Appalachian Football vs Toledo (Dollar General Bowl)

Appalachian State (8-4, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Toledo (11-2, 7-1 Mid-American)

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017 7:00pm 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

Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 33,471

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 66.89

Toledo: 74.57

Home: n/a

Toledo is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Toledo -7

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 31, Toledo 28, December 17th, 2016

Two separate journeys have landed two similar teams at the same destination for the second season in a row. We’re not in Montgomery anymore, but it might feel like it. It was just 53 weeks ago when the Rockets and Mountaineers played a splendid game in the Yellowhammer State’s capital city. The game was so great, the bowl committee’s could not pass it up. There were gripes from both fan bases about an App State/Toledo sequel. With the New Orleans Bowl enamored with bringing in fans, the Dollar General reps chose a game between two conference champions. Once you think about it, you really can’t ask for much more out of a bowl game. These two teams are eerily similarly in their makeup, but have taken different paths to Mobile. Toledo was the runaway favorite in the MAC, and cruised through conference play only stumbling to Appalachian bowl victim #1 in Ohio. The Mountaineers did everything but cruise this year, battling through a plague of injuries mid-season, and rallying late to finish the season in dominating fashion. The Rockets look pretty, already reaching eleven wins, playing in and winning their conference championship game, and doing it all with relative ease. The Mountaineers looked good winning in November, but every other game was a battle, trailing at many times in the second half, only to recover and pull it out. Those experiences on both sides will assist them as they look for victory in the Port City. 

The Rockets have not changed much in a year. They still have a lot of the same pieces they featured in Montgomery in 2016. However, there are some critical pieces that are missing, such as Kareem Hunt, who has moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs. Double-digit touchdown catching tight end Michael Roberts is with the Detroit Lions. All played significant roles, but Toledo has not missed a beat. Quarterback Logan Woodside is back and had another huge season. He completed 65% of his passes for 3,758 yards with a cool 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Woodside threw for 300 or more yards seven times this season, and has just one game this season where he threw for less than 200 yards. Fifteen of his touchdown passes came against Akron, twice, and Tulsa. That’s down from his 2016 season which saw Woodside throw 45 touchdown passes. 

Terry Swanson took over for Kareem Hunt at running back, and the Rockets have not missed a beat. Swanson caught just one pass for nine yards in the 2016 Camellia Bowl, but has 1,319 yards in 2017 on the ground with 14 touchdowns. Swanson has played a ton in his Toledo career, amassing 3,557 yards rushing, but 2017 marks his breakout season as a senior. Swanson has eight 100-yard rushing games this season, all Toledo wins. He was kept under 100 yards and did not find the end zone in both Toledo losses. Swanson is not alone in the backfield. Toledo also sports a pair of 600-yard plus rushers in Shakif Seymour and Art Thompkins. Seymour eclipsed 100 yards against Central Michigan and added twelve touchdowns on the season as the Rockets premiere red zone threat. Thompkins also had one game with 100 yards against Bowling Green, but has seen his role decrease throughout the season. Thompkins had double-digit carries six times in the Rockets first seven games, but has just 22 carries in the last six games. 

The Rocket wide receivers are dangerous, and led by the Johnsons, Diontae and Jon’Vea. The former is the leading receiver with 72 catches, 1,257 yards and thirteen touchdowns. Jon’Vea has nearly replicated his junior season in 2017, with a 41/675/5 line. Jon’Vea just had two catches for 22 yards in last year’s Camellia Bowl. Diontae missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. The more well known Cody Thompson, who burned App State last year was injured earlier this season and is out for the season. The Rocket receiving corps have put up the numbers, but its a completely different group than the Mountaineers saw in 2016. 

The Mountaineers are led by four-year starter Taylor Lamb whose passing stats will never match up with a player like Woodside yardage-wise, but the touchdowns and efficiency are there. Lamb and Woodside have nearly identical stats in the touchdown to interception ratio, but what Lamb gives you that Woodside cannot are his legs. Lamb’s ability to run has come at almost perfect times this season, whether its a designed play or a great read, Lamb’s decision making has been nearly flawless in the ground game. His forty-five yard per game average is an integral part of the Mountaineer offense. Lamb shredded Toledo last year for 126 yards on only nine carries. His 119-yard passing performance against Toledo was aided by several dropped passes.

