By Tim Gardner
The Appalachian State Mountaineers will attempt to get back on the winning track, remain at least tied for first place in the Sun Belt Conference and keep their league unbeaten mark intact when they play Saturday, November 4 at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. The game versus the Warhawks will begin at 2:00 Central Standard Time (3:00 Eastern Standard Time) in Malone Stadium (Capacity 27,617). ESPN3 will broadcast the game live.
Appalachian State was upset 30-27 last Saturday in double-overtime at UMass, which entered the game with only one win. The Mountaineers are 5-3 over-all, but 4-0 in Sun Belt action. They are tied with Arkansas State (4-0) for the top spot in the league standings.
UL-Monroe is 3-5 over-all and 3-3 in the Sun Belt. The Warhawks are on a three-game losing streak and fell 31-23 last week at league foe Idaho. But they’ve not been blown out in any game, as all their losses have been by eleven points or less.
Matt Viator is in his second season as UL-Monroe’s head coach. He has compiled a 7-13 record with the Warhawks. Before his UL-Monroe stint, he led McNeese State to four Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff berths in nine-plus years, while compiling a 78-33 record.
The Warhawks operate from a one-back multiple offense and use a 4-2-5 defense.
Three weeks ago, UL-Monroe was atop the Sun Belt standings at 3-0, a half-game ahead of an Appalachian State team that was 2-0 with victories against Texas State and New Mexico State.
The high-scoring Warhawks started Sun Belt play in 2017 with a 56-50 win at rival Louisiana, a 51-43 home victory against Coastal Carolina and a 45-27 road win against Texas State.
But in the last three games, they have suffered a 47-37 home loss to Georgia State, a 33-23 road loss to South Alabama and a 31-23 road loss to Idaho.
Appalachian State’s defense will face a stern test in dual-threat sophomore quarterback Caleb Evans, whose brother, Jerod, played quarterback at Virginia Tech. Evans leads the Warhawks by throwing for 213.8 yards and rushing for 51.5 yards per game. He has nine passing touchdowns and nine rushing touchdowns this season. He has rushed for 406 yards.
Evans, who has thrown only two interceptions this year, was named the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Week after he rushed for 129 yards with five touchdowns and passed for 343 yards with one touchdown against Louisiana. He has thrown for more than 400 yards in conference games against Texas State and Idaho.
Evans’ top targets have been senior wide receiver Brian Williams (31 catches for 403 yards) and junior wide receiver Marcus Green (30 catches for 455 yards). Green is tied for fourth place in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with 12 all-purpose plays of at least 30 yards this season.
The Warhawks rely on their explosive offense to win games as their defense has had consistent trouble stopping the opposition. UL-Monroe is surrendering far-too-generous averages of 37 points, 287.4 passing yards and 505 total yards per game to its opposition. The Warhawks gave up 360 passing yards at Idaho—not encouraging especially considering Appalachian State has, perhaps, the Sun Belt’s most prolific and complete passing game.
The Warhawks top tackler is junior linebacker David Griffith, who has 64 stops and eight tackles for loss.
Appalachian State’s head coach is Scott Satterfield, who has compiled a 37-21 record in five-plus seasons. He led the Mountaineers to a Sun Belt Conference record 11 wins in the program’s first bowl eligible season (2015) and then the league’s championship last year en route to back-to-back 10 win seasons. He is a former standout quarterback and assistant coach with the Mountaineers.
Appalachian State is based from a Spread formation offensively and a 3-4 defense.
The Mountaineers’ well-rounded offense is highlighted by its explosive passing attack. Fourteen of their players have pass receptions. Freshman Thomas Hennigan has 34 catches for 339 yards. Senior Ike Lewis has 28 receptions for a team-best 407 yards. And freshman Jalen Virgil has hauled in 16 catches for 332 yards. All three are wide receivers and they have three touchdown receptions each.
Appalachian State’s quarterback ranks among the school’s all-time best. Senior Taylor Lamb has completed 139 of 234 passes (59.4 completion percentage) for 1,757 yards with fifteen touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Redshirt freshman running back Marcus Williams, Jr. got his first start at running back at UMass and had a productive outing, rushing for 125 yards. He has 249 for the season with two touchdowns. Junior running back Jalin Moore leads the Mountaineers in rushing for the season with 91 carries for 449 yards and four touchdowns. Lamb has the second-most rushing yards with 345. He has three rushing touchdowns. And senior running back Terrence Upshaw has 314 rushing yards on 68 carries, and four touchdowns.
The Appalachian State defense is tied for 13th nationally in interceptions per game (just over one per game; 11 in eight games) and tied for 12th nationally in sacks per game (over 3 per game; 26 total). Forty-one players have made tackles for the Mountaineers. For the most part this season, the Mountaineers have come up with big defensive plays at most crucial times. And they held UMass to a 3-for-16 efficiency on third downs.
Senior linebacker Eric Boggs leads the Mountaineers in tackles with 68 (34 solos; 34 assists). He passed 300 career tackles with a game-for-the-ages against UMass. Boggs made 15 tackles, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and two pass breakups. His tackles increased his career total to 313, and his interception was the seventh of his collegiate career. And his 15 tackles matched his career-high from a 2015 game against South Alabama.
Junior inside linebacker Anthony Flory has added 52 tackles (33 solos; 19 assists) and senior defensive back A.J. Howard has made 43 tackles (28 solos; 15 assists).
Defensive backs (junior) Tae Hayes and (sophomore) Clifton Duck have four interceptions each for Appalachian State.
If the Mountaineers play really well on both sides of the ball, they should win handily. But if they allow the Warhawks to stay close into the fourth quarter, the game could go down to the wire. Look for a combination of the two to happen with Appalachian State playing well, but UL-Monroe staying close for awhile until the Mountaineers clearly superior edge in their offense versus UL-Monroe’s defense being the deciding factor. Lamb, Hennigan, Lewis and company could have games among their best ever. However, the game may be closer than some may think. Prediction: Appalachian 43, UL-Monroe 28.
Sun Belt Conference Standings
Conference Record, Over-All Record