App State Football vs Troy (Sun Belt Championship)

Appalachian State (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs Troy (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 2nd, 2023 4:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), 103.9FM/1250AM (Marion), Varsity Network App

Veteran Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Prograss

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.54

Troy: 74.16

Home: 2.33

Troy is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.95 points

VegasInsider Line: Troy -6

Series: App State leads 8-3

Last Meeting: App State 32, Troy 28, September 17, 2022, Boone, NC

For the ninth consecutive year, App State has won at least five home games. Three straight years averaging over 30,000 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium, and just a couple hundred away from eclipsing 35,000. There is no doubt, when you come to Boone for college football, you leave entertained. However, Kidd Brewer Stadium is quiet for now, and the Mountaineers will take their show on the road for the final two games of the season. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Two more games. Only twenty FBS schools will play their thirteenth game this weekend. For the fourth time, App State will represent their division in the conference championship in just six opportunities. This feeling is the familiar territory we missed last year. It hurts to think about it the past, but it should make the current moments worth it more in the end. Whether the Mountaineers win or lose on Saturday will not define their season. Troy is a worthy opponent, and they won the conference a season ago. But that was last year, and nothing that happened a year ago will have an impact on this game.

Ten of the fourteen Sun Belt coaches picked Troy to represent the West division back in late July. The other four coaches picked South Alabama. Troy led their division for most of the season and cleared the division by three games. Only two of their conference games were decided by less than seven points being a two-point loss to James Madison and a touchdown win over Louisiana just a couple weeks ago. Only FCS Stephen F. Austin scored more than 30 points on the Troy defense, and that was the first game of the season. Western Kentucky and Louisiana were the only teams that scored 24 points on Troy. Everyone else: 17 points or fewer. For the season, Troy has allowed just 13 points per game to conference opponents, but that number has ticked up slightly the last three weeks to 18.3 points per game. Considering their opponents were two of the worst teams in the conference in Southern Miss and UL-Monroe, that might throw some caution to the wind. Louisiana was playing for bowl eligibility and got there, while the others were playing out the string.  

The Troy defense is elite. Easy to see there. Does not a take genius to figure that out. The Trojan offense is one of the better offenses in the league, but it does not compare to leading statistical categories like their counterparts do. Quarterback Gunnar Watson has played in parts of six college football seasons, all at Troy. Watson was on the 2018 Troy team that lost to App State 21-10, which was a winner-take-all game to represent the East in the inaugural Sun Belt Championship. Watson did not play against App State in 2018 or 2019 but has played in the last three matchups. None of them have ended well for Watson although last year was the closest, he and Troy had come.  In those three games, Watson has completed just over 60% of his passes for 526 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He has thrown an interception in each game he has played against the Mountaineers, who coincidentally lead the Sun Belt with 15 interceptions this season and have eight interceptions in their last four games. The Mountaineers are 7-1 this season when intercepting a pass.

With senior day recognitions, Armanti Edwards’ number retirement and generally cool weather, the Mountaineers started a little slow last Saturday, but took advantage of four Georgia Southern turnovers to pull away. The Mountaineers scored immediately after each Eagle turnover, with two scores quickly responded by one play touchdowns. The Mountaineers also dominated the middle eight minutes of the game, scoring an unheard of 17 points even with a turnover of their own. After the score was tied at 17-17 with just 2:33 remaining in the second quarter, App State reeled off 34 consecutive points before allowing a kickoff return touchdown and field goal that cut a three score lead to a three score lead by Southern. Yes, you read that right. It has been amazing, week after week, how the Mountaineers offense can put up 532 yards and it feel like everyone got a piece of the pie. Eight receivers caught passes, with seven catching two or more. Three different running backs eclipsed 60 yards, which was more than the Eagles leading rusher.

The win last week coupled with James Madison taking out their frustrations on Coastal Carolina has put the Mountaineers in the spot they always hoped to be in by playing for a conference championship. The turnaround has been a true team effort. The offense can always play better, but when buoyed by their defense, a team can take on a completely different look. Weeks ago, we discussed slow starts with offense and it was hardly even noticeable this past week. If anything, this game resembled a microcosm of the entire season. A slower start that led to convincing win. Once the floodgates opened the Eagles were toast. Saturday marked the third straight game the Mountaineers recovered a fumble. They had just three in the previous nine games. Troy does not give up a ton of sacks, but all twenty-three sacks have come in six games. Turnovers or other impact plays, whether by attacking the ball at the line of scrimmage, on special teams, or in the secondary is what has made it tough for teams to overcome the Mountaineers and their offense.

