Appalachian Football @ Tennessee

Here we go with Week 1

Appalachian State (0-0) @ #9 Tennessee (0-0)

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 7:30 EST

TV/Video: SEC Network

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

Neyland Stadium

Surface: Natural Grass

Capacity: 102,455

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 67.36

Tennessee: 87.46

Home: 2.61

Tennessee is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 22.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Tennessee -21

Series: First meeting

Last meeting: n/a

The Camellia Bowl feels like ages ago. The Mountaineers added another signature win to its resume at the end of 2015 in a season full of firsts. But finally, the honeymoon is over. After two strong seasons in the Sun Belt, playing in and winning their first bowl game, the real test is in front of the Mountaineer football program. Success at the FBS level of football is not defined by one flash in the pan, but by continued, prolonged periods of prosperity. The next big hurdle for Appalachian is to win a conference championship, and most pundits believe this year might be the year. The Mountaineers avoid 2015 Sun Belt champion Arkansas State in 2016, but do travel during the week to Lafayette and Statesboro, which appear to be the more trying of games to win during the conference schedule. Prior to the seasons end goals, The Mountaineers will face perhaps their toughest non-conference slate since 2005, the last time Appalachian faced off against two “Power 5” schools. It’s a been a while since Appalachian has knocked off a team it wasn’t supposed to. The Mountaineers are due for a win against one of the games more recognizable names in the sport. A triumph this week would go a long way towards building a program that has really big dreams. 
There are several thought processes behind the lull of really big wins since 2007. One, is that the win in 2007 was so big, no team was ever going to allow themselves to be the next guy.  They’ll never hear the end of it, because we literally haven’t either. The second idea is that Appalachian simply has not been as good as that 2007 team. Appalachian has fielded decent teams, but the right matchup has not presented itself. Finally, the opponents have had good timing and have been much better. That statement has some truth, when you consider Clemson, LSU and Tennesee, but that scenario isn’t always the case. 

Tennessee is everyone’s darling this season, as a favorite to win the SEC East, and potentially advance to the College Football Playoff. The Volunteers have their tougher games at home within conference play and most of the Big Orange faithful view Appalachian only as an afterthought. However, many Tennesee players and coaches have been quoted, giving Appalachian respect, regardless of the past, and treating this game just like any other. 

The Volunteers offense is built on a strong running game and minimizing their mistakes. The one-two combination of quaterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd are tough to slow down. Dobbs was responsible for 671 yards on the ground in 2015, while Hurd accounted for 1,288 yards. Throw in the elusive Alvin Kamara’s 698 yards and the trio accounted for 30 of the 32 rushing touchdowns and 92% of their rushing total for the Vols in 2015. Additionally, Dobbs is very protective of the football, throwing just five interceptions in thirteen games, giving him a 69:1 attempt to interception ratio. Kamara is threat to catch the ball out of the backfield when he spells Hurd, corralling 34 passes last season. 

Team 120’s defense is equally as talented as their offensive counterparts. Defensive end Derek Barnett returns for his junior season and he is only twelve sacks always from breaking a school record held by Reggie White. Barnett has posted back to back seasons with double digit sack totals, and also broke the Tennessee freshman record for sacks in 2014. Jalen Reeves-Maybin anchors the linebackers, posting consecutive 100 tackle seasons to go along with twenty-five tackles for loss over that same period of time. Senior defensive back Cameron Sutton has 26 pass breakups over his career and has  snagged six interceptions. All three players were named first team All-SEC by the league’s coaches entering the season. 

Much has been made about all the talent that Tennessee returns, but the same can be said about Appalachian. The Mountaineers returned 20 such players in 2015, and have have answered the bell again with 15 in 2016. The best part is that those starters return in all the right places. Appalachian is going to run the ball, and with three stalwarts on the offensive line and one of the deepest backfields in the country, that recipe shouldn’t change. If there is a hole on offense, it belongs to an inexperienced group of receivers. I’d guess that Scott Satterfield is quite aware of that perceived weakness and has done everything possible to prepare the group, while the players have also heard that talk as well for an entire offseason. 

