The last — and only — time Appalachian State visited the Big House, the Mountaineers gained a lot of new fans from Columbus and East Lansing. Michigan fans would love to forget that day ever happened, but thanks to tomorrow’s rematch we all get to talk about it yet again. After tomorrow, unless lightning strikes twice, we can all move on to bigger and better things, but for now the focus is on App State.
|Michigan Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – ESPN2
|Appalachian St. Head Coach:
||Scott Satterfield (2nd season)
||4-8 (all at App State)
||Dwayne Ledford (2nd season)
Frank Ponce (2nd season)
||Nate Woody (2nd season)
||16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
||4-8 (4-4 SoCon)
||ASU 34 – UM 32 (2007)
||App State leads 1-0
|Record in Ann Arbor:
||App State leads 1-0
|Michigan vs Sun Belt Conf:
||0-0 (First meeting)
|Michigan in season openers:
Raise your hand if you’re excited about this rematch. Anyone? The only positive of playing this game is bringing the all-time series out of the red — a rare position for a Michigan opponent. Appalachian State is one of just 14 current Division 1 opponents with a winning record against Michigan. Only two of those 14 — Cornell (12-6) and USC (6-4) — have more than a one-game lead over the Wolverines all-time. Beating App State tomorrow would eliminate one of the 14, and while that may not seem like a big deal, it means something because of our classic Michigan arrogance. Another one of those can be eliminated next season when Michigan hosts Brigham Young.
That 2007 game of which we don’t want to discuss marked the beginning of the fall for Michigan, and while no one could have seen it coming, it took a disgustingly perfect confluence of events. That App State team was an FCS powerhouse, beginning a third-straight FCS championship run with the type of explosive quarterback Lloyd Carr defenses could never stop.
The current version of Appalachian State is far less proven and talented as it makes the transfer to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. Jerry Moore, the coach at the time, and a member of this year’s College Football Hall of Fame class, has since retired. The Mountaineers are coming off of a 4-8 season in which they ranked 76th in FCS in scoring offense (23.6 points per game) and 69th in scoring defense (28 points per game). Two of those wins came against Elon and Western Carolina, which had a combined record of 4-20, and 2-14 in the Southern Conference. Sixteen starters do return, but as App State makes the move to FBS this fall, the talent isn’t where it was seven years ago. Let’s take a look at the Mountaineers.
Michigan defense vs Appalachian State offense: When Appalachian State has the ball
If healthy, Marcus Cox will be a good early test for Michigan’s run defense (Keith Cline, Appalachian State Athletics)
Eight starters are back, including the quarterback, a breakout running back, and the entire offensive line. But head coach Scott Satterfield needs to find replacements for his top two receivers, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington, who combined for 142 catches for 1,645 yards, and six touchdowns.
The leading returning true receiver is Malachi Jones, who caught 31 passes for 293 yards. The only other returning receivers that caught a pass are a pair of all-name contenders, Simms McElfresh (20 for 269 and two touchdowns) and Bobo Beathard (three for 28). Tight end Barrett Burns is also back after catching 22 passes for 205 yards and a score last season. One player to watch is former four-star recruit Tacoi Sumler, who started his career at Oregon before transferring to ASU in 2012. He was ranked as the 11th-best receiver in the 2011 class and redshirted in his only season at Oregon. He played some in 2012, but missed last season with a knee injury.
Running back Marcus Cox is the leading returning receiver in terms of receptions (43), yards (559), and touchdowns (six). He also led the team with 1,250 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. To top it all off, the 5’10″, 180-pound Dacula, Ga. native was just a true freshman. He has been hampered by a knee injury, but should be ready to go. If he’s not up to full speed, look for junior Ricky Fergeson, who was the only other running back over 100 yards last season, with 215 on 55 carries, to carry the load.
Quarterback Kameron Bryant had a solid sophomore campaign, completing 71.2 percent of his passes for 2,713 yards and 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions in eight starts. He also scored three rushing touchdowns, though he’s nowhere near the runner Edwards was. The job is his full-time after the graduation of Jamal Londry-Jackson, who started the other four games a year ago.
The offensive line has 143 career starts between the eight returning linemen, including left tackle Kendall Lamm, a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2013.
Michigan offense vs Appalachian State defense: When Michigan has the ball
In addition to giving up 28 points per game, Appalachian State’s defense allowed 220.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked 105th nationally in FCS, and an average of 4.9 yard per rush. The pass defense was much better — 17th nationally — with an average of 180.2 yards allowed. But, because the rush defense was so porous, opposing offenses didn’t need to throw very much, attempting an average of 24 passes per game. In fact, only nine teams in FCS had fewer passes attempted against them, and three of those were in fewer games played.
Just like the offense, eight starters return. Leading tackler, linebacker Karl Anderson, who tallied 113 tackles — 40 more than the next best — is gone. But two other starting linebackers are back. John Law and Kennan Gilchrist combined for 130 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, three interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery as true freshmen.
Defensive end Deuce Robinson led App State with seven tackles for loss last season (Keith Cline, Appalachian State Athletics)
Along the defensive line, virtually everyone is back return with the exception of end Adam Scott. Senior defensive end Deuce Robinson and junior end Thomas Bronson combined for 51 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles, but Scott, who graduated, led the team with 8.5 tackles-for-loss. The Mountaineers recorded just eight sacks all season, so getting to the quarterback will be a big area for improvement. There are plenty of bodies back on the interior, most notably 6’2″, 325-pound nose tackle Tyson Fernandez.
Free safety Alex Gray, who led the secondary with 73 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, and is the only member of the secondary to record a sack, is gone. Two other safeties, Doug Middleton and Kevin Walton are back, however. The pair combined for 102 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, and three interceptions. Cornerback Joel Ross, who started nine games in 2013, is also back, as is Dante Blackmon, who started six. In addition, ASU received a junior college transfer, Jordan Ford, from Monroe College (N.Y.) who should factor into the discussion.
The other third: Special teams
Field goal kicker Drew Stewart has moved on, but junior Zach Matics had a good spring and is in line to win the job. Sophomore punter Bentlee Critcher ranked second in FCS with a 45.9 average. He also downed 15-of-51 (29.4 percent) inside the 20, compared to just five touchbacks, and booted 18 over 50 yards. ASU must replace main kick returner Tony Washington, but Beathard averaged 22.1 yards on seven returns last season. Washington also handled punt return duties, so that role will need to be filled. Sumler should factor into the return game if he’s fully recovered from his knee injury.
Maize and Go Blue wasn’t around back in 2007, but if it would have been, we would have predicted a big Michigan win, because at the time, who wouldn’t? This time around we’re still going to predict a big Michigan win. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will want to flex his muscles a bit and get the offense rolling. And while tomorrow’s performance won’t really prove anything for the rest of the season, it will be important to develop some confidence with the offensive line, get Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith going on the ground, and find some chemistry between Devin Gardner and his talented but largely unproven receiving corps. Opposing offenses ran at will on Appalachian State and Michigan will do the same.
Defensively, Michigan will focus on shutting down Cox and the Mountaineer running game, forcing Bryant to try to make big plays with his arm. He’s certainly capable of doing so, but without his top two receivers from last season, Michigan’s secondary could be in for a big day. It will also be the first look at Greg Mattison’s new aggressive defense. Look for the line to put plenty of pressure on Bryant and force several turnovers.
Just like last year’s season opener against Central Michigan, look for Shane Morris and the second team to play much of the fourth quarter as Michigan takes care of business and moves on to Notre Dame.
Michigan 52 – Appalachian State 10