What more could anyone ask for in a championship game? In the era of the Sun Belt championship game, the participants are usually decided by results that mattered in the regular season. Sometimes, there was a head-to-head battle that broke a tie in each division. In 2018, App State beat Troy in the regular season finale in a game that decided who would host the title game. In 2019 & 2021, the App State and Louisiana regular season winner would eventually host and win the conference championship. Last season, Troy defeated South Alabama in the regular season and hosted. Coastal Carolina defeated Marshall in the regular season which gave them the opportunity to participate. Hosting has mattered over the years. A road team has yet to win a conference championship game and usually the hottest team has also claimed the title. In 2018 and 2019, App State won their last six games in respective years. Louisiana won their last thirteen games in 2021, and Troy won their last eleven games last year. If you have noticed, we do not talk about 2020, because there was no game, cough, cough. Arguably, this is shaping up to be the best matchup in the history of the conference championship because we have two teams who are streaking right now. Troy is riding a nine-game streak, while the Mountaineers have won five in a row. The Trojans won the division going away and App State has had their back against the wall for last half of the season. In the last five weeks, Troy has been scoring touchdowns almost exclusively in the air. Gunnar Watson has fifteen touchdown passes during that span, and other Troy quarterbacks have tossed for two more scores. The Troy ground game has steadily run for a single touchdown in each of the last five games as well. Troy has determined their offensive course of action and have not strayed from it. That’s an easy path to take when their defense has been so consistent all year long. But what happens when that Troy teams sees the most balanced opponent they have faced in a long time. The last five Troy opponents are not exactly lighting the world on fire. Sure, both schools have had common opponents. The timing of when App and Troy played those four games gives us zero indication as to what we could expect this weekend. What we do know is that Kimani Vidal is a good running back who does not go down on first contact. He averages 112 yards a game, but Vidal gained 493 yards in two games against Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas State, who was dead last in the conference in rushing defense. In fact, over a third of Vidal’s rushing yards for the season come in those two games. Against James Madison, Vidal was held to 27 yards and there are plenty other examples where Vidal was limited, yet Troy was able to prevail. Keeping Vidal contained will do wonders for the backside of the Mountaineer defense. This is the true game within the game. Whether or not Troy can find enough rhythm on offense could be a deciding factor. Troy is well balanced, and if the Mountaineers can keep them off balance, and can roam the secondary, it will be a huge boost. Eventually the road team woes in the conference championship will come to and end. This might as well be this week.

The First Pick

T-roy 26

Mountaineers 31

#22 Appalachian Football @ Troy

Appalachian State (10-1, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ Troy (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt)

Friday, November 29th, 2019 6:00pm

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

Veteran’s Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: ProGrass

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 79.00

Troy: 61.82

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 14.86 points

Line: App State -12.5

Series: App State leads 4-2

Last meeting: App State 21, Troy 10, November 24, 2018, Boone, NC

Forecast: Mostly Sunny with temperatures in the mid-60’s

Last Saturday was an emotional day of sorts. A fine group of seniors could have played their last game in Boone, but they took care of business and received help from across the conference. Now the door is open to potentially play another game at home. That’s music to you ears. Tuesday evening was also emotional, as the Mountaineers were once again passed over in favor of your Power Five Flavor of the Week, and dropped one spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. What’s that motto again? Keep the Chip. The season’s goal is now directly in front of App State. Their destiny is in their hands. Win at Troy. Play at home for the conference title. One more game in Boone, in December. But you cannot look ahead, because its all about being 1-0 this week. Troy has plenty to play for. They are looking to get their sixth win, and potentially play in a bowl game. After all they went through this season on the injury front, that would be a great way to finish their season. No offense to Troy, but App State is not in the business of making friends. They have goals to accomplish of their own and they have come too far to let it all go to waste.

Troy is arguably the most interesting story in the Sun Belt this season. Like Appalachian, the Trojans lost their former head coach due to success. Neal Brown fled to the Big XII and West Virginia, in what seemed like a pretty easy fit for the other Mountaineers. In comes Chip Lindsey, which gives App back to back weeks with new head coaches as their opponent. Lindsey and Eliah Drinkwitz are pretty familiar with each other. Both spent times on the plains of Auburn around Gus Malzahn. Despite their years of employment not directly overlapping, you can probably assume these two know each other just as much as any two sets of coaches in the Sun Belt. They have been mentioned at least once over the years in the same coaching search at places such as Tennessee. Had Lindsay landed the Tennessee job while at Auburn, Drinkwitz was being rumored as a potential Lindsay replacement at Auburn. Chances are more likely these guys have shared a cup of coffee, er cinnamon bun, er Diet Mountain Dew, in many diners across the southeast on more than one occasion.

