Appalachian State (6-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) vs Arkansas State (1-7, 0-4 Sun Belt)
Saturday, November 6th, 2021 2:00pm EST
Radio: 97.3 FM North Wilkesboro, 96.5 FM/1450 AM Boone, 1320 AM Greensboro, 107.7FM/1450 AM Hendersonville, Varsity Network App
Centennial Bank Stadium
Surface: Geo Surfaces Field Turf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings
App State: 74.71
Ark State: 52.90
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.71 points
Line: App State -21
Series: App State leads 3-1
Last Meeting: App State 45, Monroe 17, October 22, 2020, Boone, NC
Don’t look now, but Monroe just turned the ball over again. It was that kind of day for the Warhawks who were never really in it. The Mountaineers might have had something to do with that. After nearly every Monroe mistake, App State made them pay. That is the kind of stuff good teams are made of. The next challenge arises in one of the least familiar of conference opponents. The last couple games between Arkansas State and App State have not been particularly close. Saturday looks to be similar. There in itself is the challenge. On paper, this one looks fairly lopsided. Keeping your edge and competitive spirit alive for a road trip to face a team that has had some bad results can be difficult. Already, Red Wolves fans are saying that the battle in this game is not on the scoreboard. Luckily for App State, this is Homecoming for Arkansas State, so the atmosphere may not be completely dead for your typical one win team. However, playing the next ring game should be plenty motivation for the visiting team.
Where to start? The 2021 Red Wolves are really taking it on the chin this year. They have one win over Central Arkansas and three one possession losses to Memphis, Tulsa and Louisiana. Other than that, its been pretty bad in Jonesboro. Blake Anderson did all he could to keep that program afloat as long as possible, and Butch Jones is dealing with the fallout. The Arkansas State offense can be good enough to beat anyone on their schedule, but the defense is the main concern. If the game of football was a one-sided game, the Red Wolves can go toe-to-toe with any offense in the league. Even with glaring issues in the running game, the Red Wolves sport an offense that ranks 60th in the country, that is completely propped up by their Top-10 passing offense by yardage. For comparison purposes, consider Marshall, another school that has a Top-10 passing offense, but also had issues on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, Marshall has a running attack, and that is why they are 5-3. Arkansas State and Marshall are the only teams in the top ten in passing offense that have thrown double digit interceptions this season.
Just like Monroe, the quarterback position for Arkansas State is unsettled. The Red Wolves, known in the past for being unable to make their mind up when any quarterback was playing or going to play, have continued the trend under Butch Jones. It seemed that James Blackman, the Florida State transfer, had won the job, but Layne Hatcher, the long ago Alabama transfer was still getting playing time. Blackman’s injury designation was considered as being “out indefinitely”, after suffering a shoulder injury against Coastal. He did not make the trip last week to Mobile. It would seem unlikely that Blackman is cleared before Saturday, which means Layne Hatcher will get his third consecutive start. Hatcher has completed 55% of his passes this season with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in spot duty. These numbers are a fay cry from 2020, when Hatcher threw 19 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Hatcher threw three interceptions last week alone in the loss to South Alabama. App State accounted for one of Hatcher’s interceptions last year.
This is where it gets bad. Within the conference, Arkansas State is dead last running the ball and stopping the run. The Red Wolves are averaging less than three yards a carry on offense and giving up a mind boggling 6.9 yards per carry on defense. They have allowed 22 rushing touchdowns and have only scored three on the ground themselves. Those national ranks are 129th for rushing defense and 127th for rushing offense. Each facet of the football game has an effect on the next. A lack of rushing production typically finds teams who own poor records. If you cannot run the ball, it’s difficult to sustain drives, which has an impact on possession, and the number of plays your defense defends. It’s not a requirement of winning football, to have an offense than can churn out 200 yard rushing games consistently, but being effective when you do run is important. This game is all out about efficiency. All of this leads to Arkansas State giving up 42.4 points per game, which is also last in conference play and 128th nationwide. That is nearly five points more per game than UL-Monroe, who the Mountaineers just scored 59 points on.
With their second straight 500-yard game, the App State offense is humming. The Mountaineers scored touchdowns on five straight possessions in the first half and distanced themselves from Monroe before they knew what hit them. Chase Brice has 603 passing yards and six touchdowns in his last two games. More importantly, Brice has not thrown an interception or been sacked in the last two games either. Nate Noel continued his steady pace toward a 1,000 yard season. With his third 100-yard performance of the season, Noel needs to average just 46 yards a game with at least five games remaining in the season. Corey Sutton and Malik Williams are also on pace to clear 1,000 yards. Sutton has been more consistent and has touchdown catches in four of his last five games. Williams caught three passes for 72 yards and a touchdown following his outburst against Coastal. While the offense was scoring, the defense was getting off the field early. The first six Warhawk possessions ended in this order: punt, fumble, interception, downs, punt, punt. Those six drives consisted of twenty plays that covered 64 total yards.
It is incredibly easy to sit back, look at an opponents record or recent history and think you can take a weekend off. If anything this season has taught us across college football, you cannot take any opponent lightly. The Red Wolves have won five games the last two seasons. You cannot hide from that. In 2019, Arkansas State won eight games, but five of them were decided by one score. The demise of Arkansas State football was not a nosedive, it was slow descent. Everyone knew it was coming, but it was just a matter of when it hit rock bottom. That time is now. Could the Red Wolves have a couple more wins right now? Sure, but bowl eligibility was never a reasonable goal. Georgia Southern has not been able to get off the ground this year either, and they absolutely walloped this Arkansas State team. Focusing on a close result against Louisiana is doing nothing but searching. Those two teams play weird games all the time. Arkansas State is giving up yardage and points at historic levels. That does not change overnight. It’s likely it takes a couple seasons to get that unit to a respectable level. But in the meantime, the Red Wolves need a spark. South Alabama got back to business last week with a win over Arkansas St, after having Monroe beat them the week before. Arkansas State should show better this week at home after turning the ball over 4 times to the Jaguars. The 224 yards gained last week was a season low. Butch Jones should be able to motivate his team for a big game, and a strong finish to the season with some winnable games. It’s just very unlikely to come this weekend. Just about every weakness the Red Wolves have plays right into the hands of App State, who have found a rhythm on offense as of late. Expect a boatload of sacks from the App State defense.
The First Pick
Huff but no Puff 14