App State Football @ Arkansas State

Appalachian State (6-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) vs Arkansas State (1-7, 0-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 6th, 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

Centennial Bank Stadium

Capacity: 30,382

Surface: Geo Surfaces Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.71

Ark State: 52.90

Home: 2.10

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.71 points

Line: App State -21

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last Meeting: App State 45, Monroe 17, October 22, 2020, Boone, NC

Don’t look now, but Monroe just turned the ball over again. It was that kind of day for the Warhawks who were never really in it. The Mountaineers might have had something to do with that. After nearly every Monroe mistake, App State made them pay. That is the kind of stuff good teams are made of. The next challenge arises in one of the least familiar of conference opponents. The last couple games between Arkansas State and App State have not been particularly close. Saturday looks to be similar. There in itself is the challenge. On paper, this one looks fairly lopsided. Keeping your edge and competitive spirit alive for a road trip to face a team that has had some bad results can be difficult. Already, Red Wolves fans are saying that the battle in this game is not on the scoreboard. Luckily for App State, this is Homecoming for Arkansas State, so the atmosphere may not be completely dead for your typical one win team. However, playing the next ring game should be plenty motivation for the visiting team.

Where to start? The 2021 Red Wolves are really taking it on the chin this year. They have one win over Central Arkansas and three one possession losses to Memphis, Tulsa and Louisiana. Other than that, its been pretty bad in Jonesboro. Blake Anderson did all he could to keep that program afloat as long as possible, and Butch Jones is dealing with the fallout. The Arkansas State offense can be good enough to beat anyone on their schedule, but the defense is the main concern. If the game of football was a one-sided game, the Red Wolves can go toe-to-toe with any offense in the league. Even with glaring issues in the running game, the Red Wolves sport an offense that ranks 60th in the country, that is completely propped up by their Top-10 passing offense by yardage. For comparison purposes, consider Marshall, another school that has a Top-10 passing offense, but also had issues on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, Marshall has a running attack, and that is why they are 5-3. Arkansas State and Marshall are the only teams in the top ten in passing offense that have thrown double digit interceptions this season.

Just like Monroe, the quarterback position for Arkansas State is unsettled. The Red Wolves, known in the past for being unable to make their mind up when any quarterback was playing or going to play, have continued the trend under Butch Jones. It seemed that James Blackman, the Florida State transfer, had won the job, but Layne Hatcher, the long ago Alabama transfer was still getting playing time. Blackman’s injury designation was considered as being “out indefinitely”, after suffering a shoulder injury against Coastal. He did not make the trip last week to Mobile. It would seem unlikely that Blackman is cleared before Saturday, which means Layne Hatcher will get his third consecutive start. Hatcher has completed 55% of his passes this season with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in spot duty. These numbers are a fay cry from 2020, when Hatcher threw 19 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Hatcher threw three interceptions last week alone in the loss to South Alabama. App State accounted for one of Hatcher’s interceptions last year.

This is where it gets bad. Within the conference, Arkansas State is dead last running the ball and stopping the run. The Red Wolves are averaging less than three yards a carry on offense and giving up a mind boggling 6.9 yards per carry on defense. They have allowed 22 rushing touchdowns and have only scored three on the ground themselves. Those national ranks are 129th for rushing defense and 127th for rushing offense. Each facet of the football game has an effect on the next. A lack of rushing production typically finds teams who own poor records. If you cannot run the ball, it’s difficult to sustain drives, which has an impact on possession, and the number of plays your defense defends. It’s not a requirement of winning football, to have an offense than can churn out 200 yard rushing games consistently, but being effective when you do run is important. This game is all out about efficiency. All of this leads to Arkansas State giving up 42.4 points per game, which is also last in conference play and 128th nationwide. That is nearly five points more per game than UL-Monroe, who the Mountaineers just scored 59 points on.

