Appalachian Football @ UL-Monroe

Appalachian State (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs UL-Monroe (0-6, 0-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 31st, 2020 4:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

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

Malone Stadium

Capacity: 30,427

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 79.60

UL-Monroe: 42.51

Home: 1.73

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 35.36 points

Line: App State -31.0

Series: App State leads 4-1

Last Meeting: App State 52, UL-Monroe 7, Boone, NC October 19, 2019

The night was nearly perfect. For a small contingent of fans, being able to sit or stand in Kidd Brewer stadium was enough. Fans may have not been in their typical seats, but seeing the stadium lit up for a national broadcast was a treat. Especially after getting to watch their team put on a clinical show in dominating fashion. Even after the layoff, the Mountaineers looked about as sharp as one could expect. The ground game clocked in for their usual three hundred yard effort. The defense smothered a potent passing attack to the tune of six sacks and kept the Red Wolves receivers out of the end zone. It was not perfect, but it was good enough to remind the league that App State is back, even though they never really left. So, after a much anticipated restart to the football season, and knocking off a quality opponent, the Mountaineers must find that inner strength to treat the next few games equally as the last.

Where can we start with Monroe? The zero in the win column is glaring. The losses are not flukes either. The Warhawks have been competitive in all of one game this season. They have lost by three touchdowns or more in every game except Georgia Southern, where they hung around until the final moments, before succumbing 35-30. More recently, Monroe had a bye week before playing South Alabama, and still managed to lose 38-14 to the current first-place team in the west division. In three games this season, the Warhawks have managed to score just one time. Outside of the thirty point effort, the offense has been downright miserable. Take those points away from ULM from the Goeriga Southern game, and they have scored 51 points in five games.The math is not hard. Coach Matt Viator received a two-year extension this offseason, and decided to start calling the plays, but it has yet to come together.

Monroe’s defense would be much better if the Warhawks had any semblance of an offense. That is obviously the biggest concern – scoring points. Opponents have outscored Monroe 73-10 in the first quarter alone. Monroe, again, has scored 81 points this season. They can’t move the ball, and they cannot stay on the field. Opponents have a seven minute edge in time of possession for the season, and still the Monroe defense is allowing just 36.5 points per game. Opponents have also scored 18 rushing touchdowns to just five passing against the Warhawk defensive side. If Monroe could find a running game, they might fare better on offense, which would in turn, keep their defense rested. The 2.9 yard per carry team rushing average is absolutely killing them. Even when other teams are getting big halftime leads, Monroe feels forced to throw the ball, and they are not incredibly efficient, which leads to short possessions and more time on the field for their defense.

Sophomore quarterback Colby Suits is learning on the fly it seems. Viator has no problem sticking him out there and seeing what works. Suits is getting plenty of experience, regardless of how beneficial it is. Suits is leading the conference in passing yards at 233 a game, but also has five interceptions, which also leads the conference. Suits is also the second leading rusher for Monroe with just 58 net yards. The one thing that Suits does well on offense is spread the ball around, whether it be by design or with an emphasis on gathering experience for younger players. Nine different Monroe pass catchers have at least ten receptions or more. That group is led by tight end Josh Pederson, who leads the team in receptions and yards. Pederson has yet to score a touchdown, but he is a big target, listed at 6’5″ and 235 pounds. Pederson caught nine touchdown passes in 2019, but was held to just two catches for six yards in the loss to App State in 2019, one of the worst games of his season.

For App State in 2020, the defense has always been there. In four games this season each opponent has been held under 21 points. As long as the defense continue to keep its foes between 17 and 21 points, there will be plenty of offense more times than not to continue winning games. Currently the Mountaineer defense is leading the conference in total defense and scoring defense. App State has allowed just one passing touchdown this season and surrenders just 44.8% of opposing quarterback passes to be completed. That’s an absolutely silly number. App State is also fifth in the country in team passing efficiency defense, and would be second if you eliminated teams that have played just one game. They will now face the conference’s fourth best passing offense, but worst offense overall on Saturday. Monroe’s 2.9 yards per rushing attempt does not match up well with a defense allowing for 3.7 yards per attempt, which should give App State more chances to create turnovers in the air.

