Appalachian Football vs North Texas (Myrtle Beach Bowl)

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

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

TV/Video: ESPN

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

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.19

North Texas: 54.14

Home: n/a

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.05 points

Line: App State -19.0

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Green with Envy 20

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football vs #21 Louisiana

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

Friday, December 4th, 2020 8:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.30

Louisiana: 76.59

Home: 1.03

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.74 points

Line: App State -2.5

Series: App State leads 8-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

LaLa 24

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football @ #15 Coastal Carolina

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

Saturday, November 21st, 2020 Noon EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.85

Coastal Carolina: 71.50

Home: 1.73

Coastal Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.38 points

Line: Coastal Carolina -5.5

Series: App State leads 6-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 20

Mountaineers 27

Appalachian Football vs Georgia State

Appalachian State (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (3-3, 2-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 14th, 2020 2:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.59

Georgia State: 61.30

Home: 1.81

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.1 points

Line: App State -16.0

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, Georgia State 27, Atlanta, GA November 16, 2019

Last season, Georgia State head coach was quoted as saying the “the people make the place, and now the people are gone”, when referring to his time at App State. That statement no longer holds true. Surely Elliott was referring to Scott Satterfield, Mark Ivey, Nick Cardwell and Dale Jones’ departure from Boone to Louisville. Half of those “people” have returned to Boone, so the pregame midfield conversations and post game handshakes might feel more like the “people are making the place” all over again. Never mind that Elliott’s quote is right out of the book of Jerry Moore, and Shawn Clark, a former teammate of Elliott’s, has pretty much cited Moore’s philosophies at every turn. This storyline might be getting old, but the story evolves with each passing year. The Panthers are still waiting for that breakthrough win against App State and with each year it does not occur, the pressure to do so builds even more. As much as Elliott wants that first one against his alma mater, across the sidelines stands a colleague, a teammate, and a friend, who wants his first as well.

After two weeks of low hanging fruit, App State will play its first game of the season against a divisional opponent in Georgia State. As the regular season comes to a close Georgia State will be playing its seventh game of the season, with only three games remaining. The Panthers are currently sitting in last place in the east division, and no team has allowed more points in conference play outside of Arkansas State. In those five conference games, the fewest points an opponent has scored has been 34 points, and that has occurred on exactly three occasions. The other two games, the Panthers surrendered 59 points and 51 points. That Panther defense is going to give up points regardless, but the difference in the wins and losses has really been about the offense scoring enough points. Last week, the Panthers took advantage of three ULM turnovers to run away with a 52-34 win. In their win against Troy, Georgia State benefitted from four turnovers from the Trojans, and an injury to Troy starting quarterback Gunnar Watson.

Last season, Georgia State decided they had a better chance to beat App State by starting injured quarterback Dan Ellington instead of their backup. That backup is now starting quarterback Cornelius Brown IV, or “Quad”. Brown did appear in that game, but Georgia State was trying to protect him and his redshirt status. Brown has already vaulted himself as a borderline top shelf quarterback in the league. He still has his freshman moments, but has really popped in his redshirt freshman season. Brown has been responsible for multiple touchdowns in every game this season, except Coastal Carolina. Brown has also taken only six sacks all season, with three of those coming against Coastal. He is also used in the zone read game as well, but not extensively. After ten or more carries in three of the first four games, Brown has been limited to under ten carries per game in the last two. He is a slim quarterback at 6’5 and 200 pounds, and the Panthers might be limiting his exposure down the stretch.

Georgia State has the third best rushing offense in the conference despite not having its full complement of running backs all season long. Leading rusher Destin Coates missed the Arkansas State game, but had otherwise been very consistent as the lead back. Tucker Gregg filled in for Coates nicely with a 142-yard effort against the Red Wolves. In fact, the Panthers fourth leading rusher behind Coates, Gregg and Quad Brown is Jamyest Williams, the South Carolina transfer who is listed as a cornerback. Injuries to Seth Paige have also limited him to just five carries on the season and one appearance. Coates has been the primary workhorse this season with twenty or more carries in four games, all in which he eclipsed 100 yards on the ground. Wide receiver Cornelius McCoy returned after a month absence to put up a 7-118-2 receiving line against ULM. McCoy also shredded East Carolina in October for seven catches and 59 yards. In McCoy’s absence, Sam Pickney amassed thirteen catches catches for 214 yards, including three touchdown receptions, all against Arkansas State.

For the second straight week, the offensive game plan was pretty much the same. That’s not a bad thing. Conference road wins should not be taken for granted, and App State went on the road twice in a row and came back with wins. In more simpler words, the Mountaineers got the job done. App ran the ball, controlled the clock, converted over fifty percent of their third downs, and most importantly, scored more points. Not just more, but twenty-one more points. Three touchdowns more. Check and check. The App defense gave up one big play in the air, but it did not hurt them. Monroe ran the ball well at times as App was defending the pass to keep the game in front of them. The defense added two interceptions to their season total, bringing the Mountaineers’ sum to ten on the season, which leads the conference and is fifth in the country, trailing just Arkansas, Wake Forest, Kentucky and Pitt.

It’s quite puzzling to find a team that is pretty decent at stopping opponents’ run game, yet so completely below average defending the pass. Usually in this beautiful game of football, being able to run and stopping the run leads to success and wins. The two most successful run-first teams that Georgia State played this year has been Louisiana and Coastal Carolina. Two teams with pretty good overall records. Louisiana is 35th nationwide rushing, averaging 193 yards per game. The Cajuns unloaded on the Panthers, rushing for 240 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. Coastal Carolina is 30th in the country, and went off for 250 yards on the ground, managing 5.3 yards per carry. The remaining four teams that Georgia State played are currently 73rd (ECU), 104th (Ark State), 112th (Troy), and 121st (ULM) on the ground nationwide. So in six games this season, Georgia State has allowed 723 rushing yards. Louisiana and Coastal are responsible for 490 of those yards. Next on the schedule: App State’s rushing offense plowing through teams for an average of 283 yards per game at 6 yards per carry. So as much as statistics on paper are going to suggest that App State should throw the ball to defeat the Panthers because they have played a bunch of pass-first teams, its really could be quite the opposite. Maybe Georgia State is not as bad as allowing twenty passing touchdowns in six games, and they are likely not as good is giving up just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. Either way, the Mountaineers will have the opportunity to put up some points this weekend no matter how they attack the Panthers.

The First Pick

Blue Kitties 23

Mountaineers 49

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