MIAMI, Fla. — America’s football fans can’t help but root for Appalachian State to upset the University of Miami on Saturday, Sept. 11 — well, at least the ones who are also fans of country music star Luke Combs, an App State alum and post-game locker room crooner with head coach Shawn Clark.

Certainly, too, App State fans are hoping there is something in a name. After Bryce Young and Alabama dismantled Miami on Sept. 4, 44-13, the Mountaineer faithful harbor hope that quarterback Chase Brice can lead the Boone boys to a similar result.

As impressive as Appalachian State was in dominating ECU, it is still a stretch to compare the Mountaineers to the Crimson Tide powerhouse at this point in the season. That, and as far as opponents go, Miami figures to be a stronger opponent than East Carolina.

It was not so long ago that the Hurricanes and the Mountaineers faced off in Kidd Brewer Stadium. In 2016, Miami scored on their first three offensive drives en route to a dominating, 45-10 shellacking. Those 21 points were all scored in the first quarter.

Back then, Miami was led by a QB Brad Kaaya, who was later drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.

Kaaya turned out to be a better college QB than a pro. The 2014 ACC Rookie of the Year went on to pass for 9,968 yard in three seasons with “The U,” hurling 69 TD passes compared to 24 INTs in his abbreviated collegiate career. Over two years in the NFL, he fell short not only with Detroit (twice), but also in tryouts with the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals.

In 2021, the ‘Canes have yet another high profile quarterback in D’Eriq King, a 2020 graduate transfer from the University of Houston. The Hurricanes think enough of the former Cougar to give him his own webpage, with a menu bar link right alongside “Schedule” and “Roster” and before “ProCanes” — a listing of the 281 Miami players who have been drafted into the NFL — and “Stats” on the Miami football website.

At Houston, King was a Maxwell Award semifinalist and an Earl Campbell Award finalist. This year, he is already on the watchlist for those two awards, as well as the O’Brien Award, the Walter Camp Award, the Manning Award, the CFPA National Performer of the Year Award and the Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Of course, all of the preseason accolades did not help King against Alabama, and that may well be from where Appalachian State takes its cues. Without doubt, the ‘Canes offense seems to revolve around King, so the Mountaineers will need to get after him early and often.

If anything, the Alabama game exposed that Miami’s offensive line does not have the stuff to compete at the highest level of College Football. Now the question that the Hurricanes must answer is whether or not the offensive line can withstand the pressure from one of FBS football’s highest-rated defenses in 2020, with many, if not most, of the App State defensive starters returning. As its performance against East Carolina showed, the Mountaineers pride themselves in overall team speed on the defensive side of the football, especially in its front seven where the down linemen and linebackers are quick to fill lanes of attack.

Offensively, this is not the same Mountaineer team that faced Miami in 2016. Back then, current App State head coach Shawn Clark was offensive line coach for a program that former head coach Scott Satterfield was still developing. App State took nationally ranked Penn State to overtime in 2018, then came back in 2019 to defeat two Power 5 teams on the road, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The current edition of the Mountaineers arguably has a more diverse spread of talent. True to its pedigree, the offense features a strong running back room led by Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel, each of whom ran for more than 100 yards against East Carolina. But the team that went 9-3 in 2020 returns a baker’s dozen in “super seniors,” four of whom are highly regarded playmakers at wide receiver, including Thomas Hennigan, Corey Sutton, Jalen Virgil and Malik Williams.

During his weekly press conference on Sept. 6, Miami head coach Manny Diaz reflected back on the 2016 game, saying it was a great atmosphere in a beautiful setting that might have created some unusual expectations. He emphasized that the Sept. 11 matchup is no different, just different players with different numbers wearing the same uniforms. He also noted that some of the Mountaineers’ super seniors were likely part of that game.

Appalachian’s mostly veteran offensive line will be tested by a Miami defensive line that did very little against the Crimson Tide, so they may be coming into the Sept. 11 game with a chip on their shoulder. Most of the pressure that the Hurricanes were able to apply against Alabama came on blitzes by linebackers and safeties.

App State head coach Shawn Clark summarized his thoughts during his own Sept. 6 press conference by saying, “Coach Diaz has his team playing at a high level. They had a tough loss against Alabama, but looking at their roster and our roster, there is a reason that they are Miami. They are very good... Miami has a lot of great players and some very good coaches on their staff. (Coach Diaz) has done a great job of recruiting Miami... What sticks out to me about Miami is their team speed. I’m sure they are not very happy about the outcome (of the Alabama game) but, when you look at the tape, they have great players on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams. It is that speed that concerns you (as an opposing coach).”

When Miami Has The Ball

The Hurricanes’ offensive line has to move the Mountaineer defenders and create creases for the Miami running backs to exploit. In passing situations, the O-line must give D’Eriq King time to find receivers.

It is hard to say what kind of receiving corps Miami has since the offense did very little against the Crimson Tide. In the first half, Key’Shawn Smith led the Hurricanes with 38 yards gained in four receptions. Against App State’s speedy, opportunistic defense, Miami will need better production from its aerial attack.

From a ground game standpoint, Miami was unable to get much going against Alabama, largely due to uninspired results along the offensive line.

On the other side, App State’s front seven has to be quick to fill the gaps, just as Alabama was able to do. The defensive line must contain the perimeter and put pressure on King to force errors.

When App State Has The Ball

Look for App State to use a balanced attack. Against the Mountaineers, Miami can ill afford to stack the box against runs by Peoples and Noel, especially since Brice has the arm to get the ball into the hands of his deep receiving corps.

With at least one Miami defender out the first half for targeting against Alabama, Brice will look for that weakness. The beneficiary may well be speedsters Virgil or Sutton running deep routes. An effective aerial attack will create more opportunities for the running game featuring Peoples and Noel. A finally healthy Thomas Hennigan is a serious receiving threat both in traffic or running deeper routes, as he demonstrated against East Carolina.

First and foremost, Miami must stop the runs by Peoples and Noel, as well as by Gabe Montgomery and Anderson Castle in relief. Clark indicated after the game against ECU that offensive success against Miami will require more than just his two starting running backs. In passing situations, Miami had the most defensive success against Alabama with blitzes by linebackers and safeties, so Brice may need to be aware of check off, or dump pass options.

During his Sept. 6 press conference, in answering a question about what he fears most about playing App State, Diaz didn’t hesitate in saying, “Their outside zone (rushing offense). They do it extremely well. It is hard to replicate with your scout team in practice. App State runs it very uniquely.”

An outside zone rushing scheme is designed to stress the defense horizontally, asking the running backs to quickly read and exploit any gaps that develop. The name is somewhat deceptive, since the runner rarely gets outside before cutting back to take advantage of a crease or gap that has been created by his offensive linemen.

At the beginning of 2020, Miami’s concerns included the departure of two stalwart defenders, Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche. They were expecting continued development of DLs {span}Jared Harrison-Hunte, Jon Ford, Nesta Jade Silvera and Jordan Miller. Against Alabama, that was not evident so they will be looking to redeem themselves against the Mountaineers.{/span}

It has the makings of a fun game with multiple storylines. One team rebounding from a loss after being dominated. The other wanting to prove that the season opener was not a fluke.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.