App State Football vs #14 Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (4-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (6-0, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.98

Coastal: 76.86

Home: 2.75

Coastal is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 2.13 points

Line: Coastal -4.5

Series: App State leads 6-1

Last Meeting: App State 23, Coastal 34, November 21, 2020, Conway, SC

It’s been a long time since a game has played out like that. That could be a blessing and a curse. We all know that was not normal, and App State could not possibly play that poorly again if they tried. The most important part, is that not one player or coach will let that happen again. Another interesting aspect, is that several players on this team have actually been in this position before. They know what it is like to somewhat have their backs against the wall, knowing that the next loss, could derail any conference championship dreams. Last week was not everything, but this week has become that. After last week, its welcoming to play such a high stakes game in your own house. Only four Sun Belt teams have ever won at Kidd Brewer Stadium in seven seasons. It’s not been a welcome place to play for any opponents for decades. Coastal’s rise to fame will eventually end. Whether it ends against App State is yet to be seen, but they’ll have to earn it, because the Mountaineers will not go quietly.

A lot of fans have been yelling from the top of the mountain, “Coastal has not played anyone!!”. National pundits have said the same, “We’ll see what happens when Coastal is tested.” That time has come. The Chants benefitted from playing four games at home in their first five games. Coastal has also played some rather subpar teams, and that’s not hard to determine just glancing at their current resume. But, how bad is it? Excluding The Citadel, every single one of Coastal’s opponents currently sports a total defense that ranks 98th or worse in the country among 130 teams. On the other side of the ball, Coastal has faced just two top-65 offenses, with the three other teams ranking 116th or worse. Those two offenses were Buffalo and Arkansas State, which just happened to be the two teams that Coastal played on the road this season. The Red Wolves top-40 offense to date is only going to carry them so far, with the worst defense in the country. Buffalo is the school that gave Coastal the most fits, and are easily the best team the Chants have played this season. That’s not scoreboard reasoning, its statistically accurate. The Bulls are the only team Coastal has played with a top-100 offense (64) and defense (98).

Chanticleer quarterback Grayson McCall continues to lead a very explosive offense. In 2020, McCall did it with his arm and legs. McCall accumulated 569 rushing yards last season on 111 carries, seven going for touchdowns. In the first six games of 2021, McCall has just 82 yards on the ground this season on 32 carries. His yards per carry have been cut in half, down from 5.1 yards per tote last season. However, McCall has more than made up for that with his efficient passing. McCall has thrown just 22 incomplete passes this season, completing just shy of 80% of his passes. Numbers like that are completely unheard of. Against Buffalo, McCall threw his only interception of the year, and misfired on six passes, the most in any game this year. Last season, McCall completed 69% of his passes, but was just 12/21 (57%) against the Mountaineers. The sophomore has increased his passing yards per game by about 20 yards per game, but outside the rushing statistics, looks very much like the player from a year ago.

Shermari Jones and Reese White were valuable members of the ground game in 2020, but they were not in the spotlight with CJ Marable getting the majority of carries. Marable exhausted his eligibility and ended his final campaign in Conway with 887 yards on the ground and another 228 yards receiving. Jones and White are now the feature backs for Coastal and have provided the production lost from Marable, and to an extent, McCall. White has played in all six games this year, gaining 455 yards to date and has scored seven times. Jones has played in four games, and has accumulated 401 yards. Neither Jones or White have shown receiving chops on a consistent basis so far this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen Wednesday. As far as pass catchers, most of it comes from two guys. Javon Heiligh works as a traditional wide receiver role, and has three 100-yard games this season with four touchdowns. Heiligh also works as a punt and kick returner. Isaiah Likely is a major threat from the tight end position. Likely can block and run, and is a high end NFL prospect. He had a monster game last time out against Arkansas State, who did not realize he was on the field. Likely caught eight passes for 232 yards and added four touchdowns.

There is not much to review from last week. It’s very apparent it was just a bad day for the Mountaineers. Turning the ball over and failing to convert on any third down is going to put your team in a bad spot more times than not. Seems App State had the ability to get by the tired Marshall defense and Georgia State without the full compliment of running backs, but that just won’t fly against everyone. Getting healthy at certain positions is key. The need for a one-two running back punch was never more apparent than last week. Plain and simple, everyone needed to better. If you think losses are hard on fans, just think about how the coaches and student-athletes feel. When the bar is set high, and the expectations are to win each week, those losses can bring you down hard. But losses are needed to appreciate the winning, to remind us all, you cannot have good times without the bad. The Mountaineers will respond appropriately. There is no question they are ready for the task in front of them directly, and for the remainder of the season.

Last week, statistics went out the window. Statistics are not predictive, but can sway anyone’s opinion into how something might play out. Once again they are not absolute. Just about everything that was highlighted last week was a waste of time and space. It happens. That really makes a perfect transition for predictive measures regarding Coastal Carolina. Most of the time, they are one of the more explosive teams in the country. Also, most of the time, in this sample size, six times this season, they have not played offenses or defenses that are explosive. That collectiveness is what Coastal thrives on. The Chants thrive on teams that have difficulties scoring and stopping their opponents. Seems simple, but it can be more complicated. Stay with me here. The term “triple-option” in college football has historically meant a heavy emphasis on running the football, with a quarterback lining up under center, handing off to an upback, or showing a fake handoff and sprinting to the edge with another flanker or wingback in tow. Coastal’s version is a lot different. Sometimes the first and third option is the same player, and often a pass option is used. It’s nearly like the run based triple option and pass oriented RPO were meshed. Occasionally, the mesh point (handoff point between running back and quarterback) is enhanced to further stress the defense, making them stop and think, while the offensive players continue their attack. What we are getting at, is that winning on third down is not enough when you defend Coastal. You have to win on first and second down equally as much. Sure, Coastal is first in the country on third down conversions at nearly 62%. But, they have only attempted 55 third down conversions in six games. That is the lowest mark in the country as well. App State’s job on Wednesday night is too force inefficiency, or to borrow an old triple option term, keep them behind the chains. Offensively, the Mountaineers also provide a tough test for the Coastal defense. Once Coastal gets ahead in games, their defense typically sits back in zone coverage, and plays a “no doubles” defense, to avoid big plays. Against Arkansas State, who has no running game, you saw Coastal let everything happen underneath, and then they attacked the ball. Coastal will have to play downhill against App State, just like they had to when they went on the road at Buffalo. The Bulls ran 47 times for 262 yards on the Chanticleers and were 9/16 on third down. They gave themselves a chance by keeping the ball out of Coastal’s hands. If the Mountaineers can play that patient on offense, I like their chances.

