Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (7-4, 4-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, December 23th, 2020 6:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Paulson Stadium

Capacity: 25,000

Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 73.53

Georgia Southern: 65.35

Home: 0.84

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 7.34 points

Line: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 18-15-1

Last Meeting: Georgia Southern 24, App State 21, Boone, NC October 31, 2019

Another week has passed and this football season, now nearly halfway through December is still in its regular season. Two rivals will tee it up in a game that is for nothing but bragging rights and pride. Maybe that is a good way to end the oddest college football season of our time. Nothing else to think about besides beating the other guys. The same guys who have stolen the last two games due to unforeseen circumstances. The guys who have who ripped the national ranking right out from under us for consecutive seasons. Both teams are limping to the finish for several reasons but it’s going to take more than a couple bumps and bruises to keep any athlete off the field for an App-Southern game. Players have been chirping off to the media all week leading up to this installment, and certainly that will carry over between the lines. A classic game could be in the making. Tune in either way because what is supposed to happen in this series, rarely does.

Way back before we had any inclination how wild this college football season was going to be, Georgia Southern and App State had both scheduled Campbell as one of their opening games after a series of cancellations. For the Eagles, it was their opener, played on September 12th. App State played the Camels two weeks later. Campbell gave the Eagles a lot of problems, but it was a game that Southern won 27-26 after being down thirty-three players for “various reasons”. Southern led that game for six minutes and forty-two seconds. Close games eventually became the prevailing theme for the Eagles’ season. Eight games have been decided by one score or less. The games that were more lopsided included a two touchdown loss to Coastal Carolina, and more one-sided wins over UMass (41-0) and Florida Atlantic, (20-3) which was played last week. That broke a two game losing streak that included losses to Army by one and Georgia State by six. It’s been an up and down season for Southern, and with each passing game, most became more confused as to what this Eagle team was made of.

For a good majority of the season, Georgia Southern’s offense went through Shai Werts, JD King, and Wesley Kennedy III. Werts is the fourth-year starting quarterback that is the heart and soul of the Eagle squad. In the game against Army, a one point loss, Werts injured his right throwing shoulder and did not finish the game. Werts went on to play against Georgia State, but split time with redshirt sophomore Justin Tomlin. Werts ran the ball eleven times in that game and completed four of his seven passes. However, it was Tomlin who took all the snaps last week against Florida Atlantic while Werts rested. Coach Chad Lunsford has been careful with his comments about Werts’ health, first saying he maybe should have not played Werts against Georgia State, and early this week saying Werts may not play on Saturday. Read into that what you will, but expect to see him suited up. JD King played only seven games before he was lost for the season due to an injury, yet he still remains second on the team in rushing this season. Wesley Kennedy III played in eight games and ran for 447 yards and six touchdowns before he was pinched by local law enforcement for various drug and weapons charges.

The names change, and sometimes they do not, but Georgia Southern remains the same. They continue to rely on a ground attack that they hope leads to copious amounts of possession that leads to a fresh defense that can take advantage of teams that have to get out of their typical comfort zone on offense. That recipe has has worked well for a really long time and despite being without a super explosive offense, the Eagles are possessing the ball for nearly 34 minutes a game this season. However, Southern is only scoring 26.36 points a game this year, which is down from 2019 when they scored 28.15 a contest. In 2018, the Eagles averaged just over 30 points per game. Goes to show, you can be a team with a bunch of returners, but be caught by a pandemic and injury issues and everything kind of slides downhill. Sounds a little bit like a team we know. But, what has kept Southern’s head above the ditch water is a defense that is more than holding its own. Given the offensive struggles, the Eagle defense is allowing just 21.2 points per game, the fewest rushing yards and yards per carry in the conference and are second in the conference with 13 interceptions.

The Mountaineers did just about everything they were supposed to do last weekend. They had better offense, better defense, time of possession and so on. The problem is that they gave Louisiana too many short fields. After everything that happened, both coaches made critical mistakes at important times of the game. And even as poorly as the Mountaineers played at those important moments, they were still in the game in the fourth quarter. The theme in the three losses have been turnovers, and lack of second half scoring. Usually that goes hand in hand. This weekend, App State is going to have to figure out how to come out of the locker room and execute like they typically do in the first half. The third quarter is the one where App State has scored the fewest all season long, and allowed the most, yet still holding an eleven point advantage over the course of the season. The Mountaineers have been strong out of the gates this season, and that will be the key to beating Georgia Southern. Starting fast and keeping the Eagles out of their comfort zone on offense.

The matchup this weekend will be the first of its kind for App State and Georgia Southern in Sun Belt and FBS play. We are playing on a Saturday. It’s the day these games are supposed to be played. The hard part will be keeping it that way going forward. The Sun Belt has not experienced its best rivalry on the weekend, and its long overdue. The last time App and Southern played on a Saturday was in 2013, when App State dismantled Southern by a score of 38-14. That was one of the few bright spots for the Mountaineers that season. Without question, a win by either side will provide a bright spot for both programs in 2020, a year that many want to put behind them. A Southern win would make it the third time in this rivalry’s history that the Eagles have won three games in a row. The last time it occurred was when App State lost four games consecutively across the 2000-2002 seasons. App and Southern met in the playoffs in 2001. One part of this game that will be similar, is that it will be played in the evening, with a sunset kickoff that will resemble the primetime kickoff that was scheduled before the game was postponed back in October. On to the game. It was surprising to see Southern let go of their offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse of two plus years, but the lack of points that was referenced above is probably the reason. If anything, DeBesse was in a no-win spot in Statesboro as the natives get restless really quickly. DeBesse was relieved after not being able to hold onto an eleven point fourth quarter lead in their loss to Georgia State. Notice how the offensive coordinator got fired, and not a defensive coach. Regardless, Southern got a 20-3 win last week, but only one offensive touchdown was scored in that win. Seems the struggles will continue for Southern as they enter their last game of the regular season. For App State, they have what it takes to win this game, the question is just which App State team shows up. The Mountaineers offense has struggled against above average defenses all season, and that is exactly how one should categorize Southern. They are good enough to win too, but not good enough to maintain separation from App State without some help. Both defenses are good enough to keep this game in the twenties, and the team with the fewest turnovers will win.

The First Pick

The Stink 20

Mountaineers 24

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