This season, Lamb benefits from a receiving corps that is almost entirely different from this time last season. The only constants are Ike Lewis and Dante Jones. They caught four of Lamb’s fourteen passes in Montgomery. They other ten completions went to players who have either graduated or moved on in one form or fashion. Toledo will have to contend with Thomas Hennigan, who plays faster on the field than he does on tape. Hennigan’s 556 yards and 7 touchdowns are nearly unheard of by a Mountaineer freshman. Slippery Ike Lewis has exploded in his senior season for 666 yards and 8 touchdowns and is a terror in open space. Lamb will likely want to rebound from that performance against Toledo a year ago. 

With all the talk about the signal callers, this game could come down to which running game excels the most. Appalachian has found its footing in their last three games to close the season. Initially I was concerned with a three week layoff between the season finale and the bowl game. That notion was quickly dismissed, considering App State went sixteen days between Georgia Southern and Georgia State, without any bumps, and then really proved their point against Louisiana. They key to Appalachian’s win last year could repeat itself a year later. The Mountaineers kept the Rockets off the field in 2016, possessing the ball for over 35 minutes of game clock, allowing Logan Woodside to drop back to pass just 26 times. The Mountaineers have averaged over 300 yards rushing per game in their last three, and nearly got there against Toledo in 2016, racking up 297 ground yards. The App State defense also has to do their part. Keeping Toledo off the field is not just up to the offense grounding out first downs. It’s important to keep Toledo off schedule. Woodside will get his passing yards, but the App’s must limit the explosive plays and keep Toledo uncomfortable. In both Rocket losses this season, they struggled to run the ball and became one dimensional. The Mountaineers must be disciplined on first down and tackle well. Both teams are familiar with Ladd-Peebles Stadium. App beat South Alabama there in 2015, and Toledo won the GoDaddy Bowl after the 2014 season. The weather could provide an interesting challenge and completely change the way this game is played. Forecasters are calling for rain most of the day. Ball security will be increasingly important. These two teams combined for zero turnovers last year, but I expect we’ll see a couple on Saturday. Whoever takes care of the ball late will win.

The First Pick

Bottle Rockets 31

Mountaineers 35

Appalachian Football vs Toledo (Camellia Bowl)

Here we go with The Camellia Bowl

Appalachian State (9-3, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs. Toledo (9-3, 6-2 Mid-American West)

Saturday, December 17th, 2016 5:30pm 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

Cramton Bowl

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.65

Toledo: 74.17

Home: n/a

Toledo is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Toledo -1.5

Series: First Meeting 

Last meeting: n/a   
          It wasn’t long ago, although it seems like it, that Appalachian was reserved to playing out its season, needing help to either win a conference championship or play in a supposedly prestigious bowl game. The results from earlier in the day on November 26th, specifically Arkansas State’s loss to Lafayette, gave the Mountaineers a chance to clinch a share of the Sun Belt title. The idea of a conference championship was not even mentioned here three weeks ago. Winning  a share of the conference crown ultimately hindered Appalachian’s chances of heading to the French Quarter for bowl season. However, the opportunity to play one of the better Group of Five teams in Toledo provides plenty of excitement for both sides. Ohio didnt move the needle for Mountaineer fans in 2015, and they didnt need to, as the Apps were bowling for the first time in school history. Suddenly, the newness of competing in bowl games has worn off in year two of bowl eligibility, and the Camellia Bowl for a second consecutive season doesn’t stir the same excitement. But Toledo is not Ohio. It might be in Ohio, but its not the same. Toledo was the third best team in the MAC in 2016, mainly due to the emergence of Western Michigan, but that does not mean they are pushovers. They can easily win or lose on Saturday just as much as our Mountaineers might. If last year was any indication, we’ll are all in for a treat on Saturday. 

         Toledo has currently strung together seven straight winning seasons, while their last two coaches moved on to Power Five head coaching positions. Tim Beckman coached three seasons in Toledo before moving on to Illinois, while Matt Campbell coached four seasons before heading to Iowa State. Current first year head coach Jason Candle has been on the sidelines in Toledo since 2009, the last season the Rockets did not post a winning record. Candle hails from Division III super power Mount Union, where he lined up at wide receiver and eventually coached the position he played and coordinated the offense for two seasons before his tenure at Toledo began.  

          The Rockets sport an all time 10-5 record in bowl games, winning two in a row over Temple and the friends we all love to hate in Arkansas State. In fact, Toledo has played  the Red Wolves each of the past three seasons beginning with the GoDaddy Bowl at the end of the 2014 season. The Rockets and Red Wolves then faced off in a home-and-home in 2015 and 2016. Toledo won all three games convincingly. This season, Toledo suffered a tough luck loss in Provo, UT to Brigham Young in a high scoring affair, and lost to both participants of the MAC Championship game in Ohio and Western Michigan. 