The Mountaineer defense has a couple holes to fill as well, but are also very seasoned where it counts. One person will not be asked to replace Ronald Blair’s sacks or Doug Middleton’s leadership, but a collection will fill that role. Appalachian’s group of linebackers is by far the best in the Sun Belt. All four, John Law, Devan Stringer, Keenan Gilchrist and Eric Boggs have been starting since they were freshman. They have made the plays and seen it all. The defensive line will be underrated, even without Tyson Fernandez manning the middle, but the rotation of up to eight different lineman will keep Appalachian fresh on Thursday night and beyond. 
If we all remember prior to Clemson game week last season and the analysis that was tossed around, and then measure to Tennesee in 2016, there are a lot of equal comparisons. Two teams both on the rise, looking to break through into national prominence. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman compared nicely to Jalen Hurd. Two bigger backs that won’t kill you with speed, but you don’t want to get in their way if they have a head of steam. Hurd has a distinct size advantage over Gallman at 6’4 240 pounds, but they have similar power. Appalachian’s number one goal on Thursday will be to minimize Hurd’s effectiveness. He’ll get his yards, but the Apps must limit his big plays. Doing that will put more pressure on Joshua Dobbs to beat Appalachian with his arm. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson threw three really good touchdown passes over the App secondary last year that only Deshaun Watson can throw. Dobbs doesn’t possess that deep ball accuracy that Watson did. If Dobbs is forced to throw, that is a win for Appalachian. More importantly, if Dobbs can’t throw and wants to run, App needs to keep him contained in the pocket. Dobbs ability to scramble is uncanny, and he can turn those third and longs into first downs with ease. Appalachian’s opportunity to win falls in the hands of Taylor Lamb, who cannot have a repeat outing like he did in Clemson last year. If Lamb can avoid the turnovers, and gel with the new receivers, it bodes well for the Mountaineers on Thursday, and for the remainder of the season. 

The First Pick
Lil Smokies 34
Mountaineers 21

Apps fall late at Alabama

Appalachian could not hold a two point lead at halftime and fell to Alabama on Sunday. Tommy Spagnola turned in a strong double-double with 18 points and ten rebounds. Dustin Clarke and Frank Eaves both chipped in with thirteen points and a trio of three pointers each.

The Mountaineers had a chance to win in the closing seconds. Alabama had a foul to give and did so with three seconds left. Appalachian had a baseline inbounds play drawn up for Frank Eaves, who rushed the shot and missed everything. Eaves’s defender got in the air, and had a chance to draw a foul on the three point attempt or dribble to his left for an uncontested look.

Appalachian was spotted 18.5 points going into the game and cruised to a road cover. The Mountaineers have been good over the years on the road against marginal teams from the power conferences. This tweet secured my pick of the Mountaineers, which improves my picks to 5-1 on the season.

Appalachian Football @ Georgia

Here we go with Week 10:

Appalachian State (2-7, 2-4 SoCon) @ Georgia (5-3, 4-2 SEC)

Time: 12:30 pm

TV/Video: ESPN GamePlan, ESPN3

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

Sanford Stadium

Surface: Natural Grass

Capacity: 92,746

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

App State: 48.73

UGA: 83.93

Home: 3.49

Georgia is favored by the Sagarin ratings by38.5 points (rounded).