Two years ago, when App State and Troy were slated for a end of season game, the Sun Belt surely had one thing in mind: Set up the drama prior to the championship game. That worked in 2018, when App knocked off Troy and it set up the inaugural championship game in Boone. Nobody in 2019 expected Troy to be fighting for bowl eligibility on the last weekend of the season. But, here we are. Troy lost one of the best running backs in the conference in BJ Smith just two games into the season during the loss to Southern Miss. That was the double whammy that should have keyed many into what Troy would be dealing with. That loss also shed light on a very vulnerable secondary that has been eaten alive by just about everyone in the Sun Belt. Southern Miss threw for 514 yards. Two weeks later, Arkansas State, 455 yards. Coastal Carolina, 285 yards. Louisiana last week, 344 yards. It was a season high for Southern Miss, Louisiana and Arkansas State, and the third highest total by Coastal on the season.

Many of you were probably really surprised to see Troy’s humiliating loss to Louisiana last week. Hard to understand how a team with bowl eligibility on the line would get sucker punched by a score of 53-3. It was likely Troy’s worst game of the season outside of Missouri. Troy has been able to run or throw the ball for at least 212 yards in every game this season, so they can beat you in a number of ways. The Louisiana and Missouri games were the only ones where that magical 212 yard run/pass mark was not achieved. The Trojans scored a combined 13 points in those two games. Both of those games were on the road. In home games, Troy has not had a let down. They have been downright nasty at home, in a good way. The Trojans have amassed a whopping 518.6 yards per game and scored on average 42.8 points per game at home this season.

The App State defense held Texas State to its lowest output of the season in another bad weather game at Kidd Brewer. The Bobcats had put up back to back 400+ yard offensive games, but the Mountaineers cut that total in half. Over one-fourth of the yards Texas State gained was on one play, the touchdown pass right before the half. The Bobcats had thirteen possessions in the game, and nine of them went for 13 yards or fewer. You cannot ask for much more. Meanwhile, the offense played it somewhat close to the vest, which was all that was necessary. The Mountaineers churned out 280 rushing yards, led by Darrynton Evans with 154 yards and three touchdowns. Marcus Williams Jr added 78 yards. The bad news however, came when Corey Sutton suffered a season-ending injury. That obviously has a serious impact on the passing game, as Sutton is a transcendent weapon in this offense, and was always a threat to take the top off a defense.

Last year’s game between Troy and App State was an absolute classic game. It was billed by some as the real conference championship game. Whoever would come out of that game was sure to beat whatever came out of the west division. That same scenario will not play out this time around. Troy remains a dangerous team, with plenty of weapons and enough defense to beat a team if they are not having their best game. Troy is still the third highest scoring offense in the conference at 35.7 points per game. They have gained the second most yards on offense in the Sun Belt. They have the third best rushing defense, and are tied for the most interceptions. But the Trojans record remains a game below .500 because they have had trouble stopping teams. They have the worst pass defense in the league and give up 33.5 points per game. They have played in a lot of shootouts. They let several teams embarrass them up and down the football field. And that might be what we are in store for this weekend. Don’t be surprised to see a back and forth affair between two offenses who know how to get in the end zone. The difference will be those few precious possessions that one defense is able to stop an offense with a turnover, whether on downs, or by giving up the football. Those turnovers will be huge in a game like this where momentum will be of the utmost importance. Whichever team can establish the run, and force their tempo upon the opposing defense also stands a great chance of winning. In the end, App State’s defense will get more stops than Troy.

The First Pick

T-roy 21

Mountaineers 35

Appalachian Football vs Troy

Appalachian State (8-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ Troy (9-2, 7-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 24th, 2018 2:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

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

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.41

Troy: 66.53

Home: 2.33

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10.5

Series: Tied 3-3

Last meeting: Troy 28, App State 24,  November 12th, 2016, Troy, AL

WxCrum Forecast: Cold rain becoming scattered showers, Temps hovering mid 40’s

Big games are what big time programs live for. Sometimes you win those games and sometimes you lose, but you always live for the big ones. The Mountaineers are hopefully facing three big games in a row. In the meantime, the App State redemption tour rolls on. Similar to South Alabama, and Arkansas State both winning in Boone the last time they faced the Mountaineers, Troy defeated them the last time they faced off in 2016. The Trojans converted a late fourth down for a forty-three yard gain that set up the go-ahead touchdown. At that point, the Mountaineers thought their chances were doomed for a conference title. Luckily, that was not the case. In 2018, a loss to Troy would ensure that App State will not win a conference title. A win moves them one step closer to the ultimate goal, playing the last conference football game of the season, and the inaugural conference championship game in their own backyard. This is the game that has been circled by both sides for months on end and we have finally made it. 

Troy has had a perfect season in conference play, winning all seven games, with only one scare, which just happened to be last week at home to Texas State. Besides that, the Trojans had won every game by at least eight points. It was not a surprise that Texas State gave Troy a game, but as to how the game played out. Coupled with the way Appalachian disposed of Texas State easily the week before, it turned into an alarming result. Troy turned six total turnovers by the Bobcats into just four field goals. Earlier in the season the Trojans were thrown around like a rag doll by Boise State in the opening weekend and committed the ultimate sin of losing to transitioning Liberty a week after starting quarterback Kaleb Barker was lost to an injury for the season. 