We’ve given you plenty of reason to suggest that Monroe will have a difficult time with App State on Saturday. One could even look back to last year’s lopsided score if they wanted, and infer that this game might conclude with a similar result. If anything, both teams are not “as good” as they were in 2019. That’s an even scarier proposition for Monroe, who somehow managed a 5-7 record last year and had several close calls, but fell one game short of bowl eligibility. Last seasons 52-7 loss to App State was the worst showing of the Warhawks year. They lost in overtime to Florida State, by a touchdown to Arkansas State and a point to Louisiana. The South Alabama team they defeated by thirteen points in 2019, they just lost to by 24 points. It’s just not the year of the Warhawk. To their credit, many of the teams Monroe has played have been better versions of themselves than years past. South Alabama found an offense. Army won five games in 2019, and have already won six games this year. Texas State is better, its just not visible in their won-loss record. Even Liberty is 6-0 with a ACC win. Maybe that 0-6 record isn’t really as bad as it seems. App State will have a chance to test that theory. In order for Monroe to keep it close, they are going to have a lot of things go their way that typically does not. They’ll need long sustained drives with third down conversions. They’ll need to kick flawlessly and give themselves a chance on defense by limiting penalties. Is all this possible? Sure, we can all dream, but expect the Warhawks evening to be filled with nightmares.

The First Pick

Cypress Swamps 13

Mountaineers 42

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 vs Campbell

Appalachian State (1-1) vs Campbell (0-2)

Saturday, September 26th, 2020 12:00pm 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: 72.61

Campbell: 36.08

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 38.85 points

Line: App State -35.5

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last Meeting: App State 66, Campbell 0, Boone, NC September 6, 2014

One cannot help but think about a lyric in a song that was written some time ago that may remedy some mourning over a football game outcome. “Every dog has its day, and every day has its way…of being forgotten.” This is not your typical start to this group of words on this corner of the web, but this creator needs to put it down. For every first, there is a worst, you just don’t know when to expect it. The Mountaineers scored their fewest points in a game in the FBS era last weekend. In a game played against an old rival, the battle resembled one that could have occurred 30 years ago. But once again, that is the past, and moving forward is imperative. Plenty of goals are still in reach, and there is plenty to play for. The next opponent is perceived to have lesser talent, but they have shown a ton of improvement and have brought the fight to each foe despite coming up short. The Mountaineers do need to put last Saturday’s performance behind, yet at the same time, learn from what left that bad taste lingering.

The next opponent is Campbell, an up and coming Big South squad that is allowed to play four non-conference opponents this fall. Whether or not a conference slate is played in the spring is yet to be seen. Regardless, the Camels have been a nuisance to Sun Belt opponents. Campbell really should have beaten Georgia Southern after taking at 13-6 lead into halftime and extending it to 20-6 just moments into the third quarter. However, the shorthanded and contact-traced Eagles stormed back with three straight scores to take a 27-20 late in the game. Campbell scored a touchdown with just fifteen seconds remaining and their failed two point conversion resulted in a 27-26 loss. Last Friday night, Campbell visited Coastal Carolina before a national audience on ESPN, and the short week may have worn them out. Coastal showed a balanced offense with an efficient passing game and were hardly tested. Campbell did close the game to two scores early in the fourth quarter, but the Chanticleers put any upset bids to rest by scoring on their next two possessions.

Former Carolina Panther fan favorite Mike Minter remains as head coach for the Camels. Minter is in his eighth year and has a 36-44 record. After going 3-9 in his first year, Minter has backed that up with five win seasons from 2014-2016 and six win seasons in each of the last three campaigns. In 2018, Campbell moved from the Pioneer League to the Big South and maintained their record. It seems Minter has what it takes and could be in line for another job if his heart so desires. These opportunities for the schools that are playing college football while others are not sure puts the spotlight on G5 and FCS teams that normally are relegated to being streamed. Every game that Campbell has played, or are scheduled to play, is on the road in 2020. At this point, it is unlikely that they are road-weary, but they are operating with fewer scholarships, and have been outscored in both games in the second half, by a 43-25 combined total.

