Mountaineers and Rockets Meet in Montgomery
Tom Mauter, RocketDigest staff writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 11, 2016
If you subscribe to the concept of “follow the money”, the Camellia Bowl has the two most evenly matched teams of any post-season game this season. The December 17th game, with a 5:30 p.m. (ET) game time, will be broadcast on ESPN.
In addition to evenly matched teams, the two head coaches have some close connections.
Appalachian State Head Coach Scott Satterfield has associations with the Toledo Rockets and Coach Candle, having spent the 2009 season as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Toledo. Aaron Opelt was a senior with both Terrance Owens and Austin Danton in their freshman years. That year the Rockets went 3-5 in MAC play and 5-7 overall in Tim Beckman’s first year as head coach. It was Jason Candle’s first year at UT coaching the slot receivers and tight ends. The Rockets were ranked 20th nationally in passing offense and 14th in total offense. The next year, Satterfield was the offensive coordinator for Florida International as they topped the Rockets 34-32 on a 34-yard field goal as time expired in the Little Caesars Bowl. The key play, on a 4th and long, was a hook and ladder pass with T.Y. Hilton getting the first down by the length of the football.
That memory may just be the difference maker in Coach Candle’s second bowl appearance at the Rockets’ head coach.
Mountaineers on Offense
Offensive coordinators Shawn Clark and Frank Ponce do a good job finding kinks in the opposition’s defense, taking advantage of what is given and how best to exploit their advantages.
The Mountaineer offense runs the balls nearly two-thirds of the time. This is a key feature of their ball control philosophy using most of the play clock. Quick strike is rarely used in describing their offensive style. Ball control is much more apt. Turnovers are kept to a minimum. While they have fumbled the ball 17 times, ASU has only lost possession on five fumbles. Quarterback Taylor Lamb has been intercepted eight times, one less than Woodside but on about 100 fewer passes. Lamb is steady completing 62.5% of his throws. He is adept throwing from the pocket and on the move, mostly to his right.
They are averaging about 247 yards of rushing offense and 184 yards passing per game. This is reflecting of their offensive game planning and execution.
App State’s offensive line employs zone blocking moving side-to-side angling to create creases for the running backs to exploit. While not huge as a group, they are athletic and play with energy stretching the defensive front putting pressure on linebackers to fill the gaps, not miss tackles nor arrive late. Similar style of blocking the Rockets faced in the Military Bowl against the Air Force Academy but without the up-back. The OL has done a good job keeping Lamb upright, allowing fifteen sacks.
The last few games, ASU has juggled their offensive line positioning with the lost of a key starter. Still, they have played well with the exception of drawing a few more false starts and holding penalties. Left tackle Parker Collins and right tackle Colby Gossett both earned first team All-Sunbelt honors.
With the junior QB completing his third year as starter, he is well versed in the App State offensive scheme. This season Lamb has developed the ability to run the triple option offense in addition to lots of play action running plays. His running has become more a part of the Mountaineers offense as the season moved along.
The passing game is concentrated on quick reads and throws featuring short to medium range routes. The running backs and tight ends have become more integral to the Mountaineers aerial attack.
The two running backs, Marcus Cox and Jalin Moore, have rotated throughout the year, as Cox missed four games with an injury. Both are healthy and are now playing together, giving them another offensive advantage. They both are averaging more than six-yards a carry and more than 100 yards rushing per game. Cox, ASU’s all time leading rusher, has racked up more than 1,000 yards all three years. He needs 103 yards rushing against the Rockets to reach the millennium figure again. Cox is the better receiver out of the backfield with Moore having more speed. Both tipping in at 205#, neither is an overwhelming power runner but they are solid backs with good vision, quick to hit the running lanes, and are moving north and south upon contact. Picking up the rushing workload with Cox out, Moore earned first team All Conference honors and was offensive player of the year in the Sunbelt. Cox was a second team selection testifying to their excellent play this year.
Lamb does spread the ball around through the air. While he has half a dozen receivers with double-digit catches, by far his favorite target is WR Shaedon Meadors. He has nearly 23% of the team’s receptions and two of Lamb’s 14 touch down passes. At 6’2”, Meadors in the only starting wide out taller than 6’0”. He has a season long best catch of 56 yards and averages 16.2 yards a catch. Tight end Barrett Burns leads the team with three TD grabs as part of his 17 receptions.
WRs Ike Lewis and Jaquil Capel are the other deep threats with a long of 60 and 40 yards respectively. Capel has a second best 24 catches for an average of 11.7 yards while Lewis, on 16 catches, is averaging 13.2 yards. WR Deltron Hopkins is a short-range target netting 6.3 yards per grab on 21 total receptions. He is also used on jet sweeps and reverses from the slot averaging nearly ten yards a carry. His role is somewhat similar to that of the Rockets’ Corey Jones on offense.
Lamb lost most of his receiving corps from last year, which is evident in his drop-off in touchdown passes from 31 to 14 this season. His expanded running has been an added plus for the Mountaineers.
Mountaineers on Defense
Defense is the main act for App State.