The First Pick

Surf but no Turf 31

Mountaineers 34

App State Football @ Louisiana

Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

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

Capacity: 41,426

Surface: Matrix Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.31

Louisiana: 70.17

Home: 2.55

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

Cayenne 21

Mountaineers 31

App State Football @ Georgia State

Appalachian State (3-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (1-3, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021 2:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App

Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Field Turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.98

Georgia State: 61.65

Home: 2.77

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 8.56 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last Meeting: App State 17, Georgia State 13, November 14, 2020, Boone, NC

In light of the recent trend that the coolest, most important event that just occurred being the most significant, we’ll say this: Last Thursday night, with Kidd Brewer Stadium covered in black and gold and sprinkled in kelly green, brought back so many emotions, it was hard to contain. It legitimately felt like a big time event. Seeing the Herd run out in all white, just like a quarter century ago, was icing. Seeing the trash talk commence early was exactly what that rivalry was all about years ago. It was special. Now we transition from a rivalry of decades ago, to a friendship that has lasted decades. With each game this friendly competition gets overplayed, overtyped and overanalyzed. The two head coaches just want their players to succeed. The internal battle of Shawn vs. Shawn will be reminisced about around campfires in the Blue Ridge mountains in due time. This weekend is all about getting conference play off on the right foot. In a super competitive eastern division, getting the first win, is the most important.

There is going to be a lot, and I mean a lot of, emphasis placed on Georgia State narrowly losing to Auburn. Talk like that is good to motivate players, and keep them from downplaying an inferior opponent. Georgia State did not suddenly figure it out last weekend. They capitalized on an Auburn team that had their feelings hurt the week before at Penn State. Also, an Auburn team that is working with a new head coach. The Panthers other three opponents were not working with new head coaches in 2021, and those games were ugly for more reasons than one. Army pummeled Georgia State 43-10, and outgained the Panthers 356-177. The next week was worse. North Carolina beat down the Panthers 59-17. The Heels more than doubled up Georgia State in total yards, 607-271. The following game, the Panthers took care of Charlotte by a score of 20-9. The 49ers and Panthers combined for 78 rushing attempts. The difference was that Georgia State was able to run against Charlotte, and stop the 49ers ground game. Georgia State outrushed Charlotte 298-118. After three games, the Panthers were averaging less than 16 points per game.

The Panthers bumrushed Auburn in the second quarter last week, scoring three touchdowns and leading 24-12 at the half. Auburn managed just four first half field goals. Georgia State put together a non-scoring 44-yard drive on their first possession of the second half, but then proceeded to go 3 downs and out on their next four possessions. Their next drive lasted five plays but only consumed twenty yards. Their final two possessions also only covered twenty yards. In all, the Panthers gained 85 second half yards, with over half coming on one drive. Zero points were scored. Auburn woke up, and finished them. Georgia State cannot afford to go scoreless in the second half and expect to beat any SEC school, much less the Sun Belt. At minimum, the Panthers needed to allow fewer possessions to Auburn just by grinding out a few more first downs in the second half, and that might have altered the final score. That is asking a lot from a team ranked 111th in first downs, averaging just 17.5 per game.

The ground game is there for Georgia State, but they are running well for one reason. They have be good at it. It’s just about their only option right now. Quarterbacks Cornelius “Quad” Brown IV, and Darren Grainger have combined to lead one of the worst passing attacks in the country. The Panthers enter this weekend ranked 119th in passing efficiency, 125th in passing yards per game, and 123rd in completion percentage. This is not an option team. You would expect teams like Navy and Georgia Southern to be down there. Brown showed promise last year, throwing for over 2200 yards with seventeen touchdown passes. He also averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. That figure is down to 4.3 yards per pass in 2021, and he has not played the last two weeks. Grainger has appeared in every game, but has started the last two, and his production shows the direction that the Panthers are going. Grainger has 34 rushing attempts for 111 yards the last two games. Add to that, he has dropped back to pass 36 times in those two games, and has been sacked five times.

There were a lot of things that happened in the win against Marshall. When the offense runs 92 plays, your result is a stat padding game. Usually those games are blowouts, and this was not. That Thursday night will be remembered for a long time. Perhaps the most memorable performance came from Nate Noel. After a first half that saw just 18 yards on three carries for Noel, he exploded in the second half. Noel ran for 65 yards in the third quarter, and 104 yards in the fourth quarter. But more than anything, we will remember what Noel did not do. He did not score a touchdown in the closing minutes. In that scenario, possession was more vital than points, as Noel secured a first down, and fell to the ground at the five yard line. That play allowed the Mountaineers to kill the clock and secure the win. Can you say enough about Corey Sutton? It’s possible. Sutton was targeted 17 times by Chase Brice, catching ten balls for 127 yards, while also adding another toe-tapping highlight reel catch for a touchdown. Lest we forget Thomas Hennigan, who also turned in a 123-yard performance on nine catches. And of course, we could not go on with mentioning a tough effort by Cam Peoples, carrying the ball 25 times for 78 yards in just two and a half quarters of playing time. Peoples punched in three touchdowns, and really set the table for Noel in the game’s final twenty minutes.

We all know the series record. Seven games played, and seven games won by App State. The closest games in this series were both played in Boone. In 2016, App State scored a late touchdown for the final margin in an otherwise uneventful 17-3 win. Last year, Jacob Huesman willed the Mountaineers down the field with a late fourth quarter score that gave App State its first lead, and eventually App State held on to win 17-13. That’s it. Those are the two closest games this series has had. Those also represent the fewest points (17) App has scored in the series. Otherwise, the Mountaineers have averaged 42.6 points per game in the five other contests. Additionally, there has not been a close game played in Atlanta, regardless of which former professional stadium or park it was played in. The Mountaineers have averaged 41.3 points across three games in Fulton County. All of this is the past. The 2020 game has no bearing on this Saturday, and neither does Georgia State’s close call with Auburn. This is a completely different game. Unimpressive football is unsustainable for continued success. That is exactly what Georgia State’s offense has shown this season. Listen, the Panthers are going to lean on the running game behind a very experienced offensive line, but until they develop a more consistent passing attack, they will struggle. A lot of the reasons why App State and Georgia State played so close last year are gone. One, obviously being Corey Sutton, and a less than healthy Thomas Hennigan. Those guys are now in peak form, and the App State offense has all the confidence in Chase Brice to get the ball to them. Despite playing three run oriented teams in Army, Charlotte, and Auburn, the Panthers rank just 117th in team passing efficiency defense nationwide. The Panther defense has registered zero interceptions, but have allowed 915 passing yards and eight touchdown passes. The fifteen yards per catch allowed is also eye-popping. The Mountaineers will not forget the way they played last year offensively, and you can expect a little more firepower than what you saw in 2020. I highly doubt Georgia State can score twenty points in this one, and the Mountaineers will score plenty more.

