App State Football @ Wyoming

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

Saturday, September 23rd, 2023 7:00pm EST

TV/Video: CBS Sports Network

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), 103.9FM/1250AM (Marion), Varsity Network App

War Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 29,181

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.56

Wyoming: 67.34

Home: 2.23

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.99 points

VegasInsider Line: Wyoming -2.5

Series: Series Tied 1-1

Last Meeting: App State 31, Wyoming 13, October 3, 2015, Boone, NC

After three games to open the season in the state of North Carolina, the Mountaineers will hit the high road for the first time in 2023. Wyoming’s Mar Memorial Stadium is difficult to get to, and its elevation is the highest in all the land. Their homefield advantage is similar to one that the Mountaineers enjoy, albeit several thousand feet higher above sea level. This will be an interesting test for the Mountaineers as its the first flight of the season compared to a short drive to Chapel Hill two weeks ago. This is also important for any potential bowl scenarios, whether that be eligibility or placement. Those non-conference games against Gardner-Webb and East Carolina do not have the same juice as this one-off game against Wyoming before starting conference play. Additionally, the Cowboys are riding the momentum of beating Texas Tech and also hanging with the Texas Longhorns for the majority of the game. It will be important for App State to come out ready to play, but not so amped that they lose their fire before it even gets started.

The Craig Bohl tenure at Wyoming has been unlike his run at North Dakota State. Bohl won three national titles for the Bison before heading to Wyoming, where he has been for ten seasons. Excluding 2020, where Wyoming played only six games, Bohl has won 6 or more games every season for six seasons running. The only gripe from some Cowboys fans is that Wyoming has not won more than 8 games in any of those years. Bohl has been consistent, but to the point of just above average. Wyoming’s best season under Bowl was in 2016, but still managed just 8 wins despite 6 conference triumphs. Administration has been as patient as Bohl’s offenses have been. Other programs might have cut bait, but it seems Wyoming knows who they are and what they are up against. You fire a coach, and its possible you bottom out, and then your program chases those 6-8 wins a year they were accustomed to.

The Cowpokes are not going to wow anyone with a thrilling offense. They are pro-style in nature. Not the current pro-style offenses that you see today, but more like those pro offenses of 20-30 years ago. The statistics do not pop off the page. It’s never about what they do, but more importantly, how they do it. In their three games the season, Wyoming has been patient with the ground game. They averaged 3.9 yards per carry against Texas Tech, 4.4 yards against FCS Portland State, and 4.1 yards against Texas. Those numbers are the epitome of patience. As a team, Wyoming has 61 more yards rushing than Nate Noel. Three different players have led the Pokes in rushing in each game. In Week 1, it was quarterback Andrew Peasley who dashed for 68 yards on 15 carries. Sam Scott had 70 yards on 11 carries against Portland State and Harrison Waylee ran for 110 yards on 18 carries against Texas. Waylee did have a 62 yard scamper versus Texas. Essentially, he had 17 other attempts that went for just 48 yards.

Nate Noel is getting a lot of love, and deservedly so. Averaging 145 yards per game on the ground is a strong number through three games. Noel has hogged the workload, and has been producing to the tune of 5.8 yards per carry. As much as Noel is responsible for the quick offensive start, the balanced passing game for the Mountaineers is equally responsible. Seven different receivers have caught touchdown passes. Dashaun Davis and Kaedin Robinson are completely different players, yet they are separated by just one yard on the stat sheet. Both have caught exactly ten passes, two touchdowns, and their longest plays are also both 34 yards. Robinson has the yardage edge 154-153. Likewise, Christian Horn and swiss army knife Milan Tucker also have exactly 83 yards and a touchdown, with Horn having two more catches than Tucker.

A couple of fluke plays made the score a lot closer with East Carolina then it should have been. It was kind of the same story back in 2021. The 33-19 score two years ago was not that close, and neither was this 43-28 final from Saturday. That says a lot about your program and what expectations are on a week to week basis. Both teams are completely different than 2021, but some things just never change. The App State defense was only responsible for 14 points, and half those points came on the first drive when East Carolina started a quarterback for the first time. It’s understandable to be cautious, but the point here remains. After the first drive, the Mountaineers gave up just a mere 7 points. Turning the Pirates over three times via interception gave fans glimpses of what this defense can be. Joey Aguilar did throw a bad interception, but as long as he tosses a couple touchdown passes a game, or three as was the case Saturday, it will be mostly forgotten as long as those mistakes are not made over and over.

Wyoming has earned an early reputation this season as a team that controls the ball commits very few mistakes. In three games, the Cowboys have accumulated 100 minutes of possession. On the flip side the Mountaineers have controlled the clock for 96 minutes. The Cowboys have only committed nine penalties on the season as well. The Mountaineers have been flagged just thirteen times, which is something that really has not been talked about. Appalachian has never really been a team that worries about penalties. Sometimes you play with passion and get hustle penalties, which are unlike flags called for incorrect formations or shifts. Those should be avoided. However, if you do all the other things correctly, penalty flags shouldn’t come in to play. It’s part of the game. But the fact the Mountaineers have been decent in that area has only made the offense that much more dangerous. The Mountaineers have 16 offensive touchdowns compared to the Cowboys nine on the season. Excluding overtime scores, Wyoming has averaged 20.3 points per game. East Carolina may have the worst offense in Division I football. Wyoming’s is better, but its still a bottom 20 offense in football in terms of yards, and bottom third in terms of gained first downs. But that is kind of the point here. Wyoming does not care about the flash, they want the substance. The onus is on the Mountaineer defense to come up with stops and get the ball to the offense. The Cowboys have converted third downs into first downs at a 37% clip on the young season, which ranks in the bottom third of FBS. It’s the most important statistic on Saturday. Get the Cowboys off the field, or else they employ the same strategy the Mountaineers did against the Tar Heels a couple weeks ago.

The First Pick

Poking and Prodding 20

Mountaineers 28

App State Football vs East Carolina

Appalachian State (1-1) vs East Carolina (1-1)

Saturday, September 16th, 2023 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), 103.9FM/1250AM (Marion), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.14

East Carolina: 64.83

Home: 2.24

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10.55 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 20-12

Last Meeting: App State 33, East Carolina 19, September 2, 2021, Charlotte, NC

There are several ways to look at it. You can hold your head high and be proud. You could also drag your feet for a couple hundred yards and wonder about another big fish that wiggled away. You might even do both of things at the same time. And then you hear the cries, whining and disrespect. From social media posts, to remarks made by those with the title head coach. “I’m proud of my football team” said one. “I’m glad we don’t have to play them again” said another. Those leaders who receive more praise than they deserve, and more criticism at their expense at same time. Only you can choose your leader. You can run with the guy who will run at your side into battle, or you can run and hide. The Mountaineers will never run and hide from a challenge, but embrace it and learn from it. This weekend will be another challenge. Traffic on the roads and entering the gates will be an adventure. There is going to be a ton of people in the High Country this weekend. A third consecutive in-state foe awaits the home team. Will you embrace it, or run away?

Coming into this season, East Carolina and App State had similar scenarios facing their team. The Pirates have a lot of new faces playing critical roles, and most of those were on the offensive side of the ball. Holton Ahlers exhausted his eligibility and Mason Garcia has been given the start for the first two games at quarterback. Filling in at running back, in place of Keaton Mitchell, has been Rahjai Harris. It’s been an uphill climb in these first two games for East Carolina in filling those holes. Ahlers and Mitchell are both on NFL rosters as we speak. Garcia has had an especially rough time. He has thrown for 142 yards in two games, completing just 51% of his passes, with two interceptions and one touchdown. That one touchdown pass went for 2 yards to a tight end after East Carolina’s defense fell on a Marshall fumble at the three yard line. That was the first touchdown of the season for the Pirates, and it took them nearly 88 minutes to do so. Garcia’s longest completion of the season went a whole fourteen yards. Harris is the leading running back on the team with 51 yards.

In week one, Michigan took it easy on East Carolina, cruising to a 30-3 win. The Pirates had the ball a total of nine times, with three of those drives resulting in a three and out. Just five drives resulted in ten or more yards gained. Those turned into two punts, one turnover on downs, a missed field goal, and a made field goal. The made field goal occurred on the last play of the game. Without getting into too much detail, the Pirates are running a lot of plays, but they cannot get down the field. The Pirates averaged 4.3 yards per play against Michigan and just 3.9 yards per play last week against Marshall. Additionally, the Pirates have been whistled for 23 penalties for 230 yards in just two games. Numbers like that lead to a grossly inefficient 34% on third down conversions, which ranks 101st out of 130 teams on the young season.

Multiple storylines have emerged following another close loss to a P5/P4/Autonomy school on the road. The biggest one, is Joey Aguilar. Plain and simple. His story is just beginning to unfold. One side of the field had one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and Joey Aguilar outplayed him, and not for one second did the moment feel too big for him. He could have completed a few more passes, but that’s being picky. The passes that connected went for 12.5 yards per completion. He avoided negative plays with his arm and legs. Even with an assumed lack of depth behind him, he played big and owned every moment. Throwing for a cool 275 yards and running for 42 more. The one interception he’ll learn from, but it did not account for the loss. Calling Aguilar a game manager does not give him enough credit. Joey Aguilar is a gamer, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.

App State’s defensive strategy was wise on Saturday night. Try to keep Drake Maye from beating you. For the most part, that worked. For only the third time since 2015, North Carolina won a game without throwing a touchdown pass. The flip side of that, was that big plays in the running game boosted the Tar Heels efforts. Maye routinely checked to running plays to avoid throwing against a secondary that was dropping seven and eight players into coverage. In all, the strategy worked as a team effort. A loss in overtime is nothing to be ashamed of, especially on the road, in games that you are not “supposed” to win. However, the balance could be hard to strike between improving the run defense and the strategy of keeping the play in front of you. That balance becomes especially more difficult after losing Brendan Harrington for the season due to injury.

Perhaps this discussion is slightly premature, but there is some discussion on the banks of the Tar River about whether or not Mason Garcia should continue as the Pirates starting quarterback. Garcia, who is listed at 6’5 and 249 pounds fits the typical prototype East Carolina quarterback size we have seen the from the past. But Garcia is having issues staying in the pocket. The Pirates do call some designed runs for Garcia, on delay draws from the shotgun formation. That has led to Garcia leading the team in carries and rushing yards. But, either his receivers are not getting open, or his pocket is breaking down before they are open, or Garcia is concerned with protection. It possible the game has not slowed down for him yet. Either way you cut it, Garcia has happy feet, and when the throw is not there when he wants it to be, he takes off upfield. This had led some to start clamoring for backup Alex Flinn. Garcia had very little experience coming into 2023, and Flinn has even less. Flinn has played in both games this season, early on against Michigan, and finished the game against Marshall once it was out of reach. He is a fifth year redshirt junior, who played a total of five snaps before this season. At this point, East Carolina isn’t hitting the panic button, but they have been looking at it pretty hard. At some point they have to start scoring some points or else their defense will be gassed come mid-October. The Pirate defense likes to play down hill in the run game, but their secondary have been roasted in two games, surrendering 270 yards passing a game, and 12.5 yards per catch. The Mountaineers are likely to remain patient in the run game to an extent, but the confidence of this past weekend can only propel them forward with Joey Aguilar becoming more comfortable. One would assume that Nate Noel will be looking for an eventual breather after fifty carries in the first two games, but the formula appears to be working for now.

The First Pick

Sinking Ships 17

Mountaineers 35

App State Football @ #17 North Carolina

Appalachian State (1-0) @ #17 North Carolina (1-0)

Saturday, September 9th, 2023 5:15pm EST

TV/Video: ACC Network

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kenan Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 50,500

Surface: RootZone 3D Blend AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.39

North Carolina: 80.18

Home: 2.90

North Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10.69 points

VegasInsider Line: North Carolina -18

Series: North Carolina leads 2-1

Last Meeting: App State 61, North Carolina 63, September 3, 2022, Boone NC

Last week was the game that the Mountaineers needed. It had a little bit of everything. An injury to a key piece of the offense. A game that was close in the second half. A backup quarterback that took the lead, and padded it to provide a necessary margin. Some stress and adversity will serve the team well in the coming months. The largest story by far is the quarterback situation. Nobody wants to see an injury to a player, especially not in the first game of the season. For the time being, App State appears lucky to have had a true competition throughout camp which has allowed Joey Aguilar to have the practice reps needed to be ready for this opportunity. It takes a special player to be ready at a moment’s notice, and perform like he did in that second half. It does not matter who the opponent is. On Saturday, Aguilar was the closer, and this weekend he will be the starter. Joey Aguilar will have the rare chance to become a household name a lot quicker than even he could imagine.

The Tar Heels may have put the end of their 2022 campaign behind them last week in Charlotte. They avenged their 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl loss to pseudo-nemesis South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic with a semi-comfortable 31-17 win over the Gamecocks. That sentence was a mouthful. That win ended a four game slump at the end of last season for North Carolina. Losses to Georgia Tech and NC State in Chapel Hill were followed by getting throttled by Clemson in the ACC Championship game and losing the Holiday Bowl to Oregon. So after starting 9-1 last season, and rising to as high as #13 in the Associated Press Poll, the season ended on a somber note. Hopes are high for the 2023 Heels, as they came into the season ranked 21st, knowing they have a potential Heisman candidate in quarterback Drake Maye. Yet, there is some caution in the wind with how bad their defense was last season. They showed some signs last week of improvement, but some are still not sold.

Without putting too much stock into one game of a long season, it still provides some glimpses into what a team might look like at the end. The Tar Heels were mostly in control of the game in the first half, but the scoreboard was not really representative of statistical discrepancies. The Heels had four true possessions in the first half and scored on three of those drives, and ended the other in South Carolina territory. They ran 40 offensive plays and rolled up 241 yards of offense on those four drives. After scoring on consecutive drives to start the second half, their next two drives ended in interceptions. South Carolina was essentially finished, but North Carolina gave them life in the second half. By that point, the Gamecocks had abandoned the run game, and Spencer Rattler was running for his life. The Gamecocks resorted to a horizontal quick passing game, which resulted in Rattler finishing the game with 48 drop backs. He was sacked nine times, with seven of those coming in the second half. Rattler finished an efficient 30/39 for 353 yards, without throwing an interception despite being harassed the entire second half.

