Appalachian Football vs North Texas (Myrtle Beach Bowl)

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

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

TV/Video: ESPN

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

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.19

North Texas: 54.14

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.05 points

Line: App State -19.0

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Green with Envy 20

Mountaineers 41

#23 Appalachian Football @ Marshall

Appalachian State (1-0) @ Marshall (1-0)

Saturday, September 19th, 2020 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: CBS

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

Joan C. Edwards Stadium

Capacity: 38,277

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.47

Marshall: 68.60

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.55 points

Line: App State -4.5

Series: App State leads 14-8

Last Meeting: Marshall 50, App State 17, Huntington, WV August 31, 2002

WxCrum Forecast:  Sunshine and lower 70’s

After months of preparation and anticipation, we all finally got to watch our favorite team on the gridiron. Most importantly, it was an escape from reality even if the situation did not feel exactly normal. And although it was not a perfectly played game, the result was and that afternoon was good enough. Now the focus shifts from a new rival to an old one. Nearly two decades have passed since the last time these former SoCon rivals have played. Since then, there have been twelve conference championships won between the two schools, eleven of those by App State. The schools have combined for fifteen bowl games in the same amount of time, with thirteen wins. If there is one thing these two schools and fan bases value, its winning. Anything less is intolerable. Marshall is coached by a man who has spent all but seven years of his life in the state of West Virginia. Likewise, App State is also coached by man who hails from the Mountain State, who gets a chance to coach his alma mater in front of family and friends and against his own college rival. With so many story lines heading into this matchup, you almost forget, there is a game to be played and viewed by millions of households. That’s right, even if your television still has a dial, or your home an outhouse, you can watch this game on CBS. Never has their been a better time for the Appalachian brand to be shown to a national audience.

Last weekend, Marshall was off, having a game previously scheduled with East Carolina postponed. So after stampeding Eastern Kentucky by the score of 59-0, the Herd got to rest and watch App State and Charlotte. Marshall is scheduled to host Charlotte in November, but likely had their eyes more focused on the Mountaineers. Marshall is 3-2 all time against Charlotte, but lost to the Niners in 2019. The Herd may have a pretty good bead on the Mountaineers considering all the similar opponents App State and Marshall have played over the years. In fact, this will be the Mountaineers third straight Conference USA opponent dating back to the New Orleans Bowl. The last time App State lost to a Conference USA opponent was in 2014 by one point to Southern Miss. The Mountaineers are 26-13 all time against current CUSA members. Eight of those losses were to Marshall.

App State fans like to crow about having the most successful Division I transition in history. Not many programs can argue with that reasoning. Except Marshall. Since moving up to FBS in 1997, Marshall is 12-3 in bowl games. Marshall also won five MAC championships in their first six seasons in the conference, but can only lay claim to one CUSA title since their last MAC title in 2002. Interesting enough, that was the last time App State and Marshall played. After the major transition success under Coach Bob Pruett, who won a school record 94 games from 1996-2004, Marshall missed on a hire in Mark Snyder. The Herd won just 22 games under Snyder, with never more than six wins in a season. Snyder resigned before the 2009 Little Caesars Bowl where they defeated rival Ohio. That brings us to present day Marshall coach Doc Holliday, who is in his eleventh year at Marshall, sporting a 78-50 record. Holliday is 6-1 in bowl games, his first blemish coming in 2019 to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl.

The Herd was absolutely dominant in their opening game. Quarterback Grant Wells is all the rage as he threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns in his debut on just twenty-three attempts. His backup Luke Zban was also 6/6 for 38 yards and one touchdown. Together they completed twenty-two passes to thirteen receivers. Marshall knew going in they could get a lot of players some game action. Eastern Kentucky was simply no match. In all, eight players had rushing attempts, most notably, Brenden Knox, the 2019 CUSA Player of the Year. Knox carried 18 times for 85 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Kentucky. Last year he had 1,387 yards and eleven touchdowns. Charlotte was one of five teams in 2019 that held Knox under 100 yards. In 2018, Knox saw his first significant game action of his freshman season against Charlotte and carried for 116 yards. The point, Charlotte doesn’t like to get beat by the running game, and Marshall has one. Besides Knox, Knowledge McDaniel ran 14 times for 93 yards. Grant Wells also added 44 yards on the ground.

It might have been sloppy at times, but the Mountaineers got it done last Saturday in convincing fashion over an undermanned opponent. Outside a couple correctable mistakes that led to Charlotte points, it was a really solid performance considering circumstances that were outside of anyone’s control. Zac Thomas was easily the most consistent offensive threat on the field for App State. Thomas completed two thirds of passes for just a little over two-hundred yards and averaged 9.7 yards per attempt. His interception was the product of a fourth down attempt deep in the opponents territory, which was inconsequential. Thomas was also steady on the ground, rushing for thirty-two yards, keeping the Niners guessing after chasing down the three-headed running back rotation. Marcus Williams Jr, Camerun Peoples and Daetrich Harrington accounted for 279 yards rushing on 42 combined attempts, which comes to 6.6 yard per carry average. The Mountaineers will take day in and day out.

