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 @ Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

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, Lafayette, LA

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.31

Louisiana: 70.17

Home: 2.55

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.59 points

Line: App State -5

Series: App State leads 8-1

Last Meeting: App State 21, Louisiana 24, December 4, 2020, Boone, NC

For a special group of super seniors, Tuesday’s game is a day they have looked forward to for over ten months. The implications of the App State-Louisiana game have been clear for a couple seasons, 2020 aside. If you want to host the conference championship game, you have to win this game. Reminder, a championship game did not take place last year. Doubt anyone needed reminding. For App State, this is the second game of the so-called revenge tour. Marshall was handled. Louisiana stands in the way next. Similar to App State, the Cajuns returned a lot of from last season’s team, but had some coaching turnover. Louisiana’s season to date from a win-loss perspective was expected, but it’s been a somewhat rocky journey. But really that does not matter. Just about every team in college football in 2021 has their flaws, and the cliché of taking one game at a time might have more meaning than ever. Both teams taking the field on Tuesday night will gladly walk away with a win of any sort.

When reviewing Louisiana’s schedule this season, you will see that the Cajuns are 4-1 with a loss to Texas. A game where some experts thought that Louisiana would give the Longhorns the game, actually turned into a twenty point blowout as Texas pulled away in the second half. The experts may have expected the Cajuns to compete due to their win over Iowa State last year, which was mostly fueled by special teams play. More on special teams later. However, it is difficult to look at Louisiana’s four wins and say, you know what, that game was a coin toss, and they pulled it out. First, we see that they squeaked by Nicholls State at home. Louisiana was up 27-10 late before allowing two fourth quarter scores to Nicholls. Then the Cajuns smacked around once proud Ohio 49-14, just five days after Ohio lost to FCS Duquesne. Not sure what Ohio was thinking with that scheduling, playing a tough road game on a Thursday after playing the previous Saturday. The following wins over Georgia Southern and South Alabama were both tight games. Louisiana held off Southern 28-20 and edged the Jaguars 20-18. Two conference road wins will never disappoint a coach. It’s not easy to win in Paulson, no matter how much longer a coach is hanging around. The South Alabama game was also played in a downpour. However, in both conference wins, the opposing team scored very early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to one possession, yet Louisiana found a way.

Tuesday night will be the seventh time that Levi Lewis has dressed for a football game against App State. Even in 2017, when Lewis appeared in just four total games, one of those games was against the Mountaineers. There has not been another opposing quarterback in the history of this blog, that has been written about more times. We know who he is, what he is capable of, and also, what he is not capable of. Lewis remains a dual-threat quarterback, averaging 24.4 rushing yards per game. That figure is down slightly from last year when he ran more than any other season in which he was a full time starter. Lewis is passing for close to 220 yards per game which is negligibly different from previous seasons. Basically, Levi Lewis has been a very steady quarterback for several years. He has not improved greatly, nor has he regressed either. The Cajuns need him to play well to win, and he usually does.

For teams like Louisiana who spread the ball among three running backs, it helps to look at the overall picture instead of breaking down one player at a time. Those three have 131 carries for 712 yards and have added nine touchdowns. That works out to 5.4 yards per carry between the trio. Chris Smith has the most carries (52), but the fewest yards (231). Emani Bailey has more yards (249), and the fewest carries (34). Montrell Johnson is a freshman, and leads the group with four touchdowns, all those coming against Ohio. All three had light workloads against South Alabama last week. They combined for just 23 carries, but amassed 170 yards. Not long ago, Louisiana was eyeing to have three 1,000 yard rushers in a season. That lofty goal was not achieved, but the Cajuns are a long way from getting there in 2021. As a team, the Cajuns are 59th in the country in rushing offense at 166 yards per game. That’s a rather pedestrian ranking compared to what Louisiana had been accustomed to.

The tone was set from the opening drive last weekend. The Mountaineers were expecting Georgia State to run the ball and shorten the game, but they also knew at some point, they were going to have to score touchdowns. So the Panthers attempted that strategy on the first drive of the game. Incompletion. Interception. The Panthers had a turnover before they gained a yard. Three and a half minutes of game time later, the Mountaineers punched it in the end zone and never looked back. The Mountaineer defense finished the game with three interceptions, and added four sacks. Most importantly, Georgia State was held to a 20% conversion rate (3/15) on third down, and three red zone drives resulted in just three made field goals. The Mountaineers did not run wild, but managed 4.1 yards per carry. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Chase Brice, who arguably had his best day in the black and gold. His 326 passing yards was a career mark and his three touchdown passes were the most in a game since 2018, when Brice helped Clemson beat Louisville 77-16.

Much like last week, deferring any information from the previous years game lends absolutely zero direction as to how this year will play out. If you remember, last year’s game was played in a torrential downpour, both quarterbacks played poorly, and numerous mistakes were made on both sides of the ball. Tuesday night should be clear and mild for mid-October. So just because the Cajuns were able to finally get a win over the Mountaineers last December, does not mean they have figured out App State. The injury bug has settled in around the Cajuns this year, which has decimated their offensive line. That is as much to blame for the struggles, or lack of consistent success Louisiana has had on the ground compared to years past. Those struggles have put the Cajuns in unfavorable third down situations. On the season, Louisiana has converted third downs just 31.7% of the time, which is 111th in the country. The Mountaineer defense has been downright nasty on third downs all season, allowing opponents a paltry 29.7% success rate, which ranks 17th nationwide. On the flip side, Louisiana is one of the worst in the country from stopping their opponents on third downs, allowing a 45% success rate. Staying on the field is important in football, because if you have the ball, and can drive, chances are you can score more points. That leads us into the next telling statistic that derives from said conversions. App State averages 32 minutes of possession a game. That’s the best figure in the conference. Louisiana is the exact opposite, maintaining possession for just 27 minutes a game. That’s the worst figure in the conference. Starting to sound like Marshall a little bit huh? The Cajuns have outscored their opponents in the first half this year 78-50, but are dead even in the second half. Add the kickoff return threat from running back Chris Smith, and you see where this is going. A defense that fades in the second half due to being on the field too much, but has been buoyed by special teams, which gives the illusion of a great team. Marshall has more talent, but Louisiana plays better situational ball, turning the ball over less, and playing within themselves. A lowing scoring 2019-type game would not be surprising, but the Mountaineers might have a better defense than two years ago, and the Cajuns definitely do not have the same defense as then.