Give some props to Gardner Webb for hanging tough last week, scoring some points, and making things a little more interesting than what a select few may have expected last week. At the same time, I am not sure enough could be said for how App State adjusted to the unexpected themselves. After a less than stellar open to the game, an injury forced Ryan Burger to the sidelines late in the second quarter. At this point, the Mountaineers trailed by a field goal. On the first play, Joey Aguilar stepped in and fired a pass to an open Kaeden Robinson, who dodged a defender and trotted into the end zone. The Mountaineers would go on to score on every possession that Aguilar directed, outside of one three and out in the fourth quarter. Curiously enough, as App State was trying to kill the clock on their final drive of the game, on a 4th and 1, the Mountaineers threw to the end zone instead of running the ball up two scores. It was mostly a meaningless touchdown, but for me, it sent a message. Something else on film to think about.

On the defensive side of the ball, there were certainly moments to be happy about, and others, not so much. The Webb did all their scoring in the second and third quarters, which really made things dicey as App State was trying to figure out it’s own offensive issues. However, the defense started the game with two possessions that went a total of eleven yards. In total, Webb had five possessions that went less than ten yards, and the Mountaineers forced turnovers on three straight drives in the second half. Pressure started to get into the Gardner Webb backfield, and disrupted the ability of the Bulldogs to step into some throws. The Bulldogs gave it their best shot, but in the end, the depth won out. It’s a process, but I believe that the defense learned a lot about itself. Although Gardner Webb and North Carolina have different offenses, there are similarities in strategy. Both teams looked their best when they were able to dictate tempo and stay on schedule with the chains. Finding those negative plays and avoiding costly penalties will be as vital this week as it was last.

Heading into last season, North Carolina suffered some injuries in the running back room which required them to lean on some younger guys. Caleb Hood had 87 yards against App last year, with most of that coming on a 71-yard run. This season he is fourth on the depth chart. Omarion Hampton managed just 17 yards in the game last year, but gutted out 42 yards on sixteen carries against South Carolina. The guy the Heels really missed last year was British Brooks, a 5’11, 225-pound back who ran for 103 yards against South Carolina With Brooks and Hampton, Maye only had four carries himself against USC. I believe the Heels want to take care of Maye as much as possible this season, and the best way to do that is with a good run game. Maye was not sacked on Saturday night in Charlotte, and the Heels would love to keep it that way. After seeing some of the success that Gardner Webb had with Narii Gaither and Jayden Brown, I was surprised the Bulldogs did not run more than they did. But their intent was clear, to force App State to make open field tackles outside the numbers. Mack Brown has mentioned it several times, from last year on to this year. The intent of the offense is to make sure that Drake Maye can facilitate, by getting the ball to his playmakers. North Carolina is still waiting to hear back on the second appeal of Tez Walker regarding his eligibility. In the meantime, Kobe Paysour was the hot target this past weekend for Drake Maye. He reeled in seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Last year in Boone, with now Indianapolis Colt Josh Downs sitting out with an injury, it was also Paysour who paced the Heels with eight catches for 92 yards and a score. It’s fair to draw some data from last season’s game, outside of that wild and wacky fourth quarter. Are we set up for another similar game? The two previous matchups were absolute classics, that went down to the final plays. Why would anyone think that this game could be any different. There is plenty of tape on Drake Maye, and a lot to lean on from a year ago. Joey Aguilar is the unknown here. There is one half of FBS football tape here. Sure, the Heels can lean on Frank Ponce’s tendencies as a coordinator, but there is probably a big difference in calling plays for Chase Brice and for Joey Aguilar.

The First Pick

Baby Blues 30

Mountaineers 24

App State Football vs Gardner-Webb

Appalachian State (0-0) vs Gardner-Webb (0-0)

Saturday, September 2nd, 2023 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.57

Gardner Webb: 43.72

Home: 3.39

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 33.24 points

Series: App State leads 8-0

Last Meeting: App State 72, Gardner-Webb 7, September 22, 2018, Boone NC

We have all waited patiently and longer than any season, since the end of the 2014 season for the next one to start. In the 2013 and 2014 seasons, during the Mountaineers transition from the FCS to FBS, they were not eligible for postseason play. Those seasons ended in November. Prior to that, it was 2004, when Appalachian finished 6-5 and failed to play a game in the month of December. I had to stop for a minute and think about that. That 2004 season ended with a rather tragic loss to Western Carolina. One that should not have happened. It’s not about how that game ended, or that it was a loss. What comes to mind is what that game/season set off in the coming years. Once again. A long offseason, with a lot of thoughts, reflection and energy going toward the moment that is right before us. There were moments in 2004, that simply did not make sense. With that, some things had to change. That group of Mountaineers figured it out, and I believe this one will too.

The Mountaineers last played The Webb 5 years ago, and plenty has changed since then. Nothing can be drawn from that 65-point massacre. Fourth-year head coach Tre Lamb now leads the Bulldogs, and has been successful in turning the program around. First, he is a Lamb, and hails from a family tree of football that is legendary in the state of Georgia. Both his father and grandfather won state titles in the high school ranks. His uncle Bobby, who is still on the field at Anderson College, also coached at Furman and Mercer. And how could we forget cousin Taylor, currently on staff at Virginia, who was a star signal caller for the Mountaineers from 2014-2017. Tre Lamb was hired in December 2019, but the Bulldogs did not play a game until 2021. Gardner-Webb opted for 4 games in the spring of 2021, and then played a full 11 game slate in the fall. The 2022 season was where the results started to come forward, as the Bulldogs finished the year 7-6 with an FCS playoff appearance and Big South championship highlighting the season.

In 2023, the Big South and the Ohio Valley Conference have merged to form an association for football, to ensure that all schools have a chance to compete in the FCS Playoffs. This will be the first year of that association, which shines a light on what realignment looks like at the FCS level. The Webb has been tabbed as a preseason Top 25 team by multiple outlets and were selected to finish second in the new Big South-OVC. Like Appalachian, The Webb will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in 2023, but both teams might lean on the run game early on. The Bulldogs return Narii Gaither, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season and scored eight touchdowns. In 2021, Gaither put together an almost identical season with 966 yards and seven touchdowns. Gaither is a true three down back as well, as he caught 69 passes for another 608 yards in the last two seasons. He’s fifth all time at Gardner Webb in rushing yards.

The spring and fall competition has come to end. Ryan Burger will be handed the football first in 2023, in hopes to live up to expectations of those before him. Over the years, most of the great Mountaineer quarterbacks started young, and became legends with time. Think of the likes of Richie Williams, Armanti Edwards, Taylor Lamb and Zac Thomas. They all got their shot as underclassmen. Nobody is crowning Burger yet. If anything he has put the pressure on himself to be great, and this is simply the first step in the process. Burger will have plenty to work with around him. The wide receiver room contains essentially the same trio from last season, including Dashuan Davis, Kaiden Robinson and Christian Horn. They combined for 97 catches, 1,460 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2022, it seemed like every time Dalton Stroman caught the ball, it was a big one, evidenced by his 19.5 yards per catch. Had Stroman caught one more pass, he would have found himself in the top ten of the App State record books for average yards per catch in a season.