With their second straight 500-yard game, the App State offense is humming. The Mountaineers scored touchdowns on five straight possessions in the first half and distanced themselves from Monroe before they knew what hit them. Chase Brice has 603 passing yards and six touchdowns in his last two games. More importantly, Brice has not thrown an interception or been sacked in the last two games either. Nate Noel continued his steady pace toward a 1,000 yard season. With his third 100-yard performance of the season, Noel needs to average just 46 yards a game with at least five games remaining in the season. Corey Sutton and Malik Williams are also on pace to clear 1,000 yards. Sutton has been more consistent and has touchdown catches in four of his last five games. Williams caught three passes for 72 yards and a touchdown following his outburst against Coastal. While the offense was scoring, the defense was getting off the field early. The first six Warhawk possessions ended in this order: punt, fumble, interception, downs, punt, punt. Those six drives consisted of twenty plays that covered 64 total yards.

It is incredibly easy to sit back, look at an opponents record or recent history and think you can take a weekend off. If anything this season has taught us across college football, you cannot take any opponent lightly. The Red Wolves have won five games the last two seasons. You cannot hide from that. In 2019, Arkansas State won eight games, but five of them were decided by one score. The demise of Arkansas State football was not a nosedive, it was slow descent. Everyone knew it was coming, but it was just a matter of when it hit rock bottom. That time is now. Could the Red Wolves have a couple more wins right now? Sure, but bowl eligibility was never a reasonable goal. Georgia Southern has not been able to get off the ground this year either, and they absolutely walloped this Arkansas State team. Focusing on a close result against Louisiana is doing nothing but searching. Those two teams play weird games all the time. Arkansas State is giving up yardage and points at historic levels. That does not change overnight. It’s likely it takes a couple seasons to get that unit to a respectable level. But in the meantime, the Red Wolves need a spark. South Alabama got back to business last week with a win over Arkansas St, after having Monroe beat them the week before. Arkansas State should show better this week at home after turning the ball over 4 times to the Jaguars. The 224 yards gained last week was a season low. Butch Jones should be able to motivate his team for a big game, and a strong finish to the season with some winnable games. It’s just very unlikely to come this weekend. Just about every weakness the Red Wolves have plays right into the hands of App State, who have found a rhythm on offense as of late. Expect a boatload of sacks from the App State defense.

The First Pick

Huff but no Puff 14

Mountaineers 38

Appalachian Football vs Arkansas State

Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Arkansas State (3-2, 1-1 Sun Belt)

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 7:30pm 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: 24,050

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 79.47

Arkansas State: 67.79

Home: 1.78

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.46 points

Line: App State -11.5

Series: App State leads 2-1

Last Meeting: App State 35, Arkansas State 9, Jonesboro, AR October 9, 2018

It has been a long time coming. Did this wait feel longer than the offseason? Perhaps not, but this pause in the season has not been short by any stretch. Nearly four weeks will have elapsed since the last time the Mountaineers stepped on the field for a game. For many, most of that time has been spent isolated from the outside world. It’s odd for Kidd Brewer stadium to be empty this time of the year. For nearly three weeks, there were no whistles blowing, coaches shouting, music playing, nor pads thumping. It was so quiet, one could almost hear the leaves changing colors. October in the high country is typically the busy season, but not this year. Fortunately, as some of the foliage fell, cleats were laced, helmets were buttoned up and ankles were taped, and practice began, again. It will be a homecoming like no other, without a court, without a dance, block party or parade. The annual event will be without a lot of typical fanfare, but it will have a football game.

An uneventful week does not exist in 2020. Last week, most were just hoping this game was going to happen. Arkansas State played a Thursday night game against Georgia State, which became a shootout. The Red Wolves gave up a season high 583 yards of offense and 52 points to the Panthers. The next day, Arkansas State dropped the hammer on the defensive coordinator and defensive pass game coordinator. Suddenly, Arkansas State is a little short-handed on coaches. Relieving coaches of duties happens all the time in college football, but is definitely rare in the middle of the season. The conference is nicknamed the #FunBelt for a reason. However, Blake Anderson believes that replacing a couple coaches on a team, in the middle of a world health crisis, that has given up 500 or more yards in three of their five games will do the trick. Anderson has been through a lot personally, and anyone’s professional career would take a hit under those circumstances. The entire staff was replaced after 2018, and then after 2019, Anderson’s name pops up for Power Five jobs. And now in 2020, we are relieving coaches midseason. Doesn’t seem like a good trend.

