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A Feeling Deeper Than Hate Renewed: Georgia Southern vs. Appalachian State Preview and Prediction

The Mountaineers will face off with the Eagles in the 35th edition of this storied rivalry.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Appalachian State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Start Time: 6 p.m. EST, Dec. 12

Location: Paulson Stadium; Statesboro, GA

Weather: 63 degrees at kickoff

Records: Georgia Southern (7-4, 4-3 Sun Belt); Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2 Sun Belt)

Betting Line: Appalachian State -9.5; O/U 45

TV: ESPN3


Georgia Southern Outlook

It’s been a very uneven season for the Eagles, and while the team’s record currently sits at 7-4, the losses have been far more disheartening than the wins have felt triumphant.

On paper, this game looks more like a loss for GS, with Shai Werts likely out another week with the shoulder injury he initially sustained in the loss to Army, and Justin Tomlin running things at the quarterback position.

Tomlin was serviceable last week in the win over Florida Atlantic, but it was the defense that did much of the heavy lifting, holding the Owls to just 3 points.

Now Tomlin in his limited starting experience will take on the gatekeeper of the Sun Belt East and Georgia Southern’s biggest rival. Unless the Eagles want to get more creative on offense than they were last week, or just decide their offensive line will just bully Appalachian State in the trenches (unlikely) for 60 minutes, points will be hard to come by for the home team in this one.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Minnesota
Justin Tomlin did a serviceable job stepping in for an injured Shai Werts last week, but will have a much tougher task against Appalachian State.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

On the rushing front, Logan Wright has done an admirable job filling the role left behind by J.D. King’s season-ending injury, but the Eagles have still not found a reliable replacement for the explosive plays that the indefinitely-suspended Wesley Kennedy III was able to conjure seemingly out of thin air at times.

The game plan for the defense on the other hand is relatively simple: Shut down App State’s potent rushing attack and force Zac Thomas to beat you. If the Georgia Southern front-seven is able to do that, they may be able to grind out a victory without having to score upwards of 24 points.

Appalachian State Outlook

Likewise to its rival, it’s been a bit of a disappointing campaign for the Mountaineers in 2020. One year after posting a 13-1 season and defeating two Power 5 schools in North Carolina and South Carolina, App has taken a step back both in its overall standing from a Group of 5 perspective and within the conference.

Losses to Marshall, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana have turned this team from a powerhouse that was recognized nationally as a force no one wanted to play into a team that the elite units in the Sun Belt measure themselves against.

A large part of this has been the regressing play of Zac Thomas and the conservative nature with which their offense runs. In 2019, Thomas posted an impressive 28:6 touchdown to interception ratio, with over 2,700 yards passing. By contrast, this season the signal caller is turning the ball over at a higher rate and throwing fewer scores (17:10 TD-to-INT ratio) while barely eclipsing 1,800 yards passing for the year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 15 New Orleans Bowl - Appalachian State v UAB
The regression of Zac Thomas as a passer has been a large part of Appalachian State’s step back this year.
Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The one thing that has not faltered offensively for the Mountaineers is a potent rushing attack. Four App State runners have over 380 yards this season on the ground, with Camerun Peoples leading the pack at 738 (73.8 yards per game).

Receiving-wise, Thomas Hennigan leads all pass catchers for App with 507 yards on 37 receptions to go along with 2 scores.

Defensively, the unit has been one of the better groups in the Sun Belt, allowing just 310 yards per game to opposing offenses, including just 137.7 yards rushing per contest.

Prediction

I would assume at this point that Appalachian State is tired of being beaten by its biggest rival like it has the previous two meetings, and now have an opportunity to take that pent-up frustration against Georgia Southern’s replacement-level offense.

I think the Mountaineers will correct the errors made in last year’s meeting and are too talented for a beat up Eagles team to keep up with as App looks to dominate the time of possession.

Final Score: Appalachian State 27, Georgia Southern 17