By Colby Gable
As 2019’s start to college football season draws closer, Appalachian State arrives this season with a sense of optimistic uncertainty that is both similar and different from the year before. Whereas in 2018 the question of Zac Thomas’ ability to replace long-time starter Taylor Lamb was up in the air, now we find the question of how effective an offense which put up solid numbers last season will function under new leadership with a change in the coaching staff.
While on Media Day Coach Drinkwitz mentioned adding an experienced staff makes for an easier system implementation, he also plans to search for a balance of new and old by not shifting too far away from the team’s past identity and building on what has worked with what can work. I expect this to translate into a pretty equal offense somewhat split between rushing and passing, but there is a lot of room for the passing game to be a big part of how Appalachian actually moves the ball down the field in tougher situations.
One player which could have a great season because of what we’ve seen from the past in Appalachian’s offense and how Drinkwitz operated at NC State, is Wide Receiver Thomas Hennigan, the 6’1 junior out of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Last season, Hennigan had the second-most catches and receiving yards on the team with twenty-nine receptions by the end of the season and 327 yards total with one touchdown. The numbers alone may not seem incredibly impressive when compared to Hennigan’s teammate, Corey Sutton, who finished with over twice the receiving yards and ten touchdowns, and it would probably be easier to make the case that Sutton’s line of production is more certain than Hennigan’s. But Sutton’s presence at 6’3 along with his already distinguished value from last season is exactly why Hennigan has the potential to bolster his impact at the number two wideout spot. Sutton already being an established playmaker, as well as the fact any defense versus Appalachian will have to repeatedly consider the rushing attack from either Evans or Thomas before the play even begins, puts Hennigan in the position to make plays without having the defense so tightly focused on his movements and placement on the field.
Hennigan being physical but also athletic and quick gives him an opportunity to be a threat in the intermediate passing game in crossing and slant routes, allowing for others like Sutton to focus on being a continued threat with deep-ball passes. If we look at Ryan Finley, quarterback of NC State while Drinkwitz was serving as offensive coordinator, we can see an abundance calls focusing on medium yard throws, as Finley never averaged less than 7.4 yards per throw, but never more than 8.1. While Zac Thomas arguably has a much better arm for longer passes than Ryan Finley did at State, if Drinkwitz chooses to incorporate some of the same moderate-throwing-style we saw from Finley, look for guys like Thomas Hennigan to have a substantial season this fall.