A lot of the focus of the offseason was about the quarterback position, and justly so, but the most changes have occurred on the defensive side. The Mountaineers return just four starters on that side of the ball, but have been buoyed by transfers. Formerly of Rutgers, Shawn Collins will start at one end position, while Michael Fletcher comes from Michigan State to provide depth on the other side of the line. Tyrek Funderburk (Richmond) will start at one cornerback position in his graduate year. A second graduate transfer, Jarret Paul of Kansas could be the first man up if an injury occurs in the secondary. That mix of experience, along with several other key pieces who played as true freshman, and others such as Nick Ross, Andrew Parker and Brendan Harrington could provide a unique blend of players that most Mountaineer fans have never seen. I’m more intrigued by this group than any, especially with the return of Scot Sloan to coordinate the defense. They will get right, and it might take a couple weeks to round into form, but I like what this group could become.

Gathering information in the first few weeks of a new football season is tough. You have no games to go on besides what happened nine months ago. That information is tougher when the first opponent you face is an FCS squad, with limited media coverage, and generally a sports information staff at the school that is also smaller. So, when you look at a depth chart from an FCS school and they have used the famous ‘OR’, not once, but twice at the quarterback position, there is nothing left to do, but shake your head. Well, it’s not that dramatic. Matthew Caldwell’s name is in ALL CAPS, while Gino English and Jaylen King are listed in proper case. Caldwell makes the most sense, as he was with The Webb last season. English transferred from Florida State where he played less than sparingly. King was in high school this time last year, but played in a run heavy offensive system. On paper he appears to be the athlete of the group. It’s possible we see King on the field in some form or fashion. The Webb does not return a lot of production from 2022 in the wide receiver room. In an Air Raid system, anyone could have a big day beyond those listed as the starters. However, Webb lost their top two pass catchers from a season ago, who combined for 141 receptions, 1,941 yards and fifteen touchdowns. That seems like a lot. Actually, it is a lot. If Matthew Caldwell does indeed start at quarterback, he is not devoid of playing time. He got some action in six games, some wins, and some losses. However, every game that Caldwell appeared in came in games decided by twenty or more points. Take that for what you will. One element of the App State offense that I am excited to take hold, comes from the mobility of Ryan Burger. How much can the new gunslinger stretch the field with his legs. We’ve heard about it, and now its time to see it in person. Having a quarterback that you have to account for in the backfield, whether the pocket breaks down or the receivers are covered, is a big difference maker. When it’s 3rd down and 7 yards, can Burger find that open field and give the offense a new set of downs. There are no doubts that a large focus of the offseason went into the entire team becoming better athletes. Several Mountaineers will tote the rock this weekend. How will that training impact the likes of Nate Noel and Ahmani Marshall? Can’t wait to find out.

The First Pick

Boiling Springs Pound 20

Mountaineers 41

App State Football vs Robert Morris

Appalachian State (4-3) vs Robert Morris (0-7)

Saturday, October 29th, 2022 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.24

Robert Morris: 22.99

Home: 1.94

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 52.19 points

VegasInsider Line: No line

Series: n/a

Last Meeting: n/a

The first step was taken in the right direction. It can be easy to get off your path, and sometimes finding your stride again is twice as hard. But the Mountaineers found something last Wednesday night. It’s understandable if you are not sold yet. That’s a normal feeling. That path might still have some bumps along the way, but its important to be on it. The Mountaineers get a small break before a big game next week, on a short week no less. No looking ahead, but it is hard not to. Robert Morris should not present much of a challenge. That does not mean they are not trying to get better themselves. They’ll try to gain yards, get first downs, score points, and stop the Mountaineers from doing those same things. But this is a game where App State will want to take care of business early and allow those who do not get as much playing time, to have those opportunities to succeed.

The Robert Morris Colonials found the App State football schedule due to Marshall joining the Sun Belt this season. Originally, Marshall and App State were scheduled to play as non-conference opponents, and the hurried restructuring of conferences this past offseason sent the Mountaineers scurrying for a twelfth opponent. Imagine shopping for bread and milk at the grocery store when the snow is already falling. You get the idea. The last team that Robert Morris defeated was Campbell in 2021. And then Campbell turned around a year later and stomped the Colonials 41-10 on October 15th. In fact, in five of Robert Morris’ seven losses, their average margin of defeat is 32.4 points. The Colonials have scored 20 points once this year, in their season opener. Since, they have managed to score 8.33 points per game, and have reached double digit scoring just three times.

The quarterback position has been a merry-go-round for the Colonials this season. In their first game against Dayton, Anthony Chiccitt got his first collegiate start, and Jake Simmons came in for relief in the fourth quarter. The same scenario occurred in the second game against Miami (OH). Chiccitt started and Simmons finished. In their third game, Jake Simmons started, but Corbin Lafrance played most of the second half. In their fourth game, Simmons started again, but was relieved by Zach Tanner in the second quarter. In game five, it was Zach Tanner who started and gave way to Corbin LaFrance. Tanner and LaFrance also got playing time against Campbell, and it was back to Chiccitt last week against North Carolina A&T. Hope you were able to keep up. Of the four primary quarterbacks, neither has played in every game, yet they have all thrown interceptions, and only Chiccitt and Simmons have thrown touchdown passes. Tanner completes just 43% of his passes to his teammates, while 9% has gone to the opponents. That’s a really complicated way to say, he has thrown six interceptions on just sixty-two attempts.

As football goes, you need good quarterback play to win. You can have a variety of playmakers all over the field, but its starts with that quarterback. It’s clear that Robert Morris has lacked in consistency this season at that position. That makes it incredibly harder for wide receivers to do their job, when and when not to expect a pass to be delivered, or for the offensive line to know when that ball might be out, or where that quarterback might be in the pocket. But Robert Morris needs other pieces as well for their offense. Running back Alijah Jackson is the most trusted player in the Colonial offense. He has carried the ball 99 times for 335 yards, without finding the end zone. His 3.4 yards per carry average is second best on the team to quarterback Jake Simmons’ 4.3 yards per carry. But as noted previously, Simmons has played in just four games, and only has eight attempts on the ground. Anthony Purge and Kimon O’Sullivan have filled in at time, but neither has been efficient, both with less than 75 yards to their credit on the season on the ground.

After a slow start, the Mountaineers offense started clicking last Wednesday. It still wasn’t a full sixty minutes of football, but the trend line is heading in the right direction. As quickly as the Mountaineer run game dissipated several weeks ago, it came back in a hurry. Georgia State ran out to a 14-0 lead, and it looked like they might take that into halftime before the Mountaineers put together their best drive of the game. A 12-play, 75-yard drive that consumed five and a half minutes of game clock. That score right before the halftime break ignited a defense, which went on to force three second half turnovers. In turn, those turnovers turned into short fields, and with the aid of a Milan Tucker 63 yard kickoff return, allowed App State to score touchdowns on five straight drives. Whatever happened in the second quarter was the fire the Mountaineers needed. It was a perfect night for running the ball 64 times right at the Georgia State defense, who was helpless in stopping whichever running back that App threw at them.

