Preview: Appalachian State

Submitted by Ace on August 29th, 2014 at 10:03 AM

As is MGoTradition, I'm writing the preview for the opener instead of Brian, who's probably cackling with glee that he won't be blamed for any potential jinx in recovery from crippling carpal tunnel after typing up tens of thousands of words previewing this season. We'll be on our normal schedule, with Brian taking care of the preview, next week.

"Victory Yosef"Essentials

WHAT Michigan vs Appalachian State
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN Noon Eastern
August 30th, 2014
THE LINE M –34.5
PBP: Beth Mowins
Analyst: Joey Galloway
TICKETS Still available for the low, low price of $27
WEATHER mid to high 80s, windy, possible T-storms, 80% chance of rain

Right: Appalachian State's new alternate logo is very, uh, Appalachian? Also very MS Paint. Also named Victory Yosef, which is just wonderful.


This is not a vintage Jerry Moore, FCS-title-contending Appalachian State squad, for a couple reasons. The legendary Moore is no longer ASU's coach—he retired after the 2012 season and was replaced by former Mountaineer quarterback Scott Satterfield. More importantly, ASU just wasn't very good in 2013, going 4-8 (4-4 Southern Conference) as a member of the FCS and losing 45-6 to a Georgia squad that had lost much of their offensive weaponry.

Now they've joined the Sun Belt, moving up to FBS play, and their radio announcer is looking for them to be competitive... in 2015:

Cripes, I'm deathly afraid to say anything here. You sure you don't want to take this one, Brian? No? Well, here goes nothing...

Run Offense vs ASU

Starting at nose tackle, a small bear.

ASU transitioned to a 3-4 defense last season, and the results weren't pretty up front. The Mountaineers ceded over 220 rushing yards per game at an even 5.0 YPC—and they actually fared marginally better against Georgia (127 yards on 4.2 YPC) than they did against their FCS brethren. Heading into this season they have to replace their most disruptive run defender, DE Adam Scott (NTAS), who led the team with 8.5 TFLs in 2013.

Only two players among the starting front seven on this year's depth chart finished the 2013 season as a starter—DE Deuce Robinson and ILB John Law—and ASU's two leading tacklers are gone. After injuries forced their hand, 330-pound behemoth Tyson Fernandez (pictured above) made a late-season switch from guard to nose tackle, started two of the final four games there, and now sits atop the two-deep (apologies, two-deep).

In addition to lacking experience and production, the front seven is quite undersized for a team running a 3-4 defense. Here are their listed starters up front:

  • DE Deuce Robinson: 6'5", 260 lbs.
  • NT Tyson Fernandez: 6'2", 330 (the obvious exception here)
  • DE Ronald Blair: 6'4", 275
  • OLB Kennan Gilchrist: 6'2", 210
  • ILB John Law: 6'2", 235
  • ILB Brandon McGowan: 6'2", 235
  • OLB Kevin Walton: 6'0" 185 OR OLB Rashaad Townes (6'2", 205)

That is not a large group, especially on the edges—Walton is actually a converted safety. Simply put, if Michigan has trouble establishing the run against these guys, it will be a long season.

Key Matchup: Center Jack Miller vs. Fernandez. While Miller's had his issues executing his assignment, what's held him back most in his college career has been his size/strength. If he can hold up against a 330-pounder, that would ease some concerns about his ability to hold that job once Graham Glasgow returns to action.

[Hit THE JUMP for a totally reasonable prediction accompanied by totally reasonable, paralyzing fear.]

Pass Offense vs ASU

Form tackle.

Again, the offensive line needs to prove its competence here, as ASU recorded just eight sacks as a team last year; the aforementioned Deuce Robinson tied for the team lead with two sacks last season. The guys to watch here may be those undersized outside linebackers, who trade off bulk for speed.

The secondary has some significant question marks. Both cornerback spots have co-starters on the depth chart. A true freshman, two-star athlete AJ Howard, will start at strong safety. Junior Doug Middleton shifts over to free safety after starting the last five games of 2013 at strong safety. For a group that finished 82nd in the FCS in opponent passer efficiency, that much uncertainty is obviously a major concern; Georgia torched them for 441 yards and 3 TDs through the air on 42 attempts in their matchup last season.