The defensive side of the ball is where the question marks end for Arkansas State. A two quarterback system has flourished for the Red Wolves. That hardly ever works, but for the time being, stAte fans are riding that wave. Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher are both completing well over 63% of their passes and have been high efficiency passers. Hatcher averages 9.1 yards per attempt and Bonner is at 7.9 per pass. They are both very similar statistically, all the way down to each being sacked seven times on the season. Bonner is listed at 6’1, 215 pounds, while Hatcher is slimmer at 6’0 and 195 pounds. The two combined for 529 passing yards and seven touchdown against Georgia State. Neither quarterback has really had a bad game all season, and they both seem to be pretty interchangeable. Mostly, neither quarterback really is the difference between whether Arkansas State wins or loses.

Truthfully, the Red Wolves offense is really all about their wide receivers. Jonathan Adams has already hauled in 41 passes for 539 yards and seven touchdowns. Adams had just eight career receiving touchdowns coming into this senior season. Part of Adams’ statistics were ballooned by the aforementioned Georgia State game where he snagged an unreal 15 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Another senior, Dahu Green has been equally impressive. Green caught just 10 passes in his first three seasons in Jonesboro, but has exploded for 25 receptions, 419 yards and five touchdowns. Green has also played in just four games this season and has five receptions in each game this season. Brandon Bowling rounds out the group of seniors who is also having a career year. Bowling has already eclipsed his junior season in terms of yards. Bowling has twenty catches and four touchdowns, and is the smaller of the set, standing at just 5’9 and 176 pounds.

Well, it seems like ages ago that App State played Campbell. Can we take anything from that game and apply it nearly four weeks later? It seemed like a “get through it” type of game. App State was down coaches and nearly twenty players due to contact tracing, which affected mainly offensive skill positions. Yet, may contributions were made by veterans and newcomers alike. Freshman Nate Noel was perhaps the biggest bright spot with 131 rushing yards on 14 carries. Da’Shaun Davis also looked like a potential star in the making with six catches for 40 yards. Daetrich Harrington carried 32 times for 211 yards and four touchdowns to keep the Mountaineer offense on track for most of the game. The defense held the Camels off the scoreboard in the third quarter, which provided the offense the time it needed to find a rhythm. App State scored three touchdowns in that third quarter to put the game away. Despite that, App State still has not looked quite itself in the first three games.

This game was scheduled for App State as the back end of a gauntlet. It was supposed to be Louisiana, Georgia Southern, and Arkansas State in three straight midweek contests. It has since evolved into a stand alone Thursday night game in which both teams are looking for momentum. App State is only team remaining in the Sun Belt who has yet to play a conference game. Arkansas State is about to play its third, and it is quite pivotal. A second loss in the conference standings would provide an uphill battle to gain a berth in the conference title game, with Louisiana and current West leader South Alabama still looming. Nobody expects the Jaguars to hang around, but here we are. The pressure is really on the Red Wolves. They have a thinner margin of error with a team that has some major holes outside of their passing attack. The stAte offensive line has allowed fourteen sacks on the season and made room for just 111.8 yards rushing per game. Both of those key statistics are in the bottom quartile of the country. The Red Wolves are also among one of the worst teams in giving up not just yards and points, but they only possess the ball 26 minutes a game and allow their opponents nearly 25 first downs a game. A lot of games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage, and that’s one place App State will not allow itself to be beaten. Third downs are always important, but will be especially important for both teams on Thursday night. Finally, red zone scoring. Both teams are performing uncharacteristically below their expectation finishing drives in the red zone. Field goals are not going to cut it. However, App State will play enough defense at the right time to hold off Arky State.