Just about the only way to compare Robert Morris to anyone that App State has played this year is to look back at the Citadel game. Sure, both schools are in the FCS, but they are both very bad on offense. Fresh off a win last weekend at Western Carolina, Citadel scored over 20 points in a game for the second time this season. That has only happened once this season for Robert Morris. The Citadel is averaging 284 yards of offense this year, which is 112th out of 123 teams. Robert Morris is 122nd in the FCS at 222 yards per contest. Want an idea of how far 222 yards is? It’s not even a down and back of entire football field, including end zones. Robert Morris has a total of nine offensive touchdowns on the season, which ties them for dead last in total offensive touchdowns in the FCS, with Lafayette and Bucknell. Robert Morris has two more touchdowns than Iowa, which only has seven. Fort Lewis in Division II also has scored seven touchdowns on offense, which is dead last in that division. And there are about a dozen teams in Division III who have yet to score nine touchdowns on offense. That was one unplanned rabbit hole, but we found the bottom somehow. Back to the Citadel, a team who clearly runs the triple option. The Citadel has completed 49.5% of its passes this year, while Robert Morris sits at 50.5%, both figures that sit in the bottom twenty of all FCS schools. The Colonials are dead last in FCS in third down conversion percentage at 21.8%. This Robert Morris team might be the worst offensive team the Mountaineers have ever faced. It’s brutal. However, to consider that the Colonial defense allows just 34.1 points per game, with the help of only 10 points a game on offense, is actually commendable. There can be two sides of that coin. The Colonials red zone defense is 50th in FCS. They have defended 29 red zone drives, but have allowed just fifteen touchdowns in the red zone, while forcing eight field goals. That’s pretty stubborn defense. But the Colonials have also allowed fifteen touchdown from beyond the red zone. That’s a classic case of playing better defense when there is less field to cover. Is that enough to keep the Mountaineers out of the 60+ point total? It’s possible, but the real question should be whether Robert Morris can score.

The First Pick

Financiers 0

Mountaineers 59

App State Football vs The Citadel

Appalachian State (2-2) vs The Citadel (1-2)

Saturday, October 1st, 2022 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.63

Citadel: 42.76

Home: 1.89

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 31.76 points

VegasInsider Line: n/a

Series: App State leads 29-13

Last Meeting: Citadel 31, App State 28 (OT) October 5, 2013, Charleston, SC

Let’s just get this over with. Nobody wants to dwell much on the past. We all know we can’t change it, but we do need to learn from it. We’ve added another unprecedented tally in the fourth game of the season. An ugly one at that. Twice this season the Mountaineers have given up insane scoring runs by their opponents in their own backyard. And twice, the other side of the ball could not come through for a score to break up those runs. Everyone needs to do their job better, not just the offense, defense, special teams or coaches. It’s a group effort. We are all in this thing together. Nothing is more humbling than giving up a game that was nearly in hand. And the previous week really should have put everyone on notice that nothing is over until it actually is. Bouncing back will be a challenge, and this season is still long from over. All the goals are well within reach, and if there is anything we have learned from this season, not a single team is immune to crazy.

The last time the Mountaineers faced James Madison was fourteen years ago. It has not been that long since App State played The Citadel, but the Bulldogs had the last laugh in this series. At that time, it was unknown whether or not these teams would ever face each other again. The Mountaineers have faced Elon once since their SoCon sayonara. The Citadel remains in the SoCon, a league that really has not changed much since the Mountaineers left. Mercer is now in the SoCon, and of course, ETSU is back. The Citadel has had a couple really good years since we last saw them, but otherwise have been pretty average. More recently, they have fallen on tougher times. The fall 2021 season was highlighted with four wins, over North Greenville, VMI, Wofford and Chattanooga. The Bulldogs played 4 games in the fall of 2020, losing all of them, and played an eight game conference slate in the 2021 spring season, registering a 2-6 record.

The Citadel sports a 1-2 record coming to Boone. They were on bye last week, so the Mountaineers get consecutive opponents with an extra week of rest. You can almost say Citadel did not play the week before either, as they fell to #20 Mercer by a 17-0 score. The Bulldogs managed just 151 yards offense on 63 plays. The previous week, they hit a field goal as time expired to beat ETSU 20-17, while holding possession of the ball for nearly forty minutes and being outgained by the Buccaneers on offense. In Week 1, Campbell cruised to a 29-10 win while the Citadel gained just 222 yards on the offensive side. So, as you can see, its pretty clear that the Bulldogs have not gained a lot of yards this year. In those first three games, they average just 231 yards per game at 3.7 yards yards per play. And somehow they have still managed to average 36 minutes of possession a game.

The most interesting story coming into this game belongs to Citadel quarterback Peyton Derrick. A graduate transfer from Wofford, many will remember that Derrick began his career at App State in 2017 and he was redshirted. The following year, Derrick made a memorable throw at Penn State after Zac Thomas had to exit the game for one play. He threw a pass to Dominique Heath on 4th and 2 for 22 yards that set up a touchdown. Fast forward to 2022 and now he will face the first school he played for in college. So far this season, it has been a mixed bag Derrick. He has completed just 17 of 34 passes for 176 yards, adding a couple touchdowns and interceptions. But that is not Citadel’s game. This a triple option team, that passes to catch you off guard, although 34 passes in three games is a little more than you would expect out of a true triple option offense. Derrick has carried the ball 44 times for 96 yards on the ground. Derrick has carried the ball the most of anyone on the team, but the Bulldogs tend to spread it out quite a bit. Three other backs have rushed at least twenty-one times, but no more than twenty-nine times. The triple option remains a guessing game like it always has been.

For the last time, we’ll speak to the game last weekend, and maybe never again. It was a historic collapse. Its understandable after several hard hitting games that our beloved Mountaineers are tired. Looking for normalcy, in a game without fourth quarter heroics or sixty minutes of hell, you see moment of relief and you finally catch your breath, at halftime. That was about thirty minutes too early. Letting up is easy and continuing to fight is hard although necessary. It became a tough lesson learned that will not soon be forgotten. The Mountaineers are still capable of turning this into a great season. It’s just really tough to imagine that after last week. That’s all it is, and it can be quickly fixed. Health is a key factor. We need rest in places and we need others to step up in the meantime. Some simplification worked for the defense from Week 1 to Week 2, and maybe that is something that also needs to occur for the offense. There have just been too many scoring droughts in these opening games.

The overall theme here, is that it has been an incredibly long time since the Mountaineers have waited until the fifth game of the season to play an FCS school. And let’s not be mistaken. James Madison is not an FCS school on paper. They have been good for a long time, and just miscast in the wrong subdivision. App State was this way for a long time as well. It was not long ago that the Sun Belt was the weakest FBS conference, but in four weeks time in 2022, predictably, it has an argument for being the strongest GS conference. In reality, it has been longer than four weeks. When App State played in first Sun Belt schedule in 2014, there were adjustments, and when they were made, the Mountaineers rattled off six wins in a row to finish the season, leaving Sun Belt stalwarts such as Louisiana and Arkansas State in the dust. The Sun Belt was a bad league then. It is not a bad league now. That’s a good thing. So when conferences across the country argue about playing FCS schools, or playing an extra conference game, one wonders what they are actually looking to accomplish. Do you want FCS games to pad that win total to become bowl eligible or do you want those FCS teams actually in your conference weighing you down. Whichever direction some of these conferences plan to go, expect more chaos with tougher conferences or bloated win totals that might make you feel better about yourself than you actually are. See, the old Southern Conference was not like that. Sure you had some schools that weren’t aligned as institutions of higher learning, but you also had tough football games each week. Whether you were defending the triple option variances from Citadel, Georgia Southern, Wofford or even VMI, or the pro style offenses of Furman and Samford or the run and shoot styles that Chattanooga and Elon sometimes employed. It was different every week, and winning that conference title meant that you earned something. That is what we have now in the Sun Belt, and with that, you will have a different wild ride each and every week. So yeah, we circle back to playing a team such as The Citadel, a former conference mate, with familiarity, and they are doing essentially the same thing they have always done. The Bulldogs do not look great on a stat sheet, but that is not anything they care about. They care about giving the football players that they can recruit, the best chance to win. Forget an offense that has not scored many points. Their pressure on you, is making fewer mistakes while playing keep away. So be prepared for the keeper and the counter, the option and the pitch, and make sure you jump on that ball when it finds the turf.

