Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt)
Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 7:30pm EST
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
Surface: Matrix Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 76.31
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