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

WXAPP’s Athens Gameday Weather Trends

Mostly Sunny, Lower 60’s at kickoff, Mid 60’s by the end of the game

            Growing pains are never easy. Sometimes the same mistakes are made over and over and learning from them is easier said than done. The Mountaineers seem to be repeating history with each passing loss. With a team full of freshmen, mistakes are unavoidable. Making mistakes are what they do more often than making the right play or read. Saturday’s loss was a good game to watch from a football perspective, but not from a black and gold point of view. The difference was the turnovers. Both teams turned the ball over once with the Mountaineers offense sputtering with a punt following their takeaway. Chattanooga took advantage on their interception, by returning it for a touchdown. Unfortunately, that was the difference on the scoreboard. Another crummy way to end a game, by letting it slip away late. There is no cure to being young, other than dealing with it. At this point in the season, we are almost at a loss for words. Going back to drawing board is getting old, but still a necessity. This week the Mountaineers have to dig real deep, and look for some motivation as they travel to one of college football’s most mystical stadiums for a battle in which they are severely overmatched. Georgia is constantly stocked with some of the best talent in the country at all positions, but has had plenty of issues having one of those truly special teams over the years. They are comparable to those Appalachian teams prior to national championships as they are never an easy win and always considered one of the best. Finally these two schools will face off after the game being moved to different seasons on two occasions. We’ll just say the Dawgs were avoiding the Mountaineers, waiting until the time was right.

            It has been difficult seeing Appalachian struggle to stop a team that is dependent on aspect of their game. Many games this season, the Mountaineers could have focused on one player to contain defensively and it would have dramatically increased their chances of winning. Jacob Huesman did to the Mountaineers almost exactly what Darien Robinson of The Citadel did. He didn’t force the action, and let the game come to him. Nothing Chattanooga did last week was special in the least bit. Huesman ran endlessly it seemed, always getting enough yards to move the chains and shorten the game. He averaged 8.2 yards per rush, while the remainder of the Mocs averaged 3.2 yards per carry. The Mountaineers couldn’t contain him. Huesman didn’t throw a lot, but when he did, it was worked well enough to keep the defense honest. Huesman completed thirteen passes to seven different receivers and both of his touchdown passes were over twenty yards.

            The Mountaineers looked decent on offense, but unlike the previous week, they could not hit the big play in the passing game with regularity. There were a couple twenty yard plays, but the thirty, forty and fifty yard gains were absent. Kam Bryant continued his streak of being incredibly accurate. He completed 72% of his passes in the game, which actually lowered his completion percentage for the season. Bryant has completed 73.2% of his passes on the season, and if he keeps pace for three more games, would break a record that goes all the way back to 2009, when Armanti Edwards completed 68% of his passes for the season. Bryant has now thrown a touchdown pass in seven straight games and has eclipsed 250 yards passing for the third straight game. Marcus Cox continues to churn out the yards. His 29 carries were the most in a game in his short career, and fell one yard short of tying his career high in rushing yards in a game with 158 on the ground. Cox scored three touchdowns, another career high for a single game, and now has fourteen combined scores on the season.  Cox is 296 yards away from breaking the school record for rushing yards in a season by a freshman, which is also held by Armanti Edwards when he ran for 1,153 yards in 2006. Edwards had the benefit of playing in three more games than Cox will this season.

            Georgia entered the season ranked fifth by the Associated Press and were considered by many to be a national championship contender. That goal took a small hit when they lost on opening weekend to then #8 Clemson and the injury bug caught up with them midseason in stunning losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in consecutive weekends. In Georgia’s first four games, they were averaging 42 points a game, and since then have fallen to just under 27 points per contest in their last four games. The Dawgs needed overtime in Knoxville to get past Tennessee and a game winning drive last week in the fourth quarter to defeat Florida. The Bulldogs have played fourteen true freshmen this season at some point, and ten of those have been on the defensive side of the ball. In the defensive secondary, Georgia has used five different lineups in eight games. In all, Georgia has started 17 different players for the first time of their career this season.

             The Georgia injuries have not been as plentiful on the offensive side of the ball, but they have hit the Bulldogs in some very key places. The one that has gained the most attention is tailback Todd Gurley, who is likely to play this weekend. Gurley is going to be a problem for the Mountaineers if he is at full strength. He is only a sophomore and list of accolades are already a career’s worth of work for any average player. The most important superlative that stands out: Gurley is only the second Georgia running back to gain 1,000 yards as a freshman. The other guy was Herschel Walker. Gurley is a sure fire draft pick, likely the first running back taken, whenever he decides to leave school. He is 6’1 and 232 pounds and has 4.4 speed as well. Appalachian has to hope he is limited, or that the Bulldogs try to save him for #7 Auburn the following week.