The First Pick

Howling at the Moon 31

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football @ Arkansas State

Appalachian State (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) @ Arkansas State (3-2, 0-1 Sun Belt)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 8:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Centennial Bank Stadium 

Surface: GEO Surfaces Field turf

Capacity: 30,406

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.48

Arkansas State: 64.77

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11.5 points (rounded)

VegasInsider: App State -9

Series: Tied 1-1

Last meeting: Arkansas State 40, App State 27, November 5th, 2015, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Partly cloudy with light wind, Temps in upper 70’s

It’s been almost three years. Over a thousand days. A budding rivalry that has barely gotten off the ground will finally go up, on a Tuesday. For the Mountaineers, it will be their first game played on the second night of the work week. Arkansas State is no stranger to Tuesday’s, having played eight such games. This game sits out on an island, or a cape, perhaps an isthmus, as App’s only game in twenty calendar days. Whichever your water feature of choice, this game has been landlocked as a premier match up in conference play. Both schools want to host the initial conference championship game and a win by either would go a long way in securing that honor. Only one of the two can host the game, but both could potentially participate. Beyond the importance of Tuesday night, is the possible chess match that could unfold if both teams played again. Before we get ahead of ourselves, we’ll remind you how both teams have won on each other’s field in the two games that have been played, and although not many players remain on each side, the head coaches do. That’s a feat in itself. Their conflicting styles will factor into this result. Whether it be slow and steady or uptempo and aggressive, one team will be ahead of the curve by the time that Tuesday is gone

The feeling in Jonesboro, is that Arkansas State has their most talented offense ever, led by a senior quarterback that throws for a lot of yards and touchdowns. The Red Wolves have been abysmal in non-conference play since Appalachian joined the conference, but that changed in 2018. Arkansas State grabbed peer wins over Tulsa and UNLV that looked good on paper. However, Tulsa is now 1-4 with their only win over, (laughs) Central Arkansas who, famously beat Ark State in 2016. UNLV is currently 2-3, with a wins over Prairie View A&M and 0-5 UTEP. You get the idea. Arkansas State grabbed a couple non-conference wins, but not much to write home about. 

Those wins were enough to keep everyone calm in Jonesboro for the time being, and then they played Georgia Southern, looked the same as they did in their previous two games, and lost. Then all heck broke loose. Hit the panic button. Something has to change. It’s possible that loss was the perfect wake up call for the Red Wolves. They get to play at home, sleep in their own beds for an odd gameday, and they got a couple more days to prepare. 

The conference tabbed Justice Hansen as its preseason offensive player of the year. Hansen also won the award in 2017 with just shy of 4000 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In 2018, his completion percentage is at the highest its been in his career and his interceptions are down, but his yards per attempt (7.5) is at a career low. Hansen has also run the ball 43 times for 152 yards in his last three games, a 3.5 yard per carry average. He’s on pace to be sacked more times than any other year in his career as well. What does all this mean? Hansen has been asked to do a lot and his team has not responded well to it. 

The Red Wolves rushing attack is spread out. Hansen leads the team in carries with 54, but is fourth on the teams with 189 yards.  Three other backs have carried the load. Marcel Murray, a freshman, has the most yards at 261 and has added a couple touchdowns. Warren Wand, who stands all of 5’5″, has 204 yards on the ground. Armond Weh-Weh is the bigger back and has carried for 190 yards on the season. Arkansas State has three receivers with over 200 yards receiving. Omar Bayless average 16.6 yards per catch and has a 54-yard touchdown to his credit. Kirk Merritt and Justin McInnis have combined for 52 of the teams 127 receptions.  