The First Pick

Blue Kittens 17

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs #21 Louisiana

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt)

Friday, December 4th, 2020 8:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.30

Louisiana: 76.59

Home: 1.03

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.74 points

Line: App State -2.5

Series: App State leads 8-0

Last Meeting: App State 45, Louisiana 38, Boone, NC December 7, 2019

It’s finally Louisiana week…. again. We had all hoped to do this for the third straight season, but this year is not the same as any other. So we settle to makeup a postponed game that was scheduled to have occurred two months ago. Although a trophy is not on the line in this edition, bragging rights remain like they always do. Louisiana is tired of it. They are tired of looking at 0-8, tired of hearing about it, and they want to do something about it. On the other sideline, a team wants to continue that streak and send out a fantastic group of seniors, if its their last game, out on the right note. Louisiana certainly does not want to think about a loss for two weeks before having to travel back to the east coast to play another conference championship game on the road. And the Mountaineers want to strive for another ten win season before playing their most hated rivals in the regular season finale. Both teams have reasons to look ahead, but don’t expect this game to lose one bit of luster because a trophy is nowhere to be seen.

The Ragin Cajuns win over then-ranked #23, now-ranked #12 Iowa State has been viewed positively, then negatively, and now again in a more beneficial light. Fact is, when that game was played in mid-September, it was the opening game for both teams, and it’s much easier to sneak up on a Power Five opponent fresh out of the gates. There is no doubt that Iowa State is a good team, probably a better team than they were nearly three months ago, but it’s hard to put much stock into a team you beat three months ago during a pandemic. Nonetheless, Louisiana beat Iowa State, and then proceeded to play four games that were decided by one possession, three in conference, and one out of conference. The Cajuns needed overtime to beat Georgia State, a 53-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Georgia Southern at home, lost to Coastal on a late field goal at home, and then edged UAB with a fourth quarter touchdown to win. The Cajuns trailed UAB after every quarter of that game, except the one that mattered, the fourth. Its arguable that every single one of those games could have had a different result. In the last month, the Cajuns have defeated Texas State, Arkansas State, South Alabama and UL-Monroe. Neither of those teams are exactly lighting the world on fire, as South Alabama has the best record at 4-6 overall. That’s the Sun Belt West for you.

Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis will be playing his sixth game in his career against App State on Friday night. It might not be his last one, as the senior announced his intentions to return to school in 2021, taking advantage of an NCAA rule. Lewis saw mop up time in the 2017 game in which App blistered that Cajuns for a 63-14 win. Like every other Cajun footballer, Lewis has never defeated App State. What has been asked of him in 2020, is slightly different than years past. The Cajuns have typically relied on a dominant running game, which has only helped Lewis throughout most of his career, but that ground attack has not been as fruitful. Lewis is throwing for about seven more yards per game in 2020 than 2019, and that’s really not a big deal one way or the other. However, his wide receivers have tailed off as well. Lewis had only thrown seven interceptions in his career in thirty-two games coming into 2020, but has thrown seven picks in just nine games this season. His accuracy has dropped a couple percentage points and so has his touchdown passes per game. In addition, Lewis is running the ball more than he has in the previous two seasons. which includes five rushing touchdowns.

These names are all so familiar. Elijah Mitchell is coming off back to back seasons with 1,100+ rushing yards and double digit touchdowns. Mitchell had four 100+ yard rushing games in 2018, five such games in 2019, but has only run for 100+ yards once in 2020. For his career, Mitchell has averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the ground, but that number is reduced to 4.7 yards per carry when you single out his performances against App State. He has never hit 100 yards in a game against the Mountaineers, but has come close. App State has contained him before and must do so again on Saturday. Trey Ragas and Mitchell look like nearly the same guy on the stat sheet, but they are different backs. Ragas is listed an inch shorter and about twelve pounds heavier than Mitchell. Ragas scored three of his seven touchdowns against Texas State, which also featured his only 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Ragas started the season slow, but has produced lines of 131-75-78-95 in the last four games. That is good for right at 95 yards average per game as the season closes.

If kickoff times are any indication of how well App plays, the night time has been the right time. Earlier this season, the Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State on a weeknight with 45 offensive points. Last week, App State added 47 more points in another game that was played mostly under the lights. And then comes the 8:30pm start, that will only bring more of a Boone chill to the night. It’s not the story, but it is a variable the Cajuns have to account for. Another would be a resurgent offense that put on a decent display last week. The first three offensive scores of the game were made by App State playmakers in Camerun Peoples, Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan. Peoples finished with 95 yards rushing after a 63-yard touchdown run. Williams caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score, and Hennigan had one of his more active games in a quite a while since nursing a leg injury, with six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Zac Thomas threw four touchdown passes on a pretty flawless night to four different receivers.

Besides the obvious lopsided nature to this series, it has always been intriguing how it has unfolded. The first four installments were surprising, yet validating wins by App State that proved to themselves and others they could compete in FBS football. The first game was the closest, a dominating 19 point win in Lafayette. Then App won by 21 points, 24 points and then 49 points. When Billy Napier was hired, things quickly changed. Since 2018, all four games have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Last year’s Sun Belt Championship game was a cakewalk of sorts for App State, but Napier kept them fighting until the bitter end. This year, a Sun Belt title will not be on the line, but you would expect a similar game to unfold as we have seen in three of the last four games. Both teams have taken a small step back on offense in 2020, but that is mainly because both teams were exceptionally good last season. The Cajuns averaged 257 yards a game last year on the ground while also scoring close to 38 points per game. Those numbers have decreased to 217 yards rushing a game and 35 points per game. The rushing drop off is most significant while the 2020 points average is buoyed by a 70-point outburst last week. Remove that game, and the Cajuns have scored just under 31 points per contest. That’s nearly a whole touchdown less from one year to the next. The reason is the Cajuns do not have a game changing wide receiver. They have spread the ball around a lot this season, as three pass catchers have eclipsed just 300 yards receiving on the season. It’s been more of a plodding offense compared to 2019. More plays run, but less points scored. The 2019 Cajuns possessed the ball for 30:24 a game and converted close to 48% of their third downs. In 2020, the Cajuns have lost nearly two minutes a game of possession, down to 28:28 on average, and converted just over 42% of their third downs. Likewise, App State has not been as dominant, but the falloff has not been as severe as it has for Louisiana. This one comes down to quarterbacks. We have veteran players who have played in a lot of big games, but one has been more accomplished, and that’s the difference. Zac Thomas has not had big passing yard games against Louisiana in the past, but he hasn’t needed it. In 2018, Thomas ran 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns in two games, and last season, backed it up with 28 carries for 88 yards and two more scores in two games. Levi Lewis can run too, but he won’t be asked to carry it like Thomas will.