         A lot of the attention that Toledo garners revolves around an explosive offense that racks up yards in bunches. The Rockets are fourth in the country in total yards, eighth in passing yards, 18th in scoring, and 16th in first downs. They live off the big play,  mostly through the air. Quarterback Logan Woodside has at least three touchdown passes in every game this season and has 6 games over 300 yards passing. That gives him an astounding total of 43 touchdown passes on the season, to only nine interceptions. That is a ratio of an interception for every for every 43.5 attempts, and Woodisde has only surpassed 43.5 attempts in one game this season. However, Woodside has managed four interceptions in his last three games, coming on just 96 attempts. The ratio over the last four games is an interception for every 24 attempts. 

           Woodside unloads the majority of his passes to four different targets. They all bring a different element for their offense to attack defenses. Cody Thompson is the leading receiver in terms of yards, with 1,170 and 10 touchdowns. Corey Jones leads the teams in receptions with 60 and used primary in the intermediate zones on the field. Jon’Vea Johnson doesn’t see the volume that Thompson and Jones do, but he makes up for that averaging close to twenty yards per catch to along with his ten touchdowns. Tight end Michael Roberts leads the team with 15 receiving touchdowns only 43 catches on the season. Kareem Hunt is beneficiary of all the passing that Toledo does as he is the their bellcow on the ground. Hunt has half the teams rushing attempts on the season to along with his 1,355 yards, and also is a threat in the passing game with 39 receptions. 

           Countering the Toledo air attack will be easily the toughest defense the Rockets have faced this season. Besides boasting the nations 6th best pass efficient defense, the Mountaineers have picked off twenty passes on the season, good enough for the third most in the country. Woodside managed a season low 229 yards and threw two interceptions against Western Michigan in his last outing. The Broncos are the only other team on Toledo’s schedule who rank in the top quarter of the country in both passed intercepted and pass efficiency defense. 

         The Mountaineers have a little bit of offense of their own, but take a completely different approach than Toledo. The Apps prefer to pass to establish run, while Toledo runs to establish the pass. Jalin Moore’s 1,367 yards leads the team, but Marcus Cox has been the thoroughbred for four years and his 872 yards in eight games are equally impressive. Taylor Lamb provides fleet feet in the running game when opposing defenses focus too much on Moore and Cox. Mountaineers quarterbacks have thrown touchdown passes to twelve different receivers on the season which keeps defenses honest regardless who lines up on the field. 

          With similar records in regular season play, this matchup is exactly what the Camellia Bowl wants in its third ever game. Both squads had a game early in the season that got away from them in the waning moments. The way Toledo lost at Brigham Young was almost as unexpected as the way the Mountaineers fell at Tennessee. Equally, both teams lost games in conference play that were decided by less than a touchdown that had major impacts on their respective conference races. But neither team, Appalachian or Toledo, really beat a team that they were not favored to. Unless you want to include Arkansas State falling hard to the Rockets after being favored by 4.5 points. That result was a small surprise then, but not so much now. So, both teams are looking for a signature win on their season. Both looking to get to ten wins. Both teams with exceptional talent in the backfield and signal callers that execute their game plans well.  But what sets these teams apart from the other? It’s clear that Appalachian’s defense is superior to that of Toledo. The Mountaineers’ bend a little, but dont completely break style compares well to Toledo that likes to spread you all over the field. Toledo’s red zone offense is seventh in the country, the App red zone defense also ranks seventh nationwide. Toledo will some matchups against the App defense, and vice versa. The real key to this game is what Appalachian does when it has the ball. Do they methodically ground the Rockets into the ground with their patient attack? Will Toledo have the ball enough to get to thirty points and score more than their defense allows. Ultimately, the thirty point mark is what both teams will be shooting for. I think Appalachian gets there first and shortens the game in the fourth quarter for their second bowl win in as many games. 