Each week during an opposing coaches teleconference with media, questions are asked about what happened in the previous game, and what to expect in the upcoming game. It’s a familiar script. Doc Holliday was asked a lot of questions about Appy, …. errr….. App State. At one point he seemed annoyed by all the Mountaineer love by that he tried to change to subject back to his team. That’s the kind of attitude that App State fans can expect this weekend in Huntington, on and off the field. Just twenty-two games old, and eighteen years apart, this is still a historic rivalry. However, just about every single player on the field that will clash on Saturday was yet to attend a kindergarten class the last time these two foes played. It must be difficult for a coach to try and get their student-athletes up for a game where one of the main battle cries is, “This is a big deal to our fans”. That statement means more to some schools than others. This will be Marshall’s second home game of the season, with the previous game having fans in attendance. Appalachian has not had that luxury. Many times over its been said that App State fans feed off their team, and the team in turn feeds off its fans. However many black and gold faithful decide to make the trip to Huntington, it will be a hungry bunch that was robbed of a game day experience last weekend. In a reduced capacity stadium, they should represent well. Maybe having someone behind you will help in this game, which is projected to be a battle, just like most of them have been in the past between these two schools. Something will have to give on Saturday. Marshall put a lot points on the board, and gave up very little against Eastern Kentucky, but the Colonels are not App State. Marshall has a veteran team, but they still have a freshman quarterback, who will have two weeks between games. Business is about to pick up and the Mountaineers will be ready to answer that call.

The First Pick

Blundering Turds 24

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (0-0) vs UNC-Charlotte (0-0)

Saturday, September 12th, 2020 12:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN 2

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: 75.69

UNCC: 50.51

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.5 points

Line: App State -17

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, UNCC 41; September 7, 2019, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Showers from early morning throughout out game. Mid 60’s 

We all know how atypical this season will be. For the majority of the summer we were thinking about Wake Forest and Wisconsin and a team that returns a lot of talent, with promising newcomers that had the potential of turning into a truly special season. And then it all broke loose. The games against Power Five schools are no more. One conference absolutely shut down for the fall, and another protected themselves from the uncertainty and potential embarrassment of a loss. About a month ago, a new slate of non-conference opponents have been lined up, which mixes the old with the new. In a season where local games are encouraged, but not too local, our brethren from Harrisburg will make a second visit to the High Country in as many seasons. The head coaches have appeared to become friends over the summer, have openly stumped to play more games against one another, and passionate debate already exists between each fan base. All the pieces are there for a budding rivalry. Except one thing. Eventually someone else has to win. That could occur this year, in a future bowl game, or it may have to wait another half decade or so. But in the mean time, the teams will play each other this Saturday, without your typical gameday atmosphere. Most of you will be without your regimented routine of a typical Saturday morning or afternoon. We all are going to have to find a different way to do what we love, and if we do truly love it, we will find a way.

Returning in 2020 for Charlotte will be Chris Reynolds, who will start at quarterback for the second straight season. Last year, he set a school record for touchdown passes with 22, which included four scoring passes against App State. Reynolds also set school records with 2,564 passing yards in a season and also a single game mark of 354 yards against UTEP. Luckily for Charlotte he is still just a junior and will be heavily relied upon for the 49ers in the running and passing game. He rushed for 791 yards in 2019, which was good enough for second on the team behind Bennie LeMay, who has graduated. Perhaps the most impressive feat for Reynolds were the three game-winning drives he helped engineer in the final five regular season games that propelled Charlotte to bowl eligibility. However, Reynolds was typically just as good as his offensive line in front of him. He was sacked 17 times last season, with 15 of those coming in losses. App State got to Reynolds four times last year, and Buffalo accumulated five quarterback sacks in the Bahamas Bowl.

Charlotte and Reynolds will depend on their top three returning receivers from 2019 to carry them this year. Victor Tucker led the 49ers in receptions, yards and touchdowns, putting up a 52/909/7 line. Tucker improved his yards per catch in 2018 from 13.2 yards per catch to 17.5 yards per catch in the 2019 season. His 1,621 receiving yards rank 3rd all time in Charlotte history. Second leading receiver Cameron Dollar pulled in 41 catches for 599 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 24-yard reception against App State last year. He started eleven of thirteen games and had a 157-yard performance against UTEP. Tyler Ringwood rounds out the returners, as he snagged 25 passes for 395 yards and five touchdowns last year. He is the biggest of the returners at 6’2 and 217 pounds. Ringwood was the leading receiver in the bowl game with five catches for 64 yards.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Charlotte offense is who will replace Benny LeMay, by far the most accomplished running back in their brief history. Returning is Aaron McAllister, who registered 380 yards on the ground last year. A newcomer might also have the inside track. Tre Harbison III is a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, who tallied back to back 1,000 yard season for the Huskies. Harbison III averaged nearly 93 yards per game on the ground for NIU, who went 5-7 last year. Harbison III started his collegiate career at Virginia before transferring. Officially, Charlotte has listed McAllister as the starter, but the feeling is Harbison will also get plenty of work.

Over the course of this off season, the same questions were asked over and over by many regional media outlets. How do you replace this guy and that guy? The answer is not simple, but it can be. Neither Darrynton Evans nor Akeem Davis-Gaither are walking through that door and onto the field. App State coaches learned how to best use their talents, and they will do the same with those who fill those roles for the first time. We have yet to see Marcus Williams Jr, or Daetrich Harrington or Camerun Peoples in a full-time role. We might not see them that way either. But, if it had to come to it, fans should feel comfortable if any of those three were to get the majority of carries. An embarrassment of riches, some might call it. In their careers, all three average over 5.2 yards per carry. Nick Hampton and Brandon Harrington may not be household names yet, but their time is coming. Nick Hampton had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in a semi-reserve role as a redshirt freshman. Harrington played in eleven games as a true freshman. He was too good to sit out a season and that alone should get you excited about his future.