The First Pick

LaLa 24

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football @ #15 Coastal Carolina

Appalachian State (6-1, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs Coastal Carolina (7-0, 5-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 21st, 2020 Noon EST

TV/Video: ESPN2

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Brooks Stadium

Capacity: 20,000

Surface: Shaw Sports PowerBlade

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.85

Coastal Carolina: 71.50

Home: 1.73

Coastal Carolina is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.38 points

Line: Coastal Carolina -5.5

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, Coastal Carolina 37, Boone, NC September 28, 2019

In the past, a trip to the beach was a reason to celebrate. Whether it be a family vacation, a senior week or a church youth group trip. You went to celebrate something as a reward for working hard on a project, a semester of school or to just get away from the weekly grind and recharge your batteries for a couple days. That was what some App State fans got to enjoy on their “beach trip” in 2018. Fast forward two years and the vacation has quickly turned into a business trip. Not many saw this coming. Coastal has become the darling of America in an otherwise gloomy time of our nation’s history. Quickly their antics and celebrations became something to help people forget what ails them. But, eventually the fun ends. The ferris wheel stops turning, the buffet runs out of popcorn shrimp, and the 18th hole looms large in the distance. The credit card bill comes at the end of the month and its time to pay for all the fun you have had for the last few weeks. Hopefully, you didn’t exceed your limit.

The upstart Chanticleers have taken advantage of a schedule that has really worked out for them. Now look, winning your first seven games is not easy task, and it’s not all luck. They edged Kansas for the second straight year, and abused Campbell early on. Then came four Sun Belt games against teams that Coastal had lost to the previous year. In three of the four losses in 2019, the Chanticleers were competitive, losing to Georgia State by ten points, three points to Georgia Southern in overtime, and by one point to Arkansas State. They turned those three close losses into dominating, multiple score wins over those three schools. The fourth was Louisiana. After the Cajuns throttled Coastal 48-7 in 2019, revenge was served with Coastal winning by a field goal in the closing seconds. Oddly enough, the Chants are 2-1 all time against Louisiana, with both wins coming in Lafayette. As you can see, this has been a slow and steady climb for Coastal, not just an overnight Cinderalla story.

As the Chanticleers were growing last year as a team, their results were misleading. It was pretty evident at that time that Coastal was still missing a piece here and there. While App State fans chalked up a 56-37 shootout last season to a semi-new coaching staff that was feeling out their players, and an odd weather delay in Boone, Coastal’s quarterback of the future was watching from the sidelines and waiting his turn. That has become the big difference in the 5-7 season in 2019 and a 7-0 record this year. Grayson McCall has played more like a veteran quarterback than a redshirt freshman. McCall has 16 touchdown passes to his name while just throwing one interception. That’s impressive at any level of football for any snapshot of a season. McCall has added four more scores on the ground and is a true dual threat quarterback. He’s thrown exactly twenty-four passes in the last three games in which he appeared, which shows that Coastal has been able to do exactly what they want to on offense.

As much love as the Coastal defense deserves, its the offense that really should get all the credit. Despite the triple-option base, the Chants pass more than any option based attack. It’s just that many times, the first option can be a pass, or the third option could be a pass. It requires discipline to run and to defend. When run well, the defense becomes the benefactor because they are never on the field. Thus, the onus for Coastal is to remain efficient passing the ball on Saturday. Players like Jaivon Heiligh has to continue to be someone that be counted on. Heiligh has been consistent all year, but is also on a hot streak, with at least five catches in each of his last five games, and his yardage totals look like this: 93-108-107-81-95. He’s also scored touchdowns in five of seven games played. CJ Marable has really emerged in the passing game as well. More commonly known for running the ball, Marable has been happened to quietly sneak out of the backfield, as he is second on the team with twenty receptions on the season. He has also scored via the pass similarly as Heiligh, with five straight games with a receiving touchdown. He does not got the volume of his teammate, but he makes the most of his chances.

For a good part of last Saturday, the only part of the day that was perfect for the Mountaineers was the weather. That can be good news and bad news in Boone. However, App State found a way to get it done, even after a day where there were thirteen combined punts between the two teams. Six players caught at least two passes, as tight ends Miller Gibbs and Henry Pearson snagged seven combined passes for 62 yards. The ground game was mostly stuck in the mud, with just 131 yards in all, but once again, when it counted, Camerun Peoples did the job. Peoples accounted for 25 yards on the drive that resulted in the go-ahead score, and another 21 yards on the final drive of the game, that melted the clock away. On those last two drives, predominantly guided by Jacob Huesman, Peoples gained forty-six of his sixty-seven rushing yards. No other back got the rock in the late stages of the game, and this could be a glimpse into the future for the App State offense.

There is not much to dislike about the matchup this weekend. Players and coaches live for these kind of games, where they can test their preparation and their teams skills in game that has a tremendous impact on the remainder of the season. Sure, you can say that App State needs to win this game in order to put them in position to play for the conference title. Well, so did the last game, and so will the next game after Coastal. But this challenge is not new to App State. It is new to Coastal Carolina. Being undefeated is not easy. It comes with attention, and pressure and can take the focus of just playing the game. Unfortunately for Coastal, they have had an extra week to think about being undefeated, before playing a school they have never beaten. All of this while trying to manufacture a rivalry and build a game up more then it perhaps needs to be. This is close to being a game where you throw the statistics out the window, because App State and Coastal are at or near the top of so many categories. Both teams can tout a balanced offense and a stout defense. They both get after opponents quarterbacks and protect their own. The similarities are almost endless on paper. But that is not where this game is played. At some point, the game is no longer played on social media or in television interviews. It happens between the lines. Both teams will want to control the clock and keep the other offense off the field, but it might be tough for either offense to get going. If anything, the Mountaineers’ tough game last week may have set them up perfectly for a game that may look the same. This game could come down to mistakes and who makes the fewest for sixty minutes. Coastal is one of the last penalized teams in the conference, and they need that continue. An option offense does not mix well with penalties. It thrives off manageable down and distance scenarios. If a couple extra flags fly, Coastal could be stuck trying to convert long yardage situations against an App State defense that is playing as well as it has all season long.

The First Pick

Beach Chickens 20

Mountaineers 27

Appalachian Football vs Georgia State

Appalachian State (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (3-3, 2-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 14th, 2020 2:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.59

Georgia State: 61.30

Home: 1.81

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.1 points

Line: App State -16.0

Series: App State leads 6-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, Georgia State 27, Atlanta, GA November 16, 2019

Last season, Georgia State head coach was quoted as saying the “the people make the place, and now the people are gone”, when referring to his time at App State. That statement no longer holds true. Surely Elliott was referring to Scott Satterfield, Mark Ivey, Nick Cardwell and Dale Jones’ departure from Boone to Louisville. Half of those “people” have returned to Boone, so the pregame midfield conversations and post game handshakes might feel more like the “people are making the place” all over again. Never mind that Elliott’s quote is right out of the book of Jerry Moore, and Shawn Clark, a former teammate of Elliott’s, has pretty much cited Moore’s philosophies at every turn. This storyline might be getting old, but the story evolves with each passing year. The Panthers are still waiting for that breakthrough win against App State and with each year it does not occur, the pressure to do so builds even more. As much as Elliott wants that first one against his alma mater, across the sidelines stands a colleague, a teammate, and a friend, who wants his first as well.