The First Pick

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 31

#20 Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

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

Saturday, December 7th, 2019 12:00pm

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

Sirius XM Channel 81

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 80.15

ULL: 74.69

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.78 points

Line: App State -6.5, opened -3.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last meeting: App State 17, Louisiana 7, October 9, 2019, Lafayette, LA

WxCrum Forecast: Cold, Lower to mid-40’s for game; mostly sunny

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. Or at least it seems like this show does not end, and honestly, who can complain. After the Mountaineers cruised to a Black Friday win over Troy, it set the table for a Sun Belt Championship rematch with Louisiana. The Cajuns are the most familiar of foes in the very brief history of FBS football for Appalachian. This will be the eighth meeting in six seasons and fourth in the last season and a half. That span stretches just 21 games and 413 days. Two teams that have now become so familiar with one another that they can nearly anticipate just about any move a player will make due to copious amounts of film consumed. This game might not come down to who had the most talented team overall, but who plays the best on one single Saturday afternoon. Both sides have what it takes to lift the trophy, but only one will. A battle will take place between schools who have been on this stage before, and another who is trying to get back.

So what has happened since the last time App and Louisiana played. The Cajuns have not lost for one. They have won by double digits in every game they have played outside of last week against Monroe. That game is somewhat of a blip on the radar. You could also look at the South Alabama game as being another outlier. A game where the Cajuns won, but also gave up some yards and points. As much as some defensive and offensive numbers for App and Louisiana have mirrored each other, they are just that, averages. Let’s break down the first half and second half of Louisiana’s Sun Belt season. The Cajuns played four opponents with a combined record of 28-20, three of which are bowl eligible, and gave up 64 points, an average of 16 points per game. That was the first four games with two played at home, and two on the road. In the second half, with equal home and road games, the Cajuns gave up 67 points in four games, for a 16.75 points per game average. None of those four teams are bowl eligible and their combined record is 16-31.

We know just about all we need to about Louisiana. We have have heard about their glorious running game, the Cajun Trinity, as they like to call them. Louisiana wanted to get all three to 1,000 yards rushing on the season, but they failed to reach that mark. Elijah Mitchell finished seventh in the conference with 1,007 yards on 6.0 yards per attempt and 14 rushing touchdowns. Mitchell had scored touchdowns in every game until he played App in October, when he was held out of the end zone and to just 68 yards on 13 carries. Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas carried the ball for 104 times each in the regular season, but Ragas missed the Texas State game with an injury. Both have averaged right at 70 yards a game for the season, with Calais finishing the year with 818 yards and six touchdowns. Ragas concluded the season with 777 yards and eleven touchdowns. Quarterback Levis Lewis remains a threat to run, but has depended up on his arm much more down the stretch of the season.

Another thing that has changed for Louisiana since October 9th is their passing game. For a majority of the year, the Cajuns and Levi Lewis threw for under 200 yards a game. The lone exception was a 267-yard performance in the opening game. But in three of the last four weeks, Louisiana has eclipsed that threshold. First it was 296 yard effort against Coastal. The passing game took a week off against South Alabama, until it went for 273 yards against Troy and 270 yards against Monroe. Lewis also recorded nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions in those final four games, including two games where he threw three touchdown passes each. Lewis has only thrown three interceptions all year long, and is also on a five game streak without throwing a pick. Two of his three interceptions came away from Cajun Field, against Arkansas State, and the neutral site game against Miss. State in New Orleans.

A team effort on Friday dispatched Troy, mostly led by Zac Thomas who set career marks all night long in several categories. Thomas tossed for 326 yards and four touchdowns, with 140 yards going to Thomas Hennigan on eleven receptions.The game pushed Thomas to 2,427 yards and 24 touchdown passes on the season. Darrynton Evans had a light night of work with just 16 offensive touches, but made the most of them with 109 total yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers pushed Evans to a very square 1,250 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on the season. Evans was honored as the Sun Belt offensive player of the year on Wednesday afternoon, along with Akeem Davis-Gaither being honored as the Sun Belt defensive player of the year. Davis-Gaither did a little bit of everything all season long, with 85 tackles, 13.5 for loss, including 6 pass break ups, one interception and one blocked kick.

The series between App State and Louisiana took a turn in 2018. After four fairly one-sided scores, the Cajuns made a change at head coach, and it paid off. Billy Napier was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year after a three game improvement in the won-loss record. It was an interesting selection as there were easily three other challengers. Napier, in his press conference, sort of downplayed playing at Kidd Brewer Stadium by saying “It’s not like we are going to play at Lambeau Field”. He later corrected/caught himself and went on to say it was a great environment and its a great place to play football. Napier will always be reminded, wink wink. But still, in the last three games between the Mountaineers and Cajuns, the margins have all been ten points or more. A few weeks back, the game was dominated by defense and field position. It was a game you rarely see in college football anymore. It’s a game I do not think we’ll see on Saturday. One team is going to score some points. The Mountaineers have put up some serious digits this season on home Saturday games. In all those games they had one week since the prior game, which resulted in a scoring average of 48.2 points per game, and eclipsed 50 points in three games. They will have had one extra day to prepare. In games where App has had more than the traditional game week to prepare, all they did was knock off ETSU, these same Cajuns, Monroe and South Carolina. They gave up just 36 points in those four games. Long story short, the Mountaineers will be prepared to win this game because all of the preparation has led them to this moment. Most importantly, they have been there before and know what it takes to win this game. Louisiana’s moment might come in the near future, but it’s not this weekend.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 28

