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Apps’ Defense Ready for Miami Ground Game

The Mountaineers converge on a Tennessee running back in the season opener. Photo courtesy App State Athletics
The Mountaineers converge on a Tennessee running back in the season opener. Photo courtesy App State Athletics

App State’s defense will get a different type of test when No. 25 Miami visits The Rock on Saturday. Kickoff is at noon on ESPN.

After facing a pair of mobile quarterback in their first two games, the App defense will get a look at run-first Miami and running backs Mark Walton (135 ypg. And Joe Yearby (113 ypg). App is 21st nationally in scoring defense (13.5 points per game) and second in the Sun Belt through two games.

The Mountaineers held up well in their biggest test this season to-date, holding then-No. 9 Tennessee to 13 points in regulation – Tennessee scored 45 against Virginia Tech last week – and shutting out Old Dominion in the second half of a 31-7 win last Saturday at The Rock.

Miami (2-0) is almost 2-to-1 run pass two games into the season, averaging 326 yards rushing per game in wins over Florida A&M (70-3) and Florida Atlantic (38-10). App State and their fourth-year defensive coordinator Nate Woody know the physicality with which Miami wants to play, and he expects his defense to be ready for the challenge.

“One difference (from Tennessee) is Miami is going to get that ball coming right at you,” Woody said after Wednesday’s practice. “They do a great job of running the football, you can see that from film and their stats. They’re going to make your safeties support in the run game and then they’re going to try and throw the ball deep to a fantastic group of receivers.”

App’s veteran group of linebackers – and defense – will be tested. Junior linebacker Eric Boggs is fourth in the Sun Belt averaging 12 tackles a game. Defensive tackle Tee Sims is second in the league averaging 1.5 sacks per game. It’s a front seven that has shown it can play against any type of offense.

No. 2 in the Sun Belt in total defense and scoring defense, and third in pass efficiency defense through two games, it’s a group that is playing solid football, led by playmaking linebackers Boggs, Kennan Gilchrist (11 tackles vs. ODU), John Law, and Devan Stringer.

“The linebackers are doing a great job as far as their fits and quarterbacking the defense,” Woody said. “They make all the calls, checks adjustments. They’re playing downhill really well. Defensive line is doing a great job of giving the linebackers to do that. You can’t leave out the corners and safeties.”

A raucous home crowd should benefit the Apps. One of the most-anticipated afternoons in App State football history, ESPN, and an above capacity should give the Mountaineers’ D an edge in the intangibles.

“Whenever you get that energy, that little extra from the crowd, your taking your gaps and play faster,” Woody added.

Kaaya presents a new type of test for App State. He’ll hand the ball off 60 percent of the time, but it’s the other 40 percent snaps that will test the App secondary. The Hurricanes want to run first, but will take their shots downfield and deep when they throw. App State secondary coach Scot Sloan has worked with his defensive backs all week to be ready for Miami to try to get you to commit to the run, then they take their shot.

“A lot of it is being disciplined with our eyes, studying film, understanding down and distance,” Sloan said of facing Miami. “At the end of the day, it comes down to discipline and our run/pass reads. “

Kaaya is completing 59 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions early in the year after throwing for 3,300 yards last season with 16 TDs and only five interceptions. He’s not the runner the Apps faced in Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, but he’s one of the more timely passers and bigger arms App State will face in 2016.

“He throws it better (than Dobbs) from an arm strength and accuracy standpoint,” Sloan added. “He’ll be one of the better or best true passing quarterbacks we see this season.”