This week I was lucky enough to talk to Tyler Hotz, senior sports reporter for Appalachian State’s student newspaper The Appalachian, about the Bulldogs’ upcoming tilt with the Mountaineers.
MD: My read on The Appalachian State University is that the Mountaineers are a veteran team that knows how to win and Georgia should be utterly terrified of Saturday's matchup. Is there anything you can tell me to put that fear to bed?
Tyler: Appalachian knows how to game plan and compete in every single football game they play in. There aren't many aspects of App's team this year that are glaring weaknesses, but there are some spots that could be exposed by a talented Georgia team. While App State has experience at the quarterback position, their struggles at wide receiver are apparent. The Mountaineers only had one receiver, Shaedon Meadors, who had over 300 yards receiving.
App's passing attack has gained some talented freshman, but there will still be a major learning curve throughout the season. Quarterback Taylor Lamb is also mostly referred to as the cliché "game-manager." He rarely will beat you with his arm down the field, causing App to sometimes get one-dimensional against stiff defenses. For instance, App passed for only 108 yards against Tennessee in last season's opener. If you take out Marcus Cox's 33-yard touchdown reception, Lamb only passed for 75 yards on 14 completions. Even though App had the No. 10 rushing offense in the nation last season, they will need to show balance to keep up with Georgia.
On the defensive side of the ball, App has about as stout as a Group of Five defense as you will see. Big plays, however, can change the tide of a game quickly. In losses against Tennessee, Miami and Troy last year, all teams scored on touchdowns of over 50 yards. Quick scoring drives followed by forcing the Mountaineers to go three-and-out can produce a scoring avalanche that will put App too far behind.
MD: Appalachian State, like Georgia, has had some healthy competition on the offensive line during fall camp. Has Coach Satterfield settled on a starting five? And can that group get a solid push against the Bulldog defensive front?
Tyler: Consistently, Appalachian's front five has been the strongest part of their team (Editor’s note: Egad! What that must be like...). They certainly will be able to hold their own against Georgia's front seven. App has two stalwarts on the offensive line, seniors Beau Nunn and Colby Gossett. Gossett earned First-Team All-Sun Belt honors last season, while Nunn earned Sun Belt honors even with missing a few games due to injury. Nunn will be starting the season at right tackle, but he can "swing" both sides if needed and play left tackle.
Fifth-year transfer Brock Macaulay will back up Nunn and sophomore Victor Johnson will start at left tackle. Replacing star center Parker Collins will be the main concern for the Mountaineers this year on the offensive line, but App will be as strong as ever on the edges of their line.
MD: Appalachian State ranked 16th in the nation in total defense in 2016. Will 2017's defense be better, worse, or comparable?
Tyler: Comparable will probably be the best word here. They lose some star-power with the exit of linebacker Keenan Gilchrist, cornerback Mondo Williams and safety Alex Gray. Even with the exits, App does return a standout player from each position. Senior linebacker Eric Boggs, senior defensive end Antonious Sims and sophomore cornerback Clifton Duck all played key roles last season for the Mountaineers, and they all are prepared to take on leadership roles in the their respective parts of the defense.
Boggs will take over as the leader in the middle of the defense, complementing senior outside linebacker Devan Stringer. Sims tied for sixth in the Sun Belt a season ago in sacks, tallying seven. App's defensive line also returns senior Caleb Fuller and redshirt junior Myquon Stout, both of whom may have had their best games in the season opener against Tennessee a season ago.
To round it out, App had one of the best freshman secondary players in the country last year with Clifton Duck. Duck, named the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, tied for 13th in the nation with five interceptions. Senior safety A.J. Howard also adds a veteran presence to the App State secondary.
MD: Assume the Mountaineers are down by four with five seconds left on the clock at the Bulldog six yard line. Who's getting the ball and how?
Tyler: Inside the five, there is no doubt the ball is going to running back Jalin Moore. Outside of the five, then it gets dicey. App most likely will go to their best receiver, Meadors, in a run-pass option that rolls Taylor Lamb to the right side of the field. Taylor may not look like the best athlete, but he could easily tuck the ball and go for the end zone if there is an opening. Lastly, there is always a chance that App goes for it with Moore running a zone run play to either side. Not many teams trust their run game enough to even consider this, but App has been known to run the ball in non-conventional situations.
MD: Choose your own adventure: What's the question that Georgia writers and fans should be asking about the Mountaineers, but aren't?
Tyler: Wow, this is such an open-ended question but it allows for so many great storylines. The weather is something that the Georgia writers and fans should keep an eye on. The weather can get nasty in Boone during the heart of the football season, and any chance of intense rain plays into App State's favor. Luckily for App, there are chances of heavy rain on Saturday.
The Mountaineers will most likely stick to a strategy of slowly moving the ball down the field with their running game. Last year, App did the same thing during the Tennessee game, controlling the clock and therefore the pace of play. The rougher the weather gets the harder it will be for Georgia to stretch the Mountaineer defense, allowing for App to hold more of the ball and limit the amount of possessions in the game.
Special thanks to Tyler for providing thorough answers to all our questions. Here’s hoping his Mountaineers win every game they play outside of Athens. Until later...