#24 Appalachian Football vs UL-Monroe

Appalachian State (5-0, 2-0 Sun Belt) vs. UL-Monroe (3-3, 2-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 19th, 2019 3:30pm

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: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 77.53

ULM: 58.25

Home: 2.43

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21.71 points

Line: App State -14.5

Series: App State leads 3-1

Last meeting: App State 45, UL-Monroe 52; November 4, 2017, Monroe, LA

WxCrum Forecast: Pleasant, Temps warming to mid-60s by kickoff

Let’s call it a hurdle cleared. Zac Thomas sure looked he was surpassing the last obstacle of the evening when he pranced over the goal line to silence all the Louisiana ladies in attendance on Wednesday night. A big conference road win was secured with bookend plays by the Mountaineers that summed up the evening. Demetrious Taylor’s pushover sack on the opening offensive series for the Cajuns began a night of a relentless App State defense that was finalized by the Lafayette leap into the night by Thomas. This result was extra rewarding, considering it was a spot where some skeptics perceived a potential Mountaineer loss. It was also rewarding in that the win vaulted App State to complete control of the east division of the conference. And then Saturday came, and the scoreboard watching commenced. A couple results bounced the Mountaineers way, and by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, it was inevitable. App State was ranked again. Barely a year since it happened before, here we are again, recognized by the coaches and writers of college football. However the number isn’t the goal, it is just along the path to achieve the goal. Absolutely nothing has been accomplished after five games. The Mountaineers have plenty of work in front of them and it starts with getting some revenge against Monroe.

The last time the Warhawks started conference play at 2-0 was in 2017, a year in which their season ended with a 4-8 record. That season also marked the last time these two schools played, and Monroe defeated an injury-plagued Mountaineer team in a shootout. App State missed Monroe on the 2018 schedule, which means we have to remind ourselves what they have been up to since the last time we played. Monroe has a record of 9-12 combined over the end of 2017, all of 2018, and six games this season. Those twelve losses are as follows: Five conference games, six power conference games and one upper echelon group of five game. The wins consist of six conference games (South Alabama and Texas State twice, Coastal and Georgia Southern), two FCS games and one average group of five team. That’s the predicament that UL-Monroe has always been in. Never beating anyone as an underdog, and winning most of the games they were supposed to. Six of their nine wins have come to bottom of the barrel FBS schools and FCS schools, and we all know those two designations are separated in name only.

Still, games have to be won, and Caleb Evans has essentially done that for Monroe for what seems like forever. A true dual-threat quarterback, Evans is the reason the Warhawks sit at 2-0 in the Sun Belt, and find themselves as the leader in the West Division. Evans has thrown for 1,397 yards with ten touchdowns to just four interceptions. Evans also has 341 rushing yards on the season, which puts him third in the conference in total offense with 289 yards per game. His production is not based on a couple good games here and there. He is a consistent performer. Evans has tossed for at least 176 yards in every game, and rushed for no less than 22 yardsin each contest. He is currently on a three game tear where he has averaged 265 yards passing and 65 yards on the ground. However, Texas State last Thursday night was the first game where he failed to throw a touchdown pass.

The Warhawk defense is not the best in the world. They will give up some yards, first downs and allow opposing offenses to move the ball. What they lack in stoutness, they make up plenty for in aggressiveness. Out of ten Sun Belt teams, Monroe is ninth in total defense and last in rushing defense. However the Warhawks are tied for the lead in the conference with seven interceptions. If you are trying to guess what game plan App State might try to employ, perhaps look no further back than last week. Why test a defensive backfield that is known to jump routes? Because double moves and pump fakes work. Any time Eli Drinkwitz sees a challenge, he embraces it. App State has the most efficient passing game in the Sun Belt for a reason, despite having the fewest touchdown passes in the league. That is all thanks to league-low number of interceptions and league-leading completion percentage. So as enticing as it may be to run the ball on a defense that struggles in that area, do not be surprised if Monroe gets challenged all over the field.

