By Tim Gardner
As is often the case, and especially in late season games, Saturday’s (November 3) Sun Belt Conference East Division clash between Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina features several subplots.
The game will kick-off at 5:00 p.m. in Brooks Stadium in Conway, SC and is the second of three straight league road games for Appalachian State. The Mountaineers’ 4-0 record in this series features home wins by scores of 37-29 last year in their first Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) meeting, 55-14 in 2012, 45-28 in the first round of the 2006 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs and 30-3 in 2005, which was Coastal Carolina’s third season of competition.
Coach Scott Satterfield’s Mountaineers are 5-2 over-all, including a 3-1 conference record. They had won five in a row before being trounced 34-14 last week at Sun Belt foe Georgia Southern.
The Chanticleers of Coach Joe Moglia are 5-3 over-all and 2-2 in the conference. They are coming off consecutive victories over Massachusetts (24-13) and the Sun Belt’s Georgia State (37-34).
Both Satterfield and Moglia are in their sixth year as collegiate head coaches and sixth at their current schools.
Satterfield has a 46-24 career record, while Moglia sports a 56-18 career mark.
Moglia also is the current Chairman and former Chief Executive Officer of TD Ameritrade, the largest online discount brokerage firm in the world in terms of the number of retail online equity trades placed each day. According to reports, when Moglia took over TD Ameritrade, the company had a market cap of $700 million. By 2008, it was $10 billion. For those years Moglia’s annual compensation averaged more than $14 million, including $21 million in 2008. Plus, he reportedly held more than $100 million in company stock. Moglia currently has an estimated worth of $24 million.
Considerably less wealthy, Satterfield has directed the Mountaineers to a 30-4 mark in their last 34 Sun Belt games, including a 14-3 road record. And getting back on the winning track with a victory against Coastal Carolina would make them bowl eligible for the fourth straight season.
Last week, midway through its fifth FBS season, Appalachian State earned its first AP Top 25 ranking and became just the second Sun Belt team to ever be ranked in either the AP Poll or the Amway Coaches Poll. The ranking of No. 25 was the latest accomplishment for a program that won three straight FCS national championships from 2005-07 and is the only one nationally with a bowl win in each of its first three eligible seasons after the complete transition. Their 3-0 bowl record includes beating Ohio 31-29 in the 2015 Camellia Bowl, Toledo 31-28 in the 2016 Camellia Bowl and Toledo again 34-0 in the 2017 Dollar General Bowl.
Returning to the Top 25 national rankings would likely require all of the following: Georgia Southern losing at least two more games; the Mountaineers running the table the rest of the regular season to claim the East Division title; beating the West Division winner in the league championship game; and winning a bowl game.
The Sun Belt Conference has three legitimate options in the argument for the Group of Five spot in a New Year’s Six bowl: Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Troy, all three members of the conference’s East Division.
Georgia Southern is atop the list after its victory over then-No. 25 Appalachian State. Troy plays at Georgia Southern on November 10. The Trojans then close out the season at Appalachian State on November 24.
If the Trojans beat Georgia Southern, then are defeated by the Mountaineers, the conference will have a three-way tie among teams with identical 7-1 conference records if neither of the three lose another league game.
While that result would create additional hype heading toward the conference’s first title game on December 1, it also could end the conference’s big bowl aspirations.
Appalachian State and Troy both have two losses in their overall record. Appalachian has lost to Penn State (45-38 in overtime) and Georgia Southern. Troy suffered defeats to Boise State (56-20) and Liberty (22-16).
Georgia Southern’s only loss is to Clemson (38-7). The Eagles will be favorites to win their remaining regular season games against Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. And if Georgia Southern wins the Sun Belt’s East Division outright and then the championship game, the Eagles would be 12-1 when bowl season starts. That would help dramatically help their pursuit of a New Year’s Six bowl.
Troy could also run the conference table, but its two losses would hurt its big bowl chances.
And if Troy runs the table that would mean Appalachian State would have at least three defeats and be eliminated from big bowl consideration.
