App State Football @ Georgia State

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

Saturday, October 2nd, 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

Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.98

Georgia State: 61.65

Home: 2.77

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.56 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last Meeting: App State 17, Georgia State 13, November 14, 2020, Boone, NC

In light of the recent trend that the coolest, most important event that just occurred being the most significant, we’ll say this: Last Thursday night, with Kidd Brewer Stadium covered in black and gold and sprinkled in kelly green, brought back so many emotions, it was hard to contain. It legitimately felt like a big time event. Seeing the Herd run out in all white, just like a quarter century ago, was icing. Seeing the trash talk commence early was exactly what that rivalry was all about years ago. It was special. Now we transition from a rivalry of decades ago, to a friendship that has lasted decades. With each game this friendly competition gets overplayed, overtyped and overanalyzed. The two head coaches just want their players to succeed. The internal battle of Shawn vs. Shawn will be reminisced about around campfires in the Blue Ridge mountains in due time. This weekend is all about getting conference play off on the right foot. In a super competitive eastern division, getting the first win, is the most important.

There is going to be a lot, and I mean a lot of, emphasis placed on Georgia State narrowly losing to Auburn. Talk like that is good to motivate players, and keep them from downplaying an inferior opponent. Georgia State did not suddenly figure it out last weekend. They capitalized on an Auburn team that had their feelings hurt the week before at Penn State. Also, an Auburn team that is working with a new head coach. The Panthers other three opponents were not working with new head coaches in 2021, and those games were ugly for more reasons than one. Army pummeled Georgia State 43-10, and outgained the Panthers 356-177. The next week was worse. North Carolina beat down the Panthers 59-17. The Heels more than doubled up Georgia State in total yards, 607-271. The following game, the Panthers took care of Charlotte by a score of 20-9. The 49ers and Panthers combined for 78 rushing attempts. The difference was that Georgia State was able to run against Charlotte, and stop the 49ers ground game. Georgia State outrushed Charlotte 298-118. After three games, the Panthers were averaging less than 16 points per game.

The Panthers bumrushed Auburn in the second quarter last week, scoring three touchdowns and leading 24-12 at the half. Auburn managed just four first half field goals. Georgia State put together a non-scoring 44-yard drive on their first possession of the second half, but then proceeded to go 3 downs and out on their next four possessions. Their next drive lasted five plays but only consumed twenty yards. Their final two possessions also only covered twenty yards. In all, the Panthers gained 85 second half yards, with over half coming on one drive. Zero points were scored. Auburn woke up, and finished them. Georgia State cannot afford to go scoreless in the second half and expect to beat any SEC school, much less the Sun Belt. At minimum, the Panthers needed to allow fewer possessions to Auburn just by grinding out a few more first downs in the second half, and that might have altered the final score. That is asking a lot from a team ranked 111th in first downs, averaging just 17.5 per game.

The ground game is there for Georgia State, but they are running well for one reason. They have be good at it. It’s just about their only option right now. Quarterbacks Cornelius “Quad” Brown IV, and Darren Grainger have combined to lead one of the worst passing attacks in the country. The Panthers enter this weekend ranked 119th in passing efficiency, 125th in passing yards per game, and 123rd in completion percentage. This is not an option team. You would expect teams like Navy and Georgia Southern to be down there. Brown showed promise last year, throwing for over 2200 yards with seventeen touchdown passes. He also averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. That figure is down to 4.3 yards per pass in 2021, and he has not played the last two weeks. Grainger has appeared in every game, but has started the last two, and his production shows the direction that the Panthers are going. Grainger has 34 rushing attempts for 111 yards the last two games. Add to that, he has dropped back to pass 36 times in those two games, and has been sacked five times.