The First Pick
Bottle Rockets 24
Mountaineers 30

Appalachian Football @ Akron

Here we go with Week 4

Appalachian State (1-2) @ Akron (2-1)

Saturday, September 24th, 2016 3:30 EST

TV/Video: American SportsNetwork/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

InfoCision Stadium

Surface: Prograss artificial turf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 67.56

Akron: 60.84

Home: 2.70

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 4 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -6

Series: first meeting

Last meeting: n/a

       After the one of tougher slates in recent memory to begin a season, Appalachian finishes off September with a road trip to Akron for its final non-conference game of the season. After this weekend, it’s all Fun Belt, all the time. The record the Mountaineers currently have is not a huge surprise, but the way the season has unfolded seems slightly unfulfilling. After a strong start at Tennessee, and a less than impressive win over Old Dominion, the Apps fell completely apart last weekend against Miami. The bright spots were few and far between and it didn’t appear the Mountaineers could do anything right. Throw in the injury to Marcus Cox, and the fans left Kidd Brewer with a really empty feeling last Saturday. It’s pretty obvious this team is in dire need of a win, just to get that feeling back before the games really start counting in conference play. To be honest, this game is about as close to being a must-win game as you can get. Another poor showing could create some panic among the natives, while a win would flip the script and provide some much needed momentum. Luckily, all the excitement of Volunteers and Hurricanes are behind us, and App can focus on good, old-fashioned boring football. 

         For the majority of their existence, Akron football has been a major afterthought in the state of Ohio. The school holds a losing record all time, although only 17 games below the .500 mark. The Zips not only won their first bowl game in school history in 2015, but also won their first postseason game in school history as well. Akron previously lost the 2005 Motor City Bowl, and lost an opening round game in the I-AA playoffs in 1985. The 8-5 record that Terry Bowden led Akron to in 2015 was their first winning season since the 2005 season. It was the 7th winning season in Akron’s history since they made the jump from I-AA to I-A in 1987. Akron has been a member of the MAC since 1992 while serving as an independent for their first five years in FBS. 

        Akron’s season thus far has been quite interesting. The Zips started slow before eventually dispatching VMI 47-24 in their opening game. Akron only led by two points entering the fourth quarter, before scoring three unanswered touchdowns. Wisconsin rolled up 586 yards of offense on the Zips the following week en route to a 54-10 win. The win over Marshall garnered a lot of attention due to the lopsided score. Marshall jumped out to a 21-7 lead after the first quarter, until Akron scored 34 points in the second quarter and cruised to a 65-38 win. Akron was the beneficiary of a short fields and Marshall turnovers in a quarter where the defense and special teams both scored.

       Akron lives by their quarterback play. Thomas Woodson is averaging 298 yards passing a game through the air, but suffers under pressure. Wisconsin sacked Woodson three times and intercepted him once in holding the junior to 108 yards. Woodson threw for 407 yards and 379 yards against VMI and Marshall respectively. All ten of his touchdown passes came in the two Akron wins. Woodson is a true pocket passer and looks more like a fullback at 6’1 and 233 pounds than he does a quarterback. His favorite targets are JoJo Natson and Jerome Lane, who have been on the receiving end of six touchdown passes. Natson is a small guy who can really run, while Lane provides a big target at 6’3 and 220 pounds. 

          The obvious major concern for the Mountaineers this week is the availability of Marcus Cox, who is the bread and butter of the Mountaineer offense. His backups have potential, but have been shaky in limited action this season. Jalin Moore improved as the game went on last week, but has been generally been too antsy. Behind Moore, is freshman Darryonton Evans  who has shown potential, but is still very raw. Josh Boyd returned to practice this week after a injury sustained in fall camp. It remains to be seen how close Boyd is to game shape and conditioning. Whichever back gets the load will need to keep the chains moving in a positive direction to relieve pressure off Taylor Lamb, who is off to a very slow start. 

          Akron provides a challenge to Appalachian’s defense that was certainly exposed once again by an up tempo offense. The Zips love the big play and have no intentions of using the clock to their advantage. Akron is currently 127 out of 128 teams in time of possession, but it has been working for them. To only posses the ball for 22 minutes on average and still manage to put up over 40 points a game is saying something. Conversely, Appalachian is one of the leaders in the country controlling the clock and will need to use that to their advantage, not only keeping Akron off the field, but scoring when they do have the ball. The idea of a high scoring game does not play in App’s favor at this point. Akron is pretty sloppy in all areas of the game outside of their offense. They are the 3rd most penalized team in the country, have allowed the 5th most first downs, and are one of only 11 teams in the nation allowing over 500 yards of offense to their opponents. Only six teams have had two extra points blocked, including Akron, and place kicker Tom O’Leary has missed another extra point opportunity. The best path to victory for Appalachian will be to contain the Zip offense. Akron will certainly test the Mountaineers deep based on what Miami was able to do, and the big ball is such an important part of their game. Appalachian must play a better game in the secondary and keep receivers in front of them and be crisper while substituting or else it could be another long day. 

The First Pick
Buttons 26
Mountaineers 31