With media availability being somewhat limited, fewer stories seem to have trickled out in the weeks leading up to season. It is just a little bit tougher getting all the electronics set up for video conferencing compared to grabbing a coach or player after practice. In a typical year, one would have expected a story about how UNCC finished their 2019 campaign to gain bowl eligibility. After a very rough 2-5 start, the 49ers needed everything in those last five games to go their way, and they did. Finishing a season with 5 straight wins is similar to the way App State finished their 2014 season with six wins in their last six games. App State was ineligible for a bowl game in their second season of transition, but this was UNCC’s first postseason game. Maybe the bad taste of getting thumped by a MAC school has dampened some of that excitement and momentum. App State wouldn’t know. What we do know is what Charlotte lost year, which were some pretty important players on both lines and also at linebacker. They have had just one year under Will Healy, who is showing he can recruit to the suburbs, but only has one year under his belt doing so. Charlotte is still working with another coaches players which might be real the difference on the field on Saturday. Last year’s statistics are pretty meaningless, especially considering both teams will have new offensive coordinators. One cannot simply look at points per game or first downs from nine months ago and make hypothetical guesses based on that information. This game is unchartered territory for both teams. Next week, that lack of atmosphere will become more normalized, and become less of an issue, but this week, it remains a huge mental hurdle to overcome for both sides. Less so for the Mountaineers who get to sleep in their own beds and play in the stadium they have practiced in. Charlotte has not been to an empty Kidd Brewer Stadium. It may not seem like a major factor to some, but its on everyone’s minds.

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 21

Mountaineers 38

Appalachian Football vs UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. UNC-Charlotte (1-0, 0-0 CUSA)

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.19

UNCC: 49.81

Home: 2.25

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.63 points

Line: App State -21.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: Appalachian 45, UNCC 9, September 8, 2018, Charlotte, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Mostly Sunny with temps in mid-70’s during game.

The long awaited debut of the new coaching staff is now behind us. The 2019 opener played out exactly how it should have. The home team was happy with a big win and the weather was fantastic. That makes for a really solid day in Boone. We don’t ask for much around here. It’s going to rain in Boone, just keep it clear for six or seven Saturdays a year. The next test awaits. A semi-hungry UNC-Charlotte team, fresh off of a season opening win of their own, gets to visit the mountains for the first time. The animosity between fan bases speaks of a rivalry that has lasted decades, but has rarely intersected. This is the seventh season for 49er football and they have twenty-three wins to their name. App State has 617 wins all time. UNC-Charlotte had to fire their only coach after last season. They are basically starting over again. Happens to just about every startup football school. They still have a long way to go. Will Healy might get them there, wherever that may be. This will be last game in this series until 2026, and by then, it is likely that coaches on both sidelines will have moved on. But, this one is for all the chest thumping and online chatter until then. This game will set the table for the next decade of college football in western North Carolina, and neither school can afford to be on the wrong end of the score.

Benny LeMay is Charlotte’s bread and butter. However he goes, so do the Niners. Last year, he finished with 1,243 yards on 232 attempts. Last week against Gardner-Webb, I thought he looked hesitant, and perhaps a little slow. Last year, against App State, LeMay was held to 35 yards on seven carries. His performance last Thursday against Gardner-Webb looked really good on paper. He ran for 120 yards on 16 carries, and added a couple touchdowns. He also didn’t carry the ball in the second half. His last carry was a 65-yard touchdown. Prior to that, Gardner-Webb held LeMay to ten carries for 19 yards in the first quarter. Charlotte persisted and gave LeMay six carries in the second quarter, all combined went for 101 yards. As it all unfolded, it seemed reckless to give LeMay that much run early on, but it worked out in the end and Charlotte got their win .

The quarterback battle was one of the more interesting stories for UNCC during camp. Head coach Will Healy kept the starter a secret up until kickoff last week. Brett Kean, the graduate transfer from South Florida got the nod, but was mostly ineffective. He finished the night with two interceptions and a touchdown on just 4/8 passing for 50 yards. Chris Reynolds was the more effective signal caller. Reynolds was also most effective against App State last season. Reynolds passed for 136 yards and added 72 on the ground, but also threw an interception against Gardner-Webb. Last season against App, Reynolds threw for 108 yards, tossed an interception and was sacked three times. Neither quarterback is great, but they might be enough for UNCC to get to bowl eligibility. Expect to see both quarterbacks to get playing time this week. Alternating quarterbacks might just be a test in non-conference action before settling on a full time start later this month.

The Charlotte receivers are young but they do return some talent. A year ago, Victor Tucker caught four passes for 33 yards against App State. Last week, Tucker hauled in one pass for eleven yards. Sophomore Cameron Dollar grabbed five balls for 58 yards and freshman Noah Henderson corralled five passes for 49 yards. Charlotte took advantage of soft coverage to move the sticks, which led to their 6.6 yards per pass attempt they managed against Gardner-Webb.

