After throwing the game away last week, the Mountaineers have a short week to prepare for their Thursday matchup with Georgia Southern, who pushed two ACC teams to the wire, and dominated Savannah State (who doesn't?) and South Alabama. This game is usually close, and Appalachian State hold a relatively slim 16-12-1 record, but are 10-3 since 2003. What have the Mountaineers to do to take down their old Southern Conference buddies?
"Lamb's to the slaughter"
Quarterback Taylor Lamb got his first start last weekend as coach Scott Satterfield felt his mobility and quicker decision-making gave him the edge over Kameron Bryant. Based on Lamb's performance against Southern Miss, he was right. Sure, Lamb threw 2 interceptions, but he moved the ball into scoring range on 6 different occasions, including 2 fourth-quarter touchdown drives. His athleticism got him out of trouble at times, and will come in handy against an Eagle defense that has accounted for 10 sacks so far. The GSU secondary has been pretty good so far. They struggled at inopportune moments against Georgia Tech, but have held opponents to a completion percentage of just 53.3%, picking off 4 passes. Of the 9 TD passes they've allowed, 4 came against the Yellow Jackets. Luckily, the Eagles have shown some vulnerability to the run, so Lamb may not need to do it all himself.
Georgia Southern doesn't run the triple option as such these days, preferring a more modern attack; but they still run the ball on the majority of downs, with just 55 passing attempts in 4 games. However, they've run for at least 246 yards in every game, and the Appalachian State front seven isn't so good that the Eagles will expect any less. GSU platoons most of its rushers, but they're led by Matt Breida, who's coming off 187 yards and 2 TDs against South Alabama's stingy defense. Also a factor is quarterback Kevin Ellison, who isn't the prettiest passer, but can really punish a defense too focused on the running backs. He had 96 yards and a score against the Jaguars.
The Mountaineers have been strong against the run since being gutted by Michigan in week 1, allowing just 117 yards combined over the last two weeks. The problem is, they haven't faced an offense like GSU's. The unit needs to be assignment sound against a confusing offense, and limit the big-play potential of the Eagles. It's no trade secret in acknowledging that forcing option teams to plod up the field increases the chances for mistakes. Georgia Southern have already fumbled 12 times this season, although they've only lost 3. Not only must the Mountaineer defense give up the short run to prevent the long, but they have to be ready to pounce on those errant balls too.
On the subject of mistakes...
We saw last weekend what happens when a team like the Mountaineers fumbles and bumbles against an opponent, even one that currently aspires to mediocrity like Southern Miss - they lose a close one. Now picture what would happen against a team that could really punish them? Let's look at last week's problems. Lamb's two interceptions led to an interception and a field goal that was missed, and both were in decent field position. Running back Marcus Cox fumbled twice, both in the redzone. The first one came after an interception put the Mountaineers on the Southern Miss 7, costing a scoring opportunity, while the second was luckily recovered by Simms McElfresh. If the Mountaineers had lost that one too, it was likely game over. Then there's the kicking woes. Zach Matics hooked 2 field goals wide, and had another one blocked, likewise with the potential game-tying PAT. The Mountaineers can't afford to throw that many points away against a good team like Georgia Southern.