By Tim Gardner
The Appalachian State Mountaineers head to the University of Massachusetts (UMass) this week to play the Minutemen in a non-conference tilt on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium (17,000 capacity) in Amherst. The game will be broadcast live via satellite television on the New England Sports Network and Eleven Sports Network.
The game will be a rematch of the 2006 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Championship game, won by Appalachian State 28-17.
UMass is coached by Mark Whipple, a 30-year veteran of collegiate and professional football. He is in the fourth year of his second head tenure (10-plus years total) with the Minutemen, having led them to the 1998 National I-AA championship. He also was an assistant coach on the Pittsburgh Steelers 1996 Super Bowl championship team and also served stints as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns.
Appalachian State’s head coach is Scott Satterfield, who has compiled a 37-20 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 long-time assistant with the Mountaineers.
For the second week in a row, Appalachian State (5-2) faces a team with only one win. The Mountaineers beat Coastal Carolina last Saturday in Boone, but had to rally from a half-time deficit to post a 37-29 triumph. And the Chanticleers are the common opponent for Appalachian State and UMass as Coastal Carolina’s only win came 38-28 over the Minutemen. UMass (1-6) recorded its win last week over Appalachian State’s fellow Sun Belt member Georgia Southern, 55-20.
In that game, the Minutemen churned out a school-record 670 yards (350 passing; 320 running) of total offense and its 48 first-half points.
UMass uses a wide-open, multiple offense and a 4-3 defense. Appalachian State is based from a Spread formation offensively and a 3-4 defense.
Quarterback Andrew Ford has been solid for UMass this season, throwing for 1,880 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has only two interceptions. He has completed 142 passes of 223 attempts for a sterling completion percentage of 63.7 percent. Ford may not be the only UMass quarterback who will see action against Appalachian State, however. Ross Comis, another junior, threw three touchdowns in the win over Coastal Carolina and is very athletically-gifted.
UMass has a corp of good receivers. Three have games with 100 or more receiving yards in 2017, including graduate student tight end Adam Breneman (who has eligibility remaining) and wide receivers Andy Isabella (junior) and Sadiq Palmer (sophomore). Breneman has three games each with 100 or more yards, against Hawai’i (179), at Coastal Carolina (126) and versus Ohio (131). Isabella eclipsed 100 yards at Coastal Carolina (101) and against Old Dominion (105). Palmer did so at Temple (117).
Breneman and Isabella each enter the game against Appalachian State with 11 career touchdown receptions, among the school’s top all-time marks. Isabella has 1,196 yards receiving in the Minutemen’s last 18 games.
The Minutemen have run 517 plays this season for 3,145 yards, which ranks high nationally–18th–in total offense. While their offensive forte is passing, the Minutemen’s running game has not been as effective. They have run for 965 yards as a team (137.8 yards per game average), which ranks only 93rd nationally. UMass’s top running backs include sophomore Bilal Ally, who put up 116 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries against Georgia Southern, while junior Marquis Young turned his 13 touches into 101 yards and a touchdown run.
Redshirt-senior Logan Laurent’s has made 21 of 29 career field goal attempts.
Defensively, the Minutemen have struggled. The UMass rush defense has allowed 1,312 yards this year, 84th nationally against the run. The Minutemen are 88th in the nation in points allowed with 217. They have surrendered a total of 2,740 yards, which ranks 62nd in the country. Their pass defense has also given up a total of 1,428 yards through the air, which is 43rd nationally.
Senior lineman (Edge-rusher) Da’Sean Downey leads the UMass defense. He ranks among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss, standing tied for 12th in TFLs per game (1.6) and tied for 13th in total TFLs (11.5). He is also tied for 29th in sacks per game (0.71) and tied for 30th nationally in sacks (5.0).
Linebacker Bryton Barr (graduate student) has the most tackles for UMass with 60.
The Mountaineers have won three straight games since their narrow loss (20-19) to Wake Forest last month. Appalachian State is 4-0 in Sun Belt play, but has had to rally from behind in each league game for the wins.
The Mountaineers have a balanced offensive attack as they average 241 yards passing and 177 yards rushing, while scoring an average of nearly 30 points per game.
They’ve run 475 plays this year for 2,930 yards, which ranks 63rd nationally in total offense. The Mountaineers average 6.2 yards per play, 41st best in the nation. On the ground, they’ve run for 1,241 yards as a unit, which only ranks 54th in college football. They’ve run 254 times, an average of 4.9 yards per rush as a unit.
Appalachian State’s offensive linemen have also played well, having allowed only five sacks all season, which is tied for eighth place nationally.
Their senior quarterback, Taylor Lamb, has passed for 1,624 yards this year. He’s completed 125 throws while attempting 206 passes for a completion percentage of 60.7 percent. Lamb earned Sun Belt Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for his record-setting performance in the victory over Coastal Carolina. He threw for a career-high 427 yards–the second-highest total in school history–and had two touchdown passes to increase his career total to a school-record 76. Those 76 scoring strikes broke a first-place tie with Armanti Edwards, who had 74.
Lamb is a dual threat as a passer and runner, and has averaged 6.6 yards per carry.
Junior running back Jalin Moore leads the Mountaineers running game with 486 yards and four touchdowns.
Appalachian State has an excellent receiving cast, with thirteen players making catches. Freshman wide receiver Thomas Hennigan leads the way with 32 receptions for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Ike Lewis has 23 for 320 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jalen Virgil has 14 catches for 308 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Colin Reed has six for 121 yards and three touchdowns, while freshman wide receiver Malik Williams has 15 for 145 yards.
Sophomore Michael Rubino has made 9 of 15 field goals, with his longest 46 yards. He also has made 21 of 23 conversion kicks.
The Mountaineers need to show more improvement defensively as they give up an average of 355.5 yards per game, but have been opportunistic with interceptions, fumble recoveries and stops when they’re needed them most.
Defensively, senior linebacker Eric Boggs leads the team with 53 tackles (26 solos; 27 assists), while junior inside linebacker Anthony Flory has 44 (29 solos; 15 assists). Sophomore defensive back Clifton Duck has made four interceptions for the Mountaineers, and junior defensive back Tae Hayes has added three.
Appalachian State is 38th in the country in points surrendered on defense with 151. The Mountaineers are 45th nationally in yards per play allowed with 5.3. Their pass defense has also surrendered a total of 1,508 yards in the air (215 average per game), which is ranks 53 nationally. But Appalachian State’s rushing defense has given up only 981 yards (140 per game average) this season, putting them in 40th place in the country against the run.
While UMass has the capabilities offensively to keep up with the Mountaineers; it’s not likely the Minutemen’s defense can consistently stop Appalachian State’s offense. The Mountaineers have played down to their opponents at times this season. If they don’t do that in this game, they could win in a rout. If they do, they still should have enough balance and opportunistic defense to win. Prediction: Appalachian 47, UMass 20.