As it currently stands, the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference both have two teams in the AP Top 25 rankings — Central Florida (No. 9) and Houston (No. 17) for the former, with Utah State (No. 18) and Fresno State (No. 20) for the latter.
Though not ranked, Georgia Southern received 62 points in poll voting after beating Appalachian State and especially because it was by such a large margin (20 points).
This season is the first to feature divisional play in the Sun Belt, and the best teams are on one side of the league.
Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Troy are the only three teams in the Sun Belt with at least three victories against conference opponents. Georgia State (1-3 conference; 2-6 over-all) is in last place in the East Division behind fourth place Coastal Carolina.
The West Division does not have a team with an over-all winning record. Louisiana-LaFayette and Louisiana-Monroe are atop those standings at 2-2 in conference, followed by Arkansas State at 1-3. All three are 4-4 over-all. South Alabama also is 1-3 in conference play, but only 2-6 over-all. Texas State is 0-4 in the conference and 2-6 over-all.
But for now, Appalachian State is solely focused on beating Coastal Carolina. Based on underclassmen, the game will be a matchup of the nation’s second-youngest and third-youngest teams. Appalachian State has 12 seniors on a roster that’s 75.2 percent underclassmen, ranking it behind just Illinois (76.5 percent) and Coastal Carolina (76.0).
The Chanticleers are clicking on offense. They have scored at least 20 points in each of their last seven games and prevailed in the shootout victory over Georgia State.
Coastal Carolina rolled up 476 yards of total offense in that game thanks to an unusually balanced attack–225 passing yards and 251 rushing yards. Four different ball-carriers gained at least 25 yards, including 128 by C.J. Marable. Getting his first-career start, freshman quarterback Fred Payton completed 12-of-17 passes for 222 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 71 yards.
Senior Kilton Anderson leads Coastal Carolina in passing, completing 43-of-66 passes for 676 yards and six touchdowns. He has only thrown one interception.
Freshman quarterback Bryce Carpenter has completed 36-of-54 passes for 433 yards and four touchdowns.
Six different receivers hauled in at least one catch for the Chanticleers during the Georgia State game, headlined by wide receiver Malcolm Williams’ four catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, Another wide receiver, Ky’Jon Tyler, had three catches for 30 yards and two rushes for 28 yards and a touchdown, the first of his career.
Williams has 34 receptions for 575 yards and four touchdowns this year.
Senior running back Marcus Outlow averages 81.1 yards per game rushing and has gained 649 yards this season for Coastal Carolina. He has run for eight touchdowns.
“They’re doing extremely well offensively,” Satterfield said of the Chanticleers. “They put pressure on every defense they played this year.”
While Coastal Carolina averages 31.5 points per game, which is fourth in the Sun Belt, it allows 32.4 points per game, which is fifth.
Defensively, Coastal Carolina is led by linebacker Silas Kelly with 42 tackles, and safety Fitz Wattley, who has 41 tackles and has broken up four passes.
Kicker Massimo has booted 11-of-13 field goal attempts, with his longest being 50 yards. He also has made 25-of-28 point-after kicks.
Charles Ouverson is averaging 42.5 yards per punt for the Chanticleers.
Appalachian State has been balanced both offensively and defensively to compliment stellar special teams play.
In conference games, Darrynton Evans is tops in the Sun Belt with 145.8 all-purpose yards per game and second in rushing yards per game (105.5). He has carried the ball 78 times for 488 yards and three touchdowns. Evans became Appalachian State’s primary running back during the Mountaineers’ second league game after Jalin Moore suffered a season-ending injury.
Besides Moore and Evans, three other Appalachian State running backs have a 100-yard game in their collegiate careers: Marcus Williams Jr. (125 and 130 last year), D’Andre Hicks (150 this year)) and Daetrich Harrington (188 last season).
Appalachian State ranks No. 7 nationally at 6.07 yards per rush, No. 10 in rushing yards per game (248.4, or 3.2 yards behind ninth-ranked Coastal Carolina’s average) and is tied for No. 11 in fewest sacks allowed (eight) thanks to a solid offensive line led by left tackle Victor Johnson, center Noah Hannon, left guard Ryan Neuzil, right tackle Chandler Greer and right guards Baer Hunter and Cole Garrison.