Even if ASU's defensive backs prove up to the task of covering Michigan's deep and talented group of receivers, they must find a way to generate something resembling a pass rush if they hope to slow down the Wolverine passing attack. Looking at what's returning up front, that seems like a tall order, but Michigan's offensive line seemed to create new ways to get Devin Gardner killed last season despite boasting two NFL tackles, so who knows?

Key matchup: RT Ben Braden vs. OLB Kennan Gilchrist. When I watched Braden in high school, I thought he struggled a bit against speed rushes off the edge, and those issues have shown up when he's seen the field in various scrimmage formats over the last couple years. Gilchrist is reportedly a speedy pass-rusher type, and while he didn't record a sack last year, he's gained 15 pounds and should be better-equipped to take on offensive tackles this year.

Run Defense vs ASU

While the Mountaineers ran the ball on a little less than half of their snaps last season and gave a decent chunk of those carries to their quarterback, there's no question running back Marcus Cox (above) is the star of this offense. Cox rushed for 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns on 5.1 YPC in 2013 on his way to finishing second in the voting for FCS Freshman of the Year. He's bulked up to 5'10", 200 pounds over the offseason, so he's got the size to run between the tackles if there's room.

That might be a big "if" considering the matchup of Michigan's potentially formidable defensive front against ASU's offensive line. The Mountaineers list co-starters at center, right guard, and right tackle; according to their game notes, ASU's O-line and tight ends have an average size of 6'3", 276 (Michigan's check in at 6'5", 290); senior right guard Alex Acey stands at just 5'11", 270, and he's a co-starter expected to keep guys like Willie Henry from bulling their way into the backfield. I wish him luck.

ASU will probably try to keep Michigan's defensive front honest with some quarterback runs from Kameron Bryant, but they might not be particularly effective. With sacks removed, Bryant averaged around 4 YPC last season and couldn't get anything going on the ground against Georgia—Cox was also bottled up in that game, netting 59 yards on 23 attempts.

Key Matchup: Michigan's DTs vs. ASU's interior line. This is another matchup that U-M should dominate, especially with a bull-strong tackle in Henry going up against interior linemen he straight-up outweighs. Being able to trust the front four to limit ASU's running game could be a major key to slowing down the Mountaineer passing attack, which heavily features short, quick passes, including a lot that go to the running back.

Pass Defense vs ASU

Despite dealing with a lot of injuries up front last season, ASU put together a respectable, effiecient passing game while limiting opponents to just 20 sacks on 437 drop-backs. In fact, Bryant put together a record-setting season, setting the school mark with a 71.2 completion percentage; he also had the most passing yards by a sophomore in school history (2,713) despite not starting until the fifth game of the season.

Bryant must cope with the loss of his top two receivers from 2013, however; no returning wideout cracked 300 yards last season. ASU lists four different starting receiver positions, and they're manned by a group with spectacular names: Malachi Jones, Jaylen Barbour, Bobo Beathard, and Simms McElfresh. SIMMS MCELFRESH. Your argument is invalid.

Out of that group, only Jones (6'2") isn't listed at 5'10", and nobody looks like a viable deep threat—Jones and Beathard both averaged under 10 YPC last season, while McElfresh recorded the longest reception among returning receivers at 39 yards. ASU can get bigger by putting 6'4", 245-pound H-back Drew Bailey out there, but he looks like he's just a blocker with nine career receptions in 26 games. The tight end, Drew Burns, is a decent safety valve who may be underutilized—he had 22 catches for 205 yards and a TD in just nine appearances as the nominal starter at the position.

The dangerman here is Cox, who's the team's leading returning receiver (43 rec., 559 yards, 6 TDs) and most dangerous big-play threat; he does a lot more than just haul in screens. If Greg Mattison gets caught being too aggressive, Cox is the most likely beneficiary.