The Eliah Drinkwitz debut went off without a hitch. He’ll admit to mistakes he made, and that’s a good sign. A five touchdown victory that included eclipsing forty points and Ted Roof’s defense holding their opponent to single digits is a good recipe for success. In all, the offense ran 66 plays, with 41 rushing attempts to 25 passing plays. That’s really not that far off from what we have seen in the past. Three touchdowns on the ground, and three in the air. Six different players scored. Outside of your typically dominant effort from familiar faces, we had flashbacks from players we didn’t see as often in 2018. Thomas Hennigan never disappeared, but his sophomore season was disappointing mainly due to the emergence of Corey Sutton. Hennigan hauled in seven passes for 79 yards and a score. Daetrich Harrington looked fully recovered in spot duty, carrying the ball six times for 48 yards.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle was a defense that played really well. It’s easy to look at the scoreboard and notice that ETSU scored just a touchdown. That’s simple. But the Bucs took the air out of the ball. App State’s conditioning was tested. They were on the field for eighteen minutes and nineteen seconds in the first half. That might not seem like much, but that’s important as a game wears on. Ten players combined for ten tackles for loss while surrendering just 3.5 yards per attempt on the ground. The defense also held the Bucs to under 300 yards of total offense. That’s quite good.

Let’s do one thing first. Forget what happened in 2018 in Jerry Richardson Stadium. That is not the barometer this weekend. We have two new head coaches with two completely different ideas about how to run a program from their predecessors. This will be different, but the score might not be. Both teams have a lot of players back. That’s a good thing for one, not so good for the other. Chris Reynolds should start for 49ers on Saturday. He looked better last year, and he looked better last Thursday night. I’m just not so sure that Will Healy sees it the same way. Personally, every snap that Brett Kean takes is one more step towards a loss for Charlotte. Just like settling for field goals. Charlotte needs touchdowns, plain and simple. On the other hand, there are a lot of players back for App State from last year. The Mountaineers didn’t run the ball well on Charlotte, yet won convincingly, thanks to big plays from the special teams and defense. I have a feeling that might be a point of emphasis this week in practice. App State will want to establish the ground game and make up for lost time. Charlotte will want to do the same, virtually copying the game plan from East Tennessee, to shorten the game, and keep the Mountaineer offense off the field. A shorter game might mean fewer possessions for both teams which will put an increased importance on situational football. On top of App State losing the time of possession battle to ETSU, Charlotte maintained a fifteen minute edge in the same category over Gardner-Webb. Expect that same strategy to be employed. Parts of me believes that we’ll see a slightly more expanded playbook this weekend, but not by much. The Mountaineers get an early season bye next week before the focus shifts to another in-state opponent and the stakes are also big in that one. The 49ers might hang around for a bit, but the depth and speed they face this weekend is too much to overcome.

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 13

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs Middle Tennessee (New Orleans Bowl)

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

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

TV/Video: ESPN

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

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Capacity: 76,468

Surface: Act Global UBU Speed S5-M Synthetic Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.67

Middle Tennessee: 65.73

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -7

Series: Middle Tennessee leads 2-1

Last meeting: Middle Tennessee 35, Appalachian 10, November 28, 1992, Murfreesboro, TN

WxCrum Forecast: n/a

There is no reason to pretend like we have all been here before. Change is inevitable. What makes you a man is how you react to it. Due to the unchartered territory of success that App State football has experienced for the last several years, it steered them into other unknown waters. No matter what happens over the course of the next couple days, the Mountaineers will be led by a interim coach on Saturday, one who could very well be coaching his last game in the black and gold. A lot of things remain up in the air, and because of that, the focus of the remaining coaches and players is at a premium. For one last game week, travel day, and gameday, a group may convene for the final time together in their lives. Some might get new jobs, may retire, graduate or transfer. But one thing is for certain, they have an opportunity in front of them to prove the world wrong. Although they may be favored to win, a lot of experts will look at them like underdogs. Over the years of App State football, the experts have been critiquing this program over and over: “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never make it”, “You are making a mistake”. Every single time, this program has answered the bell, and proved all the doubters wrong. The never quit, never die attitude of App State football is ingrained in everyone who has come through the High Country, and it’s not stopping now. 

Middle Tennessee and App State have plenty in common. Both formerly of Division I-AA, the Blue Raiders and Mountaineers met twice in the playoffs, both meetings occurring in Murfreesboro, TN. The Blue Raiders won both of those games. Middle’s first year in FBS was 1999 and they spent fourteen seasons in the Sun Belt, winning the conference championship twice. In fact, the 2006 title was the last conference championship for Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders won Conference USA’s east division this year, but fell in the championship game to Alabama-Birmingham. Over the years, the Blue Raiders have faced many Sun Belt teams, beyond their involvement with the conference. Among those, Louisiana, Arkansas State, Troy, Georgia Southern, and plenty others. Despite the limited history between App and Middle, both schools have played a bunch of the same programs over time.

The Middle offense starts and ends with their quarterback Brent Stockstill who might go down as the best in program history. Stockstill is the son of head coach Rick, and has been a consistent player as a four year starter, take away a few games he lost to injury during his junior season. Stockstill is going to throw the ball anywhere from thirty to forty times in a game, and he is going to be on target. He has been sub-60% completing passes just once this season. Stockstill was injured in the Florida International game, and only threw seven times for twenty-eight yards. That was one of the five losses for Middle. In the other four losses, Stockstill threw at least one interception. Now, three of those fives losses were to SEC teams. The other two, Stockstill either didn’t play the whole game (FIU), or threw multiple interceptions (UAB). 

The Middle wide receivers are dangerous. The offensive staff does a good job getting players open with their creativity, which allows for the receivers to work well with the ball in their hands. Ty Lee is the leading receiver with 67 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught a pass in every game this season, and went over 100 yards twice, and all his touchdowns have come in the last seven games. Lee has 26 catches in his last four games, including 366 yards. Patrick Smith is a senior who is the second leading receiver, with 54 catches for 526 yards and six touchdowns. His lines are very up and down. Smith can have a one or two catch day, or he can catch eight or nine passes in a game. It doesn’t matter who they play, Smith can be active in losses or inactive in wins.  

The last time we saw the Mountaineers, some were wet, others perhaps covered in confetti, but all of us, were celebrating winning the first ever conference championship game in Sun Belt history. The second win of the season over Louisiana was a bit of a mudbath, you know had the field been made of actual grass. Neither team eclipsed a hundred yards passing, and both team rushed for 200 yards. There were eighty-eight running plays and thirty-five passes. The difference was App State turning over Louisiana twice, both on interceptions. Darrynton Evans ran for 111 yards, and added a 97-yard kickoff return on the Mountaineers opening possession. The Mountaineer defense turned in their tenth game of the season allowing fewer than twenty points, and gave up just one touchdown and four field goals. 

Bowl games are so much fun. Schools get an extra game to play against teams they do not typically get a chance to schedule during the regular season. App State and Middle are separated by just 340 miles. More games against peer schools should be scheduled, but it’s not that easy. Brent Stockstill is their Taylor Lamb, breaking tons of school records, including 300-yard pass games, completions, and touchdown passes. He seems to play well if he is on the field. He does not throw a lot of interceptions and scores points when they have the ball. If there one negative trait of the Middle offense, it’s that they do not score touchdowns enough in the red zone, at just a 57% clip. They have made up for it with sixteen made field goals in the red zone, which ups their total red zone conversion rate to 87.8%, which is good enough for 36th in the country. But, we all know about the App State defense. Despite allowing 81.8% of red zone possessions to end in a score, they are giving up just 2.25 red zones possessions a game. The touchdown conversion rate is just 48%. Appalachian will be just happy allowing the Blue Raiders to kick field goals all game long. Another key factor in postseason football is third down conversion rate. Middle is just 80th in the country converting third downs at a 37.8% clip, while App defends the third down at a 31.2% clip, which is tenth nationally. Couple that with App giving up only 3.58 yards per rush, and Middle coming in with the 104th ranked rushing offense. It appears that if App can continue what they have been doing all year long, being stout against the run, and forcing long yardage on third downs, it should be plenty to keep Middle out of the end zone in the French Quarter. 

 

The First Pick

Normalites 16

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football @ UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (0-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs UNC-Charlotte (1-0, 0-0 C-USA)

Saturday, September 8th, 2018 6:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Jerry Richardson Stadium

Surface: Matrix artificial turf

Capacity: 15,314

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.30

UNC-Charlotte: 47.96

Home: 2.36

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

Sportsbook: App State -13.5

Series: First Meeting

Last meeting: n/a

WxCrum Forecast: Partly Cloudy, chance for a shower, Temps in 80’s

For sixty minutes, the Mountaineers and Nittany Lions traded blows like two heavyweights in a twelve round bout. As the game progressed to overtime, it was Penn State who landed the final flurry that would complete the most exciting game of the college football’s introductory weekend. A loss is not just always a loss. This was not a game where the out-of-towners simply hung around. Our team not only battled to take the lead twice against Penn State, they also persevered through multiple two touchdown deficits in the fourth quarter. Any other foe may have folded, but not the Mountaineers. Throughout time, Appalachian has faced many long odds in football games, but one thing always rings true. App State is going to give you four quarters. They are going to give you an honest days work. They are going to give you everything they have, because anything less is unacceptable. Now, the scene changes, from one of the largest venues in the sport, to the smallest. Facing a program with twenty-two wins the last two seasons, to one that has eighteen wins, all time. A wanna-be fledgling upstart versus an established storied powerhouse. The roles will have been flipped, and this weekend App State plays the role of the hunted. 

The 49ers are in their sixth season of football existence. Brad Lambert has been the head coach for all six seasons as he was lured away from Wake Forest where he previously served as an assistant, including three seasons as the Deacons defensive coordinator. In the first two years of transitional play before diving into Conference USA in 2015, the 49ers averaged 33 points per game in 2013 and 38 points per game in 2014. During those seasons, the 49ers sported identical 5-6 records. Since Conference USA play has commenced, those numbers have taken a slide. Charlotte averaged 17.5 points a game in a two-win 2015 season, 25.2 points which gave them four wins in 2016, and then completely bottomed out last season averaging 14.2 points in a one-win season. Scoring is not completely indicative of wins and losses in FBS football, but two seasons scoring under 2o points a game is not going to cut it in today’s high scoring college football world. 