They employ a 3-4 alignment with three down linemen and a line backer often at one end or the other in an upright position. They lead the Sun Belt is most defensive stats. Overall they have limited opponents to 17 points per contest this year. The secondary has allowed a whisker more than 200 yards a game while the opponents’ running game has netted less than 126 yards. The Mountaineers are 23rd nationally against the run and 29th in fewest yards allowed passing. Total defense – even better ranking 15th in the country. Red zone defense is better yet, tied for 15th in the nation.
The Mountaineers have allowed 13 rushing touchdowns and just 10 via the pass. They have held opponents to a 33% third down conversion rate and, more impressive, a 22% fourth down conversion success factor.
Helping contain the passing game are the ASU interceptions, twenty, pass break ups, 37, and passes defended, 57. True freshman corner back Clifton Duck leads in all three categories with five picks, eight break ups and 13 defended passes. He earned Sunbelt freshman of the year, and first team All Conference defensive honors. His fellow corner back, senior Mondo Williams also was selected to the Sunbelt first team defense. Williams is second on the team in interceptions, pass defended and break ups.
The play of the rest of the secondary, including reserves, with the exception of strong safety A.J. Howard, drops off significantly. Not helping, reserve corner back Tae Hayes will miss the first half due to a questionable targeting call against the Aggies of New Mexico State.
The defensive line and linebackers are the strength of the defense. As a group, they possess good lateral pursuit. Defensive end Tee Simms (6’3”, 260#) is the leader of the front four with 11.0 TFL and a co-team best 6.0 sacks. DE Desmin Reed also has six sacks and 7.5 TFL. Both earned All-League second team honors.
None of the starters is taller than 6’3” nor weights more than 275#. Just the reserve nose tackle is more than 300# on the ASU two-deep. They are, however, quick and continue to play hard through the whistle.
The strongest part of the Mountaineer defense is the play of the four starting linebackers. ILB Eric Boogs (6’3”, 235#) and OLB Kennan Gilchrist (6’2”, 225#) are one-two in total tackles. Gilchrist leads this group with 11.0 TFL. Boogs and Gilchrist earned second team All Sunbelt defensive honors. Undersized OLB Devan Stringer (5’ 11”, 200#) uses his quickness to record the third highest total tackles. ILB John Law (6’0”, 235#) is sixth in team tackles and leads the linebackers with three passes break-ups and four passes defended.
Mountaineer Special Teams
The strength of the ASU special team play is in the legs of place kicker Michael Rubino and Bentlee Critcher who does double duty on kickoffs and punts.
Rubino is perfect on PATs and very accurate kicking field goals from inside 40 yards. He does have the leg it kick 50 yarders but has yet to convert on a field goal attempt longer than 47 yards missing on six of eight attempts beyond forty yards out. He has, however, connected on five of his last six attempts.
Critcher has been very impressive on kickoffs having just 25 of 70 kickoffs returned with 44 going for touchbacks and only one landing out-of-bounds. His punting has been nearly as good with just 11 of 50 punts being returned. His 40.9 yards per punt average includes seven punts going more than 50 yards, 23 being fair caught and just three going for touchbacks.
Kick coverage has been good with kickoff returns being limited to a long of 41 yards while giving up an average return of 23.6 yards. Of the 11 punts returned by opponents, the long was a 35-yard return and an average of 11.4 yards. ASU field position advantage has been a big asset in limiting the number of punt returns.
Jaquil Capel has been a good punter returner averaging 13.5 yards per punt return with a long of 45-yards. Darryton Evans handles most of the kickoff returns with a long of 41 yards and an average of twenty yards per return.
What To Look For:
- · With Critcher’s strong leg, look for touchbacks on ASU kickoffs - rain may be a slight factor
- · Rockets defense looking to put pressure on Lamb moving him out of the pocket
- · Rain and artificial turf to be a plus for the Rockets’ passing game
- · #28 OLB Devan Stringer on the edge blitz from defensive left side
- · ASU passing game to feature short to mid range patterns
- · QB Lamb to run a few draws with lots of play action run plays and a number of triple options with pitch backs to trailing running backs
- · ASU slot receiver #2 Ike Lewis is be used as short run pass options as well as on sweeps
- · ASU OL to stretch Rockets defensive front vertically to create opening for their running game
- · #85 tight end Burns to be used more in Mountaineers’ passing attack
- · ASU to us two tight end-formation to the outside with WR stacked behind on quick screen
- · Both defenses concentrating on stopping the run – ASU focusing on Hunt; UT containing Lamb
- · Rockets to attack man coverage with deep throws picking on the Mountaineers’ safeties
- · Rockets running hurry up offense to minimize ASU defensive substitutions
- · Third down conversion percentage to be a key game statistic
- · Special team play to be fairly even with an edge to the Rockets
- · ASU to lead at halftime
- · Turnovers to favor the Rockets including at least one interception
- · Fewer penalties on the Mountaineers
- · Cox and Moore in the backfield together, sharing the carries unless one has significantly more success
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