Appalachian Football vs South Alabama

Appalachian State (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs South Alabama (1-3, 1-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, September 29th, 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: 77.03

South Alabama: 53.08

Home: 2.70

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 26.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -26

Series: Tied 1-1

Last meeting: App State 34, South Alabama 27, December 5, 2015 Mobile, AL

WxCrum Forecast: Partly cloudy to mostly cloudy, Temps in the mid to upper 60’s

We are back on track, playing games and no longer fretting about the past. Although a good old-fashioned whipping lacks the drama and intrigue of the conference slate, it was the perfect medicine for what cured the ailments of the App State faithful. Now the attention turns to the most important part of the season: ring games. The hardware is a big reason why you play, the reward at the end of a successful season. Appalachian has aspirations that include winning a title and the first hurdle is South Alabama, one of the five Sun Belt schools to beat the Mountaineers once. Not only are the Jaguars one of the five, they were the first of five schools to beat Appalachian, and one of only two schools to win in Boone. Those small facts are just enough to have the fan base on the edge of their seats for this game. That’s the kind of game you long for. Having just enough butterflies floating around to get you feeling a little funny. But never fear folks, it’s not 2014 anymore, and the Mountaineers are a much more talented group than what they fielded in their FBS infancy. The Jaguars are still trying to find solid ground in what is now their tenth season of football in school history and for the first time, they have a new head coach leading the charge. 

Over the years, the Jaguars seasons have been defined by their week in and week out inconsistencies. They can beat any team in the conference on any day, and can also be beaten any day. That is what eventually got former coach Joey Jones fired. Enter Steve Campbell, a lower division lifer, with stops all over the deep south, including Central Arkansas and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. Campbell has never had a losing season in nineteen years as a head coach. He grew up on the Gulf Coast and although South Alabama may have not been a dream job, it is a job that makes him very comfortable. He is flanked with numerous coaches on his staff that he has coached with prior which creates a very cohesive group. 

One area that has drastically improved for South Alabama is their offense. A stagnant group in 2017 which averaged under twenty points per game, has increased their output by nine points. The problem is, their defense has done the same. The Jaguars allowed 26.5 points per contest in 2017, and that number has ballooned to 42 points per game. Scoring more points should put your team in position to contend for more wins, but for a team that has allowed thirty or more points in every contest, they likely are not very excited to see a team this weekend that is averaging 51.7 points per game in App State. 

Jaguar starting quarterback Evan Orth has played in every game this season, but only recently became the starter. Orth was listed fourth on the depth chart in the spring, but has outlasted his competition with his resilient nature. One quarterback decided to transfer, another was suspended, and the third was plain out inefficient. The UAB transfer has finally found a home and seems to be running the offense that Steve Campbell likes. A good mix of power reads, options, and the deep ball have kept the Jaguars in a lot of games. Orth has completed 69% of his passes for 789 yards, and six touchdowns to only one interception. Orth also has 113 rushing yards to his credit. Kawaan Baker has been the beneficiary of the option game from the slot. Baker leads the team with 134 rushing yards on just twenty-one attempts, but has crossed the goal line four times. Jamarius Way has over a third of the team’s catches for over half the team’s receiving yards. Way is a big receiver who does not have gamebreaking speed, but enough to be effective

In what eventually amounted to as game to pad statistics, Appalachian played just about everyone in their 72-7 win over Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineer offense was dominant from the start, scoring in just three plays on their opening drive and never trailing. It was an expected result that was inflated due to two blocked punts, one recovered for a touchdown, and the other where the Mountaineers scored on the following play. Long touchdowns by Jalin Moore from 81 yards, and D’Andre Hicks from 73 yards including a 62 yard punt return by Clifton Duck highlighted the day. Of the ten touchdown drives, only two of them took longer than five minutes to complete and the Mountaineers punted just once. 

The rushing attack led the day, with 432 yards coming on the ground, with Hicks going for 150 yards on eleven attempts and Moore ending his day with 119 yards on just eight carries. Moore now has 253 yards and three touchdowns on the year, all on just 37 carries. His low usage should keep him fresh for later in the season. Zac Thomas had a light day, with 185 yards passing to up his total to 750 yards on the season. Thomas added one passing and one rushing touchdown. Thomas has had a hand in nine touchdowns for the Mountaineers this season. 

