Here we go with week 12
Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ South Alabama (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt)
Saturday, December 5th, 7:30 EST
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 100.7 Bristol
Surface: Field Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 71.62
South Alabama: 50.81
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -18
Series: South Alabama leads 1-0
Last meeting: South Alabama 47, App State 21, October 4th, 2014, Boone, NC
Nearly fourteen months ago, South Alabama marched right into Kidd Brewer Stadium and politely welcomed Appalachian to the Sun Belt with a lopsided loss. The game was the second for Appalachian in the Sun Belt era, as the Mountaineers had faced Georgia Southern the week before, but it was the first real taste of competition from the new conference. Since that loss, and starting 0-2 in Sun Belt play in 2014, the Mountaineers have won twelve of their next thirteen conference clashes. That game last season may not represent the current state of either Appalachian or South Alabama, but that is not lost on the coaching staff of the Mountaineers. They remember what it felt like to get manhandled at home in their true Sun Belt opener. That’s not to say that the Mountaineers are looking for revenge, but the ultimate focus on getting that tenth win in the regular season is a major motivating factor. Knowing that a bowl game is on the horizon also is not enough to distract a team that is extremely hungry to finish this season off the right way.
South Alabama has had plenty of chances this season to become bowl eligible. They have thrown away numerous opportunities to get that elusive sixth win but have not been able to seal the deal. The last thing they wanted to do was get to the last two games of the regular season, facing Georgia Southern and Appalachian needing to get a victory. With each puzzling loss this season, the Jaguars have captured wins that are complete head scratchers. In October, South Alabama allowed Arkansas State to score 29 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a loss. The following week, the Jaguars fell victim to a massive downpour in San Marcos and were doubled up by Texas State, who now sits at 3-8. The next week, South Alabama overcame a seventeen point halftime deficit to Idaho, and scored 45 points in the second half and won. Following that win, the Jaguars rolled up 495 yards on Louisiana to keep their bowl hopes alive. Since then, South Alabama’s offense has mustered two touchdowns in their last two games.
Inconsistency has been the Jaguars problem all year. They are as good as beating bowl bound San Diego State and bad as losing to Texas State. The Jaguars can put up 84 combined points in consecutive home games and then score 27 points in the next two road games. The most important goal for Appalachian is to keep South Alabama from getting comfortable and to play for a full sixty minutes. The Jaguars get out of their offense quickly when they fall behind and typically abandon the running game, which is the strongest part of their offense.
South Alabama did without Cody Clements for the majority of the second half in their 55-17 loss to Georgia Southern last weekend. Clements suffered a shoulder injury early in the third quarter, but seems to have recovered from whatever ails him. It was reported that Clements practiced more than expected on Tuesday, and was upgraded to probable for Saturday’s game. Clements does not wow you with his statistics, but is a true gamer, doing whatever he needs to help his team. He is known to pull the ball down if he cannot find an open receiver and salavage the play with his legs versus throwing the ball away. Clements has only completed 52% of his passes on the season with 13 touchdown passes. Clements has managed just three touchdown passes in the last five games, and has eclipsed two hundred passing just once in the last five games.
Sophomore running back Xavier Johnson is a dynamic player for South who has the potential to break a long run whenever he touches the ball. The problem is he doesn’t get the ball enough. His 11.5 carries leads the team, but he needs more. The Jaguars are 3-0 when Johnson gets 19 or more carries and 4-0 when he rushes for over 100 yards. Johnson averages 8.0 yards per tote at home and has 844 yards on the season.
Appalachian was able to overcome two turnovers to methodically dispatch Louisiana 28-7. Despite those turnovers, the defense was able to keep Louisiana off the scoreboard until the last minute of the fourth quarter when the game was well in doubt. Appalachian was just 57 seconds away from their third shutout this season. In an an expected move, Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox shared the load in the backfield. Although Cox still managed 22 carries for 78 yards, it was Moore whose change of pace broke open a game that was still in doubt in the third quarter with a 54-yard touchdown run. Moore finished with a game high 104 yards on just 13 carries.
The task has been quite simple for South Alabama in the last few weeks. Win one of your last three games and you’ll play in a bowl game. But here they are, still looking for one last win. They’ll have nobody to blame but themselves. Enter Appalachian whose only losses this season are to potential conference champions. One could argue that Appalachian has won every game they were supposed to, or highly favored in. Too often this season, South Alabama gets lost on the field and plays the scoreboard way too much. The Jaguars like to throw the ball deep, but have not connected enough. Last week against Georgia Southern, it looked like the first few plays were scripted, and then they got away from what was working. If Cody Clements can stay upright and find their big tight end Gerald Everett, the Jaguars can stay in this game. Their problem is the inability to protect the passer, as evidenced by their 28 sacks allowed. Everett leads the team with 37 catches, but has only 14 catches in his last six games. If the Mountaineers decide to turn up the pressure, like they did against Louisiana, this could be a long game for the Jaguars. Appalachian should get their tenth win in similar fashion to last weekend.
The First Pick:
Spotted Cats 13