The First Pick

Grays 6

Mountaineers 44

App State Football vs James Madison

Appalachian State (2-1) vs James Madison (2-0)

Saturday, September 24th, 2022 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.97

JMU: 71.57

Home: 2.11

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.51 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -7

Series: App State leads 12-4

Last Meeting: James Madison 35, App State 32 September 20, 2008, Harrisburg, VA

Caught your breath yet? Maybe we can use a different lede next week. College football has been upside down through three weeks, and it seems as if App State has been in the center of it all. Forty-point fourth quarters? Check. Knocking off a top ten opponent on the road? We have that too. Winning on a hail mary touchdown pass? Why not. App State has played just three games with nearly a seasons worth of moments. What could possibly happen next? We welcome in an old rival that also plays the part of a conference newcomer. The Dukes landed in the Sun Belt East along with Old Dominion and Marshall. This will be the seventeenth meeting between the two schools and first matchup as conference opponents. Among the more recent FCS-FBS transitions, the Dukes have the pedigree, with two national championships, and a winning history. They were rumored to have declined an invitation to the Sun Belt years ago, but could not pass it up a second time. This will be the Sun Belt opener for the Dukes, and their fans could not be more excited to renew a budding rivalry.

For the Mountaineers, this will be the fourth game of the season this weekend, but the Dukes were blessed/cursed with a Week 3 bye after playing Middle Tennessee and Norfolk State at home to begin the season. Having an extra week to prepare for an opponent could turn out beneficial, but having one so early in the season might not be. This schedule is partially a result from existing contracts and changing conferences, and subdivisions with less than a year’s notice. James Madison is still in transition and will only play eleven games this year. That means a bowl game and a Sun Belt championship is not in the cards. The Dukes administration hopes to cut the transition period in half from two years to one year. In the meantime, they are playing for pride knowing that they have just the schedule in front of them to play. Transitioning is hard enough, and during the NIL and portal era, it has to be downright difficult for roster management and recruiting.

We can say that James Madison has played just two games this year, but really, it was maybe one and a half games. Against Middle Tennessee, the Dukes started somewhat slow, with a fourteen play drive to start the game that ended with a missed field goal. That drive ate up more than six minutes of game clock. They turned the ball over on their next drive, but then scored touchdowns on three of their next four drives. Those touchdown drives did not eat up a lot of clock, using less than four minutes each. The Dukes love pouncing on your defense when they think they have you on your heels. The threat of tempo exists, and when the quarterback sees something he likes, he’ll be aggressive and attack single coverage. The run-pass-option offense is still alive and well at James Madison. The Dukes worked the Middle defense early, keeping them on the field for thirty plays in their first three drives, and then sped up the pace with 29 plays on their next six drives. The defense has to stay ready for anything when the James Madison offense is on the field.

James Madison has run up the score and racked up a lot of yardage in their first two games. That includes eye-popping numbers that are likely unsustainable over the course a full season, especially when you get into conference play. Beyond outscoring their opponents 107-14, and giving up just 21 total rushing yards, the Dukes have yet to turn the ball over. Todd Centeio has been flawless at quarterback. He’s thrown for 452 yards in essentially three halves of football, completed 66% of his passes and has nine touchdown passes. He’s hard to get a hold of and will not give up sacks. He can scramble and extend plays. The main job of the defense will be to contain him in the pocket and make sure he does not get his feet set when passing. He’ll run on design plays and also bail quickly sometimes when his first read is not there. Centeio has 139 rushing yards in addition to his near perfect passing stats. His primary target has been senior Kris Thornton, who has already amassed eighteen catches in two games, along with 247 yards and five touchdowns.

At no point this past Saturday, did the Troy game feel like one that would be decided by whoever had the ball last. But that is exactly what it turned into. Each team had nine possessions. Both teams scored four touchdowns. The difference in the game was a field goal made and a safety given. Sure, that’s five points, and the final margin was four. A certain point after attempt was not necessary, nor remotely possible. In a game of who has the ball last, its best not to give the other team points. Troy punted just twice, but ultimately their opening drive interception led to App State points, they missed a field goal, and then gave up a safety. This game really came down to situational football. One play ultimately resulted in the final tally, but it was a mixture of just enough from App State that kept them within striking distance. Consider the Mountaineer defense that came through for three sacks and an interception of Gunnar Watson. On the flipside, Chase Brice was sacked once, threw two touchdown passes, and didn’t turn the ball over.

It’s fair to say, that Madison and App fans are really not quite sure what to think about their teams. And that is just fine. It’s still September. The Dukes have played two games where they thoroughly defeated their opponents. Norfolk State is 0-3 with losses to Marshall, Madison and Hampton. Middle Tennessee sports a 2-1 record, but all they have done is get spanked by JMU, and beaten two teams with 0-3 records in Colorado State and Tennessee State. Based on the App State results, a handful of plays in each game could have changed the trajectory in those contests. App’s record could be anywhere from 0-3 to 3-0, and it wouldn’t shock you. The reason why we watch, is to see if your team eventually evolves over the course of the season. Peaking in September will not do you any favors in November. Well, we also like to win. We want to feel good. James Madison also wants to feel good. They want to know that they made the right decision to enter FBS. They’ll hit some stumbling blocks. There is not a program out there that has not or will not. But they will also have those moments that validate that decision. Their schedule sets up nicely, with only five road games, but they are big ones, and every game is on Saturday. But keep an eye on a stretch of games where they are on the road four out of five weeks with a bye week sandwiched in. But this JMU team knows nothing about App State from the past. This rekindling of a predictive rivalry is among fans alone. Still, players on both sides of the ball have known nothing but winning within their program. Although Madison may have not been tested this year, they have known how to get it done for sometime. Conversely, App State has been tested several times in three games. Are we expecting a game into the fourth quarter? Is that more likely than a multiple score game going either direction? I believe so. But there is one theory at play here not many have touched on. The scoreboard said the Mountaineers scored more points last week. However, I think this team comes out and plays like they lost. Offense will be crisper and the defense will play better. That should be more than enough for a comfortable win.