South Alabama has had a difficult schedule to this point. They have fallen victim to always tough Louisiana Tech, and the high octane offenses of Oklahoma State and Memphis. All three are in the top 20% of all NCAA offenses this season. As are the Mountaineers. What those three schools cannot claim is top ten defense. Memphis is 23rd, La Tech is 37th and Oklahoma State is 70th. Having a couple lopsided games certainly can skew some of this data, but eventually, your team starts resembling what they actually are. South Alabama has a rather inexperienced interior of their offensive line. Even with an offense that likes to get rid of the ball quick, I’d expect Appalachian to send pressure up the middle to test a young offensive line. With an offense such as the Jaguars, who are only averaging 3.62 yards per rushing attempt, the Jaguars could be in plenty of long yardage scenarios on third down. That is where the Mountaineers break the soul of South Alabama. The Mountaineers can clog the running lanes with their rangy linebackers who have surrendered just 2.93 yards per carry. I’ve been back and forth on this pick all week long, and although the Jaguars might score some points, the Mountaineers might just be too much to overcome this weekend. 

The First Pick

Spotted Cats 17

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football @ South Alabama

Here we go with week 12
Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ South Alabama (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 5th, 7:30 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

Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 33,471

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.62

South Alabama: 50.81

Home: 2.68

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -18

Series: South Alabama leads 1-0

Last meeting: South Alabama 47, App State 21, October 4th, 2014, Boone, NC

Nearly fourteen months ago, South Alabama marched right into Kidd Brewer Stadium and politely welcomed Appalachian to the Sun Belt with a lopsided loss. The game was the second for Appalachian in the Sun Belt era, as the Mountaineers had faced Georgia Southern the week before, but it was the first real taste of competition from the new conference. Since that loss, and starting 0-2 in Sun Belt play in 2014, the Mountaineers have won twelve of their next thirteen conference clashes. That game last season may not represent the current state of either Appalachian or South Alabama, but that is not lost on the coaching staff of the Mountaineers. They remember what it felt like to get manhandled at home in their true Sun Belt opener. That’s not to say that the Mountaineers are looking for revenge, but the ultimate focus on getting that tenth win in the regular season is a major motivating factor. Knowing that a bowl game is on the horizon also is not enough to distract a team that is extremely hungry to finish this season off the right way. 

South Alabama has had plenty of chances this season to become bowl eligible. They have thrown away numerous  opportunities to get that elusive sixth win but have not been able to seal the deal. The last thing they wanted to do was get to the last two games of the regular season, facing Georgia Southern and Appalachian needing to get a victory. With each puzzling loss this season, the Jaguars have captured wins that are complete head scratchers. In October, South Alabama allowed Arkansas State to score 29 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a loss.  The following week, the Jaguars fell victim to a massive  downpour in San Marcos and were doubled up by Texas State, who now sits at 3-8. The next week, South Alabama overcame a seventeen point halftime deficit to Idaho, and scored 45 points in the second half and won. Following that win, the Jaguars rolled up 495 yards on Louisiana to keep their bowl hopes alive. Since then, South Alabama’s offense has mustered two touchdowns in their last two games. 

Inconsistency has been the Jaguars problem all year. They are as good as beating bowl bound San Diego State and bad as losing to Texas State. The Jaguars can put up 84 combined points in consecutive home games and then score 27 points in the next two road games. The most important goal for Appalachian is to keep South Alabama from getting comfortable and to play for a full sixty minutes. The Jaguars get out of their offense quickly when they fall behind and typically abandon the running game, which is the strongest part of their offense. 

South Alabama did without Cody Clements for the majority of the second half in their 55-17 loss to Georgia Southern last weekend. Clements suffered a shoulder injury early in the third quarter, but seems to have recovered from whatever ails him. It was reported that Clements practiced more than expected on Tuesday, and was upgraded to probable for Saturday’s game. Clements does not wow you with his statistics, but is a true gamer, doing whatever he needs to help his team. He is known to pull the ball down if he cannot find an open receiver and salavage the play with his legs versus throwing the ball away. Clements has only completed 52% of his passes on the season with 13 touchdown passes. Clements has managed just three touchdown passes in the last five games, and has eclipsed two hundred passing just once in the last five games. 

