Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs #10 Penn State (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday, September 1st, 2018 3:30pm est
TV/Video: Big Ten Network
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 69.75
Penn State: 86.49
Penn State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: Penn State -24
Series: First Meeting
Last meeting: n/a
WxCrum Forecast: Mostly Cloudy, chance for a shower, Temps in 70’s
The season opener. On Labor Day weekend. A Big Ten Opponent. On their own television network. A stadium that can hold over 100,000. The stage is set for another season of football at a historic venue, and as usual, the Mountaineers hope to destroy the dreams of national title contenders in college football’s opening weekend. Appalachian will play the role of decided underdogs, who will carry that chip on their shoulder as they always do when facing an opponent that is perceived to have more talent and potential. No question, the challenge that lies ahead will be tough, but not insurmountable. Both sides have plenty of unknowns on both sides of the ball, but also return plenty of celebrated athletes who will look for their fit among the newcomers. Exactly how those new players fit with the old is the great mystery that every college football coach has to deal with at this time of the year. For some it takes longer than others to find that mesh point where each player is on the same page. Preparation only takes a team so far in August. Regardless of the result, coaches will be able to evaluate and adjust their plans for their season. This weekend will not make or ruin the season for any football team in the country. This is the time to learn and find out exactly what 2018 has in store for Appalachian State.
You might have heard of this team, Penn State, in the past. Perhaps it was for two national titles in the 80’s. Maybe it is the four Big Ten titles in the last quarter century or the 48 total bowl games they have played in. Maybe there are infamous reasons why you know about Penn State, but mainly its the traditional old school uniforms and their claim to fame as being Linebacker U. Jack Ham played for the Steelers and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Greg Buttle played in the early 70’s and is considered all time great for the New York Jets. More recently, Navarro Bowman, Sean Lee, Lavar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, and many more spent several years in the NFL. Perhaps the most recently notable Penn State football player is Saquon Barkley, who was selected second overall by the New York Giants in the 2018 NFL Draft. Also drafted were tight end Mike Gesicki by the Dolphins, Daeshon Hamilton by the Broncos, and defensive backs Marcus Allen, Troy Apke, & Christian Campbell.
Luckily, the Mountaineers do not have to deal with those six players, but they will have to worry about potential Heisman candidate Trace McSorley who will break several Penn State records before he leaves the blue and white. With back-to-back 3500+ yard passing seasons and 59 career touchdown passes, McSorley already holds the career touchdown record for the Nittany Lions and will break the all time passing yardage record before the leaves turn in the Susquehanna Valley. McSorley has wheels too, totting the ball for eighteen rushing touchdowns and just shy of 900 yards in his career. More often than not, McSorley will gain his rushing yards on designed runs, out of the zone read, or in option looks, but he isn’t afraid to tuck it if he cannot find a receiver open. Containing McSorley will certainly be a high priority for the App defense.
With the undeniably difficult task of filling the shoes of the departed Barkley, Miles Sanders will get the first crack. The junior from Pittsburgh only carried the ball 31 times in 2017, but averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Sanders averaged 7.4 yards per carry in his freshman season on 25 attempts. The big play ability appears obvious. Most of his 2017 work came in lopsided blowouts over Georgia State, Michigan and Nebraska. Wide Receiver Juwan Johnson has all the physical tools at 6’4″ and 230 pounds and is fresh off a big sophomore campaign of 54 catches for 701 yards. Johnson had multiple catches in every game in 2017 except Pitt. DeAndre Thompkins is the other returner at wide out with meaningful playing time. Thompkins hauled in 28 catches for 443 yards.
Part of me feels sorry for App State’s new starting quarterback Zac Thomas. He has probably heard Taylor Lamb’s name hundreds of times when answering questions since the end of last season. And then to top it all off, his own coach hinted at the similarities between McSorley and Lamb at the Sun Belt conference call earlier this week. This could be some type of new motivational tactic that gives Thomas what he is looking for to silence all the haters. The simplest thing Thomas can do to quiet the whispers of “He’s not Taylor” is to be himself. He’s going to make some mistakes, but he is also going to make some plays that will surprise you and make you think, ‘He’s definitely not Taylor”. The more Thomas sees, the more he’ll improve. There is no substitution for experience, so it might take a couple games, but it will come easier which each passing week.
From one season to next, Appalachian’s young wide receiving corps have grown up, and they are going to be here for awhile. Three sophomores highlight the starting lineup, including returners Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams, and transfer Corey Sutton. Despite their youth, this trio will become household names if they are not already. Hennigan’s 585 yards and seven touchdowns was one of the best years as a freshman in school history. Williams didn’t have quite the numbers, but has made the most improvements since 2017. Sutton does not have a catch as a Mountaineer, but it is only a matter of time for the Charlotte native. He’ll get plenty of looks this season.
Don’t worry. We have not forgotten about Jalin Moore. We know all how much he means to this team and the identity of the App State offense. His superlatives are exactly what one would expect from a Mountaineer running back. Moore has been noticed by some of the college game’s best coaches, yet he still thrives in his underdog role. Fortunately, Moore will not have to do it all in 2018. Darrynton Evans is fully recovered from his injury-robbed 2017 season and will be a major player in this offense. The workload is yet to be determined, but Evans’ speed provides a different change of pace. That’s what I am most looking forward to this season. How will all the weapons be utilized? Who gets the majority of the workload outside of Jalin Moore. It’s tough to know those answers with so many question marks, but the potential is definitely there. Penn State also has their fair share of uncertainties. With a defense that appears to be stronger on the outside than the inside, how will the Mountaineers decide to attack the Nittany Lions? The Penn State offense appears to be the safer side of the ball. In 2017, their turnover per game margin for the season was +.92, the same as Appalachian. A new offensive coordinator for Penn State, and a new defensive coordinator for Appalachian might be the most interesting coaching matchup of the weekend. McSorely vs Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes will be another encounter to watch. A seemingly explosive Miles Sanders and a somewhat green Mountaineer linebacker group could also be another important duel. The typical zero turnover, lowly penalized game will be important for both sides in the opener. It’s easy to assume that Penn State’s overall talent is probably greater than that of Appalachian, but for whatever reason I have a good feeling about this one. A blowout is not what I am expecting, but it could certainly be in the range of results. I just do not see 2018 Penn State being 10 Vegas points better than 2017 Georgia over Appalachian. That might not be the correct thought process, but it’s what I am going with.
The First Pick
Cat Scarfs 30