Mountaineers 42

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 8:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Cajun Field

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.77

ULL: 69.81

Home: 2.60

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.36 points

Line: Opened App State -2; Moved to ULL -2, Settling around ULL -1

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last meeting: App State 30, Louisiana 19; December 1, 2018, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Kickoff Temps in the low 80’s cooling to mid-70’s, muggy

Seems like it has been forever since App State football has been considered an underdog in a conference game. It’s been so long that most of us are not even sure how to think about it, or even what it felt like since the last time it happened. When was it? It wasn’t November 12th, 2016 when App played Troy on the road. That game was considered a dead heat, a pick’em. You actually have to go all the way back to November 22nd, 2014. The opponent was Louisiana. We have to go back to the first year App State was in the Sun Belt to find a game in which they were not favored. It’s been a fun ride. Might as well not even show up. Quite honestly, it is shocking, no matter how you look at it. It’s shocking that it has been that many games, and even more shocking that a three-time defending conference champion, who has never lost to their next opponent, who beat them twice last year alone, and is currently undefeated, on a ten game winning streak spanning over two seasons and two head coaches, is an underdog. Keep the chip indeed. But that is exactly what this program is all about. It was just this past December when App State was left for dead, with a skeleton crew of a coaching staff given basically no chance to win despite being favored by just a touchdown, in the state of Louisiana. We all know how that turned out down in the Big Easy. Continue to doubt this program haters. We’re here to prove you wrong.

We all saw this coming last season. Right after Louisiana’s loss to Coastal Carolina at home in 2018, something changed. The Cajuns had lost a couple lopsided games to Alabama and Mississippi State, but the cure came in the way of Texas State and New Mexico State. Two games in which Louisiana scored 108 points combined. Texas State actually had a decent defense. The Cajuns continued to score on every team remaining on the schedule not named Troy or Appalachian State. In 2018, Louisiana scored ten points against Mississippi State. A year later, they lost by just ten points. Scoring isn’t everything, but it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to play ahead, then play from behind. It also helps when you have an offensive line that is exceptionally big. Aside from the center, the Cajuns are 6’4″ or taller, 300 pounds or heavier at both tackle and guard positions. You don’t average 314 yards a game on the ground with just decent running backs. Improved offensive line play is a big part of the reason the Cajuns won the west division in 2018, and are off to a 4-1 start this year.

But hey, those running backs are still very good. They score touchdowns, and get tons of yards. That’s not even the impressive part. At 7.3 yards per carry, as a team, that’s good enough for second nationally. The 1,570 yards rushing is the most in the country. The 22 rushing touchdowns is also tops nationally. Elijiah Mitchell and Trey Ragas have touchdowns in every game this season. Mitchell has 402 yards rushing and Ragas is sixth in the country with 548 yards. Ragas also has a silly 9.8 yards per carry average. However, over half of those team rushing yards, and touchdowns came against Liberty and Texas Southern. The Cajuns abused those two opponents to the tune of 847 yards and eleven touchdowns, including eight against Texas Southern in a 77-6 win. The Cajuns ran for 9.7 yards per carry in those two games combined. In the last two games against Ohio and Georgia Southern, Louisiana amassed just 560 rushing yards total on 6.4 yards per carry, which still looks pretty good, especially on the road.

Cajun quarterback Levi Lewis has made tremendous strides since last season. It helps that he has this great running game behind him, and is not asked to do too much, but when his number is called, he has excelled. Lewis has completed 65% of his passes for 980 yards and has eight touchdown passes to just two interceptions. He’s mobile, and can buy time in the pocket, but doesn’t run the ball unnecessarily. Similarly to Coastal’s Fred Payton, his experience has helped his confidence and allowed him to play faster. A lot of Louisiana’s success will start and end with Lewis. If he can make some plays in the passing game, it could turn into a long night for the Mountaineer defense.

Nearly two weeks ago, we gushed about how well Zac Thomas played against North Carolina, and then all he did was follow it up with an even better performance. Thomas finished 19/ 23 for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The junior is now completing 71.4% of his passes on the season. His rushing statistics have kind of yo-yo’ed as the season has progressed. After a 57-yard rushing performance the previous game, Thomas was held to just ten yards on six attempts against Coastal. However, Thomas did find a tight end, Colin Reed for his first catch of the season, an 11-yard touchdown grab. He also spread the wealth among his top three receivers, Corey Sutton, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams. All three had five or more catches and no fewer than seventy-five yards.

For the first time in 2019, someone other than Darrynton Evans had the most yards for App State in the running game. Daetrich Harrington led the way with with 71 yards on eleven carries. It was a season high in both categories, which also included the Harrington’s first touchdown of the season. Evans carried fifteen times for 60 yards, which in enabled him to keep his wind, but also not get worn down in a game that included a two hour delay. This was likely a one-time deal, a forced hand, for lack of a better term. Don’t expect the split of carries to change any time soon. Evans is the lead back, and Harrington/Williams will get their opportunities as well. Both backs are getting work in every game, despite Harrington (28) slightly outpacing Williams (22) in the carries department.