Troy head coach Neal Brown and Scott Satterfield are mirror images of each other. Both are always mentioned as possible replacements each time a college football job opens up. They both revived once proud programs who had a couple underachieving seasons. Both prefer balanced offenses and good defensive play and oh yeah, they both like to win. Brown is in his fourth season and has thirty four wins. Satterfield is in his sixth season, and is one win away from a coaching milestone, his fiftieth win. They are considered the class of the conference and both could be in line for Sun Belt coach of the year if they pull off a conference title after having to replace four year starting quarterbacks coming into the season. 

Current Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith looks the part of a backup. His statistics do not quite measure up to his predecessor in Kaleb Barker, but they both look the same on the field despite Smith listed as the bigger player at 6’3  and 220 pounds. Smith’s rushing statistics do not look great recently, but he has the ability to break a long run, as evidenced by a 63-yard run versus Georgia State and a 57-yard run against Nebraska. The most interesting part of his game is his up and down passing lines. He’s only thrown multiple touchdowns in a game once, against South Alabama. He does have a couple of big games to his name, like Georgia Southern and Louisiana, where he threw for 287 and 317 yards respectively. But then there are the Texas State, Liberty games where he was held under 150 yards passing. The up and down play begs the questions. Which Sawyer Smith will the Mountaineers see this Saturday?

Junior BJ Smith has been hauling the mail for the Trojans this season, especially since the Trojans lost Barker. Smith did not see twenty carries in a game until Liberty, the first with Sawyer Smith behind center. Since then, he has had twenty or more carries in every single game. He had a five game streak of 100-yard rushing games snapped two weeks ago. Georgia Southern and Texas State held Smith below the century mark and also kept his average under four yards for the game. Both Southern and Texas State have similar defenses to Appalachian, which mean’s Troy will be facing a tough defense for the third week in a row.

With his sixth multi-passing touchdown game of the season, Zac Thomas made light work of Georgia State. Since his return from injury, Thomas has completed 75% of his passes for 529 yards and five touchdowns, zero interceptions, and throw in 103 yards on the ground for fun. When his number has been called in 2018, he has answered it every single time. Thomas is an absolute gamer who loves the when the ball is in hands. The more he is involved, the better he plays. Darryonton Evans has quickly sprung into action as a near every down home run threat. When he gets a crease, he hits it and finishes. Evans is just 140 yards away from a 1,000 yard season, which seems likely no matter the number of games he has to accomplish it. Corey Sutton nabbed another four passes and registered his second career one-hundred yard game. 

So what does all this add up to? We have a game between two really good teams, the top ranked defenses in the conference in what could potentially be a bad weather game with a ton at stake. Troy’s wide receivers were notably absent from much of the game last week against Texas State. Expect some of them to be back on the field this weekend, but there is no way they will be at full health. BJ Smith has also been battling a knee injury, yet continues to get heavy usage in the run game. Despite all this, Troy has persevered, and relied heavily on their defense to keep them in games while their offense figures out the best way to attack the opposing defense. In five full games post-Barker injury, Troy is averaging just 25.2 points per game, which is down from their season average of 31.5 per contest. Now, when your defense is only allowing 16.6 in that same five game stretch, scoring like they have been is plenty, but it might not be plenty to beat the Mountaineers. It has been three full years since App State last lost a Sun Belt home game. Likewise, Troy is on a thirteen game conference win streak, their last loss to rival South Alabama. If a team gets a two score win this weekend, it’ll be hard for the trailing team to make a comeback. Both teams have mostly lived off getting ahead early and letting their defense finish off their opponent. Essentially, I don’t think Troy has enough offense at this point of the season to keep pace with App State who seems to be hitting their stride at the right time. 


The First Pick

T-Roy 19

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football @ Troy

Here we go with Week 10

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-0 Sun Belt) @ Troy (7-1, 4-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 12th, 2016 3:30 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 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Veterans Memorial Stadium Stadium

Surface: AstroPlay

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 72.18

Troy: 71.41

Home: 2.40

Troy is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 1.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Pick’em

Series: App State leads 3-2

Last meeting: App State 44, Troy 41 (3OT), October 31st, 2015, Boone, NC   

         The Sun Belt will not hold a conference championship football game until 2018, but in the meantime, Appalachian and Troy are the closest you can get to such a game. Without a true round robin schedule, this game doesn’t act as a de facto championship, as those pesky Red Wolves of Arkansas State loom next week for Troy, and sport an unblemished conference record. There still exists a really good chance that a split conference title will occur. Arkansas State will be rooting for Troy this weekend with plans to knock them off next Thursday, and Appalachian will be doing the same in reverse, hoping to beat Troy , and hope the Trojans respond a few days later. Either a tie for first or second place will likely occur between these three teams and create a pecking order as the bowl season plays out. Neither wants to travel terribly far, or play in the Dollar General Bowl just days before Christmas. Thus, the importance of this next week in the Sun Belt. For Applachian, this game is about more than just a bowl spot. It’s all about winning a conference championship. The Mountaineers have finished second twice in their first two seasons in the Belt. It’s time to take that next step in their nearly unmatched transitional success at college football’s highest level. 