There were a lot of things that happened in the win against Marshall. When the offense runs 92 plays, your result is a stat padding game. Usually those games are blowouts, and this was not. That Thursday night will be remembered for a long time. Perhaps the most memorable performance came from Nate Noel. After a first half that saw just 18 yards on three carries for Noel, he exploded in the second half. Noel ran for 65 yards in the third quarter, and 104 yards in the fourth quarter. But more than anything, we will remember what Noel did not do. He did not score a touchdown in the closing minutes. In that scenario, possession was more vital than points, as Noel secured a first down, and fell to the ground at the five yard line. That play allowed the Mountaineers to kill the clock and secure the win. Can you say enough about Corey Sutton? It’s possible. Sutton was targeted 17 times by Chase Brice, catching ten balls for 127 yards, while also adding another toe-tapping highlight reel catch for a touchdown. Lest we forget Thomas Hennigan, who also turned in a 123-yard performance on nine catches. And of course, we could not go on with mentioning a tough effort by Cam Peoples, carrying the ball 25 times for 78 yards in just two and a half quarters of playing time. Peoples punched in three touchdowns, and really set the table for Noel in the game’s final twenty minutes.

We all know the series record. Seven games played, and seven games won by App State. The closest games in this series were both played in Boone. In 2016, App State scored a late touchdown for the final margin in an otherwise uneventful 17-3 win. Last year, Jacob Huesman willed the Mountaineers down the field with a late fourth quarter score that gave App State its first lead, and eventually App State held on to win 17-13. That’s it. Those are the two closest games this series has had. Those also represent the fewest points (17) App has scored in the series. Otherwise, the Mountaineers have averaged 42.6 points per game in the five other contests. Additionally, there has not been a close game played in Atlanta, regardless of which former professional stadium or park it was played in. The Mountaineers have averaged 41.3 points across three games in Fulton County. All of this is the past. The 2020 game has no bearing on this Saturday, and neither does Georgia State’s close call with Auburn. This is a completely different game. Unimpressive football is unsustainable for continued success. That is exactly what Georgia State’s offense has shown this season. Listen, the Panthers are going to lean on the running game behind a very experienced offensive line, but until they develop a more consistent passing attack, they will struggle. A lot of the reasons why App State and Georgia State played so close last year are gone. One, obviously being Corey Sutton, and a less than healthy Thomas Hennigan. Those guys are now in peak form, and the App State offense has all the confidence in Chase Brice to get the ball to them. Despite playing three run oriented teams in Army, Charlotte, and Auburn, the Panthers rank just 117th in team passing efficiency defense nationwide. The Panther defense has registered zero interceptions, but have allowed 915 passing yards and eight touchdown passes. The fifteen yards per catch allowed is also eye-popping. The Mountaineers will not forget the way they played last year offensively, and you can expect a little more firepower than what you saw in 2020. I highly doubt Georgia State can score twenty points in this one, and the Mountaineers will score plenty more.

The First Pick

Blue Kittens 17

Mountaineers 34

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 vs Georgia State

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) @ Georgia State (2-8, 1-5 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 17th, 2018 2:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.52

Georgia State: 51.97

Home: 2.41

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 26 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -28.5

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 31, Georgia State 10,  November 25th, 2017, Atlanta, GA

WxCrum Forecast: Clear and sunny, warming to the lower 50’s and lows in the mid 30’s

The Mountaineers are back to looking like their old selves. The Mountaineers have their best quarterback at the helm. The Mountaineers are back…. in Kidd Brewer Stadium, hopefully for the next three weeks. The road map to a championship has been laid out. Win the next two games, host the inaugural Sun Belt conference championship game. Win the third game, and lift the Sun Belt conference trophy up over your heads on your field in front of your fans. If that does not get you fired up, nothing will. Before the confetti and hardware, App State must face Georgia State in the first leg of this college football fortnight. The Panthers have underwhelmed most of the season except for one game, when they blew out current Sun Belt West leader UL-Monroe. Besides that, Georgia State has been on the wrong end of a bunch of lopsided scores and at this point of the season, they have nothing to lose. The Mountaineers could have lost focus the last couple weeks, but held serve against weaker conference opponents on the road. The return of the Zac helped the Mountaineer offense look as complete as they have all season in their win at Texas State and they look to continue that trend for the fifth straight time against their friends from Atlanta. 