 Charlotte has already matched their win total from a season ago. It helps when you play an FCS opponent at home and benefit from two significant weather delays. Fordham’s lack of a run game forced their hand. Eventually Charlotte began attacking the passing game, which led to the Rams gaining just 287 yards on the day, the lowest total that Charlotte had given up since 2015. Fordham was a combined 3/20 on third and fourth down for the contest. Charlotte gained 488 yards against Fordham, a balanced total of 221 on the ground and 267 in the air. Charlotte passed just twenty times, completing thirteen passes. Three passes went for big gainers, a 60-yarder to Victor Tucker, a 71 yard connection to running back Benny Lemay and 45 yard gain for Workpeh Kofa. The 49ers took their shots downfield, but was a very pedestrian 10/17 passing for 91 yards excluding those big plays. Appalachian did give up one big pass play to Penn State last week and its well known that the Mountaineer defense prefers not to give up such plays. 

Last week, we felt sorry for Zac Thomas for one reason; his constant comparisons to his predecessor. Apparently Thomas likes the pressure, as his future performances will only be compared to his very first career start. Thomas was virtually flawless in regulation passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, all while completing 67.5% of his passes. That’s forgetting 43 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. Sure, his one interception was the final nail in the coffin as the game ended on that play, but without Thomas’ performance, App State is not in that position late in the game. Thomas flashed a wide arsenal of skill, from toughness to touch, and remember, that was his first start. 

The Mountaineer receiving group did not disappoint. Corey Sutton somewhat quietly led the team with six catches for 87 yards. Malik Williams’ route running was considered his most improved aspect of his game. Williams was able to slip behind the Penn State defense on two occasions to score fourth quarter touchdowns, catching beautifully thrown balls from his quarterback. Thomas Hennigan was consistent with four catches for twenty-eight yards, despite being constantly harassed by defenders for most of the game. Jalin Moore also added five receptions for thirty-six yards, working mostly from the backfield on swing passes. This newly found receiving threat provides another element in which opposing defenses will have to defend Moore, who only had seventeen career receptions to his name prior to this season. 

Beyond the bad blood and back and forth jawing between fan bases for the past several years, we finally have a football game that will be played this weekend. All the extracurricular jargon has somewhat overshadowed the meat of the real story. In an effort to save his job, Mike Lambert fired both coordinators on his coaching staff this past offseason. Offensive Coordinator Shane Montgomery came from Youngstown where he was known as a balanced play caller. Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer  left Oklahoma State to get back to the southeast. His Cowboy teams were in the top half of the conference in the very offensively loaded Big 12 conference. The 49ers showed balanced in offensive yardage on Saturday against Fordham, but they ran the ball 47 times compared to just 20 passing plays. Will Charlotte attempt to employ a game of keep away? Benny Lemay received the majority of the carries, toting it 25 times for 135 yards and 5.4 yards per carry average. That has been consistent with Lemay’s career attempts, averaging in the mid 5.0 range for three seasons. Lemay is well built at 5’9 and 218 pounds. He might lack the speed that Troy’s Jordan Chunn had, but their makeup seems comparable. Speaking of speed, that is where I expect App State to excel. Charlotte often had issues in the first half against Fordham getting separation in the passing game. The two teams actually looked pretty evenly matched early on. I don’t expect many match ups to be even this weekend. This will be a different animal for Charlotte. They will feel like visitors in their own stadium. However geeked they might be for this game, and the crowd they’ll get to play in front of, adrenaline can only go so far. App State was the better fourth quarter team nearly a week ago, and I expect them to be the better team for four quarters on Saturday. 

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 9

Mountaineers 40

Appalachian Football @ Old Dominion

Here we go with Week 3

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Old Dominion (2-1, 0-0 CUSA) 

Saturday September 26th, 3:30 PM

TV/Video: American Sports Network

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

S.B. Ballard Stadium

Surface: Astroturf GameDay Grass 3D

Capacity: 20,118

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 60.99
Old Dominion: 51.31

Home: 2.65

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -7.5

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

Weather: Mostly cloudy to cloudy and breezy. Rain likely throughout the day. Low 70’s 

        

          According to Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson, games like this weekend’s are the ones the conference needs to win. After a couple weeks of paying the bills, Appalachian travels to Norfolk for more than just a football game, but for an audition of what could be at the end of the regular season. Appalachian and Old Dominion have the same mindset when it comes to  games between fellow members of the Group of Five conferences. The games are highly important to each program’s place within the Group of Five. Each win is one game closer to getting to six wins, which is the minimum requirement to be considered for the post season. When bowl committees are looking for schools to invite to their game, they want to know who wins on the road and who sells tickets. Neither team wants to be sitting at 6-6 hoping for a telephone call that may never come. Old Dominion and Appalachian are both in their first year of bowl eligibilty and it would mean a lot for both schools to reach that goal this season. Both schools fan bases expect to win. Anything short of that will be a disappointment and leave their team sitting with an even win-loss record or less. 

          Old Dominion has arguably fielded the best startup program in recent memory. In only their 7th season of football, the Monarchs have accomplished just about all you can ask for in that short period of time. In the two years they were eligible for the FCS playoffs, they qualified. Honestly, Old Dominion has been spent more time transitioning their program as a startup in FCS and later into FBS than they have been eligible for any conference title or postseason game. In 2014, the Monarchs finished 6-6, their fewest wins in program history. They have done it right by winning games throughout their short history, but FBS football is a different animal. The Monarchs endured a five game losing streak last season before finishing with three wins to close the season. 

