By Tim Gardner
Appalachian State visits Sun Belt Conference football rival Texas State this Saturday, November 10.
The game will kick-off at 4:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. Central Standard Time) from Bobcat Stadium in San Marcos, TX and will be televised on ESPN Plus.
Additionally, the game will be available on the following radio affiliates: 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro) – Flagship station; 96.5 FM/1450 AM (Boone); 1270 AM (Gastonia/Charlotte); 1150 AM (Rock Hill, SC/Charlotte); 101.5 FM/600 AM (Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point); 107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville); 1350 AM (Asheville); and 620 AM (Durham).
Appalachian State sports a 6-2 over-all record, including 4-1 in the conference. The Mountaineers are tied with Georgia Southern for second place in the Sun Belt’s East Division. They are both one game behind unbeaten Troy. But Appalachian State technically is in third place since it lost to Georgia Southern.
Troy (5-0 conference; 7-2 over-all) Georgia Southern (4-1 conference; 7-2 over-all) and Appalachian State are the only three teams in the Sun Belt with at least four victories against conference opponents. Troy plays at Georgia Southern Saturday. Trailing Troy, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in the East Division is Coastal Carolina (2-3 conference; 5-4 over-all). Georgia State (1-4 conference; 2-7 over-all) is in last place.
Louisiana-Monroe is atop the Sun Belt’s West Division (3-2 conference; 5-4 over-all). Arkansas State (2-3 conference; 5-4 over-all) and Louisiana-LaFayette (2-3 conference; 4-5 over-all) are tied for second.
Like Texas State, South Alabama is 1-4 in league play. Over-all, Texas State is 3-6 and South Alabama is 2-7.
If Troy beats Georgia Southern, then is defeated by the Mountaineers, the conference will have a three-way tie among teams with identical 7-1 conference records if neither of the three lose another league game.
The conference’s first title game between the winner of the East and West Divisions will be played on December 1.
Playing its third of three straight Sun Belt Conference road games, Appalachian State will play in the state of Texas for just the second time. It improved to 3-0 against Texas State and 2-0 in their series as Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS)-level Sun Belt Conference opponents with a 20-13 win last season in San Marcos. In that game, Appalachian State’s A.J. Howard made a tackle at the 1-yard line on the final play.
The only other Texas team to have faced the Mountaineers is Stephen F. Austin, which traveled to Boone in 1995 and won 27-17 in a Division I-AA playoff game. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State’s current head coach and then their quarterback, threw two touchdown passes in that loss. The Mountaineers posted a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)-level home win against Texas State in 2004 (41-34) and won 35-10 against the visiting Bobcats in 2016.
Another connection between the schools is that Texas State head coach Everett Withers was a defensive back for Appalachian State from 1981-84. He was a junior on a 6-5 team that climbed to No. 10 nationally in the 1-AA ranks during Mack Brown’s lone season as the Mountaineers’ coach (1983).
Texas State is on its first winning streak since 2014 after the Bobcats beat Georgia State, 40-31, last Saturday for their second straight win. The Bobcats entered November to play four teams that were in bowl games last season. They were successful during the first week of the month and want to keep its win streak going.
But Texas State will be big underdogs to the Mountaineers.
This season, Appalachian State leads the Sun Belt in many statistical categories, including scoring defense (16.9 points), scoring offense (38.3), total defense (285.1 yards), passing defense (157.3) and yards per rush (5.86).
Appalachian State bounced back from the loss against Georgia Southern two weeks ago to down Coastal Carolina 23-7 on the road last Saturday. The Mountaineers totaled 405 yards while allowing only 178 yards and forcing a turnover and a safety in the victory that made them bowl eligible for the fourth straight season.
Quarterback Jacob Huesman completed only 9-of-19 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, playing for the injured regular starter Zac Thomas. But Huesman threw two interceptions, including a pick six.
Peyton Derrick and Jacob Huesman took snaps at quarterback the rest of the way after Thomas left the Georgia Southern game, and Huesman threw his first collegiate touchdown pass. However, they combined to pass for only 140 yards and committed four interceptions between them in the game.
But Appalachian State has had a potent rushing attack most of the season. Against Coastal Carolina, it was paced by Darrynton Evans’ 159 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Marcus Williams Jr. added 103 yards and another touchdown on 19 carries.
Appalachian State ranks No. 9 nationally per rush, No. 10 in rushing yards per game (252.1) and tied for No. 15 in fewest sacks allowed (10) thanks to a solid offensive line led by left tackle Victor Johnson, center Noah Hannon, left guard Ryan Neuzil, right tackle Chandler Greer and right guards Baer Hunter and Cole Garrison. Collin Reed also has provided good support from his tight end post.
In conference games, Evans ranks atop the Sun Belt with 157.8 all-purpose yards per game and is number two with 116.2 rushing yards per game. He has run for four touchdowns and 647 yards this season. He became Appalachian State’s primary back during the second league game, after Jalin Moore suffered a season-ending injury, and has 100-yard rushing games against Arkansas State (115), Louisiana (183) and Coastal Carolina.
