2015 CFB Preview – Appalachian State

    Appalachian State MountaineersGo to Team Page MountaineersGo to Selection Page           All of a sudden, Appalachian State started to show what it might

    July 1, 2015

    Appalachian State
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    All of a sudden, Appalachian State started to show what it might be able to do at the higher level.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    The Mountaineers owned the Southern conference for year after year, winning it seven times in eight seasons from 2005 to 2012 and winning three straight national titles from 2005 to 2007 under head man Jerry Moore. Scott Satterfield took over in 2013, and ASU suffered its first losing season since 1993.

    After beginning the 2014 season 1-5, the Satterfield era got off to a roaring 5-13 start including a loss to Liberty, and then it all started to come together with the offense kicking it into high gear at just the right time.

    Granted, it helped to play Troy and Georgia State, but the Mountaineers dominated Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette on the road, and all of a sudden, they finished off the season on a six-game winning streak and with expectations sky high going into this season.

    So where did it all start to go right? The running game went from good to unstoppable, the run defense turned into a rock, the passing attack got better – the team came together.

    It was a process for ASU to grow into decent Sun Belt squad, and while the depth and talent might not quite be there, it’s improving, and the experience all of a sudden makes this an early favorite for the Sun Belt title with nine starters returning on offense and ten back on D. Satterfield went really, really young over the last two years, and now comes the payoff.

    This is a program that knows winning and knows winning big. This year, it’ll know it again.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: All of a sudden, the offense kicked it into high gear thanks to an outstanding ground attack. Star RB Marcus Cox is back, so the offense has its man to work everything around, and QB Taylor Lamb’s return helps, too. OT Kendall Lamm is done, but the other four starters are back up front to what should be a fantastic ground game, and the receiving corps should be dangerous with three senior starters back in Simms McElfresh, Malachi Jones and Montez McGuire.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: It was hardly a rock of a D, but it was solid in Sun Belt play and did what it needed to do to allow the offense to do its thing over the second half of the season. Ten starters are back on a defense that only loses CB Joel Ross. All-star pass rusher Ronald Blair is back on the defensive line, and the top six tacklers – and 11 of the top 12 – return. John Law returns to patrol the linebacking corps from his spot in the middle, and Kennan Gilchrist and Eric Boggs are back on the outside. The safety tandem of Doug Middleton and A.J. Howard should be solid.

    What to watch for on offense: Get that ground game going from the start. Marcus Cox came into last season as one of the Sun Belt’s top runners, and he didn’t disappoint, but it was when the team as a whole got rolling on the ground that made the big things happen. OSU ran for 200 yard or more in every game but one over the final eight games, managing to get by ULM despite gaining just 104 yards. With a veteran O line, and the experience and talent in the backfield, if ASU can control the clock and control games, everything else seems to open up.

    What to watch for on defense: Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. The Mountaineers got production from a variety of areas and were okay early on, but they turned it up a few notches over the second half of the season. ASU came up with six sacks in the first six games – going 1-5 – and 22 over the final six going 6-0. As long as Ronald Blair is dialed in, the defense should be dangerous again. This young group can move.

    The team will be far better if … ASU owns the turnover margin. The team wasn’t bad overall going a -2 on the year, but that’s because it was +3 in wins over Campbell, Troy and Georgia State. +1 in the blowout loss to Michigan, the Mountaineers ended up losing the turnover battle eight times, going -5 over the last four games and going a combined -5 in losses to South Alabama and Liberty in back-to-back weeks.

    The schedule: The Mountaineers get a needed scrimmage to start the season against Howard, because it gets really tough, really fast. It’s not just playing Clemson the following week, it’s the wear and tear of being away from Boone.

    – It’s on the road for four games in five, and while there’s a week off between Clemson Old Dominion, it’s still a lot of travel.

    – But there’s a payoff. ASU gets three straight key home games in a row, including the make-or-break showdowns against Georgia Southern and Arkansas State.

    – Getting Louisiana-Lafayette at home is also a major plus. It’ll help in a huge way to get a week off before dealing with the Ragin’ Cajuns – the game before is at Idaho 2,000 miles away.