Sophomore running back Xavier Johnson is a dynamic player for South who has the potential to break a long run whenever he touches the ball. The problem is he doesn’t get the ball enough. His 11.5 carries leads the team, but he needs more. The Jaguars are 3-0 when Johnson gets 19 or more carries and 4-0 when he rushes for over 100 yards. Johnson averages 8.0 yards per tote at home and has 844 yards on the season. 

Appalachian was able to overcome two turnovers to methodically dispatch Louisiana 28-7. Despite those turnovers, the defense was able to keep Louisiana off the scoreboard until the last minute of the fourth quarter when the game was well in doubt. Appalachian was just 57 seconds away from their third shutout this season. In an an expected move, Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox shared the load in the backfield. Although Cox still managed 22 carries for 78 yards, it was Moore whose change of pace broke open a game  that was still in doubt in the third quarter with a 54-yard touchdown run. Moore finished with a game high 104 yards on just 13 carries. 

The task has been quite simple for South Alabama in the last few weeks. Win one of your last three games and you’ll play in a bowl game. But here they are, still looking for one last win. They’ll  have nobody to blame but themselves. Enter Appalachian whose only losses this season are to potential conference champions. One could argue that Appalachian has won every game they were supposed to, or highly favored in. Too often this season, South Alabama gets lost on the field and plays the scoreboard way too much. The Jaguars like to throw the ball deep, but have not connected enough. Last week against Georgia Southern, it looked like the first few plays were scripted, and then they got away from what was working. If Cody Clements can stay upright and find their big tight end Gerald Everett, the Jaguars can stay in this game. Their problem is the inability to protect the passer, as evidenced by their 28 sacks allowed. Everett leads the team with 37 catches, but has only 14 catches in his last six games. If the Mountaineers decide to turn up the pressure, like they did against Louisiana, this could be a long game for the Jaguars. Appalachian should get their tenth win in similar fashion to last weekend. 

The First Pick:
Spotted Cats           13
Mountaineers         34

South Alabama @ Appalachian State

Here we go with Week 5

South Alabama (2-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 4th, 6:00pm EST

TV/LIve 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 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 54.36

So Ala: 58.95

Home: 3.47

So Ala is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 8 points

Sportsbook: So Ala 4, O/U 48

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

After being left hung to dry by Sun Belt scheduling and the Georgia Southern option attack, Appalachian State will be well rested for South Alabama in its FBS home opener this weekend. If you recall, Appalachian had short rest to deal with last weekend with consecutive road tilts, playing two games in six days. This weekend, the Mountaineers have eight days of rest and will face a team that is playing its second road game in as many weekends. Last weekend, the Jaguars dominated Idaho in a 34-10 romp, all while traveling close to 5,000 miles round trip. They will log another 600 miles before making it to Boone on Saturday, and let me tell you, the seasons are changing quick in the North Carolina Mountains. The Jaguars will be experiencing close to 25-30 degree difference in high and low temperatures from when they depart the Gulf Shore to arrival in the High Country. Selfishly, I have been looking forward to those November afternoons when the Cajun schools came to Boone, awaiting to see them crumble like a dehydrated fallen maple leaf. We won’t have to wait. Mother Nature will greet our deep south colleagues with a frosty hello on Saturday morning.

South Alabama picked up their first conference win of the season last week in Idaho, posting their highest offensive marks of the season with a 426 yard effort. That number represents 30% of the Jags total offensive yardage on the season. South Alabama is not extremely explosive on offense, which will be a big difference for Appalachian compared to last week. The Jaguars are averaging 4 yards per rush and only 5.7 yards per passing attempt. Starting quarterback Brandon Bridge is passing for just under 178 yards per game, but has also ran for 134 yards this season. Bridge is a big quarterback at 6’5″ and 235 pounds, but does not appear physically imposing. Think about a taller, fatter Jamal Jackson from 2012. Bridge is completing just 52% of his passes, and has four interceptions compared to just three touchdown tosses on the season.

