Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ #15 Georgia (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 6:15pm est
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: 70.30
Georgia is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 16 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: Georgia -14.5
Series: Georgia leads 1-0
Last meeting: Georgia 45, App State 6, November 9th, 2013
The last time Appalachian opened a season with Georgia on the schedule, not as the opener, but on the schedule, it was Scott Satterfield’s first year as head coach. It has been a quick five years since 2013, and a lot has changed on the mountain. That 2013 squad wanted to finish their final season in the FCS with a 12-0 record despite being ineligible for any sort of post season play due to FBS transition. That dream quickly vanished, as Appalachian had one of their worst seasons in program history. At that point, App was forced to hit the reset and fast forward buttons at the same time. The purpose of the decision to accelerate experience among young players, brought visions of being in this exact scenario in 2017, with a chance to spring an upset, and build what could become a special season. It’s difficult to tell that story quicker. Presumably, two games this season could tell the story of this team, and define how good this Mountaineer squad really can be. One of those opportunities presents itself this weekend in Athens. The Bulldogs are coming off a sub par season, for Georgia standards, but a leap in results is expected now that Kirby Smart is in his second year as head coach. A healthy recruiting class and a boatload of returning talent has the experts thinking Georgia could make a run, but are cautious at the same time placing the the ‘Dawgs in the middle of the polls. Not too high, not too low. They could go anywhere from there, but its the Mountaineers who are looking to move up, and could move in that direction in a big way on Saturday.
Mark Richt could haunt the Mountaineers twice in as many seasons pending the result this weekend. Last year, Richt coached up his alma mater to big a win over Appalachian in Boone. This season, Smart’s alma matar could take most of Richt’s former players and humble the Mountaineers. Could be that Richt’s players are just made to beat Appalachian. Regardless of what happens, Richt has played a heavy part in these games. Richt was run out of town, and yet Georgia gave a Kirby Smart a bit of a leash while the ‘Dawgs regressed in 2016 finishing 4-4 in the SEC East, in a three-way tie with the likes of Tennessee and Kentucky. You know, that same Tennessee team that App pushed around on the opening Thursday night in 2016 despite losing.
Catching Georgia on the opening weekend would seem to give Appalachian a better chance of catching lightning in a bottle. But, that Tennnesee/App game last year could work in Georgia’s favor given the recency of that game. Kirby Smart has mentioned ad nauseum how he was able to watch tape of Appalachian last year while preparing for Tennessee, and spoken highly of how well the Apps played defensively. Smart knows a good defense when he sees one, as he coordinated the Alabama defense for eight years.
With an entire offseason to wander about a teams weakness or strengths, especially this Georgia team that has plenty of them, you won’t read anything groundbreaking before Week One. The “Dawgs have two very good tailbacks who they rotate in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Both could have opted for the NFL draft this past spring, but both were recovering form injuries from the previous season and wanted to improve their stock. Both would have been drafted. Chubb is fifth in active FBS rushing and Michel is 15th. Chubb has more career rushing yards than Todd Gurley, who many of you might be foolishly selecting in your fantasy football drafts. Appalachian’s run defense is no slouch and will be up to the challenge, considering how they contained Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara almost exactly one year ago.
The real question mark of the Georgia offense is what Jacob Eason does to improve off of his freshman season. Constantly harassed last season, Eason was either sacked or threw an interception in every game in 2016. He had a stretch in games two through six, where he threw an interception each week. He was sacked twenty-one times last year and posted four games with passer efficiency ratings under 100. He finished the season completing 55.1% of his passes, good enough for 10th in the SEC. Two Florida quarterbacks finished higher in that category. Needless to say, there is plenty of room for improvement for Eason.
We are all very familiar with the Mountaineer offense. You know about four year starting quarterback Taylor Lamb, and Jalin Moore, who looks to defend his Sun Belt offensive player of year honor in just his junior season. After 731 yards as a freshman, Moore exploded for 1,402 yards last season, giving him 2,133 yards in just just two seasons. You know about the offensive line that has three preseason all-Sun Belt honorees, including Colby Gossett and Beau Nunn on the first team. Last, but not least, Shaedon Meadors returns for his senior season also garnering a first team All Sun Belt honor coming off a forty-five reception campaign last year.
Although most of the fall news revolved around the offense, the Appalachian defense is locked and loaded for another spectacular season. After a season in which they allowed just under 18 points a game, and intercepted twenty passes, this group also returns a lot of talent. The defensive line is loaded with season veterans in Tee Sims, Myquon Stout and Caleb Fuller. Anthony Flory and Rashad Townes will step in for the departed John Law and Kenan Gilchrist. Clifton Duck, AJ Howard and Josh Thomas have also seen significant playing time while on the mountain. A lot of the newcomers, such as Flory and others who will get repetions in the secondary just needed to wait their turn. This Mountaineer defense doesnt rebuild, it simply reloads.
Just about anything and everything that can be said about the first week of college football has been printed or spoken over this long summer stretch. The college game lost a lot of great players last year to the NFL and graduation. This could be one of the more wide-open seasons we have seen in awhile. Nobody knows if Georgia has what it takes to ascend to the top of the SEC or remain in the middle of a crowded SEC. A lot was said about Tennessee last season before the games actually kicked off. The Vols were the potential title contenders. It wasn’t to be. Georgia could make a run, and I hope they do, you know after losing the first one, right? I like the chances the Mountaineers have on Saturday. Georgia likes to be a balanced team, and to extent, so does Appalachian. But both squads have the ability to punish you if they see a weakness. Speaking of weaknesses, I can’t stop thinking about that Georgia offensive line. It’s easily the most glaring going into this game this weekend on both teams. Even this week, the ‘Dawgs have been rotating lineman during practice, in the name “getting guys reps”. Thats good fluff for the media, that I believe translates to this: We’re going to be grading our guys from the first snap, and whoever plays well during the game will get more playing time”. I truly believe Georgia is concerned. Before the season is done Eason is going to need time to throw. Georgia simply can’t ask Chubb and Michel to carry the load all season long. It might be enough this Saturday, but not for the duration of the season. If App wants to be successful, I think they follow a very generic “Tennessee” game script, playing possession football and leaning on their defense. Taylor Lamb is going to need a big day, whether with his legs or his arm, and I don’t have a preference.
The First Pick
Hair of the Dawg 27