            As if Gurley was not enough offense, the Dawgs also have Aaron Murray at quarterback, who is one touchdown pass away from tying Danny Wuerffel’s SEC career record. Murray has been a four year starter and is another future NFL draft pick. Murray has 18 touchdown passes in eight games this season and will likely get a huge roar from the Bulldog faithful when he breaks that record on Saturday. Murray and his offense have been quick starters all season, scoring nearly a third of their points in the first quarter. However, Georgia’s offense tails off as the game wears on. Sixty percent of their points scored this season have come in the first half of games. Meanwhile, the Georgia defense has had trouble finishing in either half this season, giving up 64% of their points in the second and fourth quarters. If the Mountaineers want to compete, they must find a way to get the offense going early, and keep the Bulldogs at bay at the start of the game. Recent FBS games at Florida and Virginia Tech may remind Appalachian fans how important it is to get off to a good start. In both of those games, the Mountaineers were steamrolled by the end of the first quarter. In neither of those games did Appalachian score a meaningful touchdown. That is the basics of this game on Saturday. Appalachian must avoid the early onslaught and contain Georgia as best they can. The Bulldogs are so young and hobbled on defense and the Mountaineers must attack on offense, especially in the passing game. Marcus Cox might be the key for the Mountaineers though. It is doubtful we see another game with close to thirty carries, but he needs to be effective enough to keep Georgia and their defensive line away from Kam Bryant. The Bulldogs have sacked opposing quarterbacks 23 times this season, which is second in the SEC. Georgia does give up 7.5 yards per pass play, and 31.6 points per game on the season, which are both dead last in the SEC. Both teams are in the red on turnover margin, the Bulldogs giving the ball up six more times than their opponents and the Mountaineers are three in the hole. Georgia most likely will win this game going away, but Appalachian will have their chances to stick around and keep the Georgia faithful uneasy.


The First Pick:

Hair of the Dawg        42

Mountaineers              21

Men’s Basketball 69 South Carolina 74

Appalachian looks to build on its win over UMKC when it faces off against South Carolina (RPI #196) on Wednesday evening. The Gamecocks (6-3) are an interesting team thus far in the season. They really do not own a quality win, but have had some questionable losses. The obvious one is their twelve point home loss to Elon. Another questionable loss is the nine point home loss to Clemson and thirdly, a twenty-four point loss to St. John’s in Queens, NY. This South Carolina team has the look of a very inconsistent team.

First year head coach Frank Martin, formerly of Kansas State is working through a lineup that has yet to find a true leading scorer. Four ‘Cocks are averaging in double figures, but the leading scorer, Brenton Williams who leads the team with 13.2 points per contest has only started in four games. Only three players on Martin’s roster have started all nine games, and they average a combined 19.4 points per game. As a team, the ‘Cocks average a riduculous 19 turnovers a game, but are outrebounding their opponents by over ten rebounds per game. This will be South Carolina’s first game since December 7th.

Appalachian benefited greatly from Mike Neal being eligible for the first time this season in their win over UMKC. Even though Neal’s numbers didn’t show it, you could almost hear it on the radio how this team has come together. I am trying not to get ahead of myself, as I believe this team could contend in the North Division . Only Davidson has separated itself from rest of the conference and the Mountaineers could be getting things together at the right time. Jay Canty continues to lead the team in scoring at 17.9 points per game and 6.4 rebounds. The Mountaineers feature three regular players shooting over 40% from behind the arc in Tab Hamilton, Nathan Healy and Jamaal Trice.