In a game that many were uneasy about coming in, App State throttled South Alabama 52-7. It had the same look and feel as the win over Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineers pounced the Jaguars early and cruised to an easy win with 348 rushing yards, led by Jalin Moore’s 123 yards and two touchdowns. Zac Thomas pitched in with an electrifying 54-yard touchdown run to highlight his 77 yards. Darrynton Evans had a 42 yard burst to boost his 61 yard effort. Marcus Williams Jr added 59 yards on 6.6 yards per carry. As a team, the Mountaineers have run for 1078 yards in just four games, and 780 of those yards have occurred in the last two games. 

Zach Thomas had an easy day, but was pushed in the third quarter by his own coach to see what he could handle. That eventually led to a couple of interceptions that were thrown when the game was well in hand. Typically a time to give repetitions to younger bench players, Scott Satterfield challenged his sophomore quarterback which provided an opportunity for live in-game teaching moments. Thomas had the help of his defense most of the day, as the Mountaineers shut down South Alabama’s run game to the tune of 2.4 yards per carry. 

Eventually, the “Who did you beat?” game wears off. Appalachian has three lopsided wins and a close loss at a top ten team. Nobody is asking Alabama if they have beaten anyone. I’m not comparing App State and Alabama, but if you continue to destroy teams, your resume speaks for itself. The same can be said about Arkansas State. Their wins are not very impressive, but they are wins. It is the losses that get nitpicked. Arkansas State had plenty of chances to score points against Georgia Southern, but couldn’t execute when the field got smaller. That’s been the case all season. Arkansas State has just eight touchdowns in fourteen trips to the red zone. Their red zone scoring percentage on the season is just .786, tied for 101st in the country. The only Sun Belt teams worse? South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe. Offense is not the problem for Arkansas State. They have nearly 400 more yards than their opponents. The issue is the inefficiency. The Red Wolves are averaging just 6.0 yards per play, while their defense is giving up 6.1 per snap. On the flip side, Appalachian has given up just 12 red zone scoring chances, allowing nine scores, which is good enough for 29th nationally. The team that finishes their drives will prevail. The Mountaineers will finish a few more drives than the Red Wolves and will take home their second conference win of the season. 

The First Pick

Lil’ Red Riding Hood 23

Mountaineers 37

Arkansas State @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 9

Arkansas State (5-3, 4-0 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (7-1, 4-0 Sun Belt)

Thursday November 5th, 7:30 PM EST


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: 73.57

Arkansas State: 63.06

Home: 2.78

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -11

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last Meeting: App State 37, Arkansas State 32; November 15, 2014 (Jonesboro, AR)

Weather: Partly to mostly cloudy with drizzle possible late, High: Mid 60’s, Lows: Upper 50’s

Turns out that Halloween night at The Rock was a little more scary than anyone was accustomed to. The Trojans had several tricks up their sleeve, but it was the Mountaineer fans who were treated to a thrilling triple overtime victory. Troy played just about their best game of the season, and Appalachian was just good enough to hold on. The proverbial “trap” game was just that. The Mountaineers managed to eek out a game that many were not expected to be that much of a contest. Fortunately, Appalachian outscored the Trojans despite being outplayed and outcoached for much of the game. That result  has allowed Appalachian to regroup. When a team plays poorly, there is nothing more they want to do than get back out on the field and prove themselves. For the second time in a few weeks, Appalachian has to make a quick turnarond and play on Thursday night, with only five full days of rest between games. The Mountaineers have practiced without pads part of the week in an effort to allow their bodies to heal before what will be an epic battle with Arkansas State. Both teams sit atop the Sun Belt standings with unblemished 4-0 records at the midway point of the conference season. The winner gets a full game lead in the standings with only three games left to play, and a little breathing room. Everyone involved in a college football program, from cheerleaders and fans, trainers and the marching band lives for games like Thursday night, in front of a national audience with everything on the line. It’s time to show the world once again what Appalachian State is all about. 

Arkansas State has strung together four straight wins after  a brutal stretch to start the season. The Red Wolves played two Power Five opponents and upstart Toledo, games which they lost, to start the season 1-3. Southern California and Toledo were both ugly losses on the road, where Arkansas State only managed 13 points in the two games combined. Arkansas State hosted then 21st ranked Missouri and took  a lead at halftime, but could not hold on, being outscored 17-3 in the second half. 