          A challenge like this is what dreams are made of for every player and coach. Beating up on teams that have less talent will only take you so far. Troy and Appalachian are clearly the two best teams in the Sun Belt this season. Forget about the records, and compare these two teams statistically and they are near images of one another. Both teams can run the ball, and stop the run. Both create issues on defense with turnovers, sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The difference in a game where matchups are so close on paper comes down to execution in key situations where an offense throws something at a defense they are not ready for. Simply running your offense in a game of this magnitude won’t get either team any where close to winning a title. 

          The majority of Troy’s success is due to the consistency of their offense. It might take them a couple series to figure out what is going to work well against your scheme, but they’ll find it and attack. The Trojans have three games with 300 yards passing and four games where they have eclipsed 175 yards rushing. They have scored on the ground and in the air at least once in every game. The task for Appalachian is real, but they must depend on what got them to this point: running to the ball, finishing each tackle and leaving no doubt. 

         Beyond steady play, Troy likes to push the tempo on offense. Constantly, Troy wants to get on the ball after a gain, by avoiding a huddle and trying to snap the ball before the play clock hits twenty seconds. On many occasions, receivers are not running routes to get open, but really to make the defense cover a part of the field that will not be targeted. Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers rarely works through his progressions, rather focusing on throwing the ball to a spot and putting the onus of making a play on his receivers. Coach Neal Brown knows exactly how important Silvers is to the team and wants to keep Silvers upright in the pocket, and the best way to accomplish that is for Silvers to get rid of the ball quickly. 

         Unlike Texas State, the majority of Troy’s passes lands in the hands of two receivers. Emanuel Thompson and Deondre Douglas lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but seven other receivers have played in every game. Nine different pass catchers have caught touchdown passes and seventeen have a caught a pass throughout the year. Watch out for Tevaris McCormick, who has three touchdowns on just fourteen receptions, and averages over eighteen yards per catch. Jordan Chunn gets all the love running the football, averaging 112.4 yards per game and has an impressive 899 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. Hs is a bigger back that churns out 5 yards per attempt, and has a touchdown in every game this season, except Clemson. Oddly enough, Chunn has alternated his four 100-yard rushing games this season. He would be due for a 100-yard game this weekend, but three of his four such games have occured on the road. 

          The Mountaineer running attack has really rounded into form with back-to-back games right at 300 yards on the ground. The effectiveness of Marcus Cox and Jalin Moore cannot be understated. Moore has extended his streak of 100-yard games to six, and has at least one 20-yard run in each games. After shouldering a heavy load of carries in his first two starts against Akron and Georgia State, Moore has only one 20+ attempt game in his last four and is gashing defenses to the tune of 7.3 yards per carry during the same time frame. Cox has returned with renewed sense of urgency from his injury, also racking up seven yards per carry in his last two games. Cox has 100 yards rushing in every game he has finished this season, excluding Miami where he was injured. 

           Something is going to give on Saturday. If Troy’s fourth ranked run defense can hold Appalachian to anywhere near their defensive average, it will not be a game that Appalachian wins. Stubbornly, the Mountaineers will run until it works. The Apps have called at least 37 running plays in every game, and five times have run 47 times or more. Last year, the Mountaineers totaled 248 rushing yards against Troy. That is the Mountaineers identity, and it’s not going away just because of some numbers that Troy has accumulated against a less than impressive schedule. Five of Troy’s eight opponents are ranked 104th in the country or worse running the football. New Mexico State (104th), Idaho (106th), South Alabama (114th), Massachusetts (122nd), & Georgia State (126th) are all averaging 134 yards a game or less on the ground. Austin Peay, Troy’s opening game opponent, is 47th of 122 teams in the FCS at 165 yards per game on the ground. The Apps will get theirs on the ground, which in turn always helps the passing attack. In turn, Troy will get their passing yards. We all know Appalachian doesn’t mind giving up a play or two in the middle of the field, but clamps down at the right time. Outside of their Power Five opponents, both teams will be facing their toughest test of the season, but it’s the Mountaineers that have been tested more often this season and last. Troy is good, but they aren’t great yet, and they will not be sneaking up on Appalachian like they did last season. 