Both squads have a lot good things going for them. Louisiana fell off the face of the earth in the waning years of the Hudspeth era, but have quickly rebounded after a really smart coaching hire. Sometimes, those good hires come with consequences. Billy Napier has already received a one year extension, which usually means, agents are talking, working for their clients and the school is looking for monetary protection. It’s a smart play. App State just went through that process. The reality is that the previous six games played between App State and Louisiana mean nothing. In the fans eyes, its been six dominating games in a short period of time. The current coaches have not faced off, and Napier has coached in just two of the six games. Eli Drinkwitz will be coaching just his fifth game as the head man. This will be his first true road trip, a journey outside of the borders of North Carolina. But, this will not be first time Drinkwitz has ventured to Louisiana, much less Cajun Field. In 2012, Arkansas State and their running backs coach, Drinkwitz, pummeled the Cajuns 50-27. The familiarity with the Sun Belt may have not been the sole reason App hired Drinkwitz, but it sure did not hurt. You want game analysis? We can do that for a little bit. The Cajuns and Apps will bring a lot of offense to the game. The question comes down to which defense makes a decent play at the right time. The Cajun defense gets a lot of help from their offense. They are not as good as where they are ranked nationally in many defensive categories. Likewise, App State’s defense is not as bad as where they are ranked in the same statistics. We’ve honed in on turnovers for multiple weeks, and it absolutely comes into play again. It’s not lazy, it’s just very important in games with high rates of offense. The Cajuns have fumbled eleven times this season and lost seven of them, including two last week at Georgia Southern on muffed punts. App State has yet to fumble this season, and has thrown just two interceptions. Louisiana’s turnover margin is in the red on the season, while App maintains a top fifteen ranking. If the turnovers happen, they will be huge, for either team. With all the offense this game features, it will be those defensive plays that win, and the Mountaineers have been more opportunistic than the Cajuns.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 38

Mountaineers 45

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana (Sun Belt Championship)

Appalachian State (9-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (7-5, 5-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 1st, 2018 12:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlote WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte WAVO 1150 AM; Raleigh/Durham Buzz Sports Radio 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM, The Ticket 620 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Satellite Radio: Sirius 119, XM 202

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.00

Louisiana: 58.94

Home: 2.28

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -17

Series: App State leads 5-0

Last meeting: App State 27, Louisiana 17, October 20, 2018 Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Rain chances increasing throughout day, Temps near 50

For the first time in Sun Belt history, two schools will be playing their ninth conference football game for a pretty huge trophy, and the right to play in the New Orleans Bowl. Our Mountaineers were good enough all season to be the first to ever host the conference championship game. That was the goal when the game was announced. It was the goal when the format for qualifying was announced. It was the goal prior to every conference game being played. App State lost a home game in September, but getting a make up date in December is almost as sweet. With another ten win season in reach, another trophy to place in the case, comes the ending of another record breaking season on the mountain. It’s been a great ride but it’s not over yet. We all have a duty to give this team our ALL one last time at The Rock.  

Since the last time these two teams played, the Cajuns have won four of their five games, with the only loss coming to Troy 26-16, a nearly identical score as the previous App State game. That stretch included a shootout victory over Arkansas State which helped propel the Cajuns to where we are today. That head-to-head win gave them the needed tiebreaker to advance. Wins over Georgia State and South Alabama were semi-expected, but both of these Sun Belt cats gave the Cajuns some fits. Georgia State trailed by just two points entering the fourth quarter and South Alabama had the game tied in the third quarter and the margin cut to ten points in the fourth. Both of those wins were at Cajun Field, while the ultimate clinching game against UL-Monroe included a buzzer-missing field goal by the Warhawks.

Louisiana is going bowling, which many experts did not project heading into the season. The Cajuns were 3-4 when they left Boone the last time, which did not leave much margin for error for bowl eligibility, much less an appearance in the conference championship game. Oddly, the Cajuns are playing for said title after allowing more points this season then they have scored. In their defense, they have allowed just 31.4 points per game in their last five contests, which is down from their overall season average of 34 points per game.

The Louisiana offense has not changed since the last time the Mountaineers have seen them. The three-headed rushing attack is led by Trey Ragas who has 1040 yards and eight touchdowns. Elijah Mitchell tacks on 866 yards and twelve touchdowns and Raymond Calais is not far behind with 711 yards and six touchdowns. Ragas got just four carries against Georgia State, making way for Calais, who had three touchdowns in that game to go along with 186 yards. Ragas also had a light day against South Alabama with ten carries for 53 yards. However, he bounced back with a season high twenty-three carry day last week vs. UL-Monroe which was also enough to give him his sixth 100-yard rushing day of the season. Calais seems to be the hotter hand of late, based on usage, but all three of these backs can get it done.

Senior Andre Nunez continues to rotate with sophomore Levi Lewis every fourth series. It’s something that Billy Napier has stuck with throughout the season. That leaves Nunez  with most of the statistics. In the first meeting, Nunez threw for 108 yards against the Mountaineers. No interceptions, no touchdowns. It was the first game of the season where Nunez did not throw a touchdown pass. Two games later, Nunez was unable to throw a touchdown pass against Troy. That’s the only two games all season that happened. Despite Nunez’s nineteen touchdown passes, five came against New Mexico State, the week before the Cajuns played the Mountaineers. Since the last meeting with App State, Nunez finished the season with eight touchdown passes to six interceptions, throwing a pick in every game except Georgia State. 

This game was not an offensive spectacle for the Mountaineers, but it also did not have to be. It was clear that controlling the clock was an important factor. The Mountaineers held an eleven minute edge in time of possession. Gaining 201 yards on the ground on forty-five attempts was plenty to keep Troy off the field. It was the most rushing yards the Troy defense had allowed all season, besting UL-Monroe’s 200-yard performance. Darrynton Evans’ 58 yard run was the longest run the Trojans had given up all year. App needed that because the 113 yards passing was the fewest Troy had given up all season. Really, this game belonged to the defense. The four turnovers the Mountaineers forced was the tied for the most of the season against Troy. The longest punt return Troy allowed, was to Clifton Duck. And it was the only game Troy threw two interceptions, and their fewest points scored (10) all season. 