The heart of the Campbell offense lies in the hands of Hajj-Malik Williams, their quarterback and leading rusher. Williams has 374 yards passing on the season, completing 56% of his attempts with 2 touchdown passes and one interception. His 178 yards gained rushing excludes the 43 yards he has lost on the ground, which comes to a sum of 135 yards net. Behind Williams is CJ Freeman with 120 yards across two games on 6.0 yards per carry. Bryant Barr has 83 yards on the ground to go along with two touchdowns. However, it is mainly the Hajj-Malik show. He was sharper against Southern than Coastal, where he was sacked five times to go with his twenty-five drop backs. Getting sacked one out of every six drop backs is not ideal. Tight end Julian Hill has caught five passes for 89 yards while Jalen Kelsey has snagged a team leading nine receptions for 98 yards.

Losing is one thing. Losing and scoring seven points is another. Although the Marshall game was not decided until late in the second half, there were some signs that it was over much earlier. Shockingly, App State just could not get the running game going, and there was another day of split carries between the backs. Perhaps in a tough game like the last one, it would be beneficial for one back to get the ball more often, but the late scratch of Marcus Williams Jr may have sent the coaches scrambling. Either way, there were not many open spaces to run to or through. Defensively the Mountaineers were kept in the game by the efforts of Trey Cobb who contributed on fourteen tackles. Kaiden Smith added ten tackles and D’marco Jackson added eight. As a unit, the Mountaineers broke up eight passes, which leads the country in that category, along with allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 40% of their passes.

Predicting a game with such a large spread can sometimes be quite easy, and other times it can be difficult. Campbell is not a true replacement for Morgan State. It might appear that way on paper, but it really is not the case. It’s quite possible that Hajj-Malik Williams is the best quarterback App State will play to date. Williams is a decent passer, but App State has deployed one of the best defensive backfields in the country in the seasons first two weeks. Similar to last weekend, App State will face a an offensive line with some experience and looks the part. One would think that Campbell would try and shorten this game and really try to lean on the Mountaineers defense. That serves multiple purposes, as in staying away from a secondary that has been super stingy and trying to copy a strategy of the Mountaineers previous opponents. Campbell may decide to take its chances on third down and limit mistakes. Whatever happens when Campbell has the ball, the App State offense needs to sharpen their craft and really focus on the little things that make them successful. The distractions have surely been plentiful and the weekly ins and outs of being tested and not having a normal college experience are depressing, but we are all going through it in some way or fashion. The Mountaineers will get one more game in an empty stadium, hopefully, before some spectators are allowed back to Kidd Brewer. In the mean time, the home team wins this one, but not as convincingly as they would probably like.

The First Pick

Humps 17

Mountaineers 41

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 Louisiana

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

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 8:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.77

ULL: 69.81

Home: 2.60

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.36 points

Line: Opened App State -2; Moved to ULL -2, Settling around ULL -1

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last meeting: App State 30, Louisiana 19; December 1, 2018, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast:¬†Kickoff Temps in the low 80’s cooling to mid-70’s, muggy

Seems like it has been forever since App State football has been considered an underdog in a conference game. It’s been so long that most of us are not even sure how to think about it, or even what it felt like since the last time it happened. When was it? It wasn’t November 12th, 2016 when App played Troy on the road. That game was considered a dead heat, a pick’em. You actually have to go all the way back to November 22nd, 2014. The opponent was Louisiana. We have to go back to the first year App State was in the Sun Belt to find a game in which they were not favored. It’s been a fun ride. Might as well not even show up. Quite honestly, it is shocking, no matter how you look at it. It’s shocking that it has been that many games, and even more shocking that a three-time defending conference champion, who has never lost to their next opponent, who beat them twice last year alone, and is currently undefeated, on a ten game winning streak spanning over two seasons and two head coaches, is an underdog. Keep the chip indeed. But that is exactly what this program is all about. It was just this past December when App State was left for dead, with a skeleton crew of a coaching staff given basically no chance to win despite being favored by just a touchdown, in the state of Louisiana. We all know how that turned out down in the Big Easy. Continue to doubt this program haters. We’re here to prove you wrong.