    WATCH OUT FOR: Georgia Southern. It’s not just that ASU has to deal with one of the Sun Belt’s best teams, it’s that the battle comes just five days after the trip to ULM.

    Best offensive player: Junior RB Marcus Cox. If he’s not the best player in the league this year, he’ll be in the team photo. Everyone was keying on him coming off a terrific 2013 season, and he still produced throughout the year. He never wore down and showed great burst game after game, to go along with the production of being a workhorse throughout the season.

    Best defensive player: Junior FS Doug Middleton. An easy argument could be made that pass rushing terror Ronald Blair is the defender that most teams will worry about, but it’s Middleton who controls the secondary and does a little bit of everything after Blair applies the pressure. He has the speed, the skill, and the ball-hawking ability – he has next-level potential with another big year.

    Key player to a successful season: Sophomore OT Beau Nunn. The line that was so fantastic last season in pass protection, and so good at paving the way for Marcus Cox, started three underclassmen but was anchored by left tackle star Kendall Lamm. Nunn got the call on the right side, but he was also the key backup on the left side. Now the 6-4, 290-pounder has to grow up fast, and if he can become dominant at one of the tackle gigs, he should be the key part of the puzzle.

    The season will be a success if … the Mountaineers win the Sun Belt title. With just about everyone back on both sides of the ball, and with so many stars, and with a favorable schedule getting Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State at home, they have to take advantage of all the positives. This is what the program has been building towards over the last few years.

    Key game: Oct. 22 vs. Georgia Southern. The Mountaineers got their doors blown off by the Eagle running game last year, allowing 408 yards and three touchdowns in the 34-14 loss. This time around, ASU gets the game at home in a showdown that should help decide the Sun Belt championship one way or another.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Punt Return Average: Opponents 14.5 yards – Appalachian State 5.4 yards
    – Fourth Quarter Scoring: Appalachian State 117 – Opponents 65
    – Sacks: Appalachian State 28 for 186 yards – Opponents 11 for 46 yards

    Players You Need To Know

    1. RB Marcus Cox, Jr.
    In his first year, Cox took over 2013 offense with a then-school record 215 yards and four scores in the season-ender against Western Carolina. He blew past that twice last year, running for 250 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia State, and 229 yards and two scores against Arkansas State in his all-star season. A workhorse, he ran 255 times for 1,415 yards and 19 scores, getting into the end zone in every game but the loss to South Alabama – held to 16 yards on just eight carries. Extremely quick and versatile, he’s able to handle the workload despite being just 5-10 and 200 pounds – he can take a beating. Fast inside and out, and able to catch the ball more than he did last year – making 43 grabs in 2013 and 16 last year – he’ll once again be the centerpiece of the attack. Sun Belt Player of the Year is an attainable goal.

    2. FS Doug Middleton, Sr.
    The First Team All-Sun Belt performer came up with four interceptions – taking one for a touchdown against Campbell – while making 74 tackles. At 6-0 and 205 pounds he has decent size and the versatility to play either safety spot. Fast, he started out his career at corner before suffering an ankle injury that knocked him out of the 2012 season, and now he’s about to show off for pro scouts. With blazing speed and good instincts to get around the ball, he made ten tackles against Georgia Southern and nine against Arkansas State.

    3. DE Ronald Blair, Sr.
    A top all-around defender up front, he got past a thumb problem and a few off-field issues to make 43 tackles with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss in an all-star season. With 100 tackles and 6.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in his first two seasons he showed tremendous upside, and now he has a chance to become a truly dominant force. With all of his experience to go along with 6-4, 275-pound size, the basics are there, and now he could be a threat for double-digit sacks with all the help around him.

    4. LB John Law, Jr.
    The team’s leading tackler and defensive quarterback at middle linebacker, Law came up with 91 tackles with two sacks and six tackles for loss after making 71 tackles as a freshman. After muscling up a bit over the last few years, he’s now up to 235 pounds on his 6-0 frame, holding up well inside and with the quickness to get behind the line from time to time. A good prospect and great get for the program, he’s always around the play and he has become exactly the player the D needs. Able to crank up the big numbers, he made 16 tackles against Georgia Southern and closed out with 14 against Idaho – he’ll be one of the team’s top three tacklers again.