After two weeks of low hanging fruit, App State will play its first game of the season against a divisional opponent in Georgia State. As the regular season comes to a close Georgia State will be playing its seventh game of the season, with only three games remaining. The Panthers are currently sitting in last place in the east division, and no team has allowed more points in conference play outside of Arkansas State. In those five conference games, the fewest points an opponent has scored has been 34 points, and that has occurred on exactly three occasions. The other two games, the Panthers surrendered 59 points and 51 points. That Panther defense is going to give up points regardless, but the difference in the wins and losses has really been about the offense scoring enough points. Last week, the Panthers took advantage of three ULM turnovers to run away with a 52-34 win. In their win against Troy, Georgia State benefitted from four turnovers from the Trojans, and an injury to Troy starting quarterback Gunnar Watson.

Last season, Georgia State decided they had a better chance to beat App State by starting injured quarterback Dan Ellington instead of their backup. That backup is now starting quarterback Cornelius Brown IV, or “Quad”. Brown did appear in that game, but Georgia State was trying to protect him and his redshirt status. Brown has already vaulted himself as a borderline top shelf quarterback in the league. He still has his freshman moments, but has really popped in his redshirt freshman season. Brown has been responsible for multiple touchdowns in every game this season, except Coastal Carolina. Brown has also taken only six sacks all season, with three of those coming against Coastal. He is also used in the zone read game as well, but not extensively. After ten or more carries in three of the first four games, Brown has been limited to under ten carries per game in the last two. He is a slim quarterback at 6’5 and 200 pounds, and the Panthers might be limiting his exposure down the stretch.

Georgia State has the third best rushing offense in the conference despite not having its full complement of running backs all season long. Leading rusher Destin Coates missed the Arkansas State game, but had otherwise been very consistent as the lead back. Tucker Gregg filled in for Coates nicely with a 142-yard effort against the Red Wolves. In fact, the Panthers fourth leading rusher behind Coates, Gregg and Quad Brown is Jamyest Williams, the South Carolina transfer who is listed as a cornerback. Injuries to Seth Paige have also limited him to just five carries on the season and one appearance. Coates has been the primary workhorse this season with twenty or more carries in four games, all in which he eclipsed 100 yards on the ground. Wide receiver Cornelius McCoy returned after a month absence to put up a 7-118-2 receiving line against ULM. McCoy also shredded East Carolina in October for seven catches and 59 yards. In McCoy’s absence, Sam Pickney amassed thirteen catches catches for 214 yards, including three touchdown receptions, all against Arkansas State.

For the second straight week, the offensive game plan was pretty much the same. That’s not a bad thing. Conference road wins should not be taken for granted, and App State went on the road twice in a row and came back with wins. In more simpler words, the Mountaineers got the job done. App ran the ball, controlled the clock, converted over fifty percent of their third downs, and most importantly, scored more points. Not just more, but twenty-one more points. Three touchdowns more. Check and check. The App defense gave up one big play in the air, but it did not hurt them. Monroe ran the ball well at times as App was defending the pass to keep the game in front of them. The defense added two interceptions to their season total, bringing the Mountaineers’ sum to ten on the season, which leads the conference and is fifth in the country, trailing just Arkansas, Wake Forest, Kentucky and Pitt.

It’s quite puzzling to find a team that is pretty decent at stopping opponents’ run game, yet so completely below average defending the pass. Usually in this beautiful game of football, being able to run and stopping the run leads to success and wins. The two most successful run-first teams that Georgia State played this year has been Louisiana and Coastal Carolina. Two teams with pretty good overall records. Louisiana is 35th nationwide rushing, averaging 193 yards per game. The Cajuns unloaded on the Panthers, rushing for 240 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. Coastal Carolina is 30th in the country, and went off for 250 yards on the ground, managing 5.3 yards per carry. The remaining four teams that Georgia State played are currently 73rd (ECU), 104th (Ark State), 112th (Troy), and 121st (ULM) on the ground nationwide. So in six games this season, Georgia State has allowed 723 rushing yards. Louisiana and Coastal are responsible for 490 of those yards. Next on the schedule: App State’s rushing offense plowing through teams for an average of 283 yards per game at 6 yards per carry. So as much as statistics on paper are going to suggest that App State should throw the ball to defeat the Panthers because they have played a bunch of pass-first teams, its really could be quite the opposite. Maybe Georgia State is not as bad as allowing twenty passing touchdowns in six games, and they are likely not as good is giving up just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. Either way, the Mountaineers will have the opportunity to put up some points this weekend no matter how they attack the Panthers.

The First Pick

Blue Kitties 23

Mountaineers 49

Appalachian Football @ UL-Monroe

Appalachian State (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs UL-Monroe (0-6, 0-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 31st, 2020 4:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Malone Stadium

Capacity: 30,427

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 79.60

UL-Monroe: 42.51

Home: 1.73

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 35.36 points

Line: App State -31.0

Series: App State leads 4-1

Last Meeting: App State 52, UL-Monroe 7, Boone, NC October 19, 2019

The night was nearly perfect. For a small contingent of fans, being able to sit or stand in Kidd Brewer stadium was enough. Fans may have not been in their typical seats, but seeing the stadium lit up for a national broadcast was a treat. Especially after getting to watch their team put on a clinical show in dominating fashion. Even after the layoff, the Mountaineers looked about as sharp as one could expect. The ground game clocked in for their usual three hundred yard effort. The defense smothered a potent passing attack to the tune of six sacks and kept the Red Wolves receivers out of the end zone. It was not perfect, but it was good enough to remind the league that App State is back, even though they never really left. So, after a much anticipated restart to the football season, and knocking off a quality opponent, the Mountaineers must find that inner strength to treat the next few games equally as the last.

Where can we start with Monroe? The zero in the win column is glaring. The losses are not flukes either. The Warhawks have been competitive in all of one game this season. They have lost by three touchdowns or more in every game except Georgia Southern, where they hung around until the final moments, before succumbing 35-30. More recently, Monroe had a bye week before playing South Alabama, and still managed to lose 38-14 to the current first-place team in the west division. In three games this season, the Warhawks have managed to score just one time. Outside of the thirty point effort, the offense has been downright miserable. Take those points away from ULM from the Goeriga Southern game, and they have scored 51 points in five games.The math is not hard. Coach Matt Viator received a two-year extension this offseason, and decided to start calling the plays, but it has yet to come together.