At this point of the season, it’s pretty clear how both teams plan on winning the game. The Louisiana approach is to wear another team down with the running game, keep opposing offenses off the field and keep their thin defense as fresh as possible. The fewer plays they have to defend, the less points they give up. The Cajuns scored 31 or more points in their seven wins, for an average of 45.5 points per game. In their 5 losses, they averaged 19 points, never scoring more than 28. Look at those numbers and think about the game App State likes to play. They like to keep people from scoring (15.4 ppg). They like to stop the running game (3.4 ypc). That 3.4 yards per carry that App has given up all season long is exactly how many they allowed to Louisiana in the first game (41-140). The job the Mountaineers did on the Troy running game last week might have been a sneak preview for this weekend. If the App defense is dialed in, this could be a long day for the Cajuns. Although App State scored just three touchdowns last week, and just 27 points the last time out against Louisiana, I’m kind of expecting a statement game from the Mountaineer offense. The home field advantage is huge in a game like this, especially considering four of the five Ragin’ Cajun losses this season have come on the road. The Cajuns have also not left the state of Louisiana for a game in four weeks, while the Mountaineers will be playing their third straight home game. The conference championship trophy is already in Boone. It won’t be leaving any time soon. 


The First Pick

Mild Peppers 14

Mountaineers 37

Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) vs. Louisiana (3-3, 1-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 3:30pm 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 

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 80.79

Louisiana: 57.04

Home: 2.47

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

Sportsbook: App State -25.5

Series: App State leads 4-0

Last meeting: App State 63, Louisiana 14,  December 2nd, 2017, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Mostly Cloudy, AM drizzle possible, Winds increasing, Temps in the 50’s

Major test number one is out of the way. It took some time for the cold engine to start, but once it did, it ran like a charm. The Mountaineers fell behind 6-0, but responded on the next drive to take the 7-6 lead. Immediately following another Red Wolves field goal, the Mountaineers responded again, to take a 14-9 lead. From that moment, it was cruise control, and Arkansas State is still looking for answers. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers march on to another conference game, with another extended break. Besides the fallout from losing a great team leader and star running back, to the scuttle of trying to crack the Top 25 for the first time in school history, a lot will have happened between playing games. Focus could be tough when your mind is racing several different directions. Last week’s game is over and the team can’t rest on just one big win. Several more games are ahead of us, all against teams that want their shot against the Mountaineers. The Cajuns are 0-4 against App State. Georgia Southern has lost three straight in the series. Coastal is 0-4, Texas State 0-3 and Georgia State 0-4. From here on out nothing will be easy, and the week to week approach is paramount to this team’s success. 

New Louisiana athletic director Bryan Maggard did not waste any time firing Mark Hudspeth. He informed the once popular coach that he would no longer be the head coach the following morning after App State’s seven touchdown win last season. By the end of the next business week, Maggard tabbed one Billy Napier to the Cajuns’ 26th head football coach. Napier is the former Furman quarterback who was infamously involved in one of the most memorable plays and radio calls in Kidd Brewer stadium history. That result from sixteen years ago has nothing to do with this weekend, but it just had to be mentioned.

The Cajun’s were sliding for the past three years under Hudspeth and his ouster was imminent. The program that was considered on of the top teams in the Sun Belt is no longer. Currently, the Cajuns hold the top spot in the Sun Belt West but that seems like they are just renting space. A porous defense with no depth is unlikely to hold up against the some of the stronger offenses in the conference. The schedule does not  do any favors for the Cajuns either for the next few weeks. After travelling to Siberian North Carolina they return to Lafayette for Arkansas St and then hit the road to Troy. If the Cajuns plan to go bowling, they cannot afford any missteps. 

Louisiana was tabbed to finish fourth in the West division when the coaches cast their ballots back in July, but nobody expected the type of dominance we have seen from the East Division. The Cajuns lost at home to second year Sun Belt opponent Coastal Carolina about a month ago in a game that the Chanticleers dominated at every statistical level including possessing the ball for over 38 minutes. But the Cajuns have had a couple “get right” games the last two weeks against two of the worst teams in FBS; hapless Texas State and a very young New Mexico State.

The Cajuns sport a three headed rushing attack in Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais. They have combined to run 185 times for 1,355 yards. They make up 90% of the Cajuns rushing total for the season. All three are averaging well over 6.5 yards a carry and have combined for thirteen touchdowns. Ragas and Mitchell are similarly sized weighing in right around 220 points, while Calais is smaller at 180 pounds. Quarterback Andre Nunez is one of the more accurate passes in the country, completing 68.3 % of his passes. Nunez has eleven touchdown passes on the season, but five of those came last week against New Mexico State in their lopsided win. 

The Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State last week but it came with a huge cost. Jalin Moore suffered a severe ankle injury that will cost him the remainder of his Black and Gold career. Enough words cannot be said about Jalin Moore, and I’m not going to try, but it will be tough not talking about his performances for the remainder of this season. However, it opens the door for others to step forward and show they can handle a bigger load. Several different backs will get their shot to fill the absence, and it might take some time to figure that all out offensively.

Besides Moore’s injury, the story of last Tuesday night was the Mountaineer defense. The Red Wolves were limited to 117 yards on the ground on thirty-seven attempts. Justice Hansen was 25/40 passing, but was held to just 209 yards and App State picked him off three times.  Three field goals are not going to beat the Mountaineers. UNC-Charlotte tried that same strategy and it did not work. 