The spread has been set at nine points by one Vegas book, but we will wait until tomorrow for a more official line. South Carolina has been up and down against the line, while the Mountaineers are on fire, covering every lined game this season. If the number stays around nine points we will likely stick with the Mountaineers, and especially so if it creeps into the double digits. Currenty we are 5-1 on the season.

UPDATE: As of 1:15, spread has jumped up to 10.5 points in favor of South Carolina. This movement even garnered interest from twitter in this tweet.

@statmyles: Appalachian St 2-7, but a perfect 6-0 ATS, they are +10 road dogs (move from +9.5) vs S.Carolina, 5PM tip


Appalachian rallied from a double digit deficit twice in the first half before eventually falling at South Carolina. The Mountaineers trailed most of the game, but battled back from several occasions where South Carolina could have pulled away. Appalachian trailed by 7 points with 1:47, 1:34 and 0:37 remaining in the second half but still managed an opportunity to tie the game with a three pointer on their final possession. South Carolina missed several key free throws down the stretch, which gave Appalachian a chance at tying the game at the end of regulation. Unfortunately, some misplaced passes on their final possession hurried a three point attempt from Nathan Healy that fell well short. South Carolina iced the game with two made free throws after the missed shot from Appalachian and subsequent foul.

Appalachian mostly used a seven man rotation even though Chris Burgess logged four minutes. Every other player that saw action played at least twenty minutes. Three Mountaineers led all scorers with sixteen points. Jay Canty added eight rebounds to his sixteen points. Mike Neal, starting in his first game of the season, finished with sixteen points and grabbed seven rebounds while assisting on seven made baskets. Tevin Baskin added four rebounds and four blocks to his team leading point total. 

Appalachian’s streak of covering spreads will eventually end, but  here is hoping the Vegas sharks are making some money on the Mountaineers. For the seventh straight game this season, the Mountaineers covered the spread. Despite a 2-8 record, the Mountaineers are 7-0 in lined games. We made the right call, and moved our record to 6-1 on the season. There is a high likelihood that Presbyterian will not draw interest on a Saturday to deserve a spread, but we will keep our eyes peeled. More likely, is that Milligan will not garner a spread either in the next game. Once the conference season starts, the lines will have had time to reset themselves, and we will probably see more challenging picks during the conference season.

Men’s Basketball 56, Missouri 72

We knew this was a game that could get ugly, as Missouri was ranked 16th in the nation, and it appears we did not miss much from the Mountaineer hoopers while most of the Appalachian fan base was focused on playoff football. The Mountaineers continue to look for their first Division I, and Mountaineer fans are waiting ever so patiently.

There was a bright spot, that Jay Canty is as good as advertised. Even though Canty appeared to be the only Mountaineer that could score with any consistency, as he managed to score over half the team’s points. Missouri took care of the rest the of the Appalachian squad, holding them to ten made field goals. Canty finished with 29 points and six rebounds. No other Mountaineer scored in double figures. Besides Canty, the rest of the Mountaineers shot 25% from the field.

Even though Appalachian can’t figure out how to win, neither can Vegas odds makers. We knew a big spread was coming this game, as the Mountaineers were 25.5 point underdogs. As long as Appalachian is covering the big road spreads, we will continue to ride the momentum. Appalachian covered for the fourth straight time this season. For some perspective into how interesting these covers have been, one must look back. Virginia Tech is 7-0 and has covered every spread this season, except against Appalachian. Duquesne has covered each time they were underdogs, and lost each time they were favorites. East Carolina is 5-1 and has only covered one spread all year long. It is becoming super interesting as we move to 3-1 on the season.

Upcoming is Western Carolina on Saturday, who I would imagine would be favored by a few points, maybe as many six or so. The Catamounts are 3-5 on the season, with some really tough losses to Howard, Austin Peay, and UNC-Asheville. Western has covered two straight, their only two covers on the season. The Cats have Illinois on Tuesday before coming home this weekend against their hated rival for only their second home game of the season.