Appalachian State (1-1) vs East Carolina (1-1)

Saturday, September 16th, 2023 3:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5
FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte),
105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City),
107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), 103.9FM/1250AM (Marion), Varsity Network App

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.14

East Carolina: 64.83

Home: 2.24

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10.55 points

VegasInsider Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 20-12

Last Meeting: App State 33, East Carolina 19, September 2, 2021, Charlotte, NC

There are several ways to look at it. You can hold your head high and be proud. You could also drag your feet for a couple hundred yards and wonder about another big fish that wiggled away. You might even do both of things at the same time. And then you hear the cries, whining and disrespect. From social media posts, to remarks made by those with the title head coach. “I’m proud of my football team” said one. “I’m glad we don’t have to play them again” said another. Those leaders who receive more praise than they deserve, and more criticism at their expense at same time. Only you can choose your leader. You can run with the guy who will run at your side into battle, or you can run and hide. The Mountaineers will never run and hide from a challenge, but embrace it and learn from it. This weekend will be another challenge. Traffic on the roads and entering the gates will be an adventure. There is going to be a ton of people in the High Country this weekend. A third consecutive in-state foe awaits the home team. Will you embrace it, or run away?

Coming into this season, East Carolina and App State had similar scenarios facing their team. The Pirates have a lot of new faces playing critical roles, and most of those were on the offensive side of the ball. Holton Ahlers exhausted his eligibility and Mason Garcia has been given the start for the first two games at quarterback. Filling in at running back, in place of Keaton Mitchell, has been Rahjai Harris. It’s been an uphill climb in these first two games for East Carolina in filling those holes. Ahlers and Mitchell are both on NFL rosters as we speak. Garcia has had an especially rough time. He has thrown for 142 yards in two games, completing just 51% of his passes, with two interceptions and one touchdown. That one touchdown pass went for 2 yards to a tight end after East Carolina’s defense fell on a Marshall fumble at the three yard line. That was the first touchdown of the season for the Pirates, and it took them nearly 88 minutes to do so. Garcia’s longest completion of the season went a whole fourteen yards. Harris is the leading running back on the team with 51 yards.

In week one, Michigan took it easy on East Carolina, cruising to a 30-3 win. The Pirates had the ball a total of nine times, with three of those drives resulting in a three and out. Just five drives resulted in ten or more yards gained. Those turned into two punts, one turnover on downs, a missed field goal, and a made field goal. The made field goal occurred on the last play of the game. Without getting into too much detail, the Pirates are running a lot of plays, but they cannot get down the field. The Pirates averaged 4.3 yards per play against Michigan and just 3.9 yards per play last week against Marshall. Additionally, the Pirates have been whistled for 23 penalties for 230 yards in just two games. Numbers like that lead to a grossly inefficient 34% on third down conversions, which ranks 101st out of 130 teams on the young season.

Multiple storylines have emerged following another close loss to a P5/P4/Autonomy school on the road. The biggest one, is Joey Aguilar. Plain and simple. His story is just beginning to unfold. One side of the field had one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and Joey Aguilar outplayed him, and not for one second did the moment feel too big for him. He could have completed a few more passes, but that’s being picky. The passes that connected went for 12.5 yards per completion. He avoided negative plays with his arm and legs. Even with an assumed lack of depth behind him, he played big and owned every moment. Throwing for a cool 275 yards and running for 42 more. The one interception he’ll learn from, but it did not account for the loss. Calling Aguilar a game manager does not give him enough credit. Joey Aguilar is a gamer, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.

App State’s defensive strategy was wise on Saturday night. Try to keep Drake Maye from beating you. For the most part, that worked. For only the third time since 2015, North Carolina won a game without throwing a touchdown pass. The flip side of that, was that big plays in the running game boosted the Tar Heels efforts. Maye routinely checked to running plays to avoid throwing against a secondary that was dropping seven and eight players into coverage. In all, the strategy worked as a team effort. A loss in overtime is nothing to be ashamed of, especially on the road, in games that you are not “supposed” to win. However, the balance could be hard to strike between improving the run defense and the strategy of keeping the play in front of you. That balance becomes especially more difficult after losing Brendan Harrington for the season due to injury.

Perhaps this discussion is slightly premature, but there is some discussion on the banks of the Tar River about whether or not Mason Garcia should continue as the Pirates starting quarterback. Garcia, who is listed at 6’5 and 249 pounds fits the typical prototype East Carolina quarterback size we have seen the from the past. But Garcia is having issues staying in the pocket. The Pirates do call some designed runs for Garcia, on delay draws from the shotgun formation. That has led to Garcia leading the team in carries and rushing yards. But, either his receivers are not getting open, or his pocket is breaking down before they are open, or Garcia is concerned with protection. It possible the game has not slowed down for him yet. Either way you cut it, Garcia has happy feet, and when the throw is not there when he wants it to be, he takes off upfield. This had led some to start clamoring for backup Alex Flinn. Garcia had very little experience coming into 2023, and Flinn has even less. Flinn has played in both games this season, early on against Michigan, and finished the game against Marshall once it was out of reach. He is a fifth year redshirt junior, who played a total of five snaps before this season. At this point, East Carolina isn’t hitting the panic button, but they have been looking at it pretty hard. At some point they have to start scoring some points or else their defense will be gassed come mid-October. The Pirate defense likes to play down hill in the run game, but their secondary have been roasted in two games, surrendering 270 yards passing a game, and 12.5 yards per catch. The Mountaineers are likely to remain patient in the run game to an extent, but the confidence of this past weekend can only propel them forward with Joey Aguilar becoming more comfortable. One would assume that Nate Noel will be looking for an eventual breather after fifty carries in the first two games, but the formula appears to be working for now.

The First Pick

Sinking Ships 17

Mountaineers 35