LAFAYETTE, La. — Be on the lookout for blood on Oct. 12 when Appalachian State travels to Lafayette, La. for its second Sun Belt Conference game of the 2021 season. This one is against Louisiana, which comes into the contest sporting a 4-1 overall record and 2-0 in the Sun Belt after surviving a second half rally by South Alabama to win 20-18 on Oct. 2.
The Mountaineers will not look past the Ragin’ Cajuns, certainly not when it was Louisiana who put a third blemish on App State’s 2020 record. The 24-21 win by the Cajuns represented the Mountaineers’ only loss at Kidd Brewer Stadium last season.
Add to that, Louisiana will want to prove to the FBS world that they have arrived, permanently, at the same level of program that App State has enjoyed almost from the very start since joining the SBC at the FBS level in 2014.
On paper, App State appears to have the edge offensively and defensively. The Mountaineers’ (4-1,1-0) only loss was a narrow heartbreaker, 25-23, to Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 11, while Louisiana’s only loss was to Texas in their season opener, 38-18. Comparisons are difficult so early in the season with no common opponents by which gauge the teams’ respective performances, but the Mountaineers have dominated in three of their four wins (East Carolina, Elon and Georgia State), won a thriller with character in beating Marshall (31-30) and arguably should have defeated the Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium.
Meanwhile, Louisiana has been anything but consistent. On Oct. 2 against South Alabama, the Ragin’ Cajuns jumped out to a 20-0 second quarter lead before eeking out a 20-18 victory. They barely beat FCS opponent Nicholls State, 27-24, before hard-earned wins against Ohio (49-14) and Georgia Southern (28-20),
When Louisiana Has The Ball
AppState head coach Shawn Clark has repeatedly said that the first goal of the Mountaineer defense is to stop the run and they will need to live up to that mantra against Louisiana.
The Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback is dual threat Levi Lewis – who seems to be on everyone’s QB watch list for post-season recognition. Against South Alabama, which came into the game sporting one of the top rushing defenses in the nation, Lewis joined running backs Chris Smith (redshirt sophomore) and Emani Bailey (freshman) in finding the end zone. Combined with a stout defensive effort, the trio propelled Louisiana out to a 20-0 lead in just the second quarter. Curiously, head coach Billy Napier and his offensive braintrust shifted to more of a passing scheme for the second half and were unable to move the ball, but hung on to survive as the Jaguars rallied.
Both Bailey and Smith, as well as Lewis, appear to be highly capable runners, so the challenge will be on the Mountaineers’ front seven to not only contain Lewis on the perimeter, but also fill gaps in middle. If, with good run defense, the Mountaineers can force Lewis and company into a one-dimensional, “gotta catch up” aerial attack, the Boone quartet in the secondary should prevail.
When App State Has The Ball
Against Georgia State, the Mountaineers showed off their depth at the running back position. Front line rusher Camerun Peoples didn’t play at all and got valuable rest and healing while next man up and SBC rushing leader Nate Noel suffered what Clark described as a “pinkie toe” injury in the second quarter. That gave sophomore and former Watauga High School Star Anderson Castle and freshman Jahmir Smith, as well as senior Gabe Montgomery, opportunities in the second half. Against Louisiana, look for Peoples and Noel to return to leading the Mountaineer rushing attack. The App State offensive line looked good versus a solid Georgia State defense, opening holes and protecting quarterback Chase Brice, who only suffered one sack on the day in passing situations.
Through the air, Brice and his talented receiving corps should be at full strength, including speedster Jalen Virgil who sat out the Georgia State tilt to heal a nagging hamstring. Clark and wide receivers coach Pat Washington said that Virgil was available, but like Peoples, it was decided that a 100 percent Virgil was better than settling for an 80 percent Virgil.
But Virgil’s speed will be only a fraction of Louisiana’s concerns. Malik Williams, Thomas Hennigan and Corey Sutton, all “super seniors” like Virgil, have emerged as Brice’s favorite targets. The graduate student transfer QB is effectively spreading the ball around. Against Georgia State, he showed off the unit’s big play ability with 79-yard TD strike to Sutton that broke open the game early in the second half. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Frank Ponce mixed in shorter gain opportunities through the air with tosses to tight ends Henry Pearson and Miller Gibbs, keeping the Panther defense off-balance. Look for more of the same against Louisiana.
Although Louisiana will have home field advantage, the Mountaineers have proven very capable on the road in decisive wins against East Carolina and Georgia State, as well as its narrow loss to Miami at Hard Rock Stadium. Edge: Appalachian State.