Sports Update: Appalachian State Football Preview (September 4th, 2020) By: Noah Thompson
The reigning Sun Belt and New Orleans Bowl Champions have high expectations to live up to after a historic thirteen win season. The Mountaineers of Appalachian State, arguably the best team in the state of North Carolina, have some challenges ahead of them if they want to repeat the Sun Belt title and make a New Year’s Six bowl game for the first time in program history. Here are the most important things to be on the lookout for during the fall for Appalachian State football.
A New Head Coach. Again.
For the second year in a row, Appalachian State will invest in a first-year head coach. The Mountaineers are going on three years in a row with three different head coaches. After the 2018 SunBelt championship game, Scott Satterfield took the job at Louisville, leaving interim head coach Mark Ivey to win the 2018 New Orleans Bowl for the Mountaineers. The very next season, after the 2019 SunBelt Championship game, Eli Drinkwitz took the Missouri job, leaving Shawn Clark to take the reins as the interim head coach. The week of the 2019 New Orleans Bowl, Appalachian State and Athletic Director Doug Gillan announced Shawn Clark as the next head coach of the Appalachian State Football Team. Clark and the Mountaineers went on to win the 2019 New Orleans Bowl over UAB 31-17.
This time, the head coaching change is different. Shawn Clark, unlike Eli Drinkwitz, comes from within the Appalachian State football program. From 1994 to 1998 Clark played offensive guard blocking for none other than quarterback Scott Satterfield. It’s safe to say that Clark knows the Mountaineer football culture, and it’s even safer to say that he loves Appalachian State. Boone is a true home to the first-year head coach, so it’s a comfortable position and the most ideal situation for Clark. Being the head coach of your alma mater, what could be more ideal?
A Different Defensive Approach
Shawn Clark isn’t the only coaching change that is important. When a coaching change happens, that typically means the entire staff does too. In 2019, Eli Drinkwitz brought in defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Roof was a very popular name that not a ton of Mountaineer fans were thrilled on. Roof runs a three-four defense, something that isn’t typically run with smaller defensive lineman. But, the Mountaineers made it work for the majority of the year.
The new defensive play-caller is Dale Jones, a familiar App State name. Jones started at Appalachian State in 1996 in the Jerry Moore era. Jones hopped around the defensive side of the ball coaching linebackers, defensive line, and special teams. Then, in 2010, he was promoted to defensive coordinator. His time as the defensive coordinator only lasted until 2012, then again in 2018. The following year in 2019, he followed Satterfield to Louisville where he coached linebackers. Shawn Clark bringing him back in 2020 is an interesting idea, considering Jones has had a run at the job before. Jones’ main challenges are the players he lost; former Leading tackler, reigning SunBelt Defensive Player of the Year, team captain, and fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, Akeem Davis-Gather is a huge loss to the defense. Other key players such as Jordan Fehr (Minnesota Vikings signee), Josh Thomas Buffalo Bills signee), Desmond Franklin, Noel Cook, and E.J. Scott were all starters for the Mountaineers Defensive. However, Jones can put his trust into guys who have proven themselves throughout their time at Appalachian State such as Demetrious Taylor, DeMarco Jackson, Elijah Diarrassouba, T.D Roof, Kaiden Smith, Shemar Jean-Charles, Ryan Huff, and Shaun Jolly.
The Quarterback Play of Zac Thomas
The list of accolades goes on for the senior quarterback. It’s hard to argue the talent and production of the Appalachian State offense in 2019, but if there is a team that could be just as good or better, it very well may be this 2020 team. The offense only lost two key players, running back Darrynton Evans and left tackle Victor Johnson. With weapons all around him, Thomas is one of the most hyped-up quarterbacks in all of college football. With 40% of power fives not playing football in the early season, eyes have transitioned from quarterbacks such as Ohio State’s Justin Fields to Appalachian State’s Zac Thomas. Thomas is the bread and butter of the Mountaineers success. His arm talent is there, but he is most dangerous out of the pocket. Thomas was accountable for a career-best thirty-five touchdowns a season ago (twenty-eight passing and seven rushing). Thomas has all of the tools around him to be even more successful than last year. Thomas has a quadruple headed monster lined up behind him with his running back crew in Cam Peoples, Deatrich Harrington, Marcus Williams, and Ben Williams who are experienced and ready to toat the mail. His receiving core now looks a little different with preseason first-team sunbelt and senior wide receiver Corey Sutton has opted out of the 2020 campaign. Sutton was a pivotal force for the Mountaineers before tearing his ACL in 2019. Thomas will have to lean on the production of Thomas Hennigan, Jalen Virgil, and newcomer Christian Horn. Thomas has the offensive line to get the job done as well. Four of the five big men up front are coming back to block for Thomas and company.
Wednesday, October 14th.
The Mountaineers are hungrier than ever and have the schedule to run the table and finally put their name in a New Year's Six Bowl game. One game has kept them from doing so, and that is the long time rivals of Georgia Southern. The past two years the Mountaineers have been a ranked team and unable to stop the triple-option attack of Shai Werts and the Georgia Southern Eagles. This is the schedule to do it for Appalachian State, run the table in their nonconference games against Charlotte, Marshall, and Campbell. The SunBelt hasn’t been a problem for the Mountaineers, except that one team from Statesboro.