Louisiana will be a formidable opponent this weekend. Probably more so than Arkansas State was last week. The Red Wolves are trending down, but have not bottomed out as of yet. Louisiana hit rock bottom last year and are working their way back up the Sun Belt ladder. The Cajuns have their limitations this season, but are trying to minimize those weaknesses with their offensive style. They simply do not have the horses on defense to run the offense Napier would like. In turn, the Cajuns will try to shorten this game on Saturday significantly because they have to. They cannot afford to have the nations 116th ranked rushing defense and 103rd ranked passing defense on the field for a long time. The Cajuns are giving up close to seven yards per play. Their best defense will be their offense. Speaking of offense, everyone is curious to see what kind of changes, if any, that the Mountaineers make considering the running back situation. I think everyone gets a chance, and it would not seem prudent to let one man carry the entire load. Considering the issues the Cajuns have in the secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mountaineers decided to air it out a little more than usual and put pressure on Louisiana to score every time they have the ball. That would give the running game some live game experience to work out any kinks and potential rhythm issues. Eventually the Mountaineers will fail to cover a spread, as they have in eight straight games, but I’m not doubting them this weekend. 

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 20

Mountaineers 48


Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (7-4, 6-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (5-6, 4-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017 2:30pm 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

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 64.88

Louisiana: 52.52

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 14.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -15

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 24, Louisiana 0, October 12th, 2016

On Saturday, Appalachian will play its 32nd game in the Sun Belt Conference, completing its fourth year since leaving the Southern Conference. Those were four quick years. To this point, the Mountaineers have compiled a 26-5 record in conference play, which is only matched by Arkansas State as the best record in conference play during that stretch. Appalachian has finished no lower than third in the conference standings every year. The only time Louisiana finished above the Mountaineers was in 2014, handing the Cajuns their only conference loss that season. The Mountaineers dominated that day, and have ever since in this short three game series. When the Mountaineers entered the Sun Belt, Louisiana was the top dog. They have a winning record against six current conference opponents, have a .500 record versus two opponents, and have a 7-8 record against Troy. Appalachian remains the only team the Cajuns have not defeated. The beatings have also continued to get worse each season, beginning with a nineteen point win in 2014, a 21 point victory in Boone the following season, and a 24-0 shutout by the Mountaineers a season ago. A win on Saturday would give App its second straight share of a conference title, and leave the Cajuns watching the bowl games from their couches.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have had their chances in 2017 to improve their record, but the warning signs came very early in the season. A close 51-48 win over SE Louisiana in an FCS tune up was the just the start. Three straight losses followed to up tempo Tulsa, UL-Monroe, and Texas A&M. The Monroe loss was an absolute shocker. Louisiana had won three straight and eight of nine games in the series. The Cajuns had to score thirty second half points just to hang with Monroe and tie the game at 43 before the Warhawks prevailed in OT. Louisiana surrendered 215 points in the first four games. The Cajuns then rallied for wins in three of their next four games, and kept their opponents from scoring 20 points in those three wins. But, its been ugly lately as the Cajuns have given up big numbers in their last three games; 50 to Ole Miss, 34 in a win over New Mexico State, and 34 to two-win Georgia Southern.

The Cajuns have had to use three different quarterbacks for significant stretches of the season. None of them are particularly good. Jordan Davis has played the most this season, and missed two games in there entirety due to injury. Davis has 1,281 yards, 9 TD’s and six interceptions and has been sacked ten times. Andre Nunez played decently in the four games he appeared in, take away the 47-3 whipping by Arkansas State. Nunez has not played since and has been concussed at least once this season. Freshman Levi Lewis inexplicably played in his third game last week against Georgia Southern, jeopardizing his redshirt status. Lewis was a prized recruit as a dual threat quarterback who played basketball and ran track in high school.

As the Cajuns could start a freshman at quarterback, they will definitely start a freshman running back in Trey Ragas, who is a load and a half. Just like all bigger running backs, you cannot allow them to get started. It will be a tall task for Appalachian. Ragas has one-third of the carries this season for the Cajuns, and he has toted the ball for 799 yards at a 5.9 yard per carry clip. He probably deserves more carries. He has only carried twenty or more times on one occasion, against New Mexico State, and he showed that he deserved it with a season high 132 yards and two touchdowns. Equally as dangerous is senior running back Darius Hoggins. He is a lot smaller than Ragas but provides a good change of pace. Hoggins is another candidate for more work, as he has not topped eight carries all season in a game. Equally surprising, Hoggins had a 75 yard touchdown run against Georgia Southern early on and carried just once more in the game.

This game comes down to Louisiana’s defense. They are downright atrocious. I couldn’t believe the difference when researching why they win, and why they lose. In their 6 losses, the Cajun have given up 49.6 points per game. In their wins, they have allowed 23.8 points per. That is less than half. Not sure I have ever seen such a discrepancy. Their five wins include zero teams at this point that are bowl eligible and their road wins include South Alabama, the most confusing team in the conference, and three win Idaho.

A healthy Jalin Moore is a very welcome sight. Moore might have been as healthy as he was all season last weekend. He received a season high 32 carries vs Georgia State, which topped his previous season high he had in the last game he played in at UL-Monroe. Moore has gone over 100 yards nine out ten times in his career when he received more than nineteen carries. The only exception was Miami. Four times he has reached the 200 yard mark in those same situations. Over a third of his carries have come in his last two games. He is now within striking distance of rushing for 3,000 yards in his career and only six other Mountaineers have accomplished that feat.

