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App State Mountaineers Open Sun Belt Conference Play in Saturday’s Homecoming Game Versus South Alabama

Photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics.

By Tim Gardner

The Appalachian State Mountaineers start Sun Belt Conference play when they host the South Alabama Jaguars in their homecoming game on Saturday, September 29, in Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

The game will be televised on ESPN-Plus and broadcast on the Appalachian State IMG Radio Network at the following affiliates: 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro) – FLAGSHIP; 96.5 FM/1450 AM (Boone); 1270 AM (Gastonia/Charlotte);1150 AM (Rock Hill, SC/Charlotte); and 101.5 FM/600 AM (Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point).

The Mountaineers, who didn’t play the Jaguars from Mobile, AL in 2016 or 2017, are 1-1 in the series. Appalachian State is 27-3 in league play since losing 47-21 at home to South Alabama in 2014. That run includes a 34-27 road victory against the Jaguars in 2015, when running back Jalin Moore scored a touchdown with 1:16 left for the win.

Last week, sixth-year Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield received a two-year extension on his existing contract, effective through the 2023 season. He is 43-23 as a head coach in Boone. South Alabama is led by head coach Steve Campbell, who has a 160-56 over-all record in 20 years. He is in his first season leading the Jaguars.  Campbell has been a head coach on the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s (NCAA) Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Division II levels as well as in the National Junior College ranks before his current tenure at a major college Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school. He has guided teams to two National Championships–one each on the Division II (Delta State) and Junior College (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) levels.

The Mountaineers have been playing well in most phases of the game this season. And since their 45-38 overtime loss to tenth-ranked Penn State in the 2018 season opener, they have reeled off two convincing wins–43-9 at Charlotte and a 72-7 demolition of Gardner-Webb last Saturday.

The latter game was over early as Appalachian State jumped to a 28-7 lead after one quarter and put it away with a 52-7 halftime cushion. The Mountaineers rolled up a dominating 692-160 edge in total offense, picked up 31 first downs while allowing 11 and forced two turnovers while not committing any. They also added touchdowns on a blocked punt and a punt return.

Appalachian State ranks sixth nationally in the FBS in scoring offense, averaging 51.7 points per game. The Mountaineers are 33rd in the country in passing with 293.5 yards per game and tied for 90th with 149 rushing yards a game.

Appalachian State has an FBS-best four special teams touchdowns in just three games. It’s the only such program with a touchdown via a kickoff return, a punt return and the return/recovery of a blocked punt. And no other FBS team has scored a special teams touchdowns in three straight games this year.

The Mountaineers’ Steven Jones, Auburn’s Jordyn Peters, Temple’s Quincy Roche and Memphis’ John Tate are tied for first place nationally with two blocked kicks apiece.

Appalachian State Quarterback Zac Thomas has completed a sterling 50-of-67 passes for 750 yards with six touchdowns against only one interception. He has added 80 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. 

Appalachian State ranks second nationally with a team completion percentage of 75.3, which is below only Ohio State’s 76.9. Thomas is fourth individually at 74.6 percent, and back-up signal caller Peyton Derrick has completed all eight of his pass attempts.

Thomas also is the Sun Belt leader with 11.19 yards per pass attempt (No. 5 nationally), a pass efficiency rating of 195.2 (No. 7 nationally), 15.0 yards per completion (No. 15 nationally) and a per-game points responsibility of 18.0 (No. 19 nationally).

Moore is the team’s leading rusher with 37 carries for 245 yards plus three touchdowns.  Corey Sutton leads the Mountaineers with 13 receptions for 281 yards plus two scores.  His fellow-wide receivers Malik Williams (11 catches, 155 yards, two touchdowns) and Thomas Hennigan (eight grabs, 85 yards) also are top targets for Thomas. 

Chandler Staton has booted all 18 extra points and three of four field goal attempts with a long of 38 this season for Appalachian State. 

The Mountaineers are 38th nationally in scoring defense by allowing 20.3 points per game.  And their “Legion of Boone” defense ranks No. 3 nationally with 59 interceptions since the 2015 season began.  

Free Safety Desmond Franklin has picked off a pass in three of the last four games. He recorded interceptions against Charlotte and Gardner-Webb after ending the 2017 season with an interception in the Dollar General Bowl shutout (34-0) of Toledo.

Appalachian State is led in tackles by inside linebacker Anthony Flory, with 19 (8 solos; 11 assists). Flory also has made one quarterback hurry and one pass break-up. Linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither has 17 tackles (10 solos; 7 assists). Cornerback Clifton Duck has added 15 (9 solos; 6 assists) and Linebacker Jordan Fehr 14 (10 solos; 4 assists).

South Alabama has a 1-3 record with a 41-31 Sun Belt win over Texas State and loses to Oklahoma State (55-13), Louisiana Tech (30-26) and 52-35 on the road to Memphis last Saturday night. The Jaguars hung tough until their defense collapsed in the fourth quarter against Memphis. The game was tied at 21 at the half and South Alabama was within 31-27 after three quarters before getting outscored 21-8 in the fourth period. The Jaguars were beaten 563-467 in total offense, 31-19 in first downs and 31:31 to 28:39 in time of possession. South Alabama also committed a pair of turnovers while not forcing a takeaway and had an extra point blocked in the loss.

The Jaguars are tied for 81st in the FBS in passing offense with 213.3 yards per game, but 105th in rushing with only 129.5 yards per game. South Alabama averages 28.8 points per game.

Quarterback Evan Orth has completed 66-of-96 passes for 789 yards with six touchdown passes and one interception while adding 113 yards on the ground.

 Running back Kawaan Baker leads the Jaguars with 21 carries for 134 yards and four touchdowns. He also is second on the team with 12 receptions for 97 yards and three touchdowns. Jamarius Way leads the Jaguars with 28 catches for a team-high 437 yards. He has two touchdown receptions.

One of the biggest keys for Appalachian State is for its defense to get consistent pressure on Orth and avoid giving up big passing plays.

The Jaguars’ Gavin Patterson has hit nine of 13 extra points, and is two of two on field goal attempts a long of 47.

But South Alabama has found itself shredded defensively early and often this season. The Jaguars have allowed an average of 498 yards and 42 points per game while allowing 6.2 yards per play. They gave up five touchdowns on the ground to Memphis. And that doesn’t bode well for South Alabama against Appalachian State’s high-octane offense.

Nigel Lawrence has 41 tackles (24 solos; 17 assists) and one pass break-up for South Alabama’s defense. But it’s a good news-bad news scenario. While his number of tackles is really good for just four games, he plays safety, which exposes that offenses are gaining too much yardage on the Jaguars’ defense. Because as a general rule, coaches don’t want a player from the secondary having to make the bulk of tackles.

Appalachian State should have success both running and passing the ball and limit the Jaguars from a lot of yards and multitude of points. So expect the Mountaineers to win their third consecutive game. Prediction: Appalachian 40, South Alabama 17.