We all saw this coming last season. Right after Louisiana’s loss to Coastal Carolina at home in 2018, something changed. The Cajuns had lost a couple lopsided games to Alabama and Mississippi State, but the cure came in the way of Texas State and New Mexico State. Two games in which Louisiana scored 108 points combined. Texas State actually had a decent defense. The Cajuns continued to score on every team remaining on the schedule not named Troy or Appalachian State. In 2018, Louisiana scored ten points against Mississippi State. A year later, they lost by just ten points. Scoring isn’t everything, but it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to play ahead, then play from behind. It also helps when you have an offensive line that is exceptionally big. Aside from the center, the Cajuns are 6’4″ or taller, 300 pounds or heavier at both tackle and guard positions. You don’t average 314 yards a game on the ground with just decent running backs. Improved offensive line play is a big part of the reason the Cajuns won the west division in 2018, and are off to a 4-1 start this year.

But hey, those running backs are still very good. They score touchdowns, and get tons of yards. That’s not even the impressive part. At 7.3 yards per carry, as a team, that’s good enough for second nationally. The 1,570 yards rushing is the most in the country. The 22 rushing touchdowns is also tops nationally. Elijiah Mitchell and Trey Ragas have touchdowns in every game this season. Mitchell has 402 yards rushing and Ragas is sixth in the country with 548 yards. Ragas also has a silly 9.8 yards per carry average. However, over half of those team rushing yards, and touchdowns came against Liberty and Texas Southern. The Cajuns abused those two opponents to the tune of 847 yards and eleven touchdowns, including eight against Texas Southern in a 77-6 win. The Cajuns ran for 9.7 yards per carry in those two games combined. In the last two games against Ohio and Georgia Southern, Louisiana amassed just 560 rushing yards total on 6.4 yards per carry, which still looks pretty good, especially on the road.

Cajun quarterback Levi Lewis has made tremendous strides since last season. It helps that he has this great running game behind him, and is not asked to do too much, but when his number is called, he has excelled. Lewis has completed 65% of his passes for 980 yards and has eight touchdown passes to just two interceptions. He’s mobile, and can buy time in the pocket, but doesn’t run the ball unnecessarily. Similarly to Coastal’s Fred Payton, his experience has helped his confidence and allowed him to play faster. A lot of Louisiana’s success will start and end with Lewis. If he can make some plays in the passing game, it could turn into a long night for the Mountaineer defense.

Nearly two weeks ago, we gushed about how well Zac Thomas played against North Carolina, and then all he did was follow it up with an even better performance. Thomas finished 19/ 23 for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The junior is now completing 71.4% of his passes on the season. His rushing statistics have kind of yo-yo’ed as the season has progressed. After a 57-yard rushing performance the previous game, Thomas was held to just ten yards on six attempts against Coastal. However, Thomas did find a tight end, Colin Reed for his first catch of the season, an 11-yard touchdown grab. He also spread the wealth among his top three receivers, Corey Sutton, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams. All three had five or more catches and no fewer than seventy-five yards.

For the first time in 2019, someone other than Darrynton Evans had the most yards for App State in the running game. Daetrich Harrington led the way with with 71 yards on eleven carries. It was a season high in both categories, which also included the Harrington’s first touchdown of the season. Evans carried fifteen times for 60 yards, which in enabled him to keep his wind, but also not get worn down in a game that included a two hour delay. This was likely a one-time deal, a forced hand, for lack of a better term. Don’t expect the split of carries to change any time soon. Evans is the lead back, and Harrington/Williams will get their opportunities as well. Both backs are getting work in every game, despite Harrington (28) slightly outpacing Williams (22) in the carries department.