          Along with getting the transition to FBS football behind them, Old Dominion is now transforming its once pass happy offense to a style that is more run heavy. Part of that is due to redshirt freshman quarterback Shuler Bentley. Once an offense that would routinely pass the ball 40-50 times a game, Bentley has only dropped back seventy-seven times this season in three games, an average of just under twenty-six passes per game. Bentley is only completing 53% of his passes and averages under six yards per attempt. Fortunately, Bentley has managed the game well only turning the ball over once in those three contests. 

          Luckily, Shuler Bentley has Ray Lawry to help take the heat off of him in the backfield. Lawry was leading the country in rushing yards prior to Old Dominion’s game against NC State last week. But Lawry was held in check by the Wolfpack defense to the tune of 15 yards on eleven carries. Much like what Clemson did to Appalachian the week before, they focused on the Monarch strength, completely took it away and forced a young quarterback to make some throws with pressure in his face. Even after last weekend, Lawry is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has 453 yards on the season. Seven of the ten Monarch touchdowns this season have come form Lawry. Old Dominion goes as Lawry does. If he is getting his yards, it bodes well for the Monarchs to run him behind a very big offensive line. 

             The Monarch defense has never really been one to write home about, but they believe they are making strides in that department. It does not seem to show in the statistics. Old Dominion has left their defense on the field for over 32 minutes a game on average. NC State held a 2-1 time of possession advantage over the Monarchs. The two FBS opponents ODU has faced have scored 34 and 38 points, respectively. Eastern Michigan has been one of the worst FBS programs for a very long time and NC State is not close to contending in the ACC this season. 

          Appalachian will have had two weeks to recover and stew over their lopsided loss to Clemson when the ball is teed up this Saturday. The team was so ready to get back to work on Tuesday after a long weekend, that Scott Satterfield called it the best practice of the season. The bye week appears to have been a highly  needed repose from the grind of practice that has been continuous since early August. Many newspaper articles have cited the bad taste after what happened in Clemson. The defense played better than the final score, but the offense had one of their worst games since last season. Turnovers are the undoing for any football team at any level. It was going to be tough for Appalachian to pull off a win, and nearly impossbile being -3 in the turnover battle. 
           
           The first two games have served as an exhibition of sorts. Appalachian has faced both ends of the spectrum of college football, the good and the really bad. The next ten games will all be played against Group Of Five teams. This is the time for Appalachian to prove who they really are. Old Dominion will be playing their third straight home game, and Appalachian could serve as a swing game for them. Next week Old Dominion faces Marshall on the road in their Conference USA opener. I hate using the term, but this game has some “trap”-like tendencies. Defined as the game between two very big games, Old Dominion may not be done licking their wounds from a very physical game against NC State. If anything, the Mountaineers will be fresh and looking to enact some frusturation on their next opponent. They key to this game is simple. Whichever team is able to stop the opposing running game the best will likely win. Ray Lawry is the guy that carries the ball for Old Dominion with 70 carries in three games. The Monarchs substitute him out sparingly. Appalachian will rotate Marcus Cox(36-204) and Terrance Upshaw(18-115) in effort to keep both players fresh, not only for this game, but for the remainder of the season. So not only do I feel that Appalachian can run better, but I think they can stop the run better from ODU. The edge at quarterback also leans the way of the Mountaineers with Lamb having an extra year of expeience, and hungry to get on the field to attone for his miscues at Clemson. Regardless of what the weather does this weekend, I just think Appalachian is better this Saturday. 

        
The First Pick:
Lioness 21
Mountaineers 31

Appalachian State @ Southern Miss

Here we go with Week 3

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ Southern Miss (1-2, 0-0 CUSA)

Saturday, September 20th, 7pm EST

TV: American Sports Network, full list of affiliates here

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

Carlisle-Faulkner Field at Roberts Stadium

Surface: Matrix Turf

Capacity: 36,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 56.73

Sou Miss: 54.49

Home: 3.97

Sou Miss is favored by the Sagrain Rating by 2 points

Sportsbook: Sou Miss -3, O/U 60.5

Series: Sou Miss leads the all time series 1-0

Last Meeting: Sou Miss 7, App State 0, 12/4/1937, Gulfport, MS

The bye week could not have come at a better time last week for Appalachian State. After dodging rain drops and McNeese State almost two weeks ago, the rest of the Sun Belt laid a big fat egg while the Mountaineers prepared for Southern Miss. You’ll remember the rain delay that sent the crowd home prematurely, while the opponent that Appalachian had scheduled years ago for the same weekend they eventually played Campbell, McNeese State, was giving Nebraska fits. Not only did the Sun Belt lose every game last weekend, they lost some ugly ones. Troy fell to Abilene Christian, who nearly beat Georgia State on the opening Thursday night of the season. Meanwhile, those same Ga. State Panthers and Idaho lost in offensive shootouts. Georgia Southern lost a heartbreaker at Georgia Tech in another one of their patented goof ups. Pitching the ball late in the fourth quarter is never a good idea. The rest of the bunch had games that had more predictable results. So what does all that mean for Appalachian? It represents a chance to garner some early respect from their conference peers. Out of conference games are where the Sun Belt and their peer conferences can gain a little attention and can increase their profile. Whoever is raking in wins over Conference USA teams will get some major love from the Sun Belt teams who have been around for a while. Southern Miss isn’t the cream of the crop in C-USA, but a win on Saturday will give the Mountaineers some Sun Belt credibility it cannot get from beating the Campbell’s of the world.