The Panthers are a super young team, and they got younger and younger as injuries mounted on their defense. They faced one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the league and many figured they would take a step back this season. They just didn’t think they would take that big of a step back. They snuck by Kennesaw State in their opener, but then lost three straight to NC State, Memphis and Western Michigan. The 46-14 win over UL-Monroe was easily the highlight of the season, but since, the Panthers have dropped five more games in a row. Georgia State is 0-5 on the road this season, and have lost every one of those games by fourteen or more points. 

It might be the Black Saturday game for App State, but the Panther head coach Shawn Elliott might feel like it will be homecoming. The second year skipper will be making his first trip back to Boone as coach on the opposing sideline. The former Appalachian player and coach might feel different on the east side of the stadium, but every other part of gameday might feel eerily familiar. Elliott said on the Sun Belt teleconference that his team would need to prepare, have really good mental focus, and to play four quarters in order to compete on Saturday. Elliott might have a better feel about App State than any other coach in the conference because you just know he is chomping at the bit to get a chance to beat his former roommate on the football field. 

Panther starting quarterback Dan Ellington is expected to be back this week after sitting out last week’s game against Louisiana due to a concussion. The junior transfer from Itawamba CC was a NJCCA second team all-american in his final season at the junior college level. In his first year starting at Georgia State, he leads the team not only in passing, but is also second in rushing yards. He actually led the team in rushing going into the Louisiana game in which he did not play, before he was taken over by running back Tra Barnett, who is on a tear of late. Barnett has 42 carries for 328 yards on the ground in his last three games. 

The Georgia State defense typically has eleven players on the field when they lineup, but they do not play well together. The Panthers are being outscored by 11.3 points per game, which only trails South Alabama in the conference. In terms of yards allowed, the Panthers are dead last, by over 37 yards. The are giving up 7.7 yards per play. They are dead last in rushing defense, getting gashed for 6.6 yards per carry and over 250 yards per game. 

With Zac Thomas back at the helm, the Mountaineers produced another workmanlike performance against Texas State. Thomas completed twenty-five passes, his most since Penn State, on thirty-six drop backs, also his most since Penn State. His eleven rushing attempts were also the most since Penn State, and somewhat unexpected for someone playing in the first game back from a concussion. But his runs were mostly smart, as he skipped out of harms ways on a high majority of his attempts. Thomas has combined for nineteen touchdowns on the season and tacked on two more to his total last weekend. Besides Thomas’ 76 rushing yards, a 79-yard touchdown sprint by Darrynton Evans, and Camerun Peoples running for 42 late fourth quarter yards, the rushing attack was actually held in check for most of the day. Jalen Virgil exploded for five catches and fifty-one yards against Texas State. Virgil had just seven catches for the season coming into the game. 

Last week, I mentioned my unfamiliarity with Texas State compared to other conference schools. This week’s opponent is on the other end of the spectrum. When scouting the upcoming Mountaineer foe each week, I always tend to watch their game against Georgia State. For some reason I am drawn to them. I’ve seen a lot of them this year. They were pretty bad early on, got a little worse, but have rebounded recently on offense. That still does not take away from the fact that they have given up at least 34 points in every loss this season. In the last five games they have surrendered 201 points, just a tick over 40 points in each game. The Mountaineers have allowed 142 points, all season long. It’s not difficult to see, that this matchup has ugly written all over it. One key statistic that might be worth keeping an eye on is penalty yardage. The Panthers are the least penalized team in the conference while officials throw fewer flags on Mountaineer opponents than any team. That might lead to a couple drives being extended by Georgia State, but after a bad week in the special teams game by App State, I would expect the Panthers to have to drive long distances to score. Let’s also keep in mind that over the course of this series, Georgia State has scored one touchdown and sixteen total points in four games. As much as a late meaningless Panther score wouldn’t surprise me, I do not see the Mountaineers letting their guard down too much. 

