fresh on the mind. 

          After the gradution of quarterback Greg McGhee, Howard has some major holes to fill on its offense. McGhee was a two time offensive player of the year in MEAC and led the Bison in rushing and passing yards last season. McGhee was responsible for over 3200 yards and 28 touchdowns. Chances are that Jamie Cunningham gets the first shot behind center. Cunningham stands at 6’3 and 215 pounds and went to high school in Greensboro. Cunningham played in six games last year and completed one pass for four yards. Don’t be surprised to see freshman Kalen Johnson or Jason Collins see some time on the field if this game gets out of hand. 

          If Cunningham does start, his favorite receiver will likely be Matt Colvin. Not only is Colvin the leading returner with 41 catches and 611 yards last season, Colvin and Cunningham both attended Southern Guildford HS in Greensboro and likely were in the same graduating class. Colvin will be flanked by junior Robert Mercer who hauled in 19 passes last season for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Howard is a team that prefers to run the ball by nature. They still use the fullback in their offense and are deep at the running back position. Aquanius Freeman ran for 421 yards in ten games last season mainly as the second guy. Freeman also caught 36 passes out of the backfield. Willam Parker was supposed to return this season, but was injured in the last game of the season in 2014 and will be forced to redshirt. Freeman has good size at 6’0 and 200 pounds. Also look for Anthony Philyaw to see some action as he stands at 6’1 and 220 pounds.

        With the bevy of talent Appalachian returns on both sides of the ball, a successful season might be more than just a goal, but an expectation. Coming back for his sophomore season is the gutty quarterback Taylor Lamb who took over for Kam Bryant last season. Lamb showed some shakiness early in the season, but his improvements that were made each week were beyond noticeable. Six of his nine interceptions were thrown in the first six games, while only three interceptions were thrown in the final half of the season. Lamb also fancies himeself as deceptive runner, amassing 483 yards on the ground in his freshman campaign. 

            Part of the reason Lamb could elude a defense is due to all the attention defenses had to give to Marcus Cox. It seems like he has been on the team forever, but thankfully Cox still has two more seasons in the black and gold. Cox is on pace break Kevin Richardson’s all time rushing record. Cox sits eighth on the all time list and barring injury, will likely catapult himself into the top five by the end of the season. The downside of all those yards, is the number of carries that it has taken Cox to get there. He isn’t a bulldozer, as his career 5.3 yards per attempt will attest, but getting 250 carries a season may eventually take its toll. Its doubtful that we will see much of Cox this weekend as he has been nursing a lower body injury. He’ll play, but getting twenty carries seems like a bit much at this point in the season. 

          Last year, we predicted that Malachi Jones would not lead the team in yards and receptions at the end of the year, even though he was the most experienced returning receiver. We were half right. Jones did lead the team in yards, but Simms McElfresh led the Mountaineers in receptions, outpacing Jones by six catches. One might expect a similar prediction this year in favor of Shaedon Meadors, but we aren’t going there. Meadors may have the most talent with his one hand grabs and his long touchdowns, but he isn’t a chain mover. Meadors by far led the team in yards per reception, and that is exactly what he is, a playmaker. It might be hard to believe Meadors only caught fifteen passes last year in the seven games he played in. 

          Coachspeak might tell you that the most important game is the next one. For Scott Satterfield it truly is. Satterfield had to be reminded that Tuesday was September 1st. All the focus is on Howard this week and none on the next game down in Death Valley. A Satterfield coached team has never been 1-0 before. Getting that first win can do wonders for a teams confidence. Speaking of confidence, the Mountaineer defense might be even better than they were last year, when they led the Sun Belt in total defense. Fall camp was dominated by the defense more this year than in recent memory. I beleive that is where the battle will be won on Saturday. I doubt Howard is going to come out of the gates throwing the football with a brand new quarterback, whoever it is. The Bison will likely get him acclimated to the game by running the football and controlling the clock. The special teams game will be one to watch on both sides of the ball. Howard was really good at returning kicks last season, but that will happen when your defense gives up over 30 points a game. I am really curious to see what improvements haven been made by the addition of runningbacks coach Stu Holt on kick and punt return defense. Just about every aspect of the Mountaineeer special teams  was tough to watch in 2014. I’ll take Appalachian this weekend to cover the Sagarin spread and some other running back not named Marcus Cox will get 125 yards on the ground. 

The First Pick:
Bison 10
Mountaineers 42