Appalachian State (2-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs. North Carolina (2-1, 1-0 ACC)
Saturday, September 21st, 2019 3:30pm
TV/Video: Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM
Kenan Memorial Stadium
Surface: RootZone 3D Blend AstroTurf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 70.40
North Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.67 points
Line: North Carolina -3
Series: North Carolina leads 1-0
Last meeting: UNC 56, Appalachian 6; September 21, 1940, Chapel Hill, NC
WxCrum Forecast: Sunny with temps in the low to mid-80’s
So, we have a big football game on our hands? Is that what people are telling me? Last I checked, it’s still September. Hard to have a big game this early in the season. Important games are usually slated for December, or late October against some school from south Georgia. Rings and trophies are absent for this matchup. Oh, bragging rights, you say? We got bragging rights. It’s nothing but a few spoken words, but words that some have been waiting to utter their entire lives. Finally, the Mountaineers have a chance to pound their chests while both squads are on somewhat of an equal playing field. Even when App State played Wake in 2017, the scholarship count might have been equal, but a few of those men in black were FCS recruits. And for many of those who were not FCS recruits, they were still quite young. In early 2017, the FBS transition for App State was still in its infancy. Fast forward two years, and now the Apps have a full FBS cupboard. Athletic budgets aside, this is as equal a footing as App State has had against any of the Tobacco Four on the gridiron. Counting Duke, but probably should not. So yeah, this is finally about bragging rights. It certainly helps boost the confidence of App fans that we have had success at this level. It helps that we have that culture, and that expectation to win. It helps that we really really, want to beat the ever-living you know what out of those Heels, even if it isn’t at their signature sport. So, Mountaineer fans will load up the tailgate wagons and drive themselves to the destination of the next battle. They will give their ALL, and if it does not work out in their favor, they’ll try again the following week.
The Tar Heels have played three games this season, but arguably, they have only played three quarters of football. Of the seventy points the Heels have scored this season, thirty-eight of them have been scored in the final frame. That’s roughly 54% of their points scored in 25% of game action. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize that the other 46% of Carolina’s points occurred in 75% of play. Choose your narrative. The Heels can hang around long enough in games, stay within striking distance until they kick the offense into high gear late. Luckily for the Heels, they have been able to keep opponents under 30 points in all their games. Wake jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and held on for dear life, winning 24-18. Eventually a team will run away from them. But, they do have the ability to come back, and strike quickly. On their two touchdown drives against Wake, the Heels went a combined 160 yards on 11 plays in just 4:38 of game time. Similar situation against South Carolina. Two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, 14 plays, 193 yards, 5:37 of clock used. That’s getting it done.
All the talk in Chapel Hill this football season has been about Mack Brown, the former App State head coach from way back in 1983. Stop reading this if that is the first time you are hearing about this news. The rest of talk has been about freshman QB Sam Howell, the Sun Valley product who spurned Florida State late in recruiting. It’s early in his career, but he’s played well in spots, and has looked really bad in others. Howell has not taken every snap, but most of them. Howell has 701 yards and 6 touchdowns in three games. He has not thrown an interception, but he has been sacked twelve times. That’s a lot even if he had taken every snap. Overall, the Carolina quarterbacks have been sacked thirteen times on the season, which is 125th out of 130 teams in the country. App State head coach Eli Drinkwitz described Howell as a player who believes in his abilities and has a big, talented arm. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t look at the stat sheets and assume Howell doesn’t like to tuck and run. His sack yardage factors into his rushing totals. Take those out, and he has 20 carries for 62 yards.
North Carolina’s running back room is a mystery. You have two guys with somewhat identical statistics. They have combined for 77 carries and 440 yards between them, but just one rushing touchdown. All together, the entire rushing attack is just 79th in the country, at just under 160 yards a game, and 3.83 yards per carry. However, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have pretty much split carries in the first three games. In the first two games it was mostly Williams who looked like the better back. He had 28 carries for 178 yards against South Carolina and Miami. Then suddenly, against Wake, he was held to just 27 yards on nine carries. His fumble in the first quarter that set up a Deacon touchdown might have had something to do with his poor performance. Michael Carter received 16 carries against South Carolina, eleven against Miami, and then thirteen against Wake. Williams role kinda plunged, while Carter’s stayed consistent. Carter had 96 yards against Wake on thirteen carries, but fifty of those yards came on one play. Take that away and he had a 3.83 yard per carry average for the game, which is oddly the same average as Carolina’s season total.
We have finally reached that part of the career of Darrynton Evans. We are just past the midway point of his eligibility, yet he already holds a school record with three kickoff returns for a touchdown, a mark formerly held by Jimmy Watkins. We have only seen eight kickoff returns for touchdown in App State history since 1966. Evans has three of them, one in each full season he has played. He also currently holds the career kickoff return average record, which currently sits at 26.5 yards per return. That is an entire yard higher than Charles Fowler, who sits in second place. This is mentioned for one reason. Evans is special. We have seen phenomenal play makers at App State over the years, but Evans could be the best. Aside from kickoff returns, in Evans’ last eight games, he has 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Looking for bright spots outside Evans’ game against Charlotte is somewhat tough. It’s been a long time since App State has played that poorly in a second half, and still managed to pull out a win. The warning shot was fired. The Mountaineers have given up five passing touchdowns in 2019, compared to only eight last season. Opponents yards per attempt is also up by nearly 2.2 yards per attempt. Defending third downs is easier when the offense you are facing has further to go. App State is just 70th in third down defense in 2019, allowing a .370 conversion rate, compared to just .317 a year ago. North Carolina is struggling mightily on third downs, and that has to be something App State takes advantage of on Saturday. Part of why Wake was able to win last week, is that the Heels had two first downs and were 0-8 on third down conversions in the first half.
Let’s try and remove the colors and letters from the jerseys for a moment. This game appears to be pretty even on paper. If anything sets these two teams apart, its experience. Appalachian clearly has the upper hand in that department. But is that experience occasionally a detriment? Are the Mountaineers too set in their old ways, or is this random sputtering on both sides of the ball a real concern. Mind you, this is the second straight game, where both teams have mostly a new coaching staff. Eventually the newness is no longer an excuse, because we are at the quarter pole of the season. There have been nearly as many practices in September, as there were in August, as there were in the spring. It’s time for both teams to step up if they want their seasons to extend past twelve games. Per usual, all the pressure is on the home team, North Carolina. They are supposed to win, right? The Heels have more resources at their disposal. It’s just a tuneup game. The Tar Heels have still yet to score thirty points in a game, despite their abundance of chunk plays with their offense. The problem is the red zone. Now, you can look up that Carolina has scored on every possession they have had in the red zone, and then also notice, they have only made 11 trips in three games, good enough for 109th in the country. You also notice they have scored just five touchdowns in those situations. The Tar Heels are tied for 3rd in the country in red zone field goals. That’s not a statistic you want to be good at. Sure, points are great, but most days, 6 > 3. You know what’s coming, It’s App red zone statistics. The Mountaineers have scored touchdowns on nine of ten red zone chances. Appalachian is one of three teams in the country(Baylor, Navy), yet to kick a red zone field goal. On one hand you have team that kicks a ton of field goals, and the other that has not kicked any. It’s not the deciding factor in football games, but it is a major situational variable in who has a better chance to win. Another key, turnovers. Again, I believe both these teams are pretty even, so something has to give eventually. North Carolina sits at +.33 on the season in margin, while App State is +1.50. The winner of this game likely also wins that pesky turnover battle, and I’ll take the more experienced offense that has played together over a patchwork offensive line with a true freshman quarterback.
The First Pick