 

The First Pick

Blue Kitties 14

Mountaineers 42

Appalachian Football @ Georgia State

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

Saturday, November 25th, 2017 2pm est

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Georgia State Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 62.72

Ga State: 55.16

Home: 2.31

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 5.25 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -7

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 17, Ga State 3, October 1st, 2016

Back in late August, on the opening Thursday night of the college football season, Georgia State lost their season and stadium opener to FCS Tennessee State 17-10. At that point in time, just about everyone had written off the Panthers. It seems nothing had really changed in previous seasons, but it was also the head coaching debut of one Shawn Elliott. That night has not defined the Georgia State season. It was likely exactly what they needed. They knew they had to get to work. Since, they have won every winnable game, and lost each one in which they were decided underdogs. Penn State and Troy are heavy hitters, and the Panthers were outscored 90-10 in those two games. The tilt with Appalachian was seemingly the toughest part of the schedule remaining. This season is already a success for Georgia State, getting to six wins and becoming bowl eligible, perhaps ahead of schedule. But suddenly, they have tripped into a dream scenario. They control their own destiny for a piece of the conference title and play their final two games in their home venue. Oddly, this will just be the Panthers fourth game at home this season, and are only 1-2 in the previous three games. Their tilt with Memphis was cancelled due to the fallout of Hurricane Irma. For Georgia State, a lot of things surrounding football have been new this season, and now they find themselves in another new spot; competing against a team that has had their number for the chance to play for their first conference trophy.

Georgia State did a little more than stumble into this situation. We should give them a little more credit than that. They do have a win in Monroe that App could not match. Otherwise, both App and State share wins over all other common opponents in Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina and Texas State. Neither of those schools have had good seasons to say the least, with Coastal and Southern picking up their first conference wins last weekend. The Panthers have just one comfortable conference win, beating Monroe by ten points, as the remaining games were decided by just one possession. The same can be said for App this season. Way too many close games, not enough domination, and a whole of newness in some critical places.

When glancing at Georgia State, not a lot jumps off the paper. They are an above average passing offense, below average on the ground, and their defense plays good, and not great or spectacular. Their punting is bad, and they lose just about all of their fumbles. They have missed over half of the field goals they have attempted and have a hard time converting red zone chances for touchdowns. Yet, you do not become 6-3 by accident. Sure, there is some bad football in the Sun Belt this season, and neither Georgia State or Appalachian has been immune to the lackluster play.

Georgia State does have a couple tells when it comes to them playing well. This statistic does not mean everything, but it does mean something. Sophomore wide receiver Penny Hart is an all-Sun Belt caliber receiver, and he is a big reason why the Panthers are in the position they are in. However, they need him to be on, and involved from the start. The Panthers are 6-0 when Hart hits at least 85 yards receiving and averages over ten yards per catch. Conversely, Georgia State is 0-3 when Hart has fewer than 56 yards in a game and averages less than ten yards per reception. Containing Hart is a big key for Appalachian. The Mountaineers have contained Hart so far in his career, holding him to a 3/13 line last year, and 5/47 line in 2015. Hart played in just a few games in 2016 and redshirted after an injury.

Panther signal caller Connor Manning has had an improved season over 2016, where he threw thirteen interceptions to just sixteen touchdown passes. His accuracy has improved by nearly ten percentage points from one season to the next, which has helped his yards per attempt average by nearly a whole yard. Despite only throwing six interceptions this season, four of those came in the losses to Troy and Penn State. The Panthers have won every game in which Manning has more touchdown passes than interceptions, and threw just one TD pass combined in the three losses. Last season Manning threw a touchdown pass in every game except one, against Appalachian State, where he was picked off four times.

The win over Georgia Southern feels like decades ago, although it was nice to get some time off for team that severely needs to heal some wounds. The game against the Eagles was not remarkable by any stretch. It was pretty basic, and workmanlike. The Apps got the job done, sending Georgia Southern back down the mountain for the fifth time in a row with a loss. The game was not really decided until the fourth quarter, but the Eagles never really threatened, managing just a pair of field goals. Marcus Williams Jr. rumbled for 130 yards on twenty-eight carries. The freshman is up to 395 yards on the season, with all but 52 of those yards coming in the last four weeks.

