In the first fully-eligible FBS season, App State showed what two years of program building could do as the Mountaineers finished 11-2, capping it off with a walk-off 31-29 victory over Ohio in the Camellia Bowl. The only losses were to #1 ranked Clemson plus Sun Belt Champs Arkansas State.
The 11 wins are the most by a Sun Belt team in a single season and App State has won 17 of their last 19 games.
For a team that went 4-8 versus an FCS schedule in 2013 and started 1-5 in 2014, the turnaround is quite remarkable.
How did this happen? Well, there were many factors.
App State Said They Would Run The Ball...And They Did
The Mountaineers finished with 271.5 rushing yards a game, which ranked 6th in FBS barring any late-bowl changes. Marcus Cox got the lion's share of the yards as expected, going for 1,423 on the season. True freshman Jalin Moore cemented his secondary back spot with 731 yards, the majority of which came in the final four games, including a 224-yard performance against Idaho which Cox missed due to injury.
Also, not to be forgotten, is quarterback Taylor Lamb's 436 rushing yards, giving the Apps many different options on the ground.
The Passing Game Was Not Reliant On A Single Receiver
Lamb set an App State record with 31 passing touchdowns in 2015 and added on 2387 yards and a 60.1% completion mark.
However, it wasn't just one player who made the air attack go. The leading receiver, Simms McElfresh, had 466 yards on the year. Eight different players had over 100 yards for the season and 22 Mountaineers caught a pass, the most amount of receivers of any FBS team in 2015. Out out of those 22, nine hauled in at least one touchdown including four different tight ends.
The Defense Was Historically Good
The 3-4 defense of Nate Woody took some time to get going after being brought in three seasons ago, but now it's clicking at a scary-good rate.
- 318 yards allowed per game, 12th-best in FBS.
- 18.3 points per game allowed, 13th in FBS.
- 36 sacks, tied for 14th in FBS.
- 18 interceptions, tied for 9th in FBS.
- 63.6% red zone defense average, 1st in FBS.
There were two shutouts in 2015 versus Howard and Old Dominion, along with near-shutouts versus Georgia State and Louisiana. They also held the vaunted Georgia Southern rushing offense, which averaged an FBS-leading 363 yards a game, to 188 yards in a 31-13 victory.
Big Special Teams Improvement
The addition to Stu Holt to the App State staff seemed to have paid off when it came to special teams.
Despite the two field goal misses in the Camellia Bowl, Zach Matics finishes his season with 13 makes to only 3 misses and a perfect 61/61 on PAT's. This comes after a rough 2014 that had five PAT misses and seven field goals missed or blocked.
Punt return average was cut down from 14.5 to 6.2 yards per return. Touchbacks went up from 27 to 43, yards per punt improved from 37.9 to 43 and yards per kickoff went from 57.1 to 62.1 and there were no special teams touchdowns allowed in 2015.
The 2016 Mountaineers Could Be Even Better
Out of the 22 offensive and defensive starters, 15 are slated to return in 2016. Three of the seven graduates are wide receivers and as mentioned earlier, App State is deep at that position with Ike Lewis, Shaedon Meadors, Jaquil Capel and more.
The biggest losses are Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Ronald Blair, center Jesse Chapman and safety Doug Middleton, but their backups got plenty of playing time in 2015.
Besides that, names like Lamb, Cox, Tyson Fernandez, Eric Boggs, Devan Stringer, John Law Latrell Gibbs will be back in 2016.