The First Pick

T-Roy 20

Mountaineers 27

Troy @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with week 8
Troy (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (6-1, 3-0 Sun Belt)
Saturday October 31st, 3:30 PM 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
Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 23,150
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 73.49
Troy: 55.71
Home: 2.71
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 20.5 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: App State -24
Series: Series tied 2-2
Last Meeting: App State 53, Troy 14; October 18, 2014 (Troy, AL)
Weather: Sunshine early with building clouds, High: Upper 50’s, Lows: Upper 30’s, South winds 5-10mph

It was more than just a night to remember. It was a night that put things back in their proper order. A little smack talk never hurt anyone leading up to last Thursday night, as long your team can back it up. The Mountaineers backed it up and then some, by rolling their nemesis into the ground with a 31-13 drubbing that looked a lot worse. But in the end, those Eagles will never run out of excuses. They have never lost a game; it is always someone else’s fault for their poor play. Hopefully for Georgia Southern, all that complaining will come to an end. Who are we to kid? That’ll never happen. In the meantime, Appalachian looks to continue their quest for a ring in 2015, and the Troy Trojans are the next team in the way. Just a little over a year ago, the turnaround started with a trip to Troy. Appalachian was an underdog, coming off what could be argued as the worst loss in recent memory. Suddenly, on that Saturday afternoon 375 days ago, the switch was flipped. Something happened, and the Mountaineers have not looked back since. In the last thirteen games, the Mountaineers have shut down their opponents, surrendering just 15.6 points per game, including three shutouts. The brevity of such dominance is rare in this modern football game, where scores can resemble the college basketball game more often. That consistency has spanned over a year, not just a spurt of games. This what we are all accustomed to. The plan has worked and the swagger and spirit has returned to the top of the mountain in a scary way.
As much as last year was a turning point for Appalachian, it was in a very different way for Troy. Their beloved coach, Larry Blakeney, who spent 23 years manning the sidelines was in his final year. Blakeney won eight conference titles and two bowl games while transitioning Troy out of Division II, through I-AA and eventually to the FBS ranks. Enter Neal Brown, the second youngest coach in all of FBS football for his first head coaching job of his career. Brown was a former offensive coordinator at Troy before moving on to the same role at Texas Tech & Kentucky. Brown is finding his way as a head coach, much like Scott Satterfield did a couple seasons ago. It is a difficult balancing act to play upperclassmen when there are younger guys who you like for your system. Brown is doing just that right now. Slowly, Troy will be a force once again in the Sun Belt.
The Trojans have been looking for balance throughout the 2015 season, and it all came together last weekend at New Mexico State. You might say, well, a lot of teams have found balance against New Mexico State. That is correct, they have, but occasionally, a team needs a confidence booster to realize what it is that they can achieve. The Troy defense is a vastly improved bunch from 2014. The Trojans have decreased opponents scoring by close to ten points in just one season. They are allowing 76 fewer yards per game and have slowed the ground game of their opponents by 1.5 yards per carry. One last boring statistic: In 2014, Troy gave up 2.9 rushing touchdowns a game, and in 2015, 1.5 per game.
Troy’s offense is led by its three-headed monster in Brandon Silvers, Brandon Burks & Teddy Ruben. Silvers had his best game of the season last weekend, throwing for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the thumping of New Mexico State. Coming into the game, Silvers had eclipsed the 200 yard mark in only one other game, in the Trojans other win of the season against Charleston Southern. Seven of his nine touchdowns on the season came in the two wins, while Silvers has two touchdown passes and three interceptions in four losses in which he appeared. Silvers was injured in the loss at Mississippi State , suffering a high ankle sprain and a concussion. In his absence, Troy used two quarterbacks in the loss to Idaho, neither which were very effective. Dallas Tidwell threw for 168 yards and one touchdown on 50% passing while Dontreal Pruitt combined for 111 total yards (70 passing, 41 rushing) and threw two interceptions.

Brandon Burks is the senior running back who lives and dies off of his big play ability. His 621 yards on the season are good enough for 5th in the Sun Belt, while his 88.7 yards per game puts him at seventh. Burks has totaled 313 of his 621 yards on the longest carry in each of his respective games this season. Unbelievable right? Over half of his yards on seven carries. The Trojans depend on Burks to break a big one. Burks means almost as much to Troy as Matt Breida does for Georgia Southern. They need him to be fantastic. Last Thursday, the Mountaineers kept Breida in check, and thus kept the Eagles in check.

Teddy Ruben is an extremely versatile wide receiver He does a little bit of eveything for the Trojans. He is 5th in the Sun Belt in receiving yards and receptions per game, 5th in kick returns,  and 2nd in punt returns. In his last two games, Ruben has gone over  100 yards and snagged three touchdown passes. After only catching twelve passes in his first three games of the season, Ruben has hauled in twenty-one passes in the last four games. Similarly to Burks, most of Ruben’s yards have come on the big play. Of his 468 yards, 221 have occured on his longest reception in each game this season.