Southern Miss has had a similar set of opponents as Appalachian has to start the season. They sandwiched a win over FCS Alcorn State in between blowout losses to Mississippi State and Alabama. In those SEC games, the Golden Eagles managed four field goals on offense and allowed 101 points. Southern Miss was also outscored 13-6 in the second half to Alcorn State. The past twenty-seven games for Southern Miss are well documented. They have won two games while dropping twenty-five. When a team is this bad for this long, the weaknesses are usually pretty easy to find. In three games this season, the Eagles have surrendered 829 rushing yards to the tune of 6.6 yards per carry. On top of that, the Golden Eagles have scored all of two touchdowns in three games, both coming against an FCS opponent.

The Golden Eagles start a sophomore at quarterback in Nick Mullens, who is steady behind center, but not exactly flashy. Mullens started the last six games in 2013. He threw eleven touchdown passes as a starter last year and has added two touchdowns passes this season. So, in nine games as a starter, Mullens has thirteen touchdown passes. Mullens had a couple big games last year, which helped his average of 276 yards per game passing as a freshman, but has fallen off to an average of only 209 yards per game this season. Mullens will gamble sometimes, as he hit two receivers last week against Alabama in one on one situations. He wont be afraid to throw it up and give his receivers a chance to make something happen, so the Appalachian secondary must be ready to turn their heads and make a play.

We have already gone over how the Southern Miss defense cant stop the the run. Now we get to the part where the Golden Eagles cannot run the ball themselves. The have run 93 running plays this season, and are plowing the ball at 3.6 yards per carry. The epidemic affects the whole team. If it was not for Tez Parks, who has had a couple big plays to give him a 8.6 yards per carry average, the rest of the Golden Eagles average almost exactly three yards per carry. Running the ball thirty times a game with that little success cannot be fun for the running backs. Knowing a hole wont be there keeps them from running hard and leads to more dismal statistics.

The game plan seems simple for Appalachian, correct? The Mountaineers have two almost studly running backs, so the Mountaineers pound the ball all day. Wrong. This team is too early in its overall development to run the ball fifty times and ignore the passing game. Expect Appalachian to spread the ball around as usual. Whether the key back will be Marcus Cox or Terrence Upshaw remains the be seen. It was odd to see Cox carry the load as much as he did two weeks ago with his knee supposedly still recovering. Cox appears to be a fast healer which is good for the Mountaineers. Upshaw had an impressive debut against Michigan and should be fresh after all only rushing four times for 41 yards against Campbell. Cox and Upshaw have combined for 311 total rushing yards in two games.

At quarterback, Appalachian has used both Kam Bryant and Taylor Lamb in the first two games. Lamb relieved Bryant earlier in the Michigan game than most expected, and came in even earlier against Campbell. Lamb has been a little bit more efficient, but also did not play against Michigan as much as Bryant did. The feeling was that eventually, Lamb was going to supplant Bryant at some point this season. The skill level between the two seems fairly even. The main edge Bryant had was his game experience and his knowledge of the offense. Being a quarterback himself, Scott Satterfield might want to insert the guy he recruited as an FBS recruit over the FCS talent that Bryant has often been labeled.

Defensively, the Mountaineers will have a matchup that is similar to what they see in practice. Repeatedly, Southern Miss lined up against Alabama last week with five wide receivers. Occasionally the sets included some running backs mixed in with your typical wide receivers. Alabama defended Southern Miss with zone coverages on the trips (three receiver) side of the formation. Alabama rarely blitzed but still managed to force some throws from Mullens off of his back foot. The Mountaineers may choose to sit back in coverage and the onus will be on the defensive line to force Mullens into getting rid of the ball before he wants to.

This a rare matchup where both teams feel like they can get a win to hopefully provide some clarity for their fans. Southern Miss has been bad for some time now and Appalachian also has their concerns. Both teams have been beaten easily by Power Five schools and have taken care of business where they should have. This is one of the few chances Southern Miss has for a win this season and they want it bad. So badly, they started an hour long twitter smackfest on Tuesday morning with other Appalachian fans. Equally, Appalachian fans want to know where their team stands. There is a massive gap between Michigan and Campbell. Appalachian fans are looking for anywhere between four and six wins in their inaugural Sun Belt season. It does not matter if you are a four win guy or a six win guy, a part of that sum most likely includes a win this weekend in steamy Hattiesburg. Sagarin favors the Golden Eagles based purely on home field advantage. Vegas is also siding with Southern Miss by a field goal. If the home team has one advantage, it is their field goal kicker. He has already booted eight field goals through the uprights from all distances, including a long of 50 yards. For whatever reason, you have to circle the wagons and go back to the Golden Eagles inability to stop the run, or run the ball themselves. It may not be the entire Appalachian gameplan to run, but when the time is right in the fourth quarter, I feel more confident in Appalachian finishing a game by running the ball than I do Southern Miss. This game is a virtual dead heat and I could really see either team winning, but I see Appalachian pulling it out with a new starting quarterback.

The First Pick

Dixie Darlings 27

Mountaineers 31