Thanks to a famous win over Michigan back in 2007, everyone and their mother knows about Appalachian State, but they are so much more than that one victory. The Mountaineers had consecutive winning seasons from 1994-2012, winning 3 consecutive national championships along the way. Of course, reaching the top is hard, but staying there is nigh on impossible; and when coach Jerry Moore hung up his headset after 24 great years, that reality hit home hard. Offensive coordinator and former quarterback Scott Satterfield took over, inheriting a young team, which led to some predictable results.
The inexperienced squad struggled to a 1-6 start, losing 3 games by a field goal, but not faring well in the other 3 losses. Still, apart from a shellacking at the hands of Georgia, the Mountaineers finished strong, winning 3 games and losing by a TD to Tennessee-Martin. The team certainly did better over the second half of the season, and while the young offense certainly gives plenty to work with, the secondary can hold their heads up after a decent season (Georgia aside).
Then-sophomore Kameron Bryant split time at quarterback with senior Jamal Londry-Jackson for the first 2 games, before finally starting the final 10 games. He still gave up some snaps, but he was the better quarterback. He displayed great accuracy, completing 71.2% of his passes for 2713 yards and 14 TDs, with a mere 4 interceptions. He also added 158 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. Freshman running back Marcus Cox also took over in the third game and had a fantastic season, breaking a number of team records on the way to 1250 yards and 15 TDs, while also catching 43 passes for 559 yards and 6 more scores. Receivers Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington gave Bryant a reliable couple of targets, combining for 142 receptions, 1645 yards and 6 TDs. An experienced offensive line spearheaded the excellent running game, while allowing just 20 sacks.
The good news is, there’s plenty of talent returning, and depth is solid. Bryant is back at quarterback, and will be all the better for his year’s experience. Senior Logan Hallock is on hand should something go wrong, but there’s some decent options waiting in line. Cox will spearhead the running game again, and second-leading rusher Ricky Ferguson (55-215-0) is also back. Don’t be surprised if young bloods Josh Boyd or Terrence Upshaw make a big push for playing time. Leading the way will be a strong offensive line that includes all-conference left tackle Kendall Lamm. This will be one of the most experienced units in the conference. Receiver could be a problem, as both Peacock and Washington have graduated. The Mountaineers aren’t exactly in dire straits though – Malachi Jones and Simms McElfresh combined for 51 receptions, while tight end Barrett Burns could see more action this year. JUCO Montez McGuire should help, while true freshman Nikia Cathey lacks size, but has the open-field running skills to be a dynamic threat in the slot.
The front 7 was a concern last season, giving up 220 yards per game on the ground and mustering just 8 sacks. Defensive end Adam Scott led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss, but tied for the team lead with a mere 2 sacks, while fellow end Deuce Robinson was decent too, sack total aside. Linebacker Karl Anderson was voted 2nd team all-conference, making 113 tackles, breaking up 5 passes and picking off 2 more (1 TD). A pair of freshmen, John Law and Kennan Gilchrist, played regularly alongside Anderson, and both made the conference all-freshman team. The secondary also had a freshman honoree in free safety Alex Gray, but he was suspended indefinitely late in the year. The secondary held up well most of the season, despite the lack of pressure, but there is always the niggling doubt that creeps in when opponents feel no great urge to throw the ball.
Apart from Scott, an admittedly big loss, everyone who contributed on the line last season returns. At least from a run defense perspective, the unit should be a lot better next season. The interior will be tough, assuming last season’s injury woes don’t strike again. Darian Small and reserve Greg Milhouse (both of whom return) were both banged up last season, so former-offensive lineman Tyson Fernandez stepped in and did okay. He’s a huge guy who will only get better. Robinson returns at one end, while big Thomas Bronson will likely start on the other side. None are pass rushers, so the hope is one or both of the incoming freshmen can step up. Anderson is a huge loss at linebacker, as are seniors Michael Frazier and Patrick Blalock, but the experience picked up last season by their young replacements will be invaluable. Senior Brandon McGowan will provide the leadership. The big concern with the linebacker corps is size, but more bulk up front should help out. In the secondary, Gray could be a huge loss should he not return, but corner Rodger Walker will also be missed. Doug Middleton and Kevin Walton split time at strong safety last season, so expect one to take over for Gray. Joel Ross is has started the last 2 years at one corner, while Dante Blackmon should be ready to take over on the other side after playing regularly as a reserve last year.
Drew Stewart was one of the better kickers in the conference last season, hitting 13 of 18 field goals, while punter Bentlee Critcher was voted all-conference, grossing 45.9 yards per punt. Washington was okay as a kick returner, but didn’t provide much on punts. Punt coverage was good, thanks in no small part to Critcher, but the kick coverage was spotty, allowing a TD. The special teams also allowed 4 kicks to blocked.
Stewart is gone, but strong-legged kickoff specialist Zach Matics should be a decent successor, headline-ready surname or not. Critcher will be back to defend his all-conference spot, but a new kick returner needs to be found with Washington gone. Bobo Beathard did okay in spot duty, but the Mountaineers have enough talent to find someone who can shorten the field for the offense. Kick coverage needs to be tightened up, as do the blocking units, but the special teams should be decent.
While the Mountaineers aren’t eligible for the Sun Belt title this year, they are playing their first full league schedule. A couple of years ago, this would have been a more daunting task, but the recent glut of realignment has seen the conference fighting to replace teams snapped up by bigger conferences (i.e. CUSA). Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette should be challenging for the new boys, but the rest of the slate is winnable. There are no slam dunks, but don’t be surprised if the Mountaineers hit 6 or more wins.
Tags: Alex Gray Appalachian State Mountaineers Arizona State Sun Devils Barrett Burns Bentlee Critcher Brandon McGowan Dante Blackmon Darian Small Deuce Robinson Doug Middleton Greg Milhouse Joel Ross John Law Kameron Bryant Kendall Lamm Kennan Gilchrst Kevin Walton Malachi Jones Marcus Cox Montez McGuire Nikia Cathey Simms McElfresh Thomas Bronson Tyson Fernandez Zach Matics