Key Matchup: Frank Clark vs. ASU's OTs. The Right To Rush Four™ starts with Clark, who still needs to prove that he can consistently get to the quarterback on his own. If Michigan can get a solid rush with their front four, they can keep close tabs on Cox when he slips out of the backfield; if that happens, ASU will have a tough time making any big strikes down the field.

Special Teams

If there's a group that rivals the receivers in Name Of The Year potential, it's the special teams, though they get a boost from the aforementioned Bobo Beathard returning both kickoffs and punts—he averaged 22 yards on seven KRs last year and didn't return a punt.

Zach Matics will handle placekicker duties for the first time after serving as the kickoff specialist last year. Walk-on Bentlee Critcher is the star of this group after a freshman year in which he averaged 45.9 yards per punt; he pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 15 times and had 18 boots of 50+ yards on 51 punts. He must make sure he doesn't outkick his coverage, however, because JABRILL PEPPERS.

Key Matchup: Jabrill Peppers vs. The Crushing Weight Of Expectation.



Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • The offensive line looks like last year's offensive line
  • Michigan can't establish a consistent pass rush
  • Non-Glasgow walk-ons don't get on the field in the fourth quarter

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Derrick Green turns the outside linebackers into a gooey paste
  • Nobody screams around the edge and plants a helmet in Devin Gardner's ribs
  • Willie Henry tallies a sack by literally throwing a guard into the QB


Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for NEVER AGAIN)

Loss will cause me to... openly weep in the press box.

Win will cause me to... shrug, go home.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Michigan has a huge edge in both size and talent, and this time around they should win the coaching matchup, as well. Even with the offensive line being, well, that, the running game better damn well work with a running back who outweighs both starting outside linebackers. As long as the defense doesn't allow Cox to break multiple huge plays, this will be a comfortable win. Please don't kill me.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Michigan rushes for 200 yards. The sky opens. Angels sing.
  • Frank Clark gets two thunderous sacks.
  • At long last, Dennis Norfleet scores a touchdown, some way, somehow.
  • Michigan, 39-11.



August 29th, 2014 at 4:03 PM ^

I think Cole will be fine.

My fear is Miller at C.  You don't run a 3-4 scheme on defense unless you have a tremendous NG who can eat double teams all day long.  You just have to have a beast at NG to run a 3-4.  Moreover, Appalachian State's Tyson Fernandez has prototypical size for a 3-4 NG (6'2", 330). 

Both these facts suggest Miller may be in for a long day.  Sure hope I'm wrong about that. 

Everyone Murders

August 29th, 2014 at 11:16 AM ^

On one hand, I would hate to see Michigan lose to Appalachian State on Saturday because I posted this.  August has been a difficult enough month as it is, so I would hate to see the game be negatively affected by posting this video.

On the other hand, if I can change the outcome of a football game simply by mocking a shockingly bad promotional video on a Michigan blog, think of the other powers I may have!  I only need to harness those powers, and use them for good.

(But yeah, I superstitiously hesitated in posting this video for the reasons you cite.)


August 29th, 2014 at 10:17 AM ^

Request for Special K: "Blinded by the Light" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce

Another runner in the night

Blinded by the light


August 29th, 2014 at 10:21 AM ^

Their RB Cox has also been hurt.  Most likely is not 100%; tore his meniscus.  Probably the one guy on their side of the field to actually worry about. 

Scouting report on QB is he is very "Iowa like" - throws short to mid range with good accuracy, doesn't have much of a deep ball arm.

Man those OLBs are small.


August 29th, 2014 at 10:20 AM ^

There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


August 29th, 2014 at 10:23 AM ^

I just want to see a coherent looking offense with an identity and an ability to make adjustments, if necessary, that make sense. I want to see them utilize their strengths, which I think will be in the passing game this season.

 I want to see a team that is overall more physical than last year’s squad and doesn’t look like they are going through the motions.

I actually think that this a good first test for the new tight, man coverage that the defense will be running. App. St. is your typical spread and shred team that will throw short passes all day. It should be a good opportunity to see if there is a competent pass rush.


