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App State To Play Georgia State in Dome on Saturday, Conference Opener on ESPN3

Atlanta-area native Malachi Jones, one of 26 Mountaineers that hail from Georgia, returns to the Peach State on Saturday when Appalachian State opens Sun Belt Conference play versus Georgia State at the Georgia Dome. Courtesy: Allyson Lamb  / App State Athletics
Atlanta-area native Malachi Jones, one of 26 Mountaineers that hail from Georgia, returns to the Peach State on Saturday when Appalachian State opens Sun Belt Conference play versus Georgia State at the Georgia Dome. Courtesy: Allyson Lamb / App State Athletics

By David Coulson

ATLANTA — When Appalachian State hosted Georgia State last year in the snowy and windy conditions at Kidd Brewer Stadium, it was referred to as a mismatch of atmospheric proportions, with the Mountaineers steamrolling to the 44-0 Sun Belt Conference victory.

After watching App State click off 49-0 and 31-13 wins over Old Dominion and Wyoming with the deluge of rain in the past two weeks, Georgia State is more than happy to be meeting the Mountaineers indoors Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

It will be the Sun Belt Conference opener for the 3-1 Mountaineers at 3:30 p.m.

The trouble is that ASU is also ready to head inside after those Saturdays of bad weather and the Mountaineers may be even more dangerous on the fast track of a stadium normally occupied by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

“I’m ready to play indoors after the past two weeks,” said Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield, who signed a new five-year contract extension that was announced by ASU on Friday. “I’m pumped up about that. This week, we will have the full arsenal.”

By full arsenal, Satterfield means a Mountaineer offensive that can exploit the Georgia State defense both with its normally back-breaking running power and also with its promising passing attack, which has largely been under wraps in four previous games.

Probably no player is more happy to be playing on a dry field on Saturday than App State quarterback Taylor Lamb, who was 3-of-12 passing for 65 yards, but did complete a beautiful 18-yard scoring strike to Simms McElfresh to give the Mountaineers their 21-7 halftime lead.

“It was nasty,” said Lamb. “It was hard to control the ball.”

The Georgia Dome holds special memories for Lamb, who won a state championship for Calhoun High School there as a junior in high school and also took his prep team to the Georgia title game as a senior.

Defensive end Ronald Blair is another Georgia product who is excited to be playing in this locale on Saturday.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play there,” said Blair, one of the leaders of a defense that is allowing just 13 points per game.

It is hard to know what to expect from Georgia State. The 1-3 Panthers have been one of the worst programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision since moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision three years ago.

Georgia State went 0-12 in 2013 and followed that up with its 1-11 record last season, losing 15 consecutive Sun Belt games before beating New Mexico State for its first league win, 34-32, on Sept. 12.

But in three other outings this year, the Panthers have lost 23-20 to upstart Charlotte, 61-28 to highly-ranked Oregon and 41-33 last Saturday at home against Liberty.

It was the second year in a row that Liberty had come out of the FCS ranks to knock off a Sun Belt squad. The Flames knocked off Appalachian 55-48 in overtime last season to ruin the Mountaineers’ homecoming weekend.

Despite the uneven results of the Trent Miles-coached team, Mountaineer players and coaches alike said Georgia State looks improved on film.

“It’s two totally different teams,” said Satterfield, when asked to compare the 2015 Panthers with last year’s unit that wilted in the wind, snow and cold at Kidd Brewer Stadium. “They were kind of one dimensional last year when they played here. They couldn’t pass because of the weather and we took their running game away from them.”

Nick Arbuckle has been the top passer statistically in the Sun Belt this season completing two-thirds of his attempts for 1,383 yards, with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.

But the Panthers have struggled to run the ball effectively. ASU’s Marcus Cox had more yards on the ground last week (178) than the top Georgia State rusher, Kyler Neal, has all season (171). Cox has piled up 489 of ASU’s 1,144 rushing yards this year.

The biggest concern for the Mountaineers may be avoiding a letdown, something no one in the Appalachian locker room expects.

“We’re trying to win the Sun Belt and we’re wanting to start with the right mind set,” Blair said.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Saturday’s game can be seen nationwide on ESPN3 (play-by-play: Matt Stewart, analyst: Wayne Gandy).

The ESPN3 broadcast will also be carried on the ESPN College Extra Platform, which airs selected ESPN3 broadcasts on the following cable/satellite television providers: AT&T U-verse, DIRECTV, Bright House Networks, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS. Those providers deliver ESPN College Extra on up to eight channels through a sports tier or other affiliated TV package (check with your provider for availability via your subscription).

Saturday’s game can be heard across North Carolina on the 17-station Appalachian IMG Sports Network (click HERE for a list of network affiliates).

Coverage begins on the Appalachian IMG Sports Network with Pigskin Prelude at 1:30 p.m.