What we have is two teams that are even in the standings, but have had two completely different seasons. They have both had some close games, but the expectation of each program and their respective win-loss records could not be further apart. Georgia State is in the midst of their first season finishing with a winning record. They are not there yet, and they didn’t quite get there in 2015 either. For Appalachian, we all know that 6-4 is below the expectations set for this season, but once again, there is still plenty to play for. We have not seen the Mountaineers on the field since November 9th, two days prior to when South Alabama did their part in beating Arkansas State and opening the door for others to claim a share of a conference title. This is different than in 2016, when an Arkansas State loss opened the door for the Mountaineers before their game at New Mexico State. This time around, the Mountaineers have had time to let that scenario simmer. Georgia State was also on bye last weekend, but this team has never been there. That coaching staff and that team have never prepared for a game that has so much up for grabs. How will they handle that moment is yet to be seen. What we do have for Appalachian is a team that has been there before. It has played in big games, with an occasional loss, but mostly wins over the last two-plus seasons. That experience is invaluable. What App cannot do is play from behind like they have in every road game this season. A quick start is a must, and possession for both teams is critical. Georgia State will not wow you with their running game, but they know it is necessary to attempt to run. The threat must be there, or else the App defense will begin teeing off. A turnover in the second half will turn the tide in this game, and I think its the App defense that is due for a score.

The First Pick

Still Southern’s Daddy 17

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football vs Georgia State

Here we go with Week 5

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

Saturday, Octber 1st, 2016 Noon EST

TV/Video: American Sports Network/ ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 68.19

Georgia State: 55.63

Home: 2.40

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 15 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -19

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 37, Georgia State 3, October 10th, 2015, Atlanta

       That sweet taste of victory is comforting and normal. The first month of the season ended on hard earned high note. Appalachian flexed its Group of Five muscle for its fifth straight win over a peer school, and second over the MAC in disposing of Akron in a high scoring affair. The concerns of an unhealthy Mountaineer offense were cured by an Akron defense that hasn’t had an answer for any of their opponents this season. App rang up 587 total yards, making it the third straight game where the Zips had given up more than 550 yards in a game. No Marcus Cox? No problem. Jalin Moore steps in and totes the ball close to forty times for 257 yards. The App State train is rolling again and it doesn’t matter who is on board. The focus now turns to the Sun Belt schedule, where the sights are firmly set on a championship. Georgia State gets their first crack at Black Saturday, and another chance to erase the zero from the win column. Not only are the Panthers sporting an 0-2 record against the Mountaineers in their short rivalry, but Georgia State is looking for their first win of the 2016 season. The odds are long that it happens this weekend, and the sledding doesn’t get any easier for the remainder of the season for the Panthers, who have had a week off since their last game. 

          The Georgia State Panthers were really hoping their program was turning a corner at the end of 2015, as they won their final four games to become bowl eligible and represented the Sun Belt in the Cure Bowl. More unlikely, was that the Panthers knocked off Georgia Southern in the final weekend of the regular season to get their sixth win. However, since that four game winning streak, Georgia State has put together another four game streak, all losses, including their bowl loss. In those four games, the Panthers have only eclipsed twenty points on one occasion, in their opener this season against Ball State. In that game, GSU led off the game with an interception return for a touchdown, but couldn’t hold on despite taking the early lead. 

          A lot has been made about the loss the Panthers suffered to Wisconsin in Camp Randall. Blindly comparing the 44 point loss that Akron suffered to the Badgers, and the narrow six point margin that Wisconsin edged Georgia State by is doing the game of football a complete injustice. Between the two teams, there were only 21 possessions in the entire game. Wisconsin ran 43 plays in the first half, yet only could manage two field goals. The Panthers ran 27 plays, punted twice, fumbled, and missed a field goal. Wisconsin was running basic plays, and kept Georgia State close enough to keep it interesting late. Akron played a terrible game against Wisconsin, trailing 16-0 before their third possession and never had any momentum. 

          Part of the Georgia State struggles can be attributed to their quarterback play. It has not been easy replacing Nick Arbuckle in Atlanta, but Utah transfer Conner Manning is doing his best. His results this season have been a little bit of a mixed bag. Remove the lopsided loss at Air Force, and Manning is completing well over 65% of his passes. He has gone eleven straight quarters without throwing an interception and threw for 269 yards against Wisconsin. His arm isn’t overpowering, but he knows what he can and can’t do. In 2015, with Arbuckle, the Panthers averaged 8.8 yards per pass, but that number has fallen to 6.2 yards per attempt this season with Manning. 

