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Previewing The Enemy: Appalachian State Mountaineers

It’s the beginning of a brand new season here in Happy Valley and you can feel the buzz. Trace McSorley is the Heisman favorite in the eyes of Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso, Penn State is a top-ten team, and the Nittany Lions are favorites among some prominent analysts to punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff.

But I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Appalachian State is for real. In fact, I believe App State is the toughest opponent that Penn State faces in non-conference play.

The Team

Appalachian State is a somewhat recent addition to FBS football, making the jump from FCS play for the 2014 season. The Mountaineers put up a 7-5 record in their first Sun Belt season, which is impressive enough for a program moving into college football’s highest level of play.

While still in the FCS, App State upset Michigan in 2007, sealing the win with a blocked field goal attempt as time expired. I watch this video first thing every morning.

App State reminded college football fans across the country what they’re capable of on September 1, 2016 when they took No. 9 Tennessee to overtime in Knoxville on a Thursday night game to (sort of) kick off the 2016 season.

In 2017, the Mountaineers went 9-4 and took down Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl. Since starting the 2015 season 1-5, App State is 36-9 overall and 27-3 in the Sun Belt. They simply will not roll over.

Offense

Four-year starter Taylor Lamb is no longer around with the Mountaineers, which is probably a good thing for Penn State. Lamb threw for 2,737 yards last season, compiling 27 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in the process.

Redshirt sophomore Zac Thomas looks like the likely heir to the QB throne, but it’s difficult to know what he will produce. Luckily for App State, Jalin Moore returns to the backfield. Moore put up more than 1,000 yards and rushed for 12 touchdowns in 2017, and will be a key to the run-first App State offense.

Out wide, the Mountaineers have a lot of returning talent. Head coach Scott Satterfield was forced to play three freshman receivers pretty heavily in 2017, and that will probably pay off this season.

Freshmen Jalen Virgil, Thomas Hennigan, and Malik Williams combined for 40 percent of the team’s targets last season, so expect Penn State’s corners to be working pretty hard on Saturday. Tight end Collin Reid and Kansas State transfer Corey Sutton should help take some of the pressure off of that trio of sophomores, though.

The offensive line will likely be a point of strength for App State, especially with the return of left tackle Victor Johnson, who earned All-Sun Belt honors in 2017. The run-first style of Satterfield’s team, though, is heavily reliant on protection and push up front.

Defense

App State is coming off of a 34-0 bowl shutout of a Toledo squad with a great offense, so the defensive unit should feel pretty confident. The Mountaineers gave up a combined 30 points in the final four games of the season.

The talent shines through in the defensive back group in Boone, NC. Tae Hayes and Clifton Duck on the corners have the ability to lock down receivers. The two combined for ten interceptions and 7.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago. 

Behind Hayes and Duck, Desmond Franklin has shown he can make plays at safety — including 2.5 tackles-for-loss and a handful of pass breakups.

Most of the front seven for the Mountaineers has been replaced in the offseason due to graduation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any experience up front. App State rotated in four sophomore defensive ends alongside senior Okon Godwin, who combined for 44.5 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2017, and most of that production will be back.

Four backup junior linebackers combined for 64 tackles last season, all of whom will help anchor the center of the defense beginning on Saturday. Even where the Mountaineers will see turnover, they have a solid group with enough experience to continue the defensive dominance they’ve shown recently.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected].

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