    5. QB Taylor Lamb, Soph.
    Kameron Bryant appeared to be the main man going into the 2014 season, completing 71% of his throws in 2013 and looking like the right playmaker for the offense, but the 6-2, 200-pound Lamb showed why he was considered such a good prospect following back-to-back Georgia high school championships. While he can run a bit – taking off for 483 yards and four scores – the 6-2, 200-pounder is more of a passer and a pro-style quarterback completing 61% of his passes for 2,381 yards and 17 touchdowns with nine interceptions. While he was a bit up and down, when he was on, the offense was unstoppable completing 71% of his throws against ULM for 276 yards and two scores, and bombing away against Arkansas State and Idaho for several big plays. He has all-star potential now that he has a year of experience.

    6. LB Kennan Gilchrist, Jr.
    The upside is there to become a star getting into the backfield from time to time, but he’s not built for the position. Really a safety playing linebacker, he had to fight to put weight on to get up to 210 pounds, but at 6-2 he has the room to handle a bit more. Really, really fast, he should be more of a pass rusher, but as is he’s a good tackler with a terrific burst making seven tackles against ULM and six against both Georgia Southern and South Alabama.

    7. OG Parker Collins, Jr.
    An all-star at left guard, he’s a blaster of a run blocker with the upside to do even more. Ridiculously strong and built for the left guard position, he’s 6-3, 295 pounds and can bench press a house. While he could move to tackle if needed, he has his spot inside and is needed more for the interior. A good recruit for the program, he has the talent and the skills to be one of the Sun Belt’s best run blockers.

    8. WR Malachi Jones, Sr.
    The team needed him to rise up and become the main man, and while he didn’t lead the team in receptions, he led in receiving yards making 36 catches for 585 yards and three scores. At 6-2 and 210 he has great size and good speed, starting to tear off more big plays last year averaging 16.25 yards per catch as more of a field-stretcher. He’s the dangerous veteran target at the outside X position.

    9. OT Beau Nunn, Soph.
    A good prospect for either the offensive or defensive line, he locked into the offensive side right away and turned into a star at right tackle in his redshirt freshman season. The 6-4, 290-pounder is one of the team’s most versatile and promising linemen, able to play anywhere on the line but center. A future all-star, he’ll eventually be the anchor up front.

    10. RB Terrence Upshaw, Soph.
    While Marcus Cox might have been the star and the main man, Upshaw showed glimpses of the upside that made him one of the team’s top recruits two years ago. A nice part of the rotation, he started out the year with 109 yards on 18 carries against Michigan, and ran for 111 yards against Liberty, finishing up the season with 573 yards and four scores averaging more than five yards per carry. At 5-10 and 200 pounds, he has decent size, great balance, and excellent quickness through the hole.

    Head Coach: Scott Satterfield
    3rd year: 11-13

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    Schedule
    Sept. 5 Howard
    Sept. 12 at Clemson
    Sept. 19 OPEN DATE
    Sept. 26 at Old Dominion
    Oct. 3 Wyoming
    Oct. 10 at Georgia State
    Oct. 17 at ULM
    Oct. 24 Georgia Southern
    Oct. 31 Troy
    Nov. 7 Arkansas State
    Nov. 14 at Idaho
    Nov. 21 OPEN DATE
    Nov. 28 Louisiana
    Dec. 5 at South Alabama
    Ten Best ASU Players
    1. RB Marcus Cox, Jr.
    2. FS Doug Middleton, Sr.
    3. DE Ronald Blair, Sr.
    4. LB John Law, Jr.
    5. QB Taylor Lamb, Soph.
    6. LB Kennan Gilchrist, Jr.
    7. OG Parker Collins, Jr.
    8. WR Malachi Jones, Sr.
    9. OT Beau Nunn, Soph.
    10. RB Terrence Upshaw, Soph.

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