Both squads have a lot good things going for them. Louisiana fell off the face of the earth in the waning years of the Hudspeth era, but have quickly rebounded after a really smart coaching hire. Sometimes, those good hires come with consequences. Billy Napier has already received a one year extension, which usually means, agents are talking, working for their clients and the school is looking for monetary protection. It’s a smart play. App State just went through that process. The reality is that the previous six games played between App State and Louisiana mean nothing. In the fans eyes, its been six dominating games in a short period of time. The current coaches have not faced off, and Napier has coached in just two of the six games. Eli Drinkwitz will be coaching just his fifth game as the head man. This will be his first true road trip, a journey outside of the borders of North Carolina. But, this will not be first time Drinkwitz has ventured to Louisiana, much less Cajun Field. In 2012, Arkansas State and their running backs coach, Drinkwitz, pummeled the Cajuns 50-27. The familiarity with the Sun Belt may have not been the sole reason App hired Drinkwitz, but it sure did not hurt. You want game analysis? We can do that for a little bit. The Cajuns and Apps will bring a lot of offense to the game. The question comes down to which defense makes a decent play at the right time. The Cajun defense gets a lot of help from their offense. They are not as good as where they are ranked nationally in many defensive categories. Likewise, App State’s defense is not as bad as where they are ranked in the same statistics. We’ve honed in on turnovers for multiple weeks, and it absolutely comes into play again. It’s not lazy, it’s just very important in games with high rates of offense. The Cajuns have fumbled eleven times this season and lost seven of them, including two last week at Georgia Southern on muffed punts. App State has yet to fumble this season, and has thrown just two interceptions. Louisiana’s turnover margin is in the red on the season, while App maintains a top fifteen ranking. If the turnovers happen, they will be huge, for either team. With all the offense this game features, it will be those defensive plays that win, and the Mountaineers have been more opportunistic than the Cajuns.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 38

Mountaineers 45

Appalachian Football @ North Carolina

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

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 3:30pm

TV/Video: Fox Sports Southeast

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

Kenan Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 50,500

Surface: RootZone 3D Blend AstroTurf 

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.40

UNC: 76.43

Home: 2.64

North Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.67 points

Line: North Carolina -3

Series: North Carolina leads 1-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Wethers 23

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs 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 vs Louisiana (Sun Belt Championship)

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

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

TV/Video: ESPN

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

Satellite Radio: Sirius 119, XM 202

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.00

Louisiana: 58.94

Home: 2.28

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

Sportsbook: App State -17

Series: App State leads 5-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 14

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs Troy

Appalachian State (8-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ Troy (9-2, 7-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 24th, 2018 2:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.41

Troy: 66.53

Home: 2.33

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10.5

Series: Tied 3-3

Last meeting: Troy 28, App State 24,  November 12th, 2016, Troy, AL

WxCrum Forecast: Cold rain becoming scattered showers, Temps hovering mid 40’s

Big games are what big time programs live for. Sometimes you win those games and sometimes you lose, but you always live for the big ones. The Mountaineers are hopefully facing three big games in a row. In the meantime, the App State redemption tour rolls on. Similar to South Alabama, and Arkansas State both winning in Boone the last time they faced the Mountaineers, Troy defeated them the last time they faced off in 2016. The Trojans converted a late fourth down for a forty-three yard gain that set up the go-ahead touchdown. At that point, the Mountaineers thought their chances were doomed for a conference title. Luckily, that was not the case. In 2018, a loss to Troy would ensure that App State will not win a conference title. A win moves them one step closer to the ultimate goal, playing the last conference football game of the season, and the inaugural conference championship game in their own backyard. This is the game that has been circled by both sides for months on end and we have finally made it. 

Troy has had a perfect season in conference play, winning all seven games, with only one scare, which just happened to be last week at home to Texas State. Besides that, the Trojans had won every game by at least eight points. It was not a surprise that Texas State gave Troy a game, but as to how the game played out. Coupled with the way Appalachian disposed of Texas State easily the week before, it turned into an alarming result. Troy turned six total turnovers by the Bobcats into just four field goals. Earlier in the season the Trojans were thrown around like a rag doll by Boise State in the opening weekend and committed the ultimate sin of losing to transitioning Liberty a week after starting quarterback Kaleb Barker was lost to an injury for the season. 

