Here we go with Week 11
Appalachian State (5-5, 4-2 Sun Belt) @ Louisiana Lafayette (7-3, 6-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 22nd, 5:00pm 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
Surface: Pro Grass Synthetic
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 57.23
Lafayette is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 12 points
Sportsbook: Lafayette -10, O/U 63
Series: first meeting
Last Meeting: n/a
Validation. If beating Monroe was not enough to put the Sun Belt on notice, Appalachian’s win over Arkansas State last weekend made it official. Appalachian is getting back to its winning ways on the gridiron. In a truly dominating performance, the Mountaineers waltzed into Jonesboro and put a hurting on the defending three time Sun Belt champions. Like the week before against Monroe, Appalachian shook off a two touchdown deficit in the first half. This week the Mountaineers faced that gap twice in the games first thirty minutes. Appalachian scored on five straight possessions over a span that covered the second and third quarters, scoring thirty one points while they held the Red Wolves scoreless. Arkansas State would score twice late but the damage had been done. The Mountaineers had taken down the champs and had given them a loss that would keep them from contending for the Sun Belt title for the fourth straight year. The Mountaineers were left for dead after a dreadful overtime defeat on homecoming weekend. The team that lost that day hardly resembles the group that pummeled Arkansas State. Lafayette is a different animal and the Mountaineers will have to answer the bell again on the road in a tough environment. The test just got tougher.
If the Sun Belt had to choose the team football program in the conference that carries the banner, so to speak, it would likely be Lafayette. The Cajuns have been in the Sun Belt since 2001 and even though they struggled in their first ten season in the conference, the last three have all commenced with a 9-4 record and an appearance in the New Orleans Bowl. Lafayette has twice shared Sun Belt titles, in 2005 and 2013 and were hoping this was their year, with a senior-laden roster, to capture the title outright. In the preseason coaches poll, Lafayette was the unanimous choice to capture the championship. But as the season has wound down, the Cajuns find themselves once again hoping for a share of the title. Appalachian and Lafayette have shared four common opponents to this point in the season but neither of those matchups have taken place on the same field. Monroe is obviously undefeated in those four like games, while Appalachian is 3-1 against the same opponents.
If you are a crazy college football fan, you are familiar with the Cajuns and some parts of their roster. The New Orleans Bowl usually falls at a time during December when it literally is the only game being televised. More than likely you have heard of Terrance Broadway, the Cajun signal caller. Broadway started his college career at Houston before transferring. He was forced into the starting lineup as a sophomore. He started all but one game as a junior due to a broken arm. Broadway is considered a dual threat, but has had some mixed some results when he runs the ball. Depending on game flow, Broadway has run anywhere from five to nineteen times a game this season. He runs a little bit more at home than on the road this season, but at the time same time, his carries have increased in the last couple weeks, but his effectiveness peaked last month. Only four times this season has Broadway eclipsed 200 yards passing and his passing numbers have fallen noticeably over his career at Lafayette. His completion percentage has fallen about three points each year since 2012 and is on pace to throw for fewer yards than he did in 2013, which was also a decline from 2012. His average yards per pass has fallen over two yards and his touchdown/interception ratio has also declined with each passing season.
Pick your poison, or pepper in the Cajun backfield with Elijah McGuire and and Alonzo Harris. Both pose massive problems for any defensive front. McGuire is the comparatively smaller back at 5’11” and a boudin ball short of 200 pounds. McGuire has 960 yards on 127 carries on the year with eleven touchdowns. That counts for a robust 7.6 yards per carry. Harris tips the scales at 240 pounds and stands 6’1″. Harris and McGuire have split carries for the season pretty evenly, but Harris has not had the success of McGuire until last weekend. Harris had 133 yards last weekend against Monroe after sitting the previous week.
The real story of the game may come down to how Appalachian plans to attack Lafayette offensively. The Cajuns have one of the worst pass defenses in the conference, giving up 284 yards in the air a game. Monroe quarterback Pete Thomas had a field day with the Cajun secondary. Thomas threw for 472 yards and two touchdowns, completing 70% of his passes. Conversely, the Cajuns shut down the Monroe running game. The Warhawks are not known for rushing the football, but -39 yards rushing for the game is a statement by Lafayette, who sports the Sun Belt’s top rushing defense at only 140 yards allowed per game.
There are several reasons Appalachian has been successful in the last four games. Taking care of the football has been paramount. Although losing a fumble in the end zone last weekend, the Mountaineers have done a good job of limiting those mistakes. Taylor Lamb has only thrown one interception in the last four games compared to five touchdown passes. The offensive line has protected him and the running game has given him clean pockets which have led to Lamb completing over 60% of his passes in three straight games.
Mentioning Marcus Cox every week may come across as being a little lazy, but he continues to do something special every weekend. His current tear in the last four games is astounding: 106 carries, 696 yards, 9 touchdowns. His forty carries last weekend was the third most ever by an Appalachian running back in a game. Cox eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in his young career and will likely exceed his rushing total from his fantastic freshman season.
The difference between Arkansas State and Appalachian last week was the work that was done in the trenches by the Mountaineers on both sides of the ball. Appalachian cleared the way for Marcus Cox on offense and was able to contain the shifty Fredi Knighten while on defense. Knighten was constantly throwing the ball off his back foot and never really was able to look comfortable until late in the fourth quarter. Pushing around Lafayette will not be as easy. The Cajuns are a much bigger team on both sides of the line. Their offensive line is well experienced and they are big, averaging 287 pounds. Equally as intimidating is their 3-4 defensive alignment. The defensive line is bigger than their offensive line, which is a rarity, and they can defend anything. The Cajuns have 26 sacks on the season, giving the Mountaineers their third straight challenge in a row from that perspective. Appalachian faced Monroe and Arkansas State when they led the conference in sacks, and only gave up one last week. Keeping Taylor Lamb upright will be huge for Appalachian. Look for the Mountaineers to get Lamb into a rhythm early, but without completely ignoring the running game. It is good strategy to chase the good matchup but without completely abandoning what you do well as a team. Appalachian will have to keep McGuire and Harris in check as much as possible. It will be difficult to shut one of them down, but the main objective to eliminate the big runs. Appalachian will be without nose tackle Tyson Fernandez, and the job is up to the entire defensive line make up for his loss. How the Mountaineers adjust to his absence will be the difference in this game.
The First Pick: