Here we go with Week 1:
#12 Appalachian State (0-0) @ #20 Montana (0-0)
Time: 9 pm EST
TV/Video: ESPN3, ESPN Gameplan
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WMFR 1230 High Point, Greensboro; WSML 1200, Burlington, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WTOE 1470 Spruce Pine; WPWT 870 Bristol, Johnston City; WZGV 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville; WLON 1050 Lincolnton
Surface: Field Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 62.99
Home: 3.01 points
Montana is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 1 ½ points (rounded).
Series: Montana leads 2-1
Last Meeting: Appalachian 35, Montana 27, September 8, 2012
WXAPP’s Missoula Gameday Weather Trends:
Mostly Sunny Skies, Kickoff Temps: Mid 80’s, Halftime: Mid to upper 70’s, End of game: Lower 70’s. Mostly clear throughout
It has been a quarter century since there has been this much change in the Appalachian State football program. The offseason after the 1988 campaign still does not compare to the earth shaking changes that were made earlier this spring and summer. The Mountaineers will begin the 2013 season with a brand spanking new coach, a new helmet logo, and a new conference affiliation to look forward to in 2014. There are now more scholarships in the future, as well as a twelve game season that will become the norm. Lost in the shuffle is the old traditional playoff format, whose field was increasing despite the lack of talent, and the odds of hosting a game in the typically rough December weather of the High Country. Also new on Jack Branch Drive is a defensive coordinator that hopes to restore the era of a dominant Appalachian defense, one that used to put more points on the board than the offense in some instances. There has been plenty of change in the mountains these past few months. The teacher has made way for the pupil, and he brings with him all of the lessons that make Appalachian a special place. What occurs off the field will be dealt with in the same manners as they always have, yet what happens between the lines might be what changes the most.
Nearly a year ago, Montana visited Appalachian for the first time to open the home slate for the Mountaineers. The much anticipated contest was the first between the two schools in the regular season. Twice before, the Mountaineers had fallen on the games final play in the playoffs in Missoula. Last year was somewhat of a victory for Appalachian that healed some old wounds. It wasn’t quite a semifinal playoff win, but it was enough to quench the thirst. A thrilling game saw Appalachian bolt to a quick lead in the first quarter and clinch the victory in the closing minutes by current Jacksonville Jaguar Demetrius McCray. It was a win that was sorely needed for the Mountaineers to avoid starting the season 0-2.
The star of the game for the Mountaineers on that night was Jamal Jackson. For Jackson, who now honors his mother after changing his last name to Londry-Jackson, 2012 was his first year as a full blown starter for the black and gold. Jackson was unconscious, completing 70% of this passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another touchdown along with 65 yards on the ground. As has been the theme this off season, those numbers will likely change. Londry-Jackson underwent knee surgery after last season to fully repair the injury he suffered in the Western Carolina game. Londry-Jackson is reportedly nearing 100%, but may never be fully healthy once the season starts. Londry-Jackson carried the ball 16 times in that game, and I would be surprised if we see half as many attempts. Also on that night a year ago, Londry-Jackson had Sean Price to throw it to, who caught a team high eight passes that night. Price will most likely not play this weekend has he serves a suspension for some ill-advised decision making. The Mountaineers will only fly as high Londry-Jackson. He needs to stay healthy throughout the season and showcase his passing ability versus his agility in the run game this weekend in Missoula.
If a team is going to have some bad luck, and lose a player to suspension, it might as well come from the most talented position on the roster. Losing Price this weekend is a big hit, but the Mountaineers will have many weapons running routes on Saturday. Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock provide a perfect combination in all aspects for Appalachian. Washington is perhaps more of the possession receiver than Peacock, but also has game breaking ability. Washington has been honored by several media outlets for his skills in the return game. Peacock is slighter than Washington by an inch and ten pounds, but is a true x-factor on the field. Peacock was second on the team with 79 catches a year ago, and caught five or more passes in eleven games. Peacock also threw two touchdown passes in the final two games last season.
Despite losing Steven Miller and his 1,750 total yards and fifteen touchdowns to the NFL’s Detroit Lions, the Appalachian running back situation may have improved. Former walk-on Ricky Fergerson, a sophomore, has earned the starting running back role. Behind him are converted quarterback Paul Magloire and true freshman Marcus Cox. Magloire is a true downhill runner with tremendous upper body strength while Cox can stretch the field on the ground and in the passing game. Fergerson is a bit of an unknown with only five career carries, but can hide behind the line at 5’8” and is maybe the better option in pass protection. Chances are high that all three get significant playing time on Saturday.
The biggest question of the season is found on the defensive side of the ball. There is no question that Nate Woody has brought with him a formula that has worked in the past with what many would consider lesser talent than his previous coaching stop. Eventually it will work, but how long will it take for a very young group to really grasp the scheme? In the trenches the Mountaineers feature a pair of seasoned defensive ends in Ronald Blair and Deuce Robinson. In the middle Thomas Bronson anchors the line. Stephen Burns who started most of the season in 2012 and Greg Milhouse will also see their share of snaps at the tackle position in Woody’s 3-4 alignment. The linebackers are where the youth is officially served. Two freshmen will join two seniors who have not seen a ton of playing time over the years. John Law and Rashaad Townes are the young duo who will be joined by Michael Frazier, who is back on defense after a year at H-back, and Karl Anderson, who has played well when needed in the past. This youth at linebacker occurs every three or four years at Appalachian and the Mountaineers always seem to reload at that position. The secondary provides almost as much turnover in names as the linebackers, especially at the safety position. Joel Ross and Rodger Walker are both all-SoCon caliber bookends on their good days. Freshman Alex Gray may remind some of Corey Hall who played in the late 1990’s as a long and rangy safety that hardly ever let a receiver get behind him.
Montana looks to be about the typical Montana from past decades. They are big on the offensive line and rely heavily on the running game. They are also experienced on that side of the ball, as the starting five have earned eleven varsity letters. Last year, despite trailing for nearly the entire game, the Grizzlies still ran the ball 45 times, even without being incredibly effective as a team. Montana averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Last year the Griz started freshman Trent McKinney at quarterback against Appalachian, who completed half of his attempts for over three hundred yards and three touchdowns, but was doomed by his trio of interceptions. McKinney is listed as the backup to Jordan Johnson for Saturday. Johnson did not play last year dealing with his own legal troubles in which he was eventually acquitted. How Johnson will adjust to the year off from live football will be something to watch. Halfback Jordan Canada returns from a near 600 yard season. The bulk of Canada’s carries came late in the season, and he was effective much of the time, averaging right at five yards per carry.
The Montana defense has received some credit from last year being a team that was stingy against the run, allowing less than 100 yards a game on the ground. Looking at the flipside, the Griz were second to last in passing yards allowed, ranking 120th in the country. Part of that ranking was helped by giving up a 660 yard passing day to North Dakota State, but the Griz also gave up a three 300 yard passing games, and four more games they allowed 247 yards passing or more. There are a bunch of upperclassmen in the Montana secondary which makes one believe that they might have improved in that area, at least with experience, but a complete turnaround is going to take some time.
There are certainly questions marks on both defenses. One team has a very youthful group while the other has shown their holes last season. Appalachian and Scott Satterfield have embraced a mentality, “Always Attack”, that promotes running to the line quickly between offensive snaps. The quicker you go, the less time the defense has to react, and to substitute. We have seen instances of this attitude in the past, but never a full onslaught for sixty minutes. In his first game under the helm, what exactly can we expect from the virgin head coach? With all this change, one may wonder if it might be too much all at once, and wonder how long this transition will take. If there is anything about Saturday night that we can be certain of, is that Appalachian is probably going to throw the ball close to forty times. Jamal Londry-Jackson may run a few times, but if anything, it will be to keep the defense honest and it will be toward the sideline, away from any trouble. I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that the Mountaineers leading rusher, in way of yards and carries will not be Ricky Fergerson, who was not extremely healthy for the entirety of fall camp. The Appalachian defense may look rough in spots, but I believe they will be very opportunistic by forcing a key turnover. I could easily see Montana rolling up 250 yards on the ground, as the physicality of the opening game and the volume of Washington-Grizzly Stadium take a toll on a young defense. The last time the Mountaineers played in Missoula, they were flagged for ten penalties for nearly a hundred yards. That lack of focus can prolong drives, and usually favors the home team. Although Montana is coming off a 5-6 season, this is their first regular season night game in school history. The Griz have also scheduled a “Maroon Out”, where fans are encouraged to wear nothing but the schools most dominant color on Saturday evening. Appalachian has had good success on the road when schools have scheduled similar events. Appalachian is 0-9 east of the Mississippi, but that will have to change if they want to guarantee success in the Sun Belt and FBS in years to come. Conversely, the Mountaineers have faired well all time in televised games, including a 5-2 mark on ESPN Gameplan.
The First Pick:
Care Bears 28