One would have never guessed Appalachian was facing the second best defense in the conference in Georgia Southern last week. If anything, the offense was its usual balanced self. Taylor Lamb patiently surveyed the field for open receivers and was completely satisfied by throwing the ball away instead of forcing it into coverage. The Mountaineers leaned on one receiver for really the first time all season. Simms McElfresh caught six passes for 66 yards, the most of any Mountaineer receiver in a game this year.  Marcus Cox took advantage of his 21 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the bigger story was Jalin Moore, who received a carry high in carries with eleven in the game which he turned into 53 yards. It was the sixth time this season that the Mountaineers ran the ball 40 times or more in a game as a team.
It is easy to understand that Troy is excited about what they were able to accomplish against an 0-7 team last weekend, getting their first win against an FBS opponent this season. So much that one of their players spouted off to the media that they are about to dominate their next game. Makes one wonder if said player even checked the schedule. It’s fun to be excited, because you can ignore facts. Realistically, this game is a complete mismatch. Troy, with their third ranked Sun Belt defense believes they will keep Appalachian from scoring, something only Clemson has done this season. The best way for Troy to do that is to keep the Mountaineers off the field. That will be a chore in itself. The Trojans have given up 6 minutes of possesion to their opponents this season. Two minutes on the season, is a lot to give up, and six is enormous. Six minutes of a game is ten percent, so that is a pretty big deal. Part of the reasoning behind that is their lack of a run game. Last week, Appalachian took away the running game of Georgia Southern, by cutting their season rushing average in half, and then some. Troy is ninth in the conference at 123 rushing yards per game, ahead of Georgia State and Monroe. The longest carry the Mountaineers have given up all season is 30 yards. It will be tough for Troy to break a long run against this stout Mountaineer defense. Appalachian will force Troy into being one dimensional on offense and make them pass against the best secondary in the conference. That’s not a good idea against Latrell Gibbs and company. The Mountaineers win this one going away.


The First Pick:
T-Roy                 14
Mountaineers   38

Appalachian State @ Troy

Here we go with Week 7

Appalachian State (1-5, 0-2 Sun Belt) @ Troy (1-5, 1-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 18th, 3:00pm 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

Veterans Memorial Stadium

Surface: ProGrass

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 49.78

Troy: 49.91

Home: 3.29

Troy is favored by the Sagarin Rating by 3.5 points

Sportsbook: Troy -7, O/U 63.5

Series: Troy leads 2-1

Last Meeting: App State 33, Troy 30, November 25, 2000

That feeling probably has yet to wear off from the last time. The feeling of another game ending on the game’s final play. Luckily this time it was not a kick that was the final play, but that could have been. Bentlee Critcher’s field goal attempt was just wide enough to cause speculation and an instant replay booth review. Overtime was not friendly for the Mountaineers. Liberty scored easily like they had all afternoon long. The Mountaineers ran for a big gain on their first play and then decided the test the middle of the field at an intermediate distance for the first time all game. Finally, the game did end on the last play, and those who were remaining in the stands, once again left wondering what had happened. Used to be that many Appalachian football games were over at halftime. Fans were leaving Kidd Brewer Stadium because it was the Mountaineers who were rolling. Now fans leave when the Mountaineers are getting pummeled or because a little bit of drizzle is just enough of an excuse. Now its just the diehards who stick it out. The ones who are so anxious to see the next victory, whenever it may come. A very young offense is now turning the ball over at bad times which does not mix well with a defense that barely gets in the way of opposing offenses. The Mountaineer offense will either get left behind or keep up with opposing teams. Unfortunately, there has not been much “keeping up” this season. At the midpoint of the season, the Mountaineers have regressed from their 1-2 mark at the quarter pole. Without a win this weekend, the Mountaineers will match a losing streak not seen since 1977, which is older than then the average age of an Appalachian alum. A win is desperately needed before things really get ugly on the mountain.

Troy is not going to feel bad for Appalachian. They were also recently dumbfounded by a loss to Abilene Christian nearly a month ago. It was not until last weekend that Troy broke through on their Homecoming game to defeat New Mexico State 41-27, by rushing for a season high 360 yards rushing. This number is especially troubling to Appalachian, a team that has given up enormous rushing totals to Michigan (350), Georgia Southern (408) and South Alabama (243). Troy also forced four turnovers, the same number that the Mountaineers gave away last weekend.

The rushing statistic posted by Troy was even more surprising as the Trojans had only rushed for 488 yards on 168 attempts in the previous five games this season, which was good for 2.9 yards per carry on the season, which is absolutely pitiful. Add Saturdays statistics, and the Troy increased their yards per carry for the season by almost an entire yard to 3.8 ypc. A lot of those yards had to do with New Mexico State, which is being torched on the ground even worse than Appalachian has this year. The win last weekend, regardless of how it happened, may have given Troy all the confidence they needed to turn their season around.