We all know why programs like UL-Monroe and South Alabama schedule multiple games against the SEC. They need the money from a pay game to support their programs. Louisiana choosing to play two road SEC contests does not make sense for a school with plenty of resources and facilities. Had they had a lighter schedule, they would not be fighting for bowl eligibility so late in the season. In 2016, it was Boise State and Georgia that littered the Cajun schedule and they needed wins in their final two games to go bowling. The nine win seasons are now a thing of the past, and mediocrity seems to be the goal anymore in Lafayette. So Saturday, Hudspeth and his Cajuns will hope to overcome a long hard trip to the mountains and try pull off another last game victory to throw current bowl projections in the shredder. Meanwhile, Appalachian has its eyes on a rather big prize. This game could certainly affect where the Mountaineers are heading later in December. A win on senior day coupled with another ring of the hand of a star studded graduating class is the goal. The Mountaineers likely have prepared for two different quarterbacks starting for Louisiana on Saturday. Coach Hudspeth wouldn’t tip his hand at his news conference, so the Apps will be pulling double duty in the film room. Regardless of who starts for Louisiana, they’ll have to take care of the football. Interceptions have been big in their losses, but so has their defense. The Cajuns will be facing their toughest defensive challenge of the season. The Mountaineers have improved dramatically in the last two games with the return of Devan Stringer and rank 33rd nationally. The top three defenses that Louisiana has faced this year are just inside the top sixty and they averaged just 15 points per game against those opponents. As much as the onus is on the Cajun offense to score, its reciprocal with their defense to keep their opponents off the board. They have not done that consistently enough this season and I don’t expect that balance to come together this weekend.

The First Pick

Green Peppers 16

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football @ Louisiana

Here we go with Week 6

Appalachian State (3-2, 1-0 Sun Belt) @ UL-Lafayette (2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016 8pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

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
Cajun Stadium

Surface: Pro Grass Synthetic

Capacity: 41,426

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.22

Louisiana: 54.57

Home: 2.45

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 28, Louisiana 7, November 28th, 2015, Boone

       This feels like the longest bye week in recent memory, yet all of a sudden, it has ended really quickly. Games played on a Wednesday are totally different than a game on a Thursday. The Mountaineers will get two long breaks between games in October, compared to last season, when Appalachian was dealt a hand that sandwiched a Halloween game between two Thursday night games. Eleven long days will have passed before kickoff on Wednesday, and then another half fortnight before the next kickoff at home vs Idaho. This will be the first time Applachian will have dealt with such a schedule, whereas Louisiana is slightly more familiar with a true midweek game. Louisiana lost twice last season in midweek games, both on the road. The Cajuns won two mid week games in 2014, and two out of three such games in 2013. That experience by the Cajun coaching staff will certainly be in their favor compared to the Mountaineers. You can count Appalachian’s midweek games on one hand. Two of those games have come against Gerogia Southern, and the other against Arkansas State. The Mountaineers, in their third road game of the season, will need to retain copious amounts of energy for this primetime conference fight on national television in order to keep pace in the Sun Belt. 

        The biggest issue facing the Cajuns coming into this game is the overall health and experience of their defense. The defensive line has been decimated with injuries; too many to list here. The linebackers are really solid and experienced while the secondary is their major weakness. The Cajuns have had to backfill with junior college transfers and they have been abused to the tune of 298 passing yards allowed a game. Only five schools surrender more yards in the air. Remember the terrible Akron secondary? The Cajuns are worse. The 11 touchdown passes they have given up occured in four games, and they have also allowed 260+ passing yards in four of five games. Just to be clear, the Cajuns haven’t given up one or two big days to skew the statistics, they have been equally horrendous for the better part of the young season. 

          This Cajun team isn’t far off from having a really nice season. Forget their 2-3 record. They lost two overtime games on the road their last times out and their first loss, Boise State, is now 5-0 and ranked 15th in the AP Poll. However, the Cajun losses are pretty easily explained. Anthony Jennings, the Louisiana State graduate transfer, has thrown six interceptions in his last three games. The Cajun defense has allowed a 92% score rate while defending the red zone, with half of those going for touchdowns. They are giving up nearly five red zone possessions per game at the same time. 

          This season for the Cajuns really has to be put into perspective. They have now lost in consecutive years to New Mexico State. Numerous wins were stripped of the program in the off season, including two bowl victories. They lost to Tulane despite throwing an 0/16 on third downs to the Green Wave offense, but were -3 in the turnover department. Lousiaina rolled up 256 yards rushing against South Alabama and still managed to escape by just five points. This team can put up some yards, and they have athletes all over the field, but their discipline, whether it be game flow, time of possession, whatever, just is not quite there to be a consistent winning football team. 

          It has been awhile since we’ve been able to review the Georgia State win. The most important part, was another win in the Sun Belt. After three seasons, the Mountaineers have allowed 6 points to Georgia State. The defense corralled four interceptions, and shut down any threat from the Panthers. The Taylor Lamb led offense once again, did just enough to get by. After a scoreless first half, Jalin Moore housed another long touchdown run, and the offense put the game on ice with a decisive fourth quarter touchdown drive to keep the Panthers at bay. 

          Back to the scene of the crime in 2014. The Mountaineers were fresh off a win over Arkansas State, and the season that started 1-5 had come full circle. The Mountaineers thumped Louisiana 35-16, and obtained their sixth win, a huge milestone for the first year in FBS football. Louisiana had been bowling for three straight years and were the class of the Sun Belt. At that point in time, it was the most impressive win for Appalachian in its short FBS history. Fast forward nearly two years, and it’s arguable that the roles have been reversed. It’s the Cajuns that are teetering, with an 8-11 record since that initial loss to the Mountaineers. Anthony Jennings was supposed to be a good quarterback for Louisiana. He was close to getting benched against New Mexico State, before reserve quarterback Jalen Nixon broke his ankle. Now Mark Hudspeth is stuck with a guy who lost his job at Lousiana State, and would have lost it again if not for an injury. The entire game for Louisiana starts with him. I know, Elijah McGuire is a good running back, but his presence will not be felt if Jennings cannot get it going at some point. If the Mountaineer defense can beat Jennings, the Apps will win. It does not matter to me right now who starts at running back for Appalachian. The Cajuns will give up the most yards on the ground that they will have surrendered this season, and the Mountaineers will hit just enough plays in the passing game to gut out a win. 


