With a history spanning exactly one game, Arkansas State vs. Appalachian State isn't exactly a storied rivalry. But we may be seeing the beginnings of a great one. The Red Wolves are original Sun Belt gangsters with multiple conference titles on the resume. The Mountaineers are sizzling hot newcomers who are more than capable of leading a new era in the Sun Belt.
East vs. West. New Wave vs. Old School. A battle of ASUs. The Sun Belt is bringing more than just heat on Thursday Night. The nation will witness two extraordinary ground games, plus a pair of prolific defenses capable of changing the game in a heartbeat.
Winner becomes the Sun Belt's alpha ASU.
Game: Arkansas State Red Wolves (5-3, 4-0) at Appalachian State Mountaineers (7-1, 4-0)
Location: Kidd-Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina
Time and TV: Thursday Night! 7:30 pm EST/6:30 pm CST on ESPNU and Watch ESPN
Radio: Appalachian IMG Sports Network and 107.9 KFIN (A-State)
Lines: App State -10.5 (opened -12.5), O/U at 62
ESPN FPI Chances: 83.4% in favor of the Mountaineers
Series Record: The Mountaineers lead the series 1-0.
Weather: High 50's and potential fog due to humidity, but little chance of rain.
When Last These Titans Met: The Mountaineers arrived to Jonesboro 4-5 with the inglorious distinction of losing to Liberty earlier in the year. Meanwhile, the Red Wolves were just beginning to realize that injuries had severely weakened its run defense. By the second half of the game, Appalachian State realized it, too. Trailing 20-6 just before the half, the Mountaineers scored 31 unanswered behind a banner evening from Marcus Cox. Fred Knighten fired two touchdown passes in the final three minutes of the game, but the effort wasn't enough. Appalachian State escaped with a 37-32 victory, and the Mountaineers haven't lost a conference game since.
What's At Stake?
Undisputed first place in the Sun Belt and the inside track to the conference title.
Stud RB vs. RB By Committee
Red Wolves rank 16th nationally in yards-per-game rushing (224). Appalachian State ranks 9th (273). The Mountaineers lean on their backfield stud, Marcus Cox, who ranks third in the Sun Belt with 917 yards. Cox destroyed A-State last year (229 yards on 40 caries and two touchdowns), and there's an excellent chance we'll see Cox on Sundays. The Red Wolves take a more diversified approach, employing four legit running threats: Michael Gordon (8th in SBC), Johnston White (17th), Warren Wand (9th) and Fred Knighten (24th). The depth on the ground is keeping the Red Wolves fresh deep into games.
TK Note: Don't sleep on Terrence Upshaw, Jalin Moore and Taylor Lamb's sneaky running ability.
Showtime D vs. Blue Collar Defense
Appalachian State and Arkansas State both feature accomplished defensive units. But each team seems to take a different approach. The Red Wolves lead the Sun Belt in Sacks (20), INTs (16) and Pick Sixes (3), while the Mountaineers rank 8th in the nation for points allowed. A-State gives up big points, but makes up for it with turnovers and pressure. The Mountaineers prefer to muscle opponents out of the end zone. In fact, the only program with a stingier red zone defense this year is Toledo. (NOTE: the Red Wolves offense scored ZERO points against the Rockets).
Arkansas State Will Win Because:
TK Note: I would like stAte fans to use jokes from this decade, but then again Jonesboro is still a dry town.
Appalachian State Will Win Because
Oh no you didn't! (Will this ever go away?) – JH
Coach Blake Anderson Is Subtle When Throwing Scheduling Shade
Anderson says App State has scheduled well this year.— Kamen Entchev (@KamenEntchev) November 2, 2015
Of course, we have no idea what Coach Anderson is talking about. Except maybe that the Mountaineers play all of the conference's top teams (ULL, A-State and Georgia Southern) at Boone. That's good fortune! Meanwhile, the Red Wolves don't return to Centennial Bank Stadium until December.
TK Note: App played all three of those teams on the road last year and went 2-1.
App State Throws Quality Subtle Shade Too
Red Wolves lead the Sun Belt in sacks, tho. Lamb may be seated on the turf all night long. – JH
Good News for the Red Wolves
A-State rolls into November uncharacteristically healthy. Not only is Fredi Knighten nearly firing on all cylinders, The Beef will be ready for Thursday night, too.
Anderson says OL Devin Mondie and Daniel Keith should be available Thursday. Looked fine Sunday night.— Troy Schulte (@TroySchulteADG) November 2, 2015
Bad News For App State
The status of RT Beau Nunn remains a mystery. He's listed as questionable for the game, but he was questionable for Saturday and didn't play. Rumor is that he's done for the year, which if true, is a big blow to the App offensive line.
Dude That Scares The Red Wolves Most
The easy answer is Marcus Cox, who punished A-State last year with 229 rushing yards and a pair of scores. But Georgia State proved that a good passer can frustrate the Red Wolves risk-taking secondary. Taylor Lamb is a lion in the pocket who has already thrown for 1,500 yards and 19 TDs. And unlike GSU's Nick Arbuckle, Lamb can create plays with his legs when pressured. Arguably excluding USC's Cody Kessler, Lamb might be the most skilled QB the Red Wolves have faced.
TK Note: #TweetsieTaylor
What App State has To Look Our For
Not so much a single player but a system that uses misdirection and speed to gain yards. The Red Wolves' offense is loaded and can go for a touchdown any play. The App offense needs to be careful against the stAte secondary and not lose the turnover battle, even though App went -2 last season and still won.
Psssst. Beware Ja'Von Roland-Jones – JH
This is How Arkansas State Remains Undefeated in the Sun Belt
Expecting to deal with the Red Wolves' four-headed ground game, the Mountaineers are caught off balance when Fredi Knighten inexplicably picks the Appalachian State secondary apart early on with darts to Darion Griswold and J.D. McKissic. Electing to avoid red zone wrestling matches, Coach Anderson dials up big plays between the 20s, using Knighten-to-Tres Houston deep routes and sweeps to the super-speedy Warren Wand for long-yardage scores. Exhausted by the 4th quarter, the Mountaineers are finally fed a steady diet of Michael Gordon and Johnston White. A clearly frustrated Taylor Lamb is picked off by Rocky Hayes late in the 4th to seal the Red Wolves win.
TK Note: Pfft.
This Is How App State Wins
Not wanting Marcus Cox to destroy them again, the Red Wolves defense sells out on the run. Lamb corrects his timidness from last Saturday and rushes for close to 100 yards. Arkansas State can get the edges and forces Knighten to throw into coverage, which is also improved from Saturday. And without the special teams mistakes from last season, the Mountaineers are able to pull away.
That will never happen. NEVER! – JH