By Tim Gardner
First place in the Sun Belt Conference is on the line as Appalachian State plays Georgia State this Saturday, November 25, at 2:00 p.m. in the 25,000 seat Georgia State Stadium (Old Turner Field) in Atlanta. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
With two games to play, the Mountaineers and Panthers are tied with Arkansas State and Troy atop the league standings.
The Mountaineers (6-4- over-all; 5-1 conference) were idle after their 27-6 win over Georgia Southern November 9, which made them bowl eligible.
And they still have a chance to win the Sun Belt Conference championship. They face Georgia State looking to enhance their chance at a higher-echelon bowl and as well as claim at least a share of the Sun Belt title.
Appalachian State has beaten Georgia State three times– 17-3 last season, 37-3 in Atlanta in 2015 and 44-0 in Boone in 2014.
But there have been major changes for Georgia State since last season, and this year’s Mountaineers-Panthers game pits two former players and assistants on the Appalachian State coaching staff, against each other as head coaches. Shawn Elliott, a four-year letterman as a defensive lineman, and Scott Satterfield, a quarterback, were teammates and roommates at Appalachian State.
Elliott played at Appalachian State from 1991-95 and worked on Jerry Moore’s staff from 1997-2009. He and Satterfield were assistant coaches on the Division I-AA/Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) championship teams from 2005-07. Elliott left to coach the offensive line at South Carolina before being named interim head coach of the Gamecocks when Steve Spurrier left mid-season, 2015.
Elliott then took the Georgia State head job after Trent Miles was fired after last season. Elliott’s head coaching record, including his brief tenure as South Carolina’s interim coach is 7-8.
Satterfield spent two seasons at Toledo and one more at Florida Atlantic before returning to Appalachian State as an assistant. He became the Mountaineers head coach in 2013, following Moore’s retirement, and has compiled a 39-22 record.
Another note of interest between the schools is that former Appalachian State athletics director Charlie Cobb is currently in the same post at Georgia State.
Appalachian State needs a win over Georgia State and another the following weekend at home against Louisiana to own at least a share of the Sun Belt title. Appalachian State can get some help, in at least one game. Troy, after it hosts Texas State this Saturday, plays at Arkansas State on December 2.
Arkansas State plays at Louisiana-Monroe this weekend. Georgia State hosts Idaho on December 2.
Satterfield offered the following remarks about this year game between the Mountaineers and Georgia State and the race for the conference crown: “So much is on the line for us in this week’s game. Georgia State has one loss and we have one loss, so the winner can be in the driver’s seat for the league title. It’s (about) firing up our team and our coaches know now that four of our teams can control their own destiny. It’s still a wide-open race and anything can happen with it. Since Troy plays Arkansas State, at least a couple teams will have two or more conference losses in the regular season.”
Appalachian State was Co-Sun Belt champions with Arkansas State last season. This is the final year of all the teams being in the same division. Starting in 2018, the league will be divided into two five-team divisions with the champions of each division playing each other in a championship game.
The Panthers (6-3 over-all; 5-1 conference) have won three straight and six of their last seven games to become bowl eligible for the second time in three years. They opened the season with a 17-10 home loss to FCS Tennessee State and then had a 56-0 road loss to Penn State. Since then, they’re 6-1 with a 5-0 road record.
Georgia State executed fourth-quarter comebacks in its last two victories, both on the road, at Georgia Southern and Texas State. Georgia State trailed Georgia Southern 17-14 when senior outside linebacker James Traylor recovered a fumble at the Eagles’ 31-yard line with five minutes left. On 3rd-and-goal, redshirt senior quarterback Conner Manning hit redshirt sophomore Penny Hart in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning, 9-yard touchdown with 2:31 to play.
After Texas State took a 30-26 lead with 8:37 left, the Panthers responded immediately with a 7-play, 75-yard drive, capped by redshirt senior running back Kyler Neal’s 22-yard touchdown run with 6:01 to play. The Panthers’ defense then stopped two Texas State drives, forcing a three-and-out and then stopping the Bobcats on downs with 1:37 left.
The Panthers, who use a multiple, primarily air-oriented offense, average 21.9 points per game, and an impressive 390.6 yards per outing.
The 6-foot-one inch tall Manning is in his second season as Georgia State’s starter following a transfer from Utah. He averages 266.4 passing yards per game, leads the Sun Belt with a completion percentage of 64.2 and has more than twice as many touchdown passes (13) as interceptions (six). Manning has thrown for 2,398 yards this season.