Even though the Red Wolves have taken care of business in conference play, it has not been pretty. They have conceded 127 points in their last four games, three of those being at home, which averages out to 31.75 points per game, which is slighty higher than their season average of 31.6 points per game. I can hear you asking, how is that “not pretty”. Three of those four schools, Idaho, Georgia State and South Alabama all scored more points on Arkansas State than their own season averages. All three scored at least seven more points in those games than their current scoring averages to date. Louisiana scored three fewer points than their average, but still managed to roll up 485 yards of offense, which is almost 70 yards more than their season average of 415 yards. The point: The Red Wolves defense is ripe for the picking. 

The flip side of the defensive argument is how good Arkansas State is on the offensive side of the ball. The offense is healthy this season, unlike last years matchup between the two teams. Senior Fredi Knighten is the most important cog for this team. If he is in a rhythm, the Red Wolves are diffcult to stop. Knighten is another signal caller  that has missed some time this year with injuries so his statistics are low by comparison. He has only played in five or six games, depending which website you trust, and has totaled 631 passing yards and nine touchdowns. His biggest threat is his abilty to run, not only to by time in the pocket, but to scramble for first downs. Knighten has the fourth most rushing yards on the team even with missing those games, totaling 216 yards. 

What Arkansas State wants to do is the run the ball. They make no bones about it, but they are not a traditional power running team. They love to get the ball outside to their backs in hopes they can make a play in the open field. Michael Gordon is the leader of the bunch with 622 yards and six touchdowns, but has made the most of it, with less than 13 carries per game. Freshman Warren Wand is listed third on the depth chart, but is second on the team in carries and yards. Wand is only 5’5″ but can burn rubber, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. JD McKissic is the leading receiver with 38 receptions and 392 yards, but is also used in the running game. His twelve attempts are not a ton, but McKissic embodies what the Red Wolves want to do on offense by getting athletes open and let them run. Coverage and tackling will very important for the Mountaineer defense on Thursday night. 

The Mountaineer offense was not spectacular, but it was just good enough when it counted. Thirteen tough points were scored in the overtime periods. The way overtime works creates a lot of highs and lows. One minute, the calls are a bit conservative while playing with your back to the wall, while the next, you can play a bit more loose. In a game where points were important, Zach Matics was nothing but perfect, hitting all of his extra points and field goal attempts. Matics has completely redeemed himself in 2015 in a big way. His opening field goal against Georgia Southern may be the most underrated points of the season, answering the Eagles opening drive. Matics will be trusted again Thursday night in a game that appears to favor a shootout where points will be at an ultimate premium. 

Arkansas State is extremely fortunate to be in the position they are in at this point in the season. Back on October 13th, they trailed South Alabama by 11 with thirteen minutes to play in the game. Suddenly, the Jaguars folded up and played not to lose, and Arkansas State managed to score 29 points in the next six minutes of game time, and won going away. A similar situation occured in last years game between App and Ark. State. The Mountaineers clawed back from a 14 point deficit in the first half to lead 37-20 late in the game and Arkansas State scored two late touchdowns to draw within five points. The Red Wolves do not give up. The 145 points they scored last year in the fourth quarter were the most points they scored in any quarter for the entire season. The fourth quarter this season is where Appalachian has scored the fewest points, only 38. Last week against Troy, Appalachian could not hold a lead and were shutout in the final period of regulation. In order to combat a comeback attempt, Appalachian must establish the tempo of the game from the opening kick. The Mountaineers were schooled on pace of play last week by Troy and will likely have worked hard in practice to defend an Arkansas State team that also likes to run a lot of plays. I expect Taylor Lamb to work well out of the play action game and make the Red Wolves secondary chase some deep passes, which in turn wll help the running game. The Mountaineers won’t cover, but they’ll win and remain in first place. 