          The injury to Marcus Cox suddenly became an afterthought after what Jalin Moore was able to do to Akron. The luxury of having a loaded stable of running backs certainly bodes well for Cox, who can likely take his time getting back to near full health. After this weekend, Appalachian will have eleven days before a road trip to Lafayette, and another ten days before hosting Idaho. After what Cox did to the Panthers in 2014 in Boone, GSU focused on Cox in 2015, limiting him to only 81 yards on nineteen carries. A two-headed attack against Georgia State on Saturday might be more successful with Moore and Darryton Evans carrying the load against a defense that is giving up 325 yards per game on the ground. Ball State had 58 yards rushing at half against Georgia State before the Fightin’ Cardinals buried the Panthers for 267 yards on the ground in the second half. 

          Perhaps we can give Georgia State a slight benefit of the doubt for all the chunks of yardage they allowed on the ground this season. Ball State figured it out, while Air Force and Wisconsin just ran their offense as they saw fit. Trent Miles has had two weeks to think about Appalachian and to figure out a way to get his Panthers to be better on defense. It gets to a point for Georgia State, and other Sun Belt programs for that matter, they might try anything to get a win over Appalachian. Miles is in his fourth season and has won just seven games in that span. It’s not all doom and gloom for Georgia State, as they have two decent receivers who will help Conner Manning, in Penny Hart and Robert Davis. Manning and Georgia State need to get more vertical in the passing game, as that is where Mountaineer opponents have found some success. Manning has only been sacked four times this season, but has been hurried quite often. Manning will stand in the pocket and take the pressure, but it exposes him to many hits, and his passes are way off target. Georgia State needs to find some type of running game this season. They have been abysmal with only 137 yards on the year, only averaging 2.2 yards per carry. Last week we mentioned Akron’s time of possession being second to last in the country. Well, guess who is dead last? You guessed it. Georgia State. Football is easy. If you can run and stop the run on defense, you have a good chance, but the Panthers can’t do either this season, and that won’t help them win a game in Boone. 

    
The First Pick

Southern’s Daddy  13

Mountaineers 37

Georgia State @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 8

Georgia State (1-7, 0-5, Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 1st, 3:30pm EST

TV/LIve Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 54.20

Ga State: 45.37

Home: 3.28

AppState is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 12 points

Sportsbook: AppState 10.5, O/U 70.5

Series: first meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

After another extremely long second bye week, Appalachian Football will start its season for the third time this Saturday. In all seriousness, the double bye is odd. Had this bye come after a loss we would likely have all wished the season be over. But this bye came after Appalachian’s first FBS win as an FBS program. Finally, we have most of the “firsts” out of the way. The only one left to accomplish is the first home win over an FBS program. Enter Georgia State, the startup program who might still be searching for their first quality win in program history. An overtime win over South Alabama in 2011 might be their crowning achievement, when they were still considered an FCS program. The Panthers are still a win short of dozen in their programs history, in which over half of those wins came in their inaugural season in 2010 with a schedule that featured only a handful of Division I games. However, Georgia State is one year ahead of Appalachian in their FBS infancy. Georgia State would be bowl eligible this season in only their second year in the Sun Belt if they would have qualified, but that ship sailed past them last weekend with their in state rivals Georgia Southern captaining the vessel. It has not been an easy time for Georgia State on or off the field. It takes time to build a program from scratch. Eleven wins in four and half seasons is part of it. The other part is the lack of fan support and facilities to call their own. And that is why they decided to hire Appalachian’s former athletic director, with his “experience” in building an FBS program. Appalachian’s pieces to the FBS puzzle were there, just needing to be placed accordingly, while Georgia State is still looking for all the pieces.