Monroe’s defense would be much better if the Warhawks had any semblance of an offense. That is obviously the biggest concern – scoring points. Opponents have outscored Monroe 73-10 in the first quarter alone. Monroe, again, has scored 81 points this season. They can’t move the ball, and they cannot stay on the field. Opponents have a seven minute edge in time of possession for the season, and still the Monroe defense is allowing just 36.5 points per game. Opponents have also scored 18 rushing touchdowns to just five passing against the Warhawk defensive side. If Monroe could find a running game, they might fare better on offense, which would in turn, keep their defense rested. The 2.9 yard per carry team rushing average is absolutely killing them. Even when other teams are getting big halftime leads, Monroe feels forced to throw the ball, and they are not incredibly efficient, which leads to short possessions and more time on the field for their defense.

Sophomore quarterback Colby Suits is learning on the fly it seems. Viator has no problem sticking him out there and seeing what works. Suits is getting plenty of experience, regardless of how beneficial it is. Suits is leading the conference in passing yards at 233 a game, but also has five interceptions, which also leads the conference. Suits is also the second leading rusher for Monroe with just 58 net yards. The one thing that Suits does well on offense is spread the ball around, whether it be by design or with an emphasis on gathering experience for younger players. Nine different Monroe pass catchers have at least ten receptions or more. That group is led by tight end Josh Pederson, who leads the team in receptions and yards. Pederson has yet to score a touchdown, but he is a big target, listed at 6’5″ and 235 pounds. Pederson caught nine touchdown passes in 2019, but was held to just two catches for six yards in the loss to App State in 2019, one of the worst games of his season.

For App State in 2020, the defense has always been there. In four games this season each opponent has been held under 21 points. As long as the defense continue to keep its foes between 17 and 21 points, there will be plenty of offense more times than not to continue winning games. Currently the Mountaineer defense is leading the conference in total defense and scoring defense. App State has allowed just one passing touchdown this season and surrenders just 44.8% of opposing quarterback passes to be completed. That’s an absolutely silly number. App State is also fifth in the country in team passing efficiency defense, and would be second if you eliminated teams that have played just one game. They will now face the conference’s fourth best passing offense, but worst offense overall on Saturday. Monroe’s 2.9 yards per rushing attempt does not match up well with a defense allowing for 3.7 yards per attempt, which should give App State more chances to create turnovers in the air.

We’ve given you plenty of reason to suggest that Monroe will have a difficult time with App State on Saturday. One could even look back to last year’s lopsided score if they wanted, and infer that this game might conclude with a similar result. If anything, both teams are not “as good” as they were in 2019. That’s an even scarier proposition for Monroe, who somehow managed a 5-7 record last year and had several close calls, but fell one game short of bowl eligibility. Last seasons 52-7 loss to App State was the worst showing of the Warhawks year. They lost in overtime to Florida State, by a touchdown to Arkansas State and a point to Louisiana. The South Alabama team they defeated by thirteen points in 2019, they just lost to by 24 points. It’s just not the year of the Warhawk. To their credit, many of the teams Monroe has played have been better versions of themselves than years past. South Alabama found an offense. Army won five games in 2019, and have already won six games this year. Texas State is better, its just not visible in their won-loss record. Even Liberty is 6-0 with a ACC win. Maybe that 0-6 record isn’t really as bad as it seems. App State will have a chance to test that theory. In order for Monroe to keep it close, they are going to have a lot of things go their way that typically does not. They’ll need long sustained drives with third down conversions. They’ll need to kick flawlessly and give themselves a chance on defense by limiting penalties. Is all this possible? Sure, we can all dream, but expect the Warhawks evening to be filled with nightmares.

The First Pick

Cypress Swamps 13

Mountaineers 42

Appalachian Football vs Arkansas State

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

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 7:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 24,050

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 79.47

Arkansas State: 67.79

Home: 1.78

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 13.46 points

Line: App State -11.5

Series: App State leads 2-1

Last Meeting: App State 35, Arkansas State 9, Jonesboro, AR October 9, 2018

It has been a long time coming. Did this wait feel longer than the offseason? Perhaps not, but this pause in the season has not been short by any stretch. Nearly four weeks will have elapsed since the last time the Mountaineers stepped on the field for a game. For many, most of that time has been spent isolated from the outside world. It’s odd for Kidd Brewer stadium to be empty this time of the year. For nearly three weeks, there were no whistles blowing, coaches shouting, music playing, nor pads thumping. It was so quiet, one could almost hear the leaves changing colors. October in the high country is typically the busy season, but not this year. Fortunately, as some of the foliage fell, cleats were laced, helmets were buttoned up and ankles were taped, and practice began, again. It will be a homecoming like no other, without a court, without a dance, block party or parade. The annual event will be without a lot of typical fanfare, but it will have a football game.

An uneventful week does not exist in 2020. Last week, most were just hoping this game was going to happen. Arkansas State played a Thursday night game against Georgia State, which became a shootout. The Red Wolves gave up a season high 583 yards of offense and 52 points to the Panthers. The next day, Arkansas State dropped the hammer on the defensive coordinator and defensive pass game coordinator. Suddenly, Arkansas State is a little short-handed on coaches. Relieving coaches of duties happens all the time in college football, but is definitely rare in the middle of the season. The conference is nicknamed the #FunBelt for a reason. However, Blake Anderson believes that replacing a couple coaches on a team, in the middle of a world health crisis, that has given up 500 or more yards in three of their five games will do the trick. Anderson has been through a lot personally, and anyone’s professional career would take a hit under those circumstances. The entire staff was replaced after 2018, and then after 2019, Anderson’s name pops up for Power Five jobs. And now in 2020, we are relieving coaches midseason. Doesn’t seem like a good trend.

The defensive side of the ball is where the question marks end for Arkansas State. A two quarterback system has flourished for the Red Wolves. That hardly ever works, but for the time being, stAte fans are riding that wave. Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher are both completing well over 63% of their passes and have been high efficiency passers. Hatcher averages 9.1 yards per attempt and Bonner is at 7.9 per pass. They are both very similar statistically, all the way down to each being sacked seven times on the season. Bonner is listed at 6’1, 215 pounds, while Hatcher is slimmer at 6’0 and 195 pounds. The two combined for 529 passing yards and seven touchdown against Georgia State. Neither quarterback has really had a bad game all season, and they both seem to be pretty interchangeable. Mostly, neither quarterback really is the difference between whether Arkansas State wins or loses.

Truthfully, the Red Wolves offense is really all about their wide receivers. Jonathan Adams has already hauled in 41 passes for 539 yards and seven touchdowns. Adams had just eight career receiving touchdowns coming into this senior season. Part of Adams’ statistics were ballooned by the aforementioned Georgia State game where he snagged an unreal 15 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Another senior, Dahu Green has been equally impressive. Green caught just 10 passes in his first three seasons in Jonesboro, but has exploded for 25 receptions, 419 yards and five touchdowns. Green has also played in just four games this season and has five receptions in each game this season. Brandon Bowling rounds out the group of seniors who is also having a career year. Bowling has already eclipsed his junior season in terms of yards. Bowling has twenty catches and four touchdowns, and is the smaller of the set, standing at just 5’9 and 176 pounds.

