With Ohio riding a three-game win streak and Appalachian State in its first bowl game as an FBS program (first year of eligibility), there's a lot of excitement heading into the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. Get amped. We are. And we know Underdog Dynasty is too. So we grabbed up Thomas Sherrill of Underdog Dynasty to give us the low-down on the Mountaineers.
HB: Appalachian State is in its first ever bowl game in its second season as an FBS program. How palpable is the excitement around this program? Or is it a "no big deal" kind of feeling considering the Mountaineers' history?
UD: This is a big deal for App fans. The initial ticket allotment has already sold out and there's a number of different events going on around Montgomery from Thursday on. There hasn't been any postseason since 2012 due to the FBS transition period and no destination postseason game since the 2007 FCS National Championship, so yes, this is a big deal among App fans.
HB: Last year may have been an adjustment period to the D-1 level, but it finished the season on an awesome run of six straight wins. In 2015, App St. shined even brighter and finished 10-2, losing just one game in conference play. What is it about this program that has helped it to hardly skip a beat over the last two years?
UD: When Jerry Moore was forced to step down after the 2012 season and top assistant Scott Satterfield took over, it was rocky at first. Just four months after that change, the FBS move was announced in March 2013. Since it was after signing day, App only had one recruiting class before moving to FBS.From March 2013 to this season, it was all about building an FBS-ready program. That process was really rough at first, going 4-8 in 2013 against FCS foes and starting 1-5 in 2014, but things came together and have won 16 of their last 18 games.
The big thing to survive the transition was staying the course. Even I questioned the process at time during the rough times, but it's paid off. Satterfield had a vision for the program, made some key staff hires, incluiding in Strength and Conditioning, and is seeing his vision come to life.
HB: What can you say about the identity of this App St. team in 2015? Are they any different than in past years, and what would a casual Ohio fan or MAC fan be interested in knowing about them?
UD: Satterfield said before the season App is a run-first team and he meant it. The passing game is there, but the run game out of the pistol set is the bread and butter. Fun fact in that App has more receivers catch a pass (21) than any other team in FBS this season.
Defensively, App State has had one of the best defenses statistically in all FBS this season. They lead the nation in red zone defense at 62.5% and Top 20 nationally in many defensive categories.
HB: The App St. offense is measurably better than Ohio's in many ways. App State has not scored less than 27 points in a game this year outside the Clemson loss. Is there a situation where you can envision that happening in the Camelia Bowl? What does Ohio have to do defensively to stop the Mountaineer attack? Tell us a bit about the strong points of the App St. offense.
UD: The zone-read has been massively effective this season with an H-Back leading the way. It's an old-school throwback, but it works. You have 1,000-yard rusher Marcus Cox leading the way, but the emergence of true freshman Jalin Moore late in the season adds a second dimension to the run game. Also, quarterback Taylor Lamb is a sneaky-good runner.
Passing, Lamb will spread the ball out to a number of receivers. So the loss of leading receiver Shaedon Meadors for the season wasn't debilitating. Seniors Malachi Jones (brother of the Lions' TJ Jones), Bobo Beathard and Simms McElfresh (I dare you to give me a better-named WR trio) will see most of the throws. And watch out for the tight end pass in the red zone.
HB: Ohio has ran for around an average of 300 yards per game over its last four times out. I know that Appalachian State surrenders under 20 points per game. What do you feel like the defensive philosophy is for the Mountaineers to stop Ohio on the ground?
UD: App State runs out of a base 3-4. The basic idea is for the nose tackle to command a double team and have the linebackers close the gaps. The Mountaineers held Georgia Southern, the top rushing team in FBS at 355 YPG, to 188 yards in their Thursday night showdown.I feel like the App defensive staff will be confident going in. The only team to effectively run on the Mountaineers was Arkansas State with their read option. Even Clemson had troubles on the ground versus App State (144 rushing yards) and had to exploit the mismatches on the secondary to score points.You'll hear names like Eric Boggs, Devan Stringer (he has the hair) and Ronald Blair several times making tackles. You'll see Blair on Sundays next fall.
HB: There has to be a hunger about this program having not been able to play postseason ball over the last two years due to the transition to D-1. Is it measurable? Are coaches and players having a lot to say about it?
UD: If the excitement was convertable to gasoline, you could fly a spaceship to Pluto. The seniors on the team came to App to win an FCS National Title, but then had to endure two years of transition and now get their chance to show out. But you're not gonna hear anything besides coach speak from the coaches and players leading up to the game. Not the most quote-able team ever.
HB: Do you have a prediction? An inkling?
UD: The big negative going in is that we've never been here before. Going to a city several days beforehand, doing to parades, pep rallies, community events, etc before a game is all new to these players.So really, I have no idea. It's gonna be one of those games where I'll get a feeling one way or another seeing the team run out of the tunnel.