Dominique Heath was the only Appalachian State receiver to catch more than one pass in the game. He had four receptions for 55 yards, while Corey Sutton caught a 33 yard scoring toss. Sutton is seventh nationally at 21.1 yards per catch. He has 463 yards on 22 receptions and five touchdowns this year.
The Mountaineers are 19th nationally in scoring offense.
Defensively, Appalachian State ranks second nationally behind Utah State (6.11) by forcing 5.88 three-and-outs a game. The Mountaineers’ percentage of 43.9 is third behind Alabama (46.0) and Southern Miss (45.5).
Appalachian State’s defense also is 12th nationally in scoring defense by allowing 16.9 points per game. The Mountaineers have given up single-digit points in five games, including a streak of four straight, and they haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown in two of its three Sun Belt road games. Arkansas State kicked three field goals in a 35-9 loss, and Coastal Carolina returned the interception for a touchdown.
In Sun Belt games, outside linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither is tied with Texas State’s Bryan London for the league lead at 9.2 tackles per game. His 15 tackles versus Louisiana (Lafayette) are tied for the second-most by a Sun Belt player in 2018, matching Jordan Fehr’s 15 at Arkansas State, where Davis-Gaither had 14.
Davis-Gaither leads the Mountaineers in tackles for the season with 64 tackles. That total includes 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He also has broken up five opponent’s passes.
In its secondary, Appalachian State is fifth nationally with 64 interceptions since the 2015 season began. The cornerbacks had an FBS-high 30 picks from 2015-17, and junior Clifton Duck is tied for first with 11 interceptions since the start of 2016.
Jordan Fehr, an inside linebacker, was named the Sun Belt’s Defensive Player of the Week following games against Coastal (3.0 sacks, eight tackles, one safety) and Arkansas State (15 tackles, 1.0 sack).
Special teams also have been strength for the Mountaineers as they and Utah State lead the nation with four touchdowns apiece in that unit. And with Evans and Thomas Hennigan back deep, the Mountaineers average a FBS-leading 30.2 yards per kickoff return. They also rank second nationally with six blocked kicks (one behind Toledo’s seven) because of Steven Jones (two punt blocks), Tae Hayes (two blocked field goals), Demetrius Taylor (one punt block) and Caleb Spurlin (one punt block).
Chandler Staton has booted all 38 extra points and six of eight field goal attempts with a long of 40 this season for the Mountaineers.
Despite its poor record, Texas State can still become bowl eligible. However, it must win its last three regular season games.
The Bobcats are 99th in the FBS with 196.2 passing yards per game and tied for 93rd in rushing with an average of 146.7 yards per game. They are just 103rd in scoring offense with 24 points a contest and 71st in scoring defense as they allow 27.7 points per game.
Texas State held a 489-445 edge in yardage and forced two turnovers against Georgia State.
Willie Jones III led Texas State’s passing attack, connecting on 21-of-26 passes for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground on 14 carries. For the season, Jones III is 72-of- 129 for 958 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
The team also uses another quarterback, Tyler Vitt, who is 75-of-114 passing for 765 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
Keenen Brown (37 receptions, 483 yards, four touchdowns), Hutch White (28 catches, 227 yards, two touchdowns) and Tyler Watts (15 grabs, 168 yards) are the top targets in the Bobcats’ passing game.
Texas State struggled to run the ball early in the season, but the Bobcats have steadily improved their ground attack during the last few weeks. In their 27-20 win over New Mexico State on October 27, the Bobcats ran for 230 yards.
Texas State finished with 164 yards on the ground against Georgia State. Wide receiver/running back Caleb Twyford also gave the Bobcats a solid effort running the ball in that game with 73 yards on eight attempts and a touchdown. Jeremiah Haydel also caught a pair of passes, including a 93 yard touchdown.
Robert Brown Jr. has 61 carries for 284 rushing yards plus a touchdown this season for Texas State, while Anthony Taylor has 66 carries for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
James Sherman has hit 8-of-9 extra point attempts and is 6-of-9 field goal attempts with a long of 41 yards for Texas State. Clayton Stewart is 15-of-18 on extra points, but has missed all three of his field goal attempts this season.
Defensively, the Bobcats are led by inside linebackers Bryan Londonii, who has made 79 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and broken up three opponent’s passes. Nikolas Daniels has recorded 70 tackles, with 5 for loss and also has tallied four quarterback hurries.
Appalachian State’s defense should win the match-up against Texas State’s offense and the Mountaineers’ offense also should win out against the Bobcats’ defense. Thomas ( 81-of-133, 1,145 yards, 11 touchdowns, four interceptions) could be back under center in this game, which should make Appalachian State’s passing game significantly better than it has been the past two weeks. The Bobcats may keep up with the Mountaineers for a half or slightly more. However, the Mountaineers will showcase their over-all superiority a lot more often than not and win handily. Prediction: Appalachian State 37, Texas State 14.