By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State’s football team will begin its Sun Belt Conference schedule Saturday when it plays at Texas State. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET in 30,000-seat Bobcat Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
App State (1-1) holds a 2-0 series lead on the Bobcats, who are coached by former Appalachian defensive back and North Carolina Tar Heels interim head coach Everett Withers. App State and Texas State played each other for the first time as Sun Belt opponents last season, with the Mountaineers winning handily (35-10) in Boone.
After going 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the Sun Belt during Withers’ debut season in 2016, Texas State (1-1) has opened 2017 with a 20-11 win against Houston Baptist and a 37-3 loss at Colorado.
With Mississippi State graduate transfer Damian Williams starting at quarterback, the Bobcats are rushing for 155.5 yards per game and allowing only 75.0 rushing yards per game. That average ranks 20th nationally and first in the Sun Belt.
“I think they’re a much-improved football team this year as you watch the first two games,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “Defensively, to me, is where they’re standing out. Another year under their belt within this defensive scheme, I think they’re very similar to ours with a 3-4 defense, and they’ve done a very good job with that. Their coaches and players are understanding what they want to get out of their defense. The first two games, that’s really shown.”
Texas State’s leading tacklers with 17 stops each are inside linebackers Gabe Loyd and Bryan London II, who had 141 tackles last season as a redshirt freshman. The Bobcats already have 14 tackles for loss, including nine sacks. They had six against Houston Baptist and three more against Colorado, which held a 21-7 lead midway through the third quarter after opening the scoring with a touchdown on a punt return that was initially fumbled.
Offensively, Williams made one start in 17 career appearances for Mississippi State. He played in five games for the Bulldogs last season, joined Texas State’s roster in the spring and rejoined the team in August after missing the first three weeks of preseason camp.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Williams rushed 13 times for 43 yards and completed 18-of-28 passes for 135 yards with one interception against Houston Baptist. He had 95 yards with one interception on 6 of 16 passing against Colorado.
“He (Williams) has done well,” Withers said. “When you don’t get all of training camp, timing with the receivers is down, timing with the offense is probably lacking. I think he’s getting a little bit better each week, getting a little bit more comfortable each week. Obviously, he’s played in college games before. The good thing about Damian, he knows how to manage the clock. We just have to get him more reps, and these first few ballgames are evidence of missing the first three weeks of training camp.”
Texas State has used two quarterbacks in each game, with 6-3 true freshman Willie Jones III totaling 10 rushes. Sophomore running back Anthony D. Taylor (16 carries for 85 yards), true freshman Anthony Smith (12 carries for 82 yards) and redshirt freshman Robert Brown Jr. (22 carries for 73 yards) have shared that workload.
At receiver, 5-8 junior Tyler Watts had a 45-yard catch against Colorado and helped 5-11 junior Thurman Morbley gain 96 yards on five receptions in his first game of the season.
“I think we have more talent than we had last year,” Withers said. “We’re a younger football team, but I think we’re more talented, especially at the receiver position, the running back position. Even though we’re younger in the offensive line, we’re bigger and stouter there.”
As expected, App State won with ease over Savannah State (54-7) last Saturday at home in Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Mountaineers were very impressive on both sides of the ball.
App State’s defense limited Savannah State to six first downs and only 114 total yards. It was the lowest yardage total allowed by App State since Georgia State managed only 62 yards in a 44-0 loss on Nov. 1, 2014.
The Mountaineers defense recorded three sacks, including the first in the careers of sophomore Caleb Spurlin and true freshman Demetrius Taylor. Josh Houser and Cameron Pack combined on a sack late in the game, the first time they’ve contributed to that statistical category.
And despite playing only two quarters, App State quarterback Taylor Lamb completed 12 of 15 passes for 327 yards and five touchdowns. The five touchdown passes tied the school record set previously by four App State quarterbacks: DeAndre Presley in 2010 (vs. The Citadel); Armanti Edwards in 2008 (vs. Wofford); Richie Williams in 2004 (vs. Northwestern State); and Pat Murphy in 1967 (vs. Presbyterian) and 1968 (vs. Wofford).
Lamb’s previous high for touchdown passes in a game was four (vs. Texas State in 2016, ODU in 2015). And his 327 passing yards are the second-highest total of his career. He had 397 passing yards against Liberty as a freshman.
Lamb has increased his career total to 68 touchdown passes. He’s six behind Edwards, the school record-holder with 74 touchdown throws from 2006-09.
App State sophomore tight end Collin Reed had three catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns against Savannah State. He entered the game with five career catches for 26 yards and one touchdown, with four of the catches, 27 of the yards and the touchdown occurring in a spot start against Louisiana last season.
Redshirt freshman receiver Jalen Virgil scored his first college touchdown when he posted a 56-yard reception on a short throw from Lamb in the second quarter versus Savannah State.
Also, redshirt freshman kicker Chandler Staton scored for the first time in his App State career by converting the extra point following Terrence Upshaw’s 50-yard touchdown run.
But to this week’s game: Texas State may be improved, but simply put, Appalachian State has too much firepower offensively and its stout defense should limit the Bobcats from consistently moving the ball well enough to mount a serious challenge to pull an upset. Expect the Mountaineers to record another lopsided win. Prediction: App State 40, Texas State 9.