Mountaineers’ quarterback Zac Thomas left the Georgia Southern game early with a concussion. Satterfield didn’t make a declaration regarding Thomas’ status against Coastal Carolina. The coach said Thomas is recovering from injury, but is still “day-to-day.”
Backup quarterback Peyton Derrick initially filled in for Thomas and went only 3-of-12 for 73 yards and two interceptions. Third-stringer Jacob Huesman fared just marginally better, completing 8-of-14 passes for 67 yards while also getting intercepted twice.
Satterfield declared it doesn’t matter who is playing quarterback, the Mountaineers won’t do anything different in their preparation.
“We’re going to put a game plan in that we feel that any of our quarterbacks can do (handle),” Satterfield said.
Thomas leads the Sun Belt in Quarterback Rating (81.9, No. 8 FBS) and yards per completion (14.14, No. 15 FBS).He’s second in point responsibility per game (14.6), yards per pass attempt (8.61) and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (six).
The Mountaineer quarterbacks top target, Corey Sutton, is 12th nationally at 21.53 yards per catch. Sutton has 21 receptions for 430 yards and four touchdowns this season from his wide receiver post.
Appalachian State gave up single-digit points in an FBS-best four straight games this season. The Mountaineers won 45-9 against Charlotte, 72-7 against Gardner-Webb, 52-7 against South Alabama and 35-9 against Arkansas State.
But Georgia Southern scored 24 points off the five turnovers it forced and pounded the Mountaineers with an option rushing attack that generated 277 yards, only eleven fewer (288) than Appalachian State compiled both passing and rushing.
The Mountaineers allowed two Georgia Southern rushers to have solid performances as quarterback Shai Werts picked up 129 on just 14 keepers and scored on a 47-yard touchdown scamper. Running back Wesley Fields had 98 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Still, Appalachian State ranks fourth nationally by forcing 5.86 defensive three-and-outs per game, and the Mountaineers’ percentage of 43.2 (they have 41 in 95 possessions) ranks fifth nationally.
In Sun Belt games, outside linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither is tied with Texas State’s Bryan London for the conference lead at 10 tackles per game. Davis-Gaither’s 15 tackles against Louisiana are tied for the most by a Sun Belt player in a game this season, matching teammate and linebacker Jordan Fehr’s 15 at Arkansas State, where Davis-Gaither had 14 stops.
Davis-Gaither leads the Mountaineers in tackles with 57, including 5.5 for loss and one sack. He also has four pass break-ups.
The Mountaineers have had good secondary play. Junior cornerback Clifton Duck is tied for first nationally with 11 interceptions since the start of the 2016 season.
Junior outside linebacker Noel Cook (38 tackles in six games, team-leader with 6.5 Tackles for Loss and 3.5 sacks) is a nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the outstanding FBS player who began his career as a walk-on.
Appalachian State and Utah State are tied for first place nationally with four special teams’ touchdowns this season. And with two blocked punts from Steven Jones against Gardner-Webb, Tae Hayes’ blocked field goal against South Alabama and Demetrius Taylor’s blocked punt against Georgia Southern, Appalachian State is tied for third nationally with four blocked kicks. The FBS leaders are Toledo (seven) and Auburn (five).
Chandler Staton has made 6-of-8 field goal attempts and all 35 of his PATs for Appalachian State, while Clayton Howell is averaging 42.8 yards per punt.
The Mountaineers were superior to Coastal Carolina in over-all talent and depth last year and are again in 2018. Last season, the big underdog Coastal Carolina proved to be a most formidable and tough opponent for the Mountaineers, who used a strong second half to rally from a half-time deficit. Appalachian State scored three unanswered touchdowns, two in the fourth quarter, to turn a 22-17 deficit into a 37-22 lead and then held off the Chanticleers in Boone. While both teams proved they could score on the other, Coastal Carolina’s defense could not stop the Mountaineers’ offense when it mattered most. Expect a similar scenario in this year’s game. Prediction: Appalachian State 34, Coastal Carolina 24.