The First Pick

Green Peppers 20

Mountaineers 28

Louisiana @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 11

Louisiana-Lafayette (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (8-2, 5-1 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 28th, 2:00 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 100.7 Bristol

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.14
Louisiana: 53.48
Home: 2.68
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -23.5
Series: App State leads 1-0
Last meeting: App State 35, Louisiana 16   November 22nd, 2014, Lafayette, LA

In the past twenty days, the Mountaineers have played exactly one football game. That equates to a lot of time to rest, watch film and practice. It serves almost like a minicamp of sorts to iron out all of the wrinkles and sharpen the tools for a stretch run that likely includes three football games over a four week period of time, give or take a couple days. A lot attention has been paid to bowl scenarios and matchups in the down period we have had without football. A lot of uncertainty can be cleared up this weekend as Appalachian can help it’s own cause by winning and eliminating Louisiana from bowl contention. Almost hard to even fathom the kings of the Sun Belt over the past few years not being considered for a bowl game, but it’s the truth. The Cajuns had played in and won four straight bowl games in their backyard and it’s very likely, that one of their biggest rivals will be playing in a postseason game in “their” city. The Cajuns, however, still have plenty to play for. Their season isn’t technically over just yet. They still control their own bowl fate in terms of getting to six wins, but in order to get there, they’ll have to deal with twenty-two Mountaineer seniors who want a win in their final game at The Rock. 

Lousiana’s troubles in 2015 can be attributed to several different factors. The Cajuns have fielded several different starting lineups on the defensive side of the ball. Not once this season have the Cajuns fielded the same starting eleven in two games on defense. Louisiana has constantly been forced to rotate players in and out due to injuries and poor play. Seven different defensive backs have started a game. Seven is also the highest number of starts for any player at one position in the secondary. The boundary corner and the field corner have flipped sides of the field. Eight different players have started at linebacker and seven different players have started on their three man defensive line. 

The  perpetual lineup changes have led to a lack of chemistry that has really shown the last two games. South Alabama and New Mexico State put up the most yards that Louisiana has surrendered all season long. The Jaguars gained 495 yards while the Aggies accumulated 498 yards of total offense. In those two games, the Cajuns secondary gave up six touchdown passes combined. Take it a step further, and the Cajuns have allowed 12 scoring passes in their last four games. Last week, New Mexcio State completed just sixteen passes, but twelve of them went for first downs. 

The quarterback position is a true head scratcher. Louisiana likes to use a two quarterback system, but it’s like nothing you have ever seen. The Cajuns do not lean on a hot hand, or use a quarterback based on an opponents weakness. They just use them recklessly. They will change quarterbacks in the middle of a series, and even in the same sequence of downs. The “passing” quarterback, Brooks Haack has more interceptions than touchdown passes. The “running” quarterback, Jaelen Nixon has more touchdown passes than Haack on thirty-four fewer attempts. Nixon is the team’s second leading rusher with 403 yards. 

One constant for Lousiana has been Elijah McGuire, the junior running back who is rewriting the Cajun record book. McGuire is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. McGuire is 71 yards from eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards on the season. But, McGuire on the road this season has not been the same player as he has been in Lafayette. In his five road games thus far, McGuire has 296 yards, just under 60 yards per game. McGuire gains 3.5 yards per carry on the road this season, while his numbers at home are nearly double, at 6.7 yards per tote. Only two of his twelve rushing touchdowns are on the road. The only part of his game that improves on the road are his receiving statistics, gathering 23 of his 29 receptions away from home. 

The Mountaineers have been known to gamble this season, with their fake punts and field goals. Perhaps the biggest gamble of the season was giving Marcus Cox a week off in the game against Idaho. Cox was  suited up, but the Mountaineers had looked lackluster on offense the previous two weeks. Instead of asking his star to gut it out, Scott Satterfield looked to the healthier options at running back. Terrance Upshaw got the start, but was quickly supplanted by Jalin Moore. On the second drive of the game, the Apps turned to Moore who ran six times for forty-eight yards on a nine play drive that culminated with a Mountaineer touchdown. The gamble paid off and Jalin Moore became a household name. 

Louisiana has one road victory this season. It was a two point win over Georgia State, a game in which Panther head coach Trent Miles foolishly attempted a fake punt deep in his own territory with the lead. That allowed the Cajuns to kick the game winner and hold on. Georgia State did everything right that day and Louisiana, everything wrong. The Cajuns got the win but they didnt deserve it. In every other road game, they have lost by at least a touchdown this season. If you would have told a Cajun fan at the beginning of the season that they would lose to New Mexico State and beat Georgia State by two, they would have laughed at you. In fact, the Cajuns have only looked like the team we thought they were going to be in two games this season, in wins over Texas State and Northwestern State. The Cajuns will show flashes of brilliance here and there with the talent providing glimpes of their potential. Those big plays have not been there consistently. Luckily, the Cajuns are still in position to extend their season, but it makes one wonder if last weekend’s loss may have been too demoralizing to recover from. For Appalachian, the beat goes on. The Mountaineers looked like the team that started the season in the win over Idaho and two weeks to mend should do their bodies good. The Cajuns gave up chunks of yardage on the ground in their last two games to South Alabama’s Xavier Johnson and New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III. Louisiana’s weakness in the last handful of games plays right into the Mountaineers hand. Expect to see Appalachian win to send the seniors off in style. 

The First Pick:

Peppers                  19

Mountaineers      38