When Appalachian State broke into the Top 25 last year for the first time ever, the Mountaineers tenure there didn’t last long thanks to rival Georgia Southern.
The Eagles knocked Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas out of the game on the first series and intercepted his backups four times en route to a 34-14 upset at home. So, the 20th-ranked Mountaineers need no extra incentive when they host their biggest rival on what is expected to be a rain-soaked Halloween night in Boone, North Carolina.
First-year Mountaineers coach Eli Drinkwitz said he’s received several text messages from Appalachian State alumni this week reminding him of how big the rivalry is, which goes back to when both teams were competing annually for the FCS championship.
Fans from both teams refer to this as “hate week.”
“I understand the rivalry. I get it,” Drinkwitz said.
But Drinkwitz said it’s more important the Mountaineers (7-0, 5-0 Sun Belt) win because the two teams are in the same division in the Sun Belt Conference. An Appalachian State defeat means both teams would have one loss and the Eagles (4-3, 2-1) would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“If we want to get to where we want to go, which is to win the Sun Belt Conference championship and a bowl game with class, integrity and academic excellence, this team stands in our way,” Drinkwitz said. “And I don’t want to make it any bigger than that. I don’t want to make it any less than that. It’s a big game because if we want to win a conference championship, we need to beat these guys.”
Some other things to know when No. 20 Appalachian State hosts Georgia Southern Thursday night:
The Mountaineers defense is allowing just 5.6 points and 202 yards per game over the last three weeks. Appalachian State was particularly dominant last week, holding South Alabama to 139 yards and three points.
“We’ve getting back to the App State defensive way, coming together, playing as one, buying in to the process of playing fast, playing physical and playing hard and doing your job,” senior linebacker Jordan Fehr said. “I love going out there and flying around with the boys. We just have to continue to get better each and every week.”
Fehr has some incentive this week after being ejected from last year’s game against Georgia Southern in the first quarter for targeting.
Georgia Southern runs a triple option offense.
Last year quarterback Shai Werts completed only one pass — a 57-yard TD toss to Darion Anderson — in the win over the Mountaineers. This year the Eagles are averaging 259.8 yards per game on the ground and have run for 14 touchdowns, while throwing for only two.
Werts “can throw it and get on the edge,” Drinkwitz said. “They’ve got two dynamic running backs. Obviously, J.D. King is the transfer from Oklahoma State. They’ve had some injury issues with the offensive line, so I’ve been impressed with the way they’ve been able to still run the ball effectively. I think they rushed for 400 yards last game in a monsoon.”
There is a 100 percent chance of rain Thursday night, so that could play in Georgia Southern’s favor.
WILLIAMS ON THE RUN
Darrynton Evans is the Mountaineers go-to running back, but don’t overlook Marcus Williams who ran for a team-high 94 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries last week against South Alabama. He may have played his way into a more significant role on offense after that performance.
“Marcus was the offensive MVP” last week, Drinkwitz said. “Provided a really nice spark, had two explosive run and the touchdown.”
STREAK ON THE LINE
The Mountaineers have won 13 straight games dating back to last season. The only FBS teams with longer active win streaks are Clemson (23) and Ohio State (14).
Several Georgia Southern’s staff members worked previously at Appalachian State, including head coach Chad Lunsford (App State tight ends, 2001-03), defensive coordinator Scot Sloan (2010-17 in various roles, including co-defensive coordinator), associate head coach/running backs coach Chris Foster (running backs, 2012-14) and strength and conditioning director Matt Greenhalgh (2014-18).
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