Well, it seems like ages ago that App State played Campbell. Can we take anything from that game and apply it nearly four weeks later? It seemed like a “get through it” type of game. App State was down coaches and nearly twenty players due to contact tracing, which affected mainly offensive skill positions. Yet, may contributions were made by veterans and newcomers alike. Freshman Nate Noel was perhaps the biggest bright spot with 131 rushing yards on 14 carries. Da’Shaun Davis also looked like a potential star in the making with six catches for 40 yards. Daetrich Harrington carried 32 times for 211 yards and four touchdowns to keep the Mountaineer offense on track for most of the game. The defense held the Camels off the scoreboard in the third quarter, which provided the offense the time it needed to find a rhythm. App State scored three touchdowns in that third quarter to put the game away. Despite that, App State still has not looked quite itself in the first three games.

This game was scheduled for App State as the back end of a gauntlet. It was supposed to be Louisiana, Georgia Southern, and Arkansas State in three straight midweek contests. It has since evolved into a stand alone Thursday night game in which both teams are looking for momentum. App State is only team remaining in the Sun Belt who has yet to play a conference game. Arkansas State is about to play its third, and it is quite pivotal. A second loss in the conference standings would provide an uphill battle to gain a berth in the conference title game, with Louisiana and current West leader South Alabama still looming. Nobody expects the Jaguars to hang around, but here we are. The pressure is really on the Red Wolves. They have a thinner margin of error with a team that has some major holes outside of their passing attack. The stAte offensive line has allowed fourteen sacks on the season and made room for just 111.8 yards rushing per game. Both of those key statistics are in the bottom quartile of the country. The Red Wolves are also among one of the worst teams in giving up not just yards and points, but they only possess the ball 26 minutes a game and allow their opponents nearly 25 first downs a game. A lot of games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage, and that’s one place App State will not allow itself to be beaten. Third downs are always important, but will be especially important for both teams on Thursday night. Finally, red zone scoring. Both teams are performing uncharacteristically below their expectation finishing drives in the red zone. Field goals are not going to cut it. However, App State will play enough defense at the right time to hold off Arky State.

The First Pick

Howling at the Moon 31

Mountaineers 41

Appalachian Football vs UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (0-0) vs UNC-Charlotte (0-0)

Saturday, September 12th, 2020 12:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN 2

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 24,050

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.69

UNCC: 50.51

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.5 points

Line: App State -17

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, UNCC 41; September 7, 2019, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Showers from early morning throughout out game. Mid 60’s 

We all know how atypical this season will be. For the majority of the summer we were thinking about Wake Forest and Wisconsin and a team that returns a lot of talent, with promising newcomers that had the potential of turning into a truly special season. And then it all broke loose. The games against Power Five schools are no more. One conference absolutely shut down for the fall, and another protected themselves from the uncertainty and potential embarrassment of a loss. About a month ago, a new slate of non-conference opponents have been lined up, which mixes the old with the new. In a season where local games are encouraged, but not too local, our brethren from Harrisburg will make a second visit to the High Country in as many seasons. The head coaches have appeared to become friends over the summer, have openly stumped to play more games against one another, and passionate debate already exists between each fan base. All the pieces are there for a budding rivalry. Except one thing. Eventually someone else has to win. That could occur this year, in a future bowl game, or it may have to wait another half decade or so. But in the mean time, the teams will play each other this Saturday, without your typical gameday atmosphere. Most of you will be without your regimented routine of a typical Saturday morning or afternoon. We all are going to have to find a different way to do what we love, and if we do truly love it, we will find a way.

Returning in 2020 for Charlotte will be Chris Reynolds, who will start at quarterback for the second straight season. Last year, he set a school record for touchdown passes with 22, which included four scoring passes against App State. Reynolds also set school records with 2,564 passing yards in a season and also a single game mark of 354 yards against UTEP. Luckily for Charlotte he is still just a junior and will be heavily relied upon for the 49ers in the running and passing game. He rushed for 791 yards in 2019, which was good enough for second on the team behind Bennie LeMay, who has graduated. Perhaps the most impressive feat for Reynolds were the three game-winning drives he helped engineer in the final five regular season games that propelled Charlotte to bowl eligibility. However, Reynolds was typically just as good as his offensive line in front of him. He was sacked 17 times last season, with 15 of those coming in losses. App State got to Reynolds four times last year, and Buffalo accumulated five quarterback sacks in the Bahamas Bowl.

Charlotte and Reynolds will depend on their top three returning receivers from 2019 to carry them this year. Victor Tucker led the 49ers in receptions, yards and touchdowns, putting up a 52/909/7 line. Tucker improved his yards per catch in 2018 from 13.2 yards per catch to 17.5 yards per catch in the 2019 season. His 1,621 receiving yards rank 3rd all time in Charlotte history. Second leading receiver Cameron Dollar pulled in 41 catches for 599 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 24-yard reception against App State last year. He started eleven of thirteen games and had a 157-yard performance against UTEP. Tyler Ringwood rounds out the returners, as he snagged 25 passes for 395 yards and five touchdowns last year. He is the biggest of the returners at 6’2 and 217 pounds. Ringwood was the leading receiver in the bowl game with five catches for 64 yards.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Charlotte offense is who will replace Benny LeMay, by far the most accomplished running back in their brief history. Returning is Aaron McAllister, who registered 380 yards on the ground last year. A newcomer might also have the inside track. Tre Harbison III is a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, who tallied back to back 1,000 yard season for the Huskies. Harbison III averaged nearly 93 yards per game on the ground for NIU, who went 5-7 last year. Harbison III started his collegiate career at Virginia before transferring. Officially, Charlotte has listed McAllister as the starter, but the feeling is Harbison will also get plenty of work.

Over the course of this off season, the same questions were asked over and over by many regional media outlets. How do you replace this guy and that guy? The answer is not simple, but it can be. Neither Darrynton Evans nor Akeem Davis-Gaither are walking through that door and onto the field. App State coaches learned how to best use their talents, and they will do the same with those who fill those roles for the first time. We have yet to see Marcus Williams Jr, or Daetrich Harrington or Camerun Peoples in a full-time role. We might not see them that way either. But, if it had to come to it, fans should feel comfortable if any of those three were to get the majority of carries. An embarrassment of riches, some might call it. In their careers, all three average over 5.2 yards per carry. Nick Hampton and Brandon Harrington may not be household names yet, but their time is coming. Nick Hampton had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in a semi-reserve role as a redshirt freshman. Harrington played in eleven games as a true freshman. He was too good to sit out a season and that alone should get you excited about his future.