Troy head coach Neal Brown and Scott Satterfield are mirror images of each other. Both are always mentioned as possible replacements each time a college football job opens up. They both revived once proud programs who had a couple underachieving seasons. Both prefer balanced offenses and good defensive play and oh yeah, they both like to win. Brown is in his fourth season and has thirty four wins. Satterfield is in his sixth season, and is one win away from a coaching milestone, his fiftieth win. They are considered the class of the conference and both could be in line for Sun Belt coach of the year if they pull off a conference title after having to replace four year starting quarterbacks coming into the season. 

Current Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith looks the part of a backup. His statistics do not quite measure up to his predecessor in Kaleb Barker, but they both look the same on the field despite Smith listed as the bigger player at 6’3  and 220 pounds. Smith’s rushing statistics do not look great recently, but he has the ability to break a long run, as evidenced by a 63-yard run versus Georgia State and a 57-yard run against Nebraska. The most interesting part of his game is his up and down passing lines. He’s only thrown multiple touchdowns in a game once, against South Alabama. He does have a couple of big games to his name, like Georgia Southern and Louisiana, where he threw for 287 and 317 yards respectively. But then there are the Texas State, Liberty games where he was held under 150 yards passing. The up and down play begs the questions. Which Sawyer Smith will the Mountaineers see this Saturday?

Junior BJ Smith has been hauling the mail for the Trojans this season, especially since the Trojans lost Barker. Smith did not see twenty carries in a game until Liberty, the first with Sawyer Smith behind center. Since then, he has had twenty or more carries in every single game. He had a five game streak of 100-yard rushing games snapped two weeks ago. Georgia Southern and Texas State held Smith below the century mark and also kept his average under four yards for the game. Both Southern and Texas State have similar defenses to Appalachian, which mean’s Troy will be facing a tough defense for the third week in a row.

With his sixth multi-passing touchdown game of the season, Zac Thomas made light work of Georgia State. Since his return from injury, Thomas has completed 75% of his passes for 529 yards and five touchdowns, zero interceptions, and throw in 103 yards on the ground for fun. When his number has been called in 2018, he has answered it every single time. Thomas is an absolute gamer who loves the when the ball is in hands. The more he is involved, the better he plays. Darryonton Evans has quickly sprung into action as a near every down home run threat. When he gets a crease, he hits it and finishes. Evans is just 140 yards away from a 1,000 yard season, which seems likely no matter the number of games he has to accomplish it. Corey Sutton nabbed another four passes and registered his second career one-hundred yard game. 

So what does all this add up to? We have a game between two really good teams, the top ranked defenses in the conference in what could potentially be a bad weather game with a ton at stake. Troy’s wide receivers were notably absent from much of the game last week against Texas State. Expect some of them to be back on the field this weekend, but there is no way they will be at full health. BJ Smith has also been battling a knee injury, yet continues to get heavy usage in the run game. Despite all this, Troy has persevered, and relied heavily on their defense to keep them in games while their offense figures out the best way to attack the opposing defense. In five full games post-Barker injury, Troy is averaging just 25.2 points per game, which is down from their season average of 31.5 per contest. Now, when your defense is only allowing 16.6 in that same five game stretch, scoring like they have been is plenty, but it might not be plenty to beat the Mountaineers. It has been three full years since App State last lost a Sun Belt home game. Likewise, Troy is on a thirteen game conference win streak, their last loss to rival South Alabama. If a team gets a two score win this weekend, it’ll be hard for the trailing team to make a comeback. Both teams have mostly lived off getting ahead early and letting their defense finish off their opponent. Essentially, I don’t think Troy has enough offense at this point of the season to keep pace with App State who seems to be hitting their stride at the right time. 

 

The First Pick

T-Roy 19

Mountaineers 31