The First Pick:

Lil’ Red Riding Hood 23

Mountaineers 30

Appalachian Football @ Arkansas State

Here we go with Week 10

Appalachian State (4-5, 3-2 Sun Belt) @ Arkansas State (6-3, 4-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 15th, 3:00pm EST

TV/LIve 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

Centennial Bank Stadium

Surface: GEO Surfaces FieldTurf

Capacity: 30,406

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 55.34

Ark State: 70.37

Home: 3.15

Arkansas State is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 18 points

Sportsbook: Arkansas St -14.5, O/U 65

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Stop for few seconds, close your eyes, and remember that feeling you had after Appalachian defeated Monroe last weekend. It was not just a feeling of relief, but of validation. The Mountaineers previous wins over Troy and Georgia State were not flukes over the Sun Belts lesser talented teams. It was a building block towards the future. Now, Monroe isn’t the best in the conference, but that win garnered some attention. Prior to the game, Monroe was the best defense in the conference. Monroe is a Louisiana school, which is the home state to the conference headquarters in New Orleans. But, before you get any respect in the Sun Belt, you must defeat the two longer tenured schools in Arkansas State and Lafayette. Georgia State and South Alabama also played Ark St and Lafayette in consecutive weekends this season, and both came away with two losses each. The next two weekends are a tall task for the Mountaineers, but I would not want it any other way. The Mountaineers want to be the best in the conference, and in order to do so, you got to beat the best. In its first year of transition, Appalachian will have the chance to really see how they measure up with the Sun Belt powers. Even better, the Mountaineers get to test themselves on the road in a stadiums with good atmospheres, despite lacking a couple thousand camouflaged hunters.

Arkansas State is the three-time defending Sun Belt champion and have gone to three straight Bowls , winning the last two. Somehow, the Red Wolves have accomplished all of this with three different head coaches in the last three seasons. Current head coach Blake Anderson is the fourth head coach in as many years. Hugh Freeze was the head coach in 2011 before being hired by Ole Miss. Gus Malzahn was head coach in 2012 after spending the prior three years at Auburn as offensive coordinator. After Gene Chizik was fired at Auburn, Malzahn went back to the plains and is now the head coach for Auburn. Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired for the 2013 season, where he also stayed for one year before heading west to his alma matar, Boise State, where he had played quarterback and spent ten years as an assistant. Blake Anderson is a first time head coach at Arkansas State and has spent time on the staffs at North Carolina, Southern Miss, and Middle Tennessee in the last decade.

Anderson has been known as an offensive guru at every stop he has made throughout his coaching career and the same holds true for Arkansas State in 2014. The Red Wolves are second in the conference in total offense and third in scoring. Quarterback Fredi Knighten leads the conference in total yardage with over 290 yards per game. Knighten is second in the conference in rushing yards by a quarterback, only trailing Georgia Southern’s Kevin Ellison. Most of his rushing yards come on zone reads and sweeps. He is a very excitable player, as he nearly sprints back to the offensive backfield after each run. He is very jittery in the pocket, quickly bouncing on his toes as he looks through his reads.

Michael Gordon is the leading running back for Arkansas State behind Knighten, who is responsible for 36% of the Red Wolves carries. Gordon only has 100 carries on the season, but is also very active in the passing game. Arkansas State will usually spread out the defense with four wideouts in the formation, leaving Gordon in the backfield beside Knighten. Gordon will shift from one side of the quarterback to the other in the shotgun formation. More often than not, Gordon will run the opposite side of the formation for which he is lined up and rarely will he take the ball between the tackles. That attack had allowed Gordon to average 7.6 yards per carry.