With media availability being somewhat limited, fewer stories seem to have trickled out in the weeks leading up to season. It is just a little bit tougher getting all the electronics set up for video conferencing compared to grabbing a coach or player after practice. In a typical year, one would have expected a story about how UNCC finished their 2019 campaign to gain bowl eligibility. After a very rough 2-5 start, the 49ers needed everything in those last five games to go their way, and they did. Finishing a season with 5 straight wins is similar to the way App State finished their 2014 season with six wins in their last six games. App State was ineligible for a bowl game in their second season of transition, but this was UNCC’s first postseason game. Maybe the bad taste of getting thumped by a MAC school has dampened some of that excitement and momentum. App State wouldn’t know. What we do know is what Charlotte lost year, which were some pretty important players on both lines and also at linebacker. They have had just one year under Will Healy, who is showing he can recruit to the suburbs, but only has one year under his belt doing so. Charlotte is still working with another coaches players which might be real the difference on the field on Saturday. Last year’s statistics are pretty meaningless, especially considering both teams will have new offensive coordinators. One cannot simply look at points per game or first downs from nine months ago and make hypothetical guesses based on that information. This game is unchartered territory for both teams. Next week, that lack of atmosphere will become more normalized, and become less of an issue, but this week, it remains a huge mental hurdle to overcome for both sides. Less so for the Mountaineers who get to sleep in their own beds and play in the stadium they have practiced in. Charlotte has not been to an empty Kidd Brewer Stadium. It may not seem like a major factor to some, but its on everyone’s minds.

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 21

Mountaineers 38

#20 Appalachian Football vs Louisiana

Appalachian State (11-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 7th, 2019 12:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Sirius XM Channel 81

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 80.15

ULL: 74.69

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.78 points

Line: App State -6.5, opened -3.5

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last meeting: App State 17, Louisiana 7, October 9, 2019, Lafayette, LA

WxCrum Forecast: Cold, Lower to mid-40’s for game; mostly sunny

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. Or at least it seems like this show does not end, and honestly, who can complain. After the Mountaineers cruised to a Black Friday win over Troy, it set the table for a Sun Belt Championship rematch with Louisiana. The Cajuns are the most familiar of foes in the very brief history of FBS football for Appalachian. This will be the eighth meeting in six seasons and fourth in the last season and a half. That span stretches just 21 games and 413 days. Two teams that have now become so familiar with one another that they can nearly anticipate just about any move a player will make due to copious amounts of film consumed. This game might not come down to who had the most talented team overall, but who plays the best on one single Saturday afternoon. Both sides have what it takes to lift the trophy, but only one will. A battle will take place between schools who have been on this stage before, and another who is trying to get back.

So what has happened since the last time App and Louisiana played. The Cajuns have not lost for one. They have won by double digits in every game they have played outside of last week against Monroe. That game is somewhat of a blip on the radar. You could also look at the South Alabama game as being another outlier. A game where the Cajuns won, but also gave up some yards and points. As much as some defensive and offensive numbers for App and Louisiana have mirrored each other, they are just that, averages. Let’s break down the first half and second half of Louisiana’s Sun Belt season. The Cajuns played four opponents with a combined record of 28-20, three of which are bowl eligible, and gave up 64 points, an average of 16 points per game. That was the first four games with two played at home, and two on the road. In the second half, with equal home and road games, the Cajuns gave up 67 points in four games, for a 16.75 points per game average. None of those four teams are bowl eligible and their combined record is 16-31.

We know just about all we need to about Louisiana. We have have heard about their glorious running game, the Cajun Trinity, as they like to call them. Louisiana wanted to get all three to 1,000 yards rushing on the season, but they failed to reach that mark. Elijah Mitchell finished seventh in the conference with 1,007 yards on 6.0 yards per attempt and 14 rushing touchdowns. Mitchell had scored touchdowns in every game until he played App in October, when he was held out of the end zone and to just 68 yards on 13 carries. Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas carried the ball for 104 times each in the regular season, but Ragas missed the Texas State game with an injury. Both have averaged right at 70 yards a game for the season, with Calais finishing the year with 818 yards and six touchdowns. Ragas concluded the season with 777 yards and eleven touchdowns. Quarterback Levis Lewis remains a threat to run, but has depended up on his arm much more down the stretch of the season.

Another thing that has changed for Louisiana since October 9th is their passing game. For a majority of the year, the Cajuns and Levi Lewis threw for under 200 yards a game. The lone exception was a 267-yard performance in the opening game. But in three of the last four weeks, Louisiana has eclipsed that threshold. First it was 296 yard effort against Coastal. The passing game took a week off against South Alabama, until it went for 273 yards against Troy and 270 yards against Monroe. Lewis also recorded nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions in those final four games, including two games where he threw three touchdown passes each. Lewis has only thrown three interceptions all year long, and is also on a five game streak without throwing a pick. Two of his three interceptions came away from Cajun Field, against Arkansas State, and the neutral site game against Miss. State in New Orleans.

A team effort on Friday dispatched Troy, mostly led by Zac Thomas who set career marks all night long in several categories. Thomas tossed for 326 yards and four touchdowns, with 140 yards going to Thomas Hennigan on eleven receptions.The game pushed Thomas to 2,427 yards and 24 touchdown passes on the season. Darrynton Evans had a light night of work with just 16 offensive touches, but made the most of them with 109 total yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers pushed Evans to a very square 1,250 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on the season. Evans was honored as the Sun Belt offensive player of the year on Wednesday afternoon, along with Akeem Davis-Gaither being honored as the Sun Belt defensive player of the year. Davis-Gaither did a little bit of everything all season long, with 85 tackles, 13.5 for loss, including 6 pass break ups, one interception and one blocked kick.

The series between App State and Louisiana took a turn in 2018. After four fairly one-sided scores, the Cajuns made a change at head coach, and it paid off. Billy Napier was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year after a three game improvement in the won-loss record. It was an interesting selection as there were easily three other challengers. Napier, in his press conference, sort of downplayed playing at Kidd Brewer Stadium by saying “It’s not like we are going to play at Lambeau Field”. He later corrected/caught himself and went on to say it was a great environment and its a great place to play football. Napier will always be reminded, wink wink. But still, in the last three games between the Mountaineers and Cajuns, the margins have all been ten points or more. A few weeks back, the game was dominated by defense and field position. It was a game you rarely see in college football anymore. It’s a game I do not think we’ll see on Saturday. One team is going to score some points. The Mountaineers have put up some serious digits this season on home Saturday games. In all those games they had one week since the prior game, which resulted in a scoring average of 48.2 points per game, and eclipsed 50 points in three games. They will have had one extra day to prepare. In games where App has had more than the traditional game week to prepare, all they did was knock off ETSU, these same Cajuns, Monroe and South Carolina. They gave up just 36 points in those four games. Long story short, the Mountaineers will be prepared to win this game because all of the preparation has led them to this moment. Most importantly, they have been there before and know what it takes to win this game. Louisiana’s moment might come in the near future, but it’s not this weekend.

The First Pick

Mild Peppers 28

Mountaineers 42