There are several offensive numbers that pop off the stat page for South Alabama. Most Mountaineer fans are pretty aware of the red zone inefficiencies. Several occasions in the last two games have most likely kept the Apps from contending in each games. Somehow, South Alabama is struggling more than the Mountaineers are. The Jaguars red zone scoring rate is acceptable, but not outstanding at 62.5%. Basically, thats five out of eight times, that the Jaguars score when in the red zone. However, the touchdown rate is abysmal. There is no other way to put it. The Jaguars are scoring touchdowns on only three of every eight chances they drive deep into their opponents territory. Thats 37.5% on the season, compared to the Mountaineers at 62%. So if you feel bad about how Appalachian has not scored when they were close, imagine being a South Alabama fan right now.

What this matchup seems to really boil down to is the defenses. Appalachian got gashed last week by the shifty backs from Georgia Southern, but had been fairly stout on the ground prior to last Thursday. The Eagles were able to run on the Jaguars as well, but did not control the ball like they did against the Mountaineers. South Alabama does not give up a lot on defense, if anything they are as equally as balanced as their offense. They don’t give up anything too flashy, and they keep the offense in front of them. Several times, Georgia Southern was able to run down the field for several yards without getting touched, but the Jaguars eventually swarmed. Appalachian’s defense was there against Georgia Southern, but missed a ton of tackles and could not hold on.

It is pretty painful to reminisce about a second straight performance by the Mountaineer offense that fell below expectations. The toughest thing to do is remind ourselves that Taylor Lamb is still just a freshman. A sputtering offense is to be expected with young leadership, but the opportunities have been there. This offense can move the ball until they get close and the field gets smaller. Appalachian fell into somewhat of a hole on Thursday, but it was not unmanageable. But, as a direct result, the Mountaineers abandoned the running game to an extent and left the burden on the arm of Taylor Lamb, who threw two interceptions for the second straight game. Lamb has attempted 82 passes in the last two games, and that is not a winning formula for a freshman quarterback, especially not on the road. The Mountaineers are going to need to mix in the run more often.

Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw need to start the game with an explosive attitude. I say that not knowing who will get the bulk of the carries. Cox, has had a pretty even distribution in the first four games, but Upshaw’s carries have been unpredictable. Upshaw was a bright spot at Michigan, but has since only gained 80 yards in three games on twenty-one carries. Lamb has run the ball some, but its not a consistent threat. His touchdown run on Thursday was more about making a good read, but he also had a couple sprint option plays that were not exactly productive.

We are going to go a little short this week. Why? Sometimes you just have to. Sometime it is pointless to keep rehashing the same problems from one week to the next. The Mountaineers are young, and they are going to continue to look like it until probably next season. There will be times where they look good for periods of time, and others where you wonder if they have ever played the game before. That is all a part of the maturation process. South Alabama will be well served to let their roster of mostly juniors and seniors play sound football and make the young guys beat them. The Jaguars should be able to bend without breaking on defense. Until Appalachian proves it can punch in some touchdowns, other opponents should not worry. South Alabama has just enough of a defense to do that. They may not be the fastest guys, but solid football should keep them close. The Mountaineer defense is going to need a turnover in this game to help their offense, especially with a home crowd to their advantage. If the Jaguars plays turnover free football on Saturday, the Mountaineers are likely beat. I like to think of South Alabama in the same sentence of the old James Madison teams. They will bore you to death until they hit a big play, and by then, its too late, the damage has been done. For the Mountaineers its all about correcting the little things. The penalties and the missed tackles are the biggest concern. Giving up free yardage and not finishing the play are the most frustrating. It’s like handing the game to your opponent on a silver platter. However, this seems like a time where Appalachian might be able to steal a game. The South Alabama offense is worrisome, especially on the road against a team who has been hungry to get back on the field for several days. Their ineptitude to score, except on the road in quiet stadiums, should be a major concern for the Jags. The Rock isn’t Kent State and its not Idaho. This game won’t be indoors and it wont be a comfortable 80 degrees. It will be another 800 feet higher in elevation than Idaho, just enough to get your ears popping and thinking about the surrounding mountains. The Jags are a four point favorite and have played all of their games under the total. I say this game hits the over and the Mountaineers sneak by late.

The First Pick

Mountaineers 27

Prowlers 23