Last Wednesday night was not the best display of two powerful offenses. But that’s not to say that good offense was not at work. The most amazing part of the nineteen play drive to seal the game was that every single play went for positive yardage except one run play. Another incredible part of that drive was that it included four conversions for first downs on either third or fourth down. Two of those conversions gained exactly the yardage needed in order to move the chains, and one conversion was gained via penalty. On top of that, the throw to end zone on fourth down from the twenty-five yard line is simply a great play call. More times that not, a college defender is going to interfere on those plays, especially on a back shoulder throw. It’s just up to the officials to throw the flag, and there was precedent earlier in the game with pass interference calls that were thrown with minimal contact. Prior to the final first down being gained, App State had just moved into field goal range, and gave the ball to Evans twice, while also forcing Louisiana to use their final two timeouts. Once those timeouts were gone, the game was firmly in the hands of the App State offense, and they finished the drive.

Welcome back, App State defense of yesteryear. That was a sight for sore eyes. Louisiana was more of a one-dimensional team than Monroe will be this week, but the linebackers answered the call with excellent play all evening. The running game on both sides of the ball was a complete push. Each team ran for 3.7 yards per carry. The difference was keeping Louisiana uncomfortable. Five of the top six tacklers for the Mountaineers were linebackers, accounting for 35 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. When it wasn’t the linebackers, the defensive line was equally responsible for limiting the Cajuns. Another blocked field goal and an additional 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks were contributed by Demetrious Taylor, George Blackstock and E.J. Scott.

That’s just a distraction. In so many words, that was what Eli Drinkwitz exclaimed regarding App State’s inclusion into the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches poll. Now most of us have been here before, but it did not last long. Many coaches on this staff have been ranked before, and they know how to handle it. App State did not have that luxury last year. It was unchartered territory for basically everyone involved. With ten days between games compared to just five days in 2018, things are different. However, the buzz does not feel the same. Everyone remembers the first time, but the second time, it’s almost old hat. Speaking of distractions: Homecoming. It means more for the older crowd than it does for most students, but it also invites a crowd that is more interested in the social setting compared to the game being played. Maybe that fresh shiny number next to App State’s name will keep few more eyes glued to the product. Speaking of, the Mountaineers have shown they can win in all types of situations in just five games. High-scoring, low-scoring, and one-possession games have all happened before the leaves have changed. Last week’s game was supposed to be high scoring but we were all duped into falling in love with the statistics. Monroe will be jacked to play this game. Matt Viator will not admit it, but he has a crush on App State football. He’s beaten App State twice, once with Monroe, and the other with McNeese State. He is also embracing a challenge, and that will certainly spread to his team. Yet, Monroe has an ugly defense that will give up some field, and a penalty ravaged team that is currently is the 7th-most penalized team nationwide. The Warhawks are giving up over 75 yards per game to the yellow handkerchief. App State continues to convert on third (50%) and fourth (100%) downs at a ridiculous rate on the year, both which are top marks in the Sun Belt. The Mountaineer offense does not need much more help from opponents to score points, so if Monroe plays sloppy, most of the patrons will leave Kidd Brewer Stadium happy.

The First Pick

Where they at tho? 25

Mountaineers 41

Louisiana-Monroe @ Appalachian Football

Here we go with Week 11

Louisiana-Monroe (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) @ Appalachian State (7-3, 5-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 19th, 2016 2:30 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

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.65

ULM: 48.85

Home: 2.29

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 25 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -25.5

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last meeting: App State 59, ULM 14,  October 17th, 2015, Monroe, LA   

          Last weekend was not an ideal situation. There are plenty of situations that happened during the game that could have flipped the script, and put Appalachian in the position they would prefer to be in. Alas, we all must wait and watch and take care of the business that we can control. We can make sure that we appreciate another set of seniors who sacrificed two years of postseason football with our presence on Saturday. It’s the last home game of the season, and it will be a long winter before we enter the gates at Kidd Brewer in 2017. A ten win season is still well within reach. A second bowl apperance in as many years is also on the horizon. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, an improving Monroe squad comes to Boone with all the confidence in the world after consecutive victories over South Alabama and Georgia State. These Warhawks need a win to keep their slim bowl hopes alive, and you can guarantee they’ll try anything to make that happen. The Mountaineers’ job is to keep that from happening. Putting aside a tough loss is hard, but its time to move on and get back on track. 

