Like last year, our preseason opponent preview will go from what we feel is the easiest opponent on the schedule to the toughest. We will feature one opponent per week throughout the summer, leading up to the first game week. To kick things off, the team we feel is the easiest on the schedule also happens to be the first opponent on the schedule, Appalachian State.
|Aug. 30||at Michigan|
|Sept. 20||at Southern Miss|
|Sept. 27||at Georgia Southern|
|Oct. 4||South Alabama|
|Oct. 18||at Troy|
|Nov. 1||Georgia State|
|Nov. 15||at Arkansas State|
|Nov. 22||at Louisiana|
Despite the objections of most Michigan fans, Appalachian State is on Michigan’s schedule once again solely because of what happened seven years ago. Beating the Mountaineers does nothing except bring the all-time head-to-head series to even. Doing the unthinkable — losing — once again, gives opposing fans more ammo, while simply playing the game allows the media to rehash the horror that occurred back in 2007. There’s nothing good about this. But here we are, and the good news is this isn’t the same Appalachian State team.
The team that shocked Michigan in 2007 was a two-time defending FCS national champion and went on to win a third that season. Quarterback Armanti Edwards, who played for the Carolina Panthers from 2010-12, the Cleveland Browns last season, and was just signed by the Chicago Bears, was just the type of quarterback that Michigan defenses under Lloyd Carr could never stop. That team also had a second-round draft pick, receiver Dexter Jackson.
The current version of Appalachian State is far less proven and talented. Jerry Moore, the coach at the time, and is a part 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.
|Position||Name, Yr.||Ht, Wt||2013 Stats|
|QB||Kameron Bryant, Jr.||6’1″, 210||237-333 for 2,713 yds, 14 TD, 4 INT|
|RB||Marcus Cox, So.||5’10″, 185||1,250 yds (5.1 avg), 15 TD|
|WR||Malachi Jones, Jr.||6’1″, 180||31 rec. for 293 yds|
|WR||Tacoi Sumler, Jr.||5’9″, 173|
|WR||Simms McElfresh, Jr.||5’10″, 173||20 rec. for 269 yds, 2 TD|
|TE||Barrett Burns, So.||6’4″, 220||22 rec. for 205 yds, 1 TD|
|LT||Kendall Lamm, Sr.||6’6″, 292||12 starts (30 career starts)|
|LG||Shaq Counts, Jr.||6’2″, 295||12 starts (24 career starts)|
|C||Graham Fisher, Sr.||6’2″, 285||11 starts (28 career starts)|
|RG||Alex Acey, Sr.||5’11″, 268||10 starts (28 career starts)|
|RT||Will Corbin, Sr.||6’6″, 311||11 starts (20 career starts)|
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. Junior Ricky Fergeson was the only other running back over 100 yards with 215 on 55 carries.
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.
|Position||Name, Yr.||Ht, Wt||2013 Stats|
|DE||Ronald Blair, Sr.||6’4″, 275||7 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR|
|NT||Tyson Fernandez, So.||6’2″, 325||14 tackles|
|DE||Deuce Robinson, Sr.||6’5″, 252||45 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF|
|OLB||Rashaad Townes, So.||6’2″, 210||32 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 PBU|
|ILB||Brandon McGowan, Sr.||6’2″, 231||43 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR|
|ILB||John Law, So.||6’0″, 225||71 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 3 INT|
|OLB||Kennan Gilchrist, So.||6’2″, 200||59 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 FF|
|CB||Joel Ross, Sr.||5’10″, 188||56 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF|
|CB||Dante Blackmon, So.||5’11″, 185||15 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 PBU|
|FS||Doug Middleton, Jr.||6’0″, 203||46 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 FF|
|SS||Kevin Walton, Jr.||6’0″, 190||56 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU|
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.
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.
|Position||Name, Yr.||Ht, Wt||2013 Stats|
|PK||Zach Matics, Jr.||6’2″, 186|
|P||Bentlee Critcher, So.||6’1″, 175||45.9 avg, 15 in-20, 5 TB|
|KR||Bobo Beathard, Jr.||5’10″, 191||7 ret, 22.1 avg.|
|PR||Tacoi Sumler, Jr.||5’9″, 173|
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.
Appalachian State joins the big boys this fall as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, which means Michigan doesn’t have the stigma that comes with playing an FCS school this season, even if the Mountaineers won’t be as good as the team that beat Michigan in 2007. It’s going to be a difficult season for Satterfield’s squad, though ASU does still play two FCS foes, Campbell and Liberty. Matching last season’s win total of four should be the goal and anything above that should be considered a success this season.
What it means for Michigan
As mentioned at the top, there’s nothing to gain from this game. Michigan needs to win convincingly and move on to Notre Dame week. ASU will come into the Big House with confidence given what happened the last time, and after watching Akron and UConn hang with the Wolverines last season, they’ll expect to have a chance to win.
Michigan’s rush defense will get a good test with Cox. After holding four of the first six opponents under 100 yards rushing last season, Michigan allowed the final seven to average 183.6 per game, including Ohio State’s 393. The secondary will be tested by Sumler, but shouldn’t have much trouble with the ASU passing game overall. Michigan’s offense should be able to score at will and pound the Mountaineer defense into submission with the rushing duo of Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith. It will be a good tune up for the Irish the following week, but that’s about it.