It would be entirely too easy to poke fun at Georgia State for an entire article, so we’ll stop shortly. Is it getting old? Of course. But there is one story you might not have heard about it. Living in the world of twitter, you would have discovered that a large group of Ga. State and Ga. Southern students never made it out of the parking lot last weekend to make it inside the Georgia Dome to watch their rivalry football game. Playing football indoors probably is big reason. Last weekend, the weather was perfect for football, but not indoor football. Getting an outdoor stadium will go a long way to building a gameday atmosphere for Ga. State.

Besides being a startup program that continues to build in many ways, Georgia State has been able to assemble a decent offense down in Atlanta. Quarterback Nick Arbuckle is All-Sun Belt caliber player. His 309 passing yards per game leads the conference by 40 yards per game and his sixteen touchdown passes are also tops in the conference. He is the leader of the Panther offense that can easily light up the scoreboard, but the issue with Ga. State this year and every year has been their defense.

Many of you may have watched the State/Southern game last weekend. It was a perfect chance to gauge the Panthers and Eagles to compare where Appalachian stands. It was evident from the start, that the Panthers had no answer to the option attack from the Eagles. Southern ran all over the Panthers to the tune of 613 yards. It was a complete team effort by Southern, not just a dominating performance by one player. The State defense is undersized and probably too young to truly defend an option offense. In their 3-4 formation, all of the Panther starting lineman are sophomores and their nose guard comes in at 285 pounds. Even one of the Panthers’ safeties was mentioned as being benched this weekend after his poor play against Southern.

Nearly a couple weeks ago, Appalachian ran for 441 yards against Troy, technically a better run defense than Ga. State from a pure numbers standpoint. But, both defenses have been run on fairly easily, both giving up close to six yards per carry and both over 240 yards allowed rushing yards on the season. The Panthers also have allowed 24 rushing touchdowns on the season, which is second worst in the league. Their red zone defense is second worst, only to Troy and the Panthers have also given up the most red zone touchdowns in the Sun Belt. On top of the worst turnover margin in the league, the Panthers also give up more first downs, third down conversions and points than any team in the conference. Its bad football at its absolute best.

Generally, getting a bye after a get-the-monkey-off-your-back win would seem to be poor timing. With Appalachian scoring 101 combined points in the prior two games, the preference would be to continue playing rather than sit for a week. However, in this case, I believe the timing worked out for the Mountaineers. Instead of getting to high, the Apps have had some time to reflect and focus on the next task at hand.

Appalachian’s win over Troy came in a truly dominating performance. Four players rushed for over 80 yards, led by Marcus Cox who had 123 yards and three touchdowns. Ricky Fergerson had a 68-yard run that catapulted him to his first career 100-yard performance. Taylor Lamb scampered for ninety-eight yards and Terrance Upshaw added eighty-two yards. All four averaged 7.5 yards per carry or more. For the season Cox now has 569 yards rushing and is just a few yards off pace for another 1,000 yard season. If Cox were to eclipse that mark, it would more impressive than last year, when he had the majority of the carries, compared to this season where he has rushed on just 37% of the Mountaineers running plays.

Without question, Georgia State is going to put up some points. Their offense is relentless. Nick Arbuckle attempts 37.5 passes per game at a 61% completion rate. He spreads the ball pretty evenly to his top four receivers, who have caught 137 passes on the season combined. Donavan Harden is leader of the bunch, with 45 catches for 707 yards and seven touchdowns, which are all team highs. The Panthers do not have much success on the ground, and that is putting it nicely. As a team, they have only managed 3.1 yards per carry, which is abysmal at the collegiate level. Appalachian was able to shut down the Troy rushing attack and limit the Trojans to only 79 yards on the ground after Troy had a season high on the ground against New Mexico State the previous week. The Appalachian defense attacked the ball against Troy as well, coming up with two aggressive interceptions from Latrell Gibbs and returning one fumble for a touchdown. The Mountaineers have been very successful this season turning opponents turnovers into 104 points. Of the 53 points scored against Troy, twenty-eight came off the Trojans miscues. Georgia State has committed 18 turnovers of their own this season and have allowed 105 points off of those turnovers. If that trend continues, the Mountaineers may very well be on their way to their third victory of the season as long as they can avoid their own mistakes.

The First Pick:

UNCC-Atlanta 31

Mountaineers 42