It’s finally here. The week we’ve all been both looking forward to and dreading for the past seven months. On one hand, it’s finally game week, which means there are just a few more days until Michigan football gets underway for the 135th time in school history. On the other hand, we have to endure a few days of highlights from that dreadful 2007 game that none of us wants to ever talk about again.
Since we have to talk about Appalachian State, we’ll just focus on this year’s version, which will be playing its first ever game as a member of the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision on Saturday. Do the Mountaineers have a shot to pull off the unthinkable once again? Or will Michigan take care of business, put the past behind them, and move on quickly to the final showdown with Notre Dame? Let’s take a look at how App State fared in 2013 and who they have returning this fall.
|Appalachian State 2013 Statistics & Michigan Comparison|
|ASU | Michigan||Rank||Opponent||Rank|
|Points Per Game||23.6 | 32.2||N/A | 46||28.0| 26.8||N/A | 66|
|Rushing Yards||1,656 | 1,634||2,643 | 1,822|
|Rush Avg. Per Game||138.0 | 125.7||N/A | T102||220.2 | 140.2||N/A | 29|
|Avg. Per Rush||3.9 | 3.3||4.9 | 3.8|
|Passing Yards||3,261 | 3,221||2,163 | 3,007|
|Pass Avg. Per Game||271.8 | 247.8||N/A | 51||180.2 | 231.3||N/A | 51|
|Total Offense||4,917 | 4,855||4,806 | 4,829|
|Total Off Avg. Per Game||409.8 | 373.5||N/A | 86||400.5 | 371.5||N/A | 41|
|Kick Return Average||21.4 | 22.1||N/A | 49||23.5 | 23.3||N/A | 101
|Punt Return Average||3.7 | 6.7||N/A | 89||6.4 | 6.4||N/A | 40
|Avg. Time of Possession||29:22 | 31:17||N/A | 34
||30:38 | 28:38|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||43.0% | 39.0%||N/A | 73
||46.0% | 40.0%||N/A | 65|
|Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards||20-150 | 36-270||N/A | 105
||8-38 | 25-182||N/A | 66
|Touchdowns Scored||35 | 52||44 | 40|
|Field Goals-Attempts||13-18 | 18-25||10-13 | 24-31|
|Red Zone Scores||(32-40) 80% | 48-56 86%||N/A | 43
||(39-49) 80% | (39-45) 87%||N/A | 94|
|Red Zone Touchdowns||(24-40) 60% | 37-56 66%||(31-49) 63% | (24-45) 53%|
Comparing Michigan’s 2013 stats to Appalachian State’s is apples to oranges because the Mountaineers were in FCS last season, and thus, the competition was much different. But then again, App State was playing competition relative to itself, so let’s compare the stats just for the fun of it.
Statistically, Michigan and Appalachian State were pretty similar on offense, although Michigan played one more game. App State finished the season with 22 more rushing yards than Michigan and 40 more passing yards, though the per-game averages are better with 12 games as opposed to 13. The main difference, however, was that Michigan scored 8.6 more points per game. It’s no secret that Michigan had no run game, but App State’s wasn’t much better, averaging 3.9 yards per rush. The Mountaineers converted third downs four percent better than Michigan did and allowed 20 sacks compared to Michigan’s 36. Basically, App State had a slightly better offense, but Michigan’s was more efficient.
Defensively, the two were opposites. Michigan’s rush defense ranked 29th nationally, allowing 140.2 yards per game, but the pass defense gave up 231.3. Conversely, Appalachian State’s rush defense allowed 220.2 rushing yards per game, but just 180.2 passing. Overall, Michigan allowed 23 more total yards in one more game and the Wolverines allowed 1.2 fewer points per game. App State only got to the quarterback eight times all season — less than once per game — while Michigan recorded 25 sacks. Additionally, the Mountaineers allowed opponents to convert third downs 46 percent of the time and score touchdowns 63 percent of the time in the red zone.
Obviously, looking at last season’s stats only tells a small part of the story and doesn’t weigh heavily into this season’s forecast, so let’s take a look at how much of that production is returning compared to how much was lost.
|Passing Yards (QB only)|
|Kameron Bryant||2,713||Jamal Londry-Jackson||548|
|Rushing (RB/QB only)|
|Marcus Cox||1,250||Jamal Londry-Jackson (QB)||23|
|Ricky Ferguson||215||Rommel Andre||13|
|Kameron Bryant (QB)||158||Paul Magloire||9|
|Logan Hallock (QB)||-3|
|Marcus Cox (RB)||559||Andrew Peacock||706|
|Malachi Jones||293||Tony Washington||939|
|Barrett Burns (TE)||205||Sean Price||237|
|Simms McElfresh||269||Jacob McCann (TE)||7|
|Ricky Ferguson (RB)||30|
|Kameron Bryant (QB)||-12|
|Marcus Cox (RB)||126||Drew Stewart (K)||71|
|Kameron Bryant (QB)||18||Tony Washington (WR)||24|
|Simms McElfresh (WR)||14||Andrew Peacock (WR)||12|
|Barrett Burns (TE)||6||Sean Price (WR)||6|
|Karl Anderson (LB)||6|
The majority of the production from Appalachian State’s backfield is returning, most notably quarterback Kameron Bryant, who completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 2,713 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions, and running back Marcus Cox, who rushed for 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry. Those are good pieces to build around and the entire offensive line is back as well, bringing 130 career starts to the table. But like Michigan, more than half of last season’s receiving production is gone, including the top to receivers, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington. In fact, the top returning pass-catcher is Cox, a running back.
Given that information, it appears that Michigan’s game plan will be to load the box to shut down the run game and force Bryant to try to test their secondary with a group of unproven and inexperienced receivers. That’s a pretty good opportunity for Jabrill Peppers to make his mark on his first career game.
Defensively, Appalachian State returns a good amount of experience, but does have to replace their leading tackler, linebacker Karl Anderson, whose 113 tackles were 40 more than the next-best. The two returning linebackers, John Law and Kennan Gilchrist, were true freshmen last season and combined for 130 tackles, 6.5 for loss, one sack, three interceptions, and a fumble recovery. The line also returns most of its production except for end Adam Scott, who led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. The secondary lost its top tackler, free safety Alex Gray, but returns three other starters.
Like the offense, App State’s defense was very young last season and will benefit from a year of experience. But the rush defense was so bad last year that considerable improvement will need to be made, and that’s a lot to ask in the season opener. In fact, only nine teams in all of FCS had fewer passes attempted against them, which is why ASU’s pass defense looked so good on paper.
As we saw with Central Michigan in last year’s opener, the success Michigan has against an inferior opponent has little to do with the rest of the season. But App State’s poor rush defense will allow Michigan’s offensive line to tune up and try to make a statement with the running game. Like the game in general, if it works, there will be nothing more than a pat on the back and move on to Notre Dame. If Michigan’s running game struggles, however, there will be plenty of cause for concern about the rest of the season.
Stay tuned for further game coverage as the week goes on, including our full game preview on Friday.