August 29th, 2014 at 10:36 AM ^

I don't like the term either.  Plenty of top notch defenses disguise where pressure comes from and bring blitzes from LBs or Ss.  In fact 2011's defense did not have the right to rush 4 and guys like Kovacs would come in on blitzes and cause havoc. 

The idea behind the term is your front 4 is so superduper you don't even have to bother bringing in LBs or Ss to create pressure. 


August 29th, 2014 at 11:08 AM ^

If your front 4 are strong and can generate a rush, you don't have to rely on blitzing to get pressure.  Blitzing is a gamble as there is always an opportunity for the offense if they see it in time.

On a big play, you don't want to have to gamble, you want to have options.  You can always choose to blitz if your front 4 are solid.

Said another way, if your front 4 are not solid, you have to blitz and take risks to get pressure...



August 29th, 2014 at 10:25 AM ^

Sadly I already have a sick adrenaline feeling thinking about this game. Typically my level of detachment from the outcome is sufficient so it does not affect the rest of my Saturday.  I'm not so sure I have that in me this time.


August 29th, 2014 at 10:29 AM ^

We're going to safety ourselves at least once. I thought that for a second myself. Well done.

Seriously, I missed these as they are the true symbolic standard that it's back.

Go Blue!!!


August 29th, 2014 at 10:35 AM ^

App State RB Cox will miss 2 games (knee)                   

App State starting sophomore RB Marcus Cox will miss two games due to a torn meniscus.

                         We are surprised it is only two games. Cox posted a whopping 1250 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns (15 rushing) as a true freshman in 2013. App State opens the season against Michigan, so their attempt to replicate one of the biggest upsets in college football history will now be even more difficult. The Mountaineers moved up to the FBS-level this season.

Monocle Smile

August 29th, 2014 at 10:39 AM ^

They're REALLY going to a 3-4 with THOSE ends? Have fun, dudes.

I'm not extremely worried about Cox. Mattison's party trick is to point out one dude on offense and utterly obliterate him (David Wilson).

Mr. JaCharles …

August 29th, 2014 at 10:56 AM ^

I am ready to watch this game just because M football is back, but this game will definitley not have an impact on the season as a whole, unless obviously something bad happens. I can't believe the last time we played them was 7 years ago. Please just win big and move on,


August 29th, 2014 at 10:56 AM ^

This preview reminded me of the Akron and UConn previews from last year. I just hope we dominate on both sides of the ball and put 2013 behind us where it belongs.

I wish we had more than just weight to go on when comparing offensive and defensive lines. I don't care if one guy weighs 270 and the other weighs 300 if the former can squat 500 pounds while the latter can only squat 350 and has poor pad level. (I obviously know nothing about realistic squat metrics.)


August 29th, 2014 at 11:06 AM ^

Those are good points.  What I am curious to compare was Akron's and UConn's experience in their front 4 or 7 versus App State's.   The key takeaway I took from this rather than weights is App State's front 7 is very inexperienced.  So you can take  an experienced MAC type group of SRs and JRs and throw it against a bunch of first time guards and centers and do ok.  But App State doesnt have that advantage - their front 7 is just about as green as our OL.  I don't recall what the situation was with Akron or UConn in terms of experience.  So while you don't have dead lift ability one can presume a 5th year senior is going to be a lot better at pad level and strength than a 1st year starter as a RS SO.  No matter his "starz" level.

Only two players among the starting front seven on this year's depth chart finished the 2013 season as a starter—DE Deuce Robinson and ILB John Law—and ASU's two leading tacklers are gone.

And while this sounds like the Akron game last year, it also sounds like the CMU game last year which went exactly as planned.


August 29th, 2014 at 11:15 AM ^

Thanks for reminding me about John Law. When I was a kid, we called cops, "Johnny Law."

Yes, this game sounds more like CMU from last year. Will we really learn anything about the team against ND? That's one of those, throw out the records/rivalry games where anything can happen. Miami (NTM) is similar to Akron, I guess, and then we have Utah at home instead of UConn on the road. Minnesota was decent last year, but we blew them out. I think @ Rutgers and the Penn State game are where we really start finding out if this team can contend for the division crown.