The First Pick

Miracle Whip 28

Mountaineers 38

Appalachian State vs North Carolina

Appalachian State (0-0) vs North Carolina (1-0)

Saturday, September 3rd, 2022 12:00pm EST


Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.47

UNC: 74.14

Home: 2.14

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.47 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -1

Series: Tied 1-1

Last Meeting: App State 34, UNC 31, September 21, 2019, Chapel Hill, NC

This is not your typical season opener on the mountain. Appalachian State has never hosted a Power 5 opponent on college football’s traditional opening weekend. The Mountaineers have been the visiting team several times at Wake Forest, NC State, and East Carolina for opening weekend. Only Wake can say they came to Boone. Last year’s ECU game does not count, but it does, you get the drift. And now that North Carolina is coming to Boone, it opens the door for the NC State to do the same. How about that timing? Anyway, you have heard the call to action for some time now. The need to describe a game and atmosphere that will certainly be different and perhaps unprecedented. We have been through this before. The University of Miami came to Boone, and we wanted to win that game, probably too much. Wake Forest came to town, and we wanted that one too. That turned into a classic App-Wake game. But in both of those games, the Apps came up short. Is Saturday different? Yes. For one, there will be a few more fans there. Prior to Miami and Wake, we knew the attendance record would fall. Secondly, App is playing that blue team. Most are the opposite of indifferent about North Carolina. You either love them, or loathe them. Most of the alums are dissimilar. We like different things, and that’s why this is different.

Plenty of us remember, the 21st night of September. That was 2019, three seasons ago, and a lot has changed for App State and North Carolina. A slew of new players, a head coach for one side, and expectations. That Tar Heel team that lost to App State in 2019 finished the season 7-6 overall with a win over Temple in the Military Bowl. The 2020 Heels finished 8-4 with a loss to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl. And last years UNC team limped to a 6-7 overall record and lost to South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Carolina fans are waiting for Mack Brown 2.0 to take off. The recruiting is there, but the development and on field success is not. What good are 4 and 5-star recruits coming out of high school if they never get better in college? The first Mack Brown era at North Carolina came with some bad and some good, a little bit of great. That little bit of great came in his final two seasons, and sent him to Texas for sixteen years. Brown was 69-46-1 at UNC in ten seasons. Since his return to Chapel Hill, Brown and the Tar Heels are 22-17 counting last week’s win over a depleted Florida A&M team. We are not talking about a significant drop off here, and its maybe too early to write off Mack Brown in general. In his first tenure he won 60% of his games, and in his second tenure at UNC, he’s won 56.4% of his games. But at this point in his career, and based on what he has done at North Carolina in the past, you kind of are what you are.

Typically, the first game of the season is the toughest to predict. But for the first time, App State has a Week 1 opponent who played the previous week. This was intentional. Initially, UNC-Florida A&M was to be played on September 17th. In late August 2021, the schools announced a date change to August 27th, 2022. This gives North Carolina two weeks after playing Georgia State next weekend to gear up for Notre Dame in Chapel Hill on September 24th. Sounds like smart scheduling to me. Whether North Carolina benefits this weekend against App State for playing last week remains to be seen. In the meantime, we have seen the tape and have game statistics to share with the masses. Appears the Tar Heel faithful have crowned Drake Maye as the chosen one, after one football game. After winning a fall camp battle over Jacolby Criswell, the son of another former UNC quarterback, Maye, led his team to a 56-24 thumping of Florida A&M. Maye threw four first half touchdown passes, and the Heels needed all of that in the first half. They led 28-14 at the break, and benefitted from a late turnover in the second quarter by the Rattlers to extend their lead. Regardless, this was a ballgame into the third quarter before another costly turnover by A&M that the Tar Heels turned into a touchdown.

Let us dive more into Maye and the Tar Heels offense. The coaching staff has made it no secret how they want to use Josh Downs. They want to get him the ball. Of Maye’s thirty-six passing attempts, twelve, or one-third, of them went in the direction of Downs. Those twelve targets turned into nine receptions and seventy-eight yards and two touchdowns. One of Downs scores went for 27 yards on a play action pass after the aforementioned third quarter turnover by A&M. On that play, Downs suffered an injury to his knee, calling it “just a bruise”, but was favoring it as he ran off the sideline. Outside of that play, the Rattlers did a pretty decent job of containing Downs considering their circumstances. Yes, Downs scored twice, on plays where he caught the ball in the end zone, but on his seven other receptions, Florida A&M limited him to just sixteen yards after the catch. It was the rest of the Tar Heels who exploited the Rattler secondary. The remaining twenty completions by Maye went for 112 yards after the catch, which comes out to very healthy average of 5.6 yards after the catch.

For the Mountaineers, they were able to watch the Carolina-A&M in real time. There has been plenty of debate whether fresh film on an opponent is an advantage or not. Both sides of the argument hold merit. Good coaches fit their personnel into what they do well. Surely UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik would have loved to see this App State team, with its fifth playcaller in as many years, once before going in blind. Chizik and every other coach who faces App State knows that this team has an identity. Through several coordinator changes over the past half decade, that same winning formula has been ever present. Strong on the offensive line, deep at running back, play good solid defense and tackle. It’s what we App State does, and its been that way long before the most recent assistant coach hires. This team has enough pieces of that formula to make those things happen. The only unknown for the offense comes from an outsiders perspective. It comes down to an equation of replacing lost production and how returning production can fill those gaps on the perimeter. Dashaun Davis is in his fourth year on the team, and remains a sophomore by eligibility. He has practiced for three years. He played in the 2019 UNC-App game. His career numbers may not pop off the page, but when his team needed him in 2020, in a game that was highly impacted by covid protocols, he caught six passes. Christian Wells is also in his fourth year, and was around in 2019. A playmaker anytime he touches the ball, Wells has seven touchdowns on only twenty-eight career receptions. Christian Horn has not scored, but has averaged 15.6 yards per catch in limited action as he enters his third season. These unknowns have been around, and its a matter of time before they are household names.

North Carolina’s last win on the road occurred on December 12th, 2020. That was a 62-26 win over Miami in which Michael Carter Jr and Javonte Williams combined for 544 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Both of those players are in the NFL. Since, the Tar Heels are 0-7 in road or neutral field games and have given up 30 or more points in six of those seven games for an average of 35.5 points surrendered. In those seven games, they faced all types of opponents and played in some very interesting venues. Four of those stadiums host NFL teams in Miami, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Charlotte. The college campuses included Notre Dame Stadium, an unbelievably lit Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech in last years opener, and Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, where NC State made an unbelievable comeback. All of these places are big time environments, and not your everyday road game. As we all know, the Heels have never been to Kidd Brewer. The sheer volume of people will turn Kidd Brewer into something nobody has witnessed for a sporting event in its history. Since Miami and Wake in 2016 and 2017, Kidd Brewer Stadium has lost the track, added a north end zone building and regraded Miller Hill and brought it closer to the field. Comparing Kidd Brewer as a venue to some of these much larger stadiums might be a stretch, but comparing atmosphere, it certainly can hold its own. A lot of us got glimpses of that last year in games against Marshall and Coastal Carolina. Now add another 10,000 or so fans. Still, a building cannot win a game, players do. That North Carolina defense has not travelled in a long time, and still looked slightly vulnerable at times on Saturday night. The Rattlers passing game was nearly a push against Carolina’s, only separated by a trio of touchdown passes. Drake Maye got the headlines, but A&M threw for 279 yards with a nearly nonexistent running game, and an offensive line that was short on depth. Mack Brown said that the advantage of playing first, before App State, was that they were exposed. He knows what problems his team has, and so do the Mountaineer coaches. He also mentioned winning in road comes with playing better. Mack knows how to win a presser, and how to talk to the media. This game is a total toss up. Both teams can win, and neither team can play poorly and win. The difference comes to down to experience. This App State group may be young on snaps in spots, but they are long on experience, whether that be as redshirts or otherwise. The Heels are a little young for my liking and until they learn to win these tough road games, its easy to bet against them.