The Red Wolves pummeled South Alabama last week 45-10, but it was not the same Jaguar team the Mountaineers saw in Boone over a month ago. South Alabama started junior Matt Floyd, who was making his first career start. Floyd threw for less than 100 yards, was sacked three times and intercepted twice. This will make the second straight weekend, that Appalachian’s opponent saw a first time quarterback starter in their previous game. If you remember, Monroe faced Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen two weeks ago. Much like Monroe, Arkansas State’s defense lives off making big plays. Appalachian committed one turnover last weekend, and it led to quick seven points for the Warhawks. South Alabama committed four turnovers last weekend, and it seemed Arkansas State capitalized on all of them. The Red Wolves defense flys around and forces the action toward the sidelines. They hit hard and get after the quarterback. Occasionally, when the opposing offense is in a third and long situation, Arkansas State will line up in a stack formation with their lineman and linebackers in a look that is meant to confuse. That has helped them to lead the conference in opponents third down conversions. Appalachian did a good job last weekend protecting Taylor Lamb and gave up zero sacks to the team that led the league in sacks. This week, Arkansas State now leads the conference in sacks.

Monroe and Appalachian played a classic last weekend. Neither running game could really get going, as both teams held each other to under three yards per carry. The difference was in the quarterback play. Monroe’s Pete Thomas continued his decline, completing under 50% of his passes for only six yards per attempt. Thomas was sacked six times by the Mountaineer defense, a number not seen in several years. Appalachian’s Lamb was much more efficient despite a vaselined interception in the first quarter. Lamb connected on 71% of his passes, including a dime he dropped for Shaedon Meadors late in the second quarter that was caught with one hand by the freshman wide receiver. For the first time this season, a Mountaineer kicker was the difference in the closing moments of the game, as Bentlee Critcher nailed a 39-yard field goal for the game winning points.

Although Marcus Cox was held in check on the ground for the most part, he was effective in the passing game. Cox caught five passes for 56 yards. Coming into the game, Cox had only managed nine receptions for 71 yards. Cox added another touchdown to give thirteen on the season and eight touchdowns in his last four games. He is now up to 913 rushing yards on the season

In the last three games, the weather forecast has been a concern leading into the weekend. Obviously, the Georgia State game will be unforgettable for the snow that fell throughout the day, Last weekend started cool, but for a local, it turned out to be a pretty nice day with the kickoff temperature being 52 degrees and sunny, but quickly dipped into the 40’s as the game wore one. A Monroe player was quoted as saying that is was cold and trying to stay warm might have gotten to them. This is something I thought might be an issue in the South Alabama game, but it was not to be. This weekend, the Mountaineers will take some early winter weather to Jonesboro as the high temperatures are not expected to reach forty degrees.

These two teams are mirror images on paper offensively. Both teams are extremely balanced. Arkansas State has passed for almost 200 more yards than they have run for while, Appalachian has rushed for a little more than 200 yards than they have passed. Exactly 18 yards of total offense separate the second ranked (Ark St) and third ranked (App St) offenses in the Sun Belt. Both teams have scored exactly 39 touchdowns. The Mountaineers have totaled five more points than the Redwolves. The difference is the defenses. Although Appalachian has held teams to 11 fewer yards per game over the course of the season, Arkansas State holds the points allowed edge by four points. The Red Wolves are undefeated at home, a place where they have only surrendered 48 points all season. The Red Wolves offense is also on a roll in the past four weeks, scoring over 45 points per game over Sun Belt opponents, compared to just 25 points per game in the first five contests of the season. The key for Appalachian will be to keep the game close in first quarter. It will be important to take the crowd out of the game with some long drives and to avoid a momentum changing turnover at all costs. Once Arkansas State smells blood on defense, they pounce and do not let you up. Their linebackers are huge and make it really difficult around the line of scrimmage. Thats where the difference will be made in this game. If Appalachian allows the Red Wolves to dictate the middle of the field, and can neutralize the Mountaineer rushing attack, it could be a long day. This will be the biggest test for this young Mountaineer offense. I could see a game similar to the Lafayette-Ark St game from a few weeks ago. Lots of scoring, but a couple plays will decide how this one ends.

The First Pick:

Mountaineers 31

More Indians 44