I really thought this was a game ASU should have won. They have been playing better football than the Golden Eagles (for the most part) so far this short season, and looked to be the better team throughout the game. But turnovers and special teams' gaffes kept Southern Miss in the game, and ultimately cost Appalachian State the win. While it would be easy to just descend into wailing and gnashing of teeth just because the Mountaineers lost, it wouldn't be fair, as there were some fine performances throughout. Starting with...
Quarterback: Taylor Lamb got the start over struggling Kameron Bryant, likely because of his impressive mobility, and he looked far more assured than Bryant has. Lamb led the Mountaineers into scoring range six times, and he can't be held accountable for the fact that they only converted three of those. He completed 28 of 40 passes for 264 yards and 2 TDs, but also threw 2 interceptions, one of which Southern Miss converted into a touchdown. He also ran for 39 yards on 8 carries, including a 27-yard ramble, and was sacked twice. The freshman also led two fourth-quarter TD drives, including one with 6 seconds left, although it turned out to be for nothing.
Running Backs: Although he didn't start, Marcus Cox was the man again, leading the team with 119 yards and a TD on 22 carries, with a long of 37. He fumbled the ball a couple of times, including giving one away at the Eagles 7, one play after the Mountaineers intercepted Nick Mullens, costing ASU an easy scoring opportunity. He added 2 catches for 7 yards. Terrence Upshaw was a disappointment, managing a mere 33 yards on 17 carries, a far cry from his success against Michigan a couple of weeks ago. He also caught a 10-yard pass.
Receivers: Lamb did a good job of spreading the ball around to a bunch of different guys, but the Mountaineers still appear to lack the ability to stretch the field, with Montez McGuire's 21 yard effort (twice) the team's longest in the game. Tight end Simms McElfresh is still the quarterback's best friend, catching 7 passes for 68 yards and the final TD, while Malachi Jones also caught 7, for 61 yards and the other score. Still, even without the lack of a deep ball, the short passing attack worked better, whether it was Lamb's ability or Southern Miss incompetence. Regardless, the unit put in a solid performance.
Offensive Line: The big guys up front did a decent, but not spectacular job handling the Eagles front seven. Upshaw's struggles weren't necessarily the problems of the line, and they looked much better when Cox was in the backfield. Still, they unit gave up 8 tackles for loss, which will stymie most running attacks. Two of those TFLs were sacks, and the line also allowed some pressure on Lamb (6 accredited hurries) - not what you want with a first-time starter at quarterback. The line also had a couple of dumb penalties.
Defensive Line: The Mountaineers' 30 front is used more to tie up blockers than make the plays themselves, so it's a little harder to quantify their performance. But there is definitely one good indicator of their success against Southern Miss - 61 yards rushing conceded. The Eagles started well, rushing for 31 yards and a TD on their opening drive, but were shut down almost completely after that, forcing Mullens to throw the ball. That didn't work out so well, with the line failing to muster much of a pass rush. Nathaniel Norwood made 2 tackles for loss, while Olawale Dada broke up a pass and Deuce Robinson was credited with a hurry.
Linebackers: The real stars of the show. The linebackers did a great job of getting to the ball in a hurry and putting the clamps on the Southern Miss ground attack. John Law led the team in tackles with 8, making 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage, 1 of those a sack. Brandon McGowan made 5 tackles, but also broke up a pass and was credited with 2 hurries. It was a team effort though, limiting the Eagles to 329 yards and converting just 2 of 11 third downs. If you want to nitpick, the unit could have manufactured a better pass rush, but 2 sacks and 3 accredited hurries isn't bad.
Secondary: The secondary mostly did a good job against the Eagles passing game, although they gave up 268 yards and a TD. Mullens got the majority of his yards in the first half, as the unit shut down the passing attack in the second, with Joel Ross coming up with 2 interceptions. The Eagles also had another pick called back thanks to an offside penalty. The biggest testament to the play of the defensive backs was Mullens' problems on must-pass downs. He did, however, complete 5 passes of 20 yards or more, which will hurt the secondary's GPA a bit.
Special Teams: There is one simple reason Southern Miss lost this game - Zach Matics. Is it fair to lump the blame for a loss on one guy? Probably not, but Matics had what can be kindly referred to as "a disaster". The junior kicker missed field goals from 42 and 43 yards, then had a 36-yard attempt blocked. Then, with Lamb having led a last-ditch drive for a TD, Matics had the potentially-tying extra point blocked too. Just. Horrible. Punter Bentlee Critcher, on the other hand, had an excellent day. He punted 4 times, dropping 3 inside the 20, while the other punt was returned 12 yards to the Eagle 28. Returns and coverage were okay.
Grade: D (Critcher saves it from failing)
The Bottom Line: This was a fine performance by the Mountaineers, and they truly deserved to win, but fell foul of a bad day at the office by Matics. They controlled the game, outgaining Southern Miss 455-329, and had almost a 12 minute advantage in time of possession. But turnovers, particularly that fumble inside the 10 by Cox, and penalties, hurt ASU too. Still, when all is said and done, the Mountaineers did what needed to be done. Well, almost all of them.