          First year Monroe head coach Matt Viator is one of three Sun Belt head coaches to get a win in Boone, it just happens that his win came in 2009 as head coach of McNeese State. Viator left his alma mater after ten years as head coach and seven seasons as an assistant. This season will be his first as a head coach with six losses, as he never finished below .500 while in Lake Charles. Viator was actually recruited by Monroe, formerly Northeast Louisiana, out of high school as a quarterback, but instead chose to stay close to home, and went to McNeese State. 

         Prior to last weekend, Monroe had lost every road game in the 2016 season. The Warhawks are forced to play an unbalanced out of conference schedule in order to pay the bills, by visiting two Power Five schools. They had been outscored  in those games by 178 points combined with four of those opponents scoring over 0ver fifty points. Luckily, Monroe was handed the gift of a Georgia State program that checked out, and subsequently fired their coach. Monroe grounded out the win last week the same way most teams beat the Panthers this season, by sticking to the running game and wearing a defense out that was always on the field. 

         Monroe teams from the past have not been able to run the ball effectively, but Matt Viator has quickly remedied that deficiency. The Warhawks have not been incredible on the ground this season, but they have committed to that being a big part of their offense. They have run for over 100 yards in eight of their ten games, and have eclipsed 200 yards on four occasions. Eight of their nineteen rushing touchdowns this season have come in the last two games. New starting quarterback Caleb Evans has been effective running the read option with 80 yards rushing in the last weeks, while Thomas Koufie had a breakout game against Georgia State with five rushing touchdowns and 201 yards. Evans replaced Garrett Smith, who was lost for the year to injury during the Texas State game.                

          The Mountaineer offense will look to get its groove back, and the Monroe defense might be the cure. The Warhawks are 121st nationally defensively and allow 245 yards on the ground. Additionally, the Warhawks have surrendered twenty touchdown passes while only intercepting four passes all season long. The big story this weekend is obviously whether or not Marcus Cox will break Kevin Richardson’s school rushing record in his final home game. Needing 137 yards, Cox would have to surpass his season average of 96.5 yards per game, and his 108 yard average against Monroe in two career games. Factor in that Jalin Moore and Cox have pretty much split carries the last three weeks, chances are Cox will need a long run to get to 137 this weekend. 

        We shouldn’t look past Monroe this weekend. They are playing better and really starting to find themselves. The difference for them in the last two weeks has been staying in games. Georgia State answered Monroe scores on several occasions, but instead of rushing to panic, they stuck to their game plan and it worked. The same thing happened against South Alabama when they trailed by a touchdown on three different occasions. They have improved, but maybe not enough for this weekend. The outside chance of getting bowl eligible is a nice story. That ends soon. Appalachian is going to give it to Monroe where it hurts. The Warhawk offense might stick around longer than the Mountaineers want them to by refusing to look at the scoreboard and playing with their heads down. The Warhawks have been terribly slow starters this season, scoring a mere 47 first quarter points. Appalachian counters, with the second quarter being their highest scoring quarter, while also allowing the fewest points in the second frame. This sets up for the typical, get a lead at half and cruise to the finish game for the Mountaineers. However, I can see a few late scores for Monroe if they can handle the possible snow flurries and quick temperature change from Friday to Saturday. 

The First Pick

Aces and Eights 19

Mountaineers 34