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First Place in the Sun Belt is On the Line in App State’s Battle At No. 15 Coastal Carolina

There are two Sun Belt Conference teams with no league losses this season.
The number will drop to one after Saturday’s first-place showdown.
At 6-1 overall and 4-0 in conference play, App State makes a mountains-to-sea trip to face Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers (7-0, 5-0) are tied for the No. 15 spot in the AP Top 25 and are 18th in the Amway Coaches Poll.
The matchup of stingy defenses and powerful offenses on the teal “Surf Turf” in Conway, S.C., will kick off Saturday at noon on ESPN2, with Clay Matvick (play-by-play), Dustin Fox (analyst), and Marty Smith (sideline) on the call. In addition to local radio options, the radio call from the Appalachian Sports Network crew will also be available on SiriusXM Channel 382.
Both teams have been ranked this season, and App State’s only loss occurred on the road against the other team tied for 15th in the AP Top 25 — unbeaten Marshall.
Defensively, the Mountaineers (allowing 16.9 points per game) and Chanticleers (16.3) are 13th and 11th, respectively in scoring defense at the FBS level. The two programs are both among the top three Sun Belt teams in scoring offense and offensive yards per game.
“They’re ranked 15th in the country for a reason,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “Going into the season, I knew they wouldn’t be last in the conference, as they were picked. We’ve played them the last couple years, and they’ve kept getting better and better. Jamey (Chadwell) is a great football coach, and there’s a reason it’s that way. We have a big challenge in front of us Saturday.”
For the second straight week, App State faces an opponent that excels at run defense, as Coastal Carolina allows 134.7 yards per game on the ground. Clark has said quarterback Zac Thomas is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis after he left last weekend’s 17-13 win against Georgia State with an injury, and the Mountaineers hope to have their customary offensive line available after there were new starters at two positions against the Panthers because of an injury-based shuffle.
Coastal Carolina’s defense is led by end Tarron Jackson (9.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks) and tackle C.J. Brewer (6.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks). With 25 sacks as a team, the Chanticleers are a top-10 team nationally in that category.
“I’d like to think when people look at us, they see we have an idea of what we want to do going into a game, and we do it,” App State center Noah Hannon said. “I think you see that with Coastal, where they have a plan and they execute it well. You never find them out of position much, and that’s why they’re having a great season.
“The front seven they have is really good and really sound. We’re going to have a big challenge just from the fact they’re great players, and a lot of them have been there a while, too. We’ve played a couple times now. One, we’re going to have to play better than we did last week. Two, we’re going to have to match the intensity that they’re going to come out with.”
App State’s defense has amassed 14 sacks in its four league games, highlighted by 4.5 from end Demetrius Taylor and one in the last game from inside linebacker D’Marco Jackson, who was named the National Defensive MVP of the Week from PFF College. His standout performance included two of nine pass breakups from the Mountaineers, who lead the nation with 45 despite playing just seven games so far.
A balanced, clock-draining Coastal Carolina offense will present challenges with skill position standouts such as redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall, an Indian Trail, N.C., native who has averaged 232.2 passing yards per game, thrown 16 touchdown passes and tossed just one interception. His primary target, Jaivon Heiligh, has caught 35 passes for 610 yards and six TDs following a 2019 season in which he made six catches for 85 yards against the Mountaineers.
The Chanticleers have put up big passing numbers as a spread option team that averages 42.6 rushing attempts and more than 34 minutes of possession time per game. Leading rusher CJ Marable (370 rushing yards, 3.8 yards per carry) and Reese White (309 yards, 6.4 yards per carry) are the top options in the run game, although McCall rushes for 45.2 yards per game.
“What stands out to me about Coastal’s offense is the speed they play with,” outside linebacker Tim Frizzell said. “Their quarterback is a great player, and they have some speed in the backfield, so we’re really excited for this matchup.”