Location: Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Date: Saturday, December 15th
Time: 9:00PM EST
Radio: Appalachian IMG Sports Network, Learfield Blue Raider Network
Records: App State 10-2 ( 7-1 Sun Belt), MTSU 8-5 ( 7-1 C-USA)
Line: -6.5 App State O/U 47.5
All Time: MTSU leads App State 2-1 all time with the last meeting in 1992
App State Outlook
In their first game without Scott Satterfield in nearly six years, the Mountaineers battle the C-USA runner ups in Middle Tennessee State. However the future is now known as Appalachian announced on Thursday that Eliah Drinkwitz, the offensive coordinator at NC State, will become the new head coach after the bowl game.
The offenses will be a key to watch in this game as both teams can score heavily at times. For App State the game may hinge on the defensive side of the ball. Three MTSU’s five losses came against SEC foes but outside of Georgia this will be the best defense Brent Stockstill has faced. The secondary, led by Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes, must lead and show their playmaking ability that shows why this group is one of the best in the country.
As for the Mountaineer offense it rides on the back of number 12 Zac Thomas. The redshirt sophomore will start in his first bowl game and will look to continue to lead an offense that has averaged nearly 37 points per game in 2018. Corey Sutton has been the go to receiver for Appalachian as he has caught 8 of Thomas’s 18 touchdown passes this season.
This will also be a battle of contrasting styles as App State prefers to get their offense moving with the ground game led by Darrynton Evans, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2018, whereas Middle Tennessee prefers the air attack with Stockstill.
A lot of people are doubting App State in this game with all the outside noise that has been around the program over the past two weeks and rightfully so but in my eyes the game goes one of two ways. Either App State comes out and plays inspired football and rolls to a forth straight bowl win or they fall flat and show no effort and confidence. I am praying App State comes out focused unlike never before and is ready to clear the air that just because we lost one of the best coaches in school history, doesn’t mean they won’t continue to be one of the best G5 teams in the country.
After years of falling short, the Blue Raiders finally captured their first C-USA East division title and the biggest reason why is because of Brent Stockstill. Finally healthy to play a full season, Stockstill passed for 3,214 yards, 28 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Stockstill took home the Conference USA MVP award and his experience, combined with Tony Franklin’s potent air raid offense, is the biggest reason why the Blue Raiders are here. With that said, don’t sleep on the defense.
The defense relies on another number 12 to make plays, in Reed Blankenship. Blakenship earned First Team All-C-USA honors after leading MTSU with 83 tackles and 7 passes defended. Similar to the offense, the defense has a high-profile coordinator calling the shots in former Syracuse head coach Scott Schafer. Middle’s defense is 46th in S&P+ and plays an aggressive man-to-man style.
While the New Orleans Bowl is a fun consolation prize, I’m anxious to see where this team’s head is at after a gut wrenching home loss in the C-USA Championship Game. Part of me feels like Brent Stockstill won’t let this team unravel in his final game as a Blue Raider. His leadership will be pivotal as MTSU must get off to a fast start.
The biggest matchup of the game will be how App defends Ty Lee, Gatlin Casey and Patrick Smith. The trio has combined for 155 targets this season and along with Tavares Thomas out of the backfield, they are featured heavily in the passing offense. App’s secondary played well against Penn State and Arkansas State, teams with their own prolific quarterback. If they shut down Stockstill, App should close the season with an easy win.
AC: App State 28-24
CS: Middle Tennessee 24-20