Brandon Burks was the man who had the most rushing yards in the last weeks win. On only ten carries, Burks hauled the mail for 176 yards without a touchdown. Burks only had 114 yards on the season going into New Mexico State. Burks is not a guy who carries the ball a lot, now with only 48 carries in six games. His season high for carries was eleven against Duke and his low was three carries against Georgia. Burks only had nineteen carries for 20 yards combined in the prior three games, so his breakout against the Aggies was surprising.

Quarterback Brandon Silvers has started five games this season for the Trojans. Silvers suffered a concussion in the loss to Abilene Christian which forced him to miss the Georgia game. Since returning, Silvers has oddly played better since returning to the lineup. His rushing and passing numbers have improved in each game. He has run 34 times in the past two games compared to the 24 times in the seasons first three games. He has also posted nearly half of his passing yards for the season in the last two games compared to the first three. He has thrown 4 TD passes in the last two games compared to just one in the first three games. Silvers is a high percentage passer at close to a 70% completion rate and has only thrown one interception on the season. Silvers four rushing touchdowns tie for the team lead and his 131 rushing yards are good enough for third on the team.

Forgotten in the gloominess of last week’s loss was excellent statistical performances by the Appalachian offense. Liberty’s best defense was the Mountaineers committing turnovers. The Mountaineers rolled up 637 yards and gained 9.2 yards per snap but the red zone problems continued to plague the offense. The Mountaineers converted one possession into points on four attempts. That possession yielded one field goal. The Mountaineers scored all five offensive touchdowns from distance. It’s great to have the big play become a part of the offense, but the long strikes led to the Mountaineer defense getting left on the field for over 35 minutes. That is the exact definition of a double edge sword. A coach is going to take those big plays all day if they are available. It’s just sad that they basically went to waste.

In my opinion, the red zone is an overrated term used to describe what is basically a scoring chance. The ball being in the red zone certainly means that scoring is more likely, but as Appalachian has shown this year, it is not a guarantee. More importantly, being in position to score points is completely underrated. In the second quarter, Appalachian had a fourth down and five yards to go at the twenty-three yard line. A field goal attempt would have been forty yards with the Mountaineers down a touchdown. Appalachian elected to run an offensive play instead of the field goal attempt with a backup kicker and holder. Taylor Lamb threw an interception on the play but the Mountaineer defense was able to hold, which eventually led the Mountaineers to actually attempt and make a field goal with under ten seconds left in the half. Now imagine, the original field goal being attempted on fourth and five from the twenty-three yard line. Then, after kicking off to Liberty, the Mountaineers held the Flames to three and out and got the ball back in decent field position, and had another opportunity to add a score before the half. That sequence could have changed the game. That is one many examples of the number of segments of the game that could have changed the result. It was at minimum, a lost opportunity to score points. I believe it caused an overcorrection by the coaching staff to play conservative at the end of regulation and attempt a field goal instead of pushing forward for a potential go ahead score. What it essentially comes down to is passing up a scoring chance, and at this point in the season, this team needs as many points on the board in the first half as it can possibly get.

Last week we talked about getting Marcus Cox and Terrance Upshaw going in the running game. Their numbers were called and they responded. The duo combined for 32 carries and 222 yards and two touchdowns. Both are now over five yards per carry on the season. It was third time season Cox has eclipsed the 100 yard mark on the season and the second such outing for Upshaw.

The Mountaineer receivers posted good nights as well. Four Mountaineers averaged over 20 yards per catch with Malachi Jones leading the group. Jones caught five balls for 105 yards. Simms McElfresh and Bobo Beathard both posted touchdowns catches from sixty yards or more. True freshman Shaedon Meadors made collegiate debut with a dazzling four catches for 90 yards, which included a 48-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

This is the time where I tell you what Appalachian needs to do to win. The Mountaineers are averaging 30.5 points per game, but most of that has come in two big games, in which they scored 114 points. The real statistic is that the Mountaineers have scored just a shade over 17 points per game against FBS programs. Troy has averaged about 20.5 points per game with one less fluff game than the Mountaineers. Vegas thinks this game will be high scoring, but I do not agree. These teams have combined for fourteen interceptions on the year defensively. I also feel that both teams will try to establish the running game as they were both successful last weekend. More running leads to the clock running more often, which will eventually to a lower scoring game. Mistakes are obviously a huge deal in any football game. The mistakes I am talking about are not turnovers, but missed opportunities. Both teams will need to score when they have a chance, not just in the red zone. The Appalachian kicking game is well documented. Troy, on the other hand has only attempted six field goals on the season, making four. Troy has been perfect on defense when the opponent has been in the red zone, as in they have allowed every red zone possession by the opponent to score. I’ll bet good money that Appalachian will break that streak for them. The Mountaineers may have more yards on offense and look like winners during the game, but until we can see proof that the small things can be corrected, I cannot feel comfortable that the Mountaineers can get out of their own way.

The First Pick

Mountaineers 23

Troy State 28