His favorite target is the 5-foot-8, 180 pounds Hart, who has caught 65 passes for 961 yards and eight touchdowns. The Sun Belt’s leading receiver, Hart ranks fifth in the nation in receiving yards (106.8 per game) and seventh with 7.2 receptions per game. He is fourth among all active Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) receivers with career averages of 6.0 receptions and is fifth with 88.4 receiving yards per game.
Another sophomore wide receiver, Devin Gentry, had 120 receiving yards on three catches for Georgia State in its win over Texas State, and is another productive offensive player for the Panthers.
Senior running back Glenn Smith leads the Panthers in rushing this season with 409 yards and two touchdowns. Smith also has caught 34 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Georgia State uses a 3-4 defense and is led by redshirt senior linebacker Trey Payne and junior linebacker Chase Middleton. Both have 47 tackles this season, with each having 25 solos and 22 assists. Sixth-year senior safety Bryan Williams has added 43 tackles (25 solos; 18 assists) and leads his teams in interceptions with four.
The Panthers have been stingy against the run, allowing only 129.9 rushing yards per game, second-best in the Sun Belt and 27th best nationally.
Appalachian State’s defense will especially be tested by the explosive Georgia State passing game and its big play-making capability. But the Mountaineers have the personnel to limit it, which means consistently stopping Manning and Hart.
One of the best ways to do that is to get and keep pressure on Manning, making him throw before he wants or where he doesn’t want, or ideally to sack him. Appalachian State’s defense that ranks 19th nationally in sacks per game and is led in the statistical category by one of college football’s top sack artists—6-foot-3, 265-pound senior defensive end Tee Sims. His current national rankings include: third with 78 yards lost on his sacks; sixth with 0.95 sacks per game: and being tied for seventh with 9.5 total sacks. Sims actually was the national leader in sack losses two weeks ago.
Also, Manning must try to continue his passing feats against a solid Appalachian State secondary that ranks 23rd nationally in interceptions per game. It is led by sophomore corner back Clifton Duck, who is tied for second among FBS players with nine interceptions since the 2016 season started.
Appalachian State is based from a 3-4 defense, and is giving up 23.9 points per game average, tied for 43rd nationally. But with 51 three-and-outs in 127 possessions, the Mountaineers defense ranks tenth nationally in that stat with 5.1 per game.
Senior linebacker Eric Boggs leads Appalachian State in tackles with 79 (41solos and 38 assists). He also has two sacks.
Offensively, the Mountaineers operate from a multiple spread. They are averaging 30.9 points per game, 47th best in major college football. They will likely get a big boost for the game as running back Jalin Moore should be back from a series of injuries, including to both feet, an ankle, his back as well as the flu that has hampered him this season. Moore missed the second half of a game against Coastal Carolina on October 21 and has played in only one of the last three games. Despite missing that considerable amount of playing time, the junior still leads the Mountaineers’ running game in carries (112), rushing yards (563), and touchdowns (six).
Like Georgia State, the Mountaineers have an all-star quarterback in senior Taylor Lamb, who has thrown for 2,257 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has completed 166 of 276 passes and has thrown only four interceptions.
Lamb is second nationally by averaging 35.5 yards per touchdown pass and he holds Appalachian State and Sun Belt records with 84 career touchdown passes.
Lamb has a solid and productive cast of receivers to throw to, led by senior wide receiver Ike Lewis, who has 38 receptions for 561 yards and seven touchdowns.
Senior right tackle Beau Nunn (38 career starts) and senior right guard Colby Gossett (43 straight starts) have been mainstays on one of the nation’s most consistent offensive lines as Appalachian State has ranked in the top 20 in rushing offense and sacks allowed for three straight years. The Mountaineers lead the Sun Belt and are tied for fourth nationally with only eight sacks allowed this year.
If it comes down to a game that a kicker decides, Appalachian State should have an edge. The Mountaineers redshirt freshman Chandler Staton, who became the starter in mid-season, is perfect on field goals (5-for-5) and extra points (14-for-14). His longest field goal is 53 yards. On the other side, Georgia State’s redshirt sophomore Brandon Wright has made 8 of 17 field goals with his longest being 48 yards. He has kicked 23 of 25 extra points.
Prediction: The Mountaineers and Georgia State are very similar offensively with their strong passing games led by good quarterbacks and receivers. But Appalachian State has, perhaps, more defensive and over-all team talent. Can you say repeat-Sun Belt Conference Champions? That process should continue mightily this week for the Mountaineers. In a thriller… Appalachian State 37, Georgia State 32.