The First Pick

Bah Bah Sheep 27

Mountaineers 35

App State Football @ Louisiana (Sun Belt Championship Game)

Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (11-1, 8-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 4th, 2021 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.21

UL: 74.88

Home: 1.71

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by .62 points

Line: App State -3

Series: App State leads 8-2

Last Meeting: App State 13, Louisiana 41, December 12, 2020, Lafayette, LA

We all saw this coming, didn’t we? When the Sun Belt released its preseason poll for the 2021 season, Louisiana was a near unanimous pick to win the west. Someone voted for Arkansas State. App State and Coastal were tied in total points, but Coastal managed six first place votes to App State’s four. Still pretty well done by the coaches, except for maybe one or two guys. Regardless, nobody is surprised we are here again, with App State and Louisiana playing for the conference title, the only two schools to ever play in a Sun Belt Championship game. For the first time, this game is being played in Lafayette. The home team has won both such contests, and also lost their head coach to a Power Five school. For Billy Napier, this is his third appearance. This will be App State’s third different coach in the game. These teams are pretty familiar with one another and pretty much know what to expect from the other side. It all comes down to playing ball.

Since the last time we saw the Cajuns, they have not lost. Same goes for the Mountaineers. On the season both teams have had six common opponents. Both are 6-0 against those teams. Louisiana played those opponents tighter than App State did. The Cajuns outscored those teams 153-119, while the Mountaineers took those games a little more personally. App State outscored those teams 258-75. Five of those six, Louisiana played their foes within one score, with Troy being the outlier. App State closest game came last week, a 24-point win over Georgia Southern. That has been what Louisiana has done most of the year outside of a couple games. Sure, they handled a few teams with ease, but its these six games that are most interesting. Not all of these games have the exact same circumstances. Such as, App played Southern late, against a third-string quarterback, where the Cajuns faced the Eagles during the last game of the Chad Lunsford era in September. App State also avoided Jake Bentley from South Alabama. The Cajuns had to mount a comeback against Georgia State, where App finished the Panthers off in the second half.

From bad quarterbacks and backup quarterbacks to one of the most successful in school history. That is the challenge for App State’s defense this week, when they face Levi Lewis for the eighth time. We discussed it earlier this season, and although he has not started all of those games, he has played a lot against App State. Keeping Lewis in the pocket is a must. Although he is not typical dual threat, he can and will run when he sees the opportunity. Lewis has four rushing touchdowns this year, in four different games. Three of those came against three of the better defenses in the conference, including App State. Since the last meeting against the Mountaineers, Lewis has been really effective in the air, with ten touchdowns passes to just two interceptions. In two of the four games in which Lewis did throw an interception, against Georgia State and Arkansas State, the Cajuns were really challenged. The last game Lewis threw a pick and was not challenged on the scoreboard, was against App State. It appears the Cajuns have been intentional in taking care of the football as the season wound down.

The Cajuns have done a good job spreading the ball among their offensive skill players all year long. In the matchup earlier this season, nine different Cajuns caught a pass, and four players received rushing attempts outside of Levi Lewis. On the year, eleven Cajuns caught ten or more passes and the leading receiver, Peter LeBlanc led the team with 33 catches for 350 yards. He was consistent for eleven of twelve games. Outside of the Georgia State game, where LeBlanc caught nine passes for 118 yards, he was held under 43 yards receiving in every other game. Freshman Kyren Lacy scored on a two-yard catch in the previous matchup against App, and was an end zone favorite. Despite just 21 receptions all season long, Lacy found the end zone five times on the year, and in each of the last three games to end the season. Similarly with the running backs, not one back has a majority of the carries. Chris Smith has 144 carries for 834 yards and Montrell Johnson has 135 carries for 776 yards. They have combined for nineteen touchdowns. In the last two games, Smith has 19 carries and Johnson has 16 attempts. That’s down from their season average. Those carries went to Emani Bailey, who was averaging roughly eight carries a game. Bailey had thirteen attempts in each of the last two games. Wisely the Cajuns have conserved their top two backs for this weekend while giving more work for their third back.

Familiarity in football is super important. It’s the reason why you see teams like BYU struggle with Georgia Southern a week ago. Same reason App State slowly killed off the Eagles last week. Eventually talent wins out. App and Southern know each other all too well. The game was never in doubt, just the final. In the end, App State let up a field goal, which broke their second half scoreless streak. Still, that is four games giving up just three second half points. A continuation of that trend would be quite welcome on Saturday. Thomas Hennigan, Malik Williams and Jalen Virgil were responsible for the touchdowns, all coming on big plays. Virgil going back-to-back on kickoff returns in consecutive years against Southern will become highlights we see for years to come. Yet, it’s the App State defense that has stolen the show for the last several weeks. The Mountaineers have allowed 240 yards rushing in the last four games combined. In October, the Mountaineers gave up a season-high 246 yards rushing to the Cajuns. It is clear that Louisiana wants to run, and App State needs to continue its recent dominance in defending the run.

There are two train of thoughts here. You either believe the first matchup mattered, or it did not. Mattered as in, that data can be used as a predictive indicator of future matchups. Or, it was an absolute fluke, or as some football types would say, just one of those days. App State had a lot of those days this year that were completely opposite of what happened that night. Louisiana, in turn had a couple games this year that resembled that night. But, that game was abnormal. Both teams have played half of a season since then. App State has looked good enough since that night to make me a believer. Both teams have had their offenses struggle at times, but have been carried by their defenses. The Cajuns seem to struggle offensively for longer periods of time. It might take the App State offense some time to wake up, but when they do, it comes in bunches. Despite that, over the course of the season, the Mountaineers scored 100 or more points in every quarter this season. App State scored 223 points this year in the second half. Their opponents scored 227 points all year. This is not an argument for most points scored in the other twelve games wins this weekend, but more to state that several weeks ago, the App offense never got it going. Those are just facts. Had the Mountaineers turnover margin been -2 in that game, it might have had a chance. Being down -4 in that category is undoable. Many statistical models over time have come to a consensus that winning the turnover battle is the easiest path to win a football game. A minus-four turnover margin in a single game sets your chance of winning any game at about 10%. Louisiana is a top five team nationally in turnover margin, but that has more to do with turning the ball over themselves just eight times all year. The Cajuns were +12 on the season in turnover margin, and one-third of those turnovers gained, happened in one game. What is the likelihood of another one-off game like that happening again? Smaller than you can imagine. App State has shown all year it can fight off a turnover or two in hole, depending on the opponent, but anything more than that on Saturday will be too much. We all want to see a game decided on the field between two elite defenses. The Mountaineers have found ways down the stretch to score anyway they need to, whether by special teams or defense. They’ll find their way to lifting another trophy soon after.

The First Pick

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 24

App State Football @ Arkansas State

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

Saturday, November 6th, 2021 2:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Centennial Bank Stadium

Capacity: 30,382

Surface: Geo Surfaces Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 74.71

Ark State: 52.90

Home: 2.10

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.71 points

Line: App State -21

Series: App State leads 3-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Pick

Huff but no Puff 14

Mountaineers 38