After leading Appalachian State to at least a share of three straight Sun Belt titles, Scott Satterfield has moved on to Louisville. He's replaced by Eli Drinkwitz, the former offensive coordinator at NC State. Drinkwitz may be a rookie head coach, but he inherits a team that's ready to win now.
Previewing Appalachian State's Offense for 2019
The Mountaineers return nine starters on offense, including seven All-Sun Belt players and the league's Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Zac Thomas. Expectations are high for a group loaded with talent and experience, and if they can quickly adjust to a new scheme, they should put one of the nation’s most productive attacks on the field yet again.
How that production manifests is likely to change from App State's run-heavy style of the past. Drinkwitz-led offenses at NC State ranked in the top 20 nationally in pass attempts and in the top 10 in completions over the past two seasons.
After completing 62.6 percent of his attempts for 2,039 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in his first year as a starter, Thomas should become even more efficient this season with all of his top weapons back. Corey Sutton serves as the deep threat, while Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan work the inside. Expect speedster Jalen Virgil to take on a bigger role.
As always, the Mountaineers will have an elite running back leading a talented stable. Darrynton Evans returns after rushing for 1,187 yards and seven TDs behind a line that has four starters back.
Previewing Appalachian State's Defense for 2019
Veteran coach Ted Roof takes over as coordinator of a defense that returns six starters from a group that ranked sixth nationally in total defense last season and fourth in points allowed at 15.5 points per game. Roof is sticking with the 3-4 defense that fueled Appalachian State’s successful transition to FBS, adjusting his philosophy to the personnel he inherited on the App State roster.
Senior Akeem Davis-Gaither led the Mountaineers in tackles with 105 — 10 for a loss — last season, and he will be joined by Jordan Fehr (86 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Noel Cook (75 tackles, 11.5 for a loss) in a linebacking corps that returns three of four starters.
In the secondary, seniors Desmond Franklin and Josh Thomas (four interceptions apiece last season) might have their hands full as App State breaks in two new starting cornerbacks after the departures of first-team selection Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes.
The Mountaineers are plenty experienced up front, but the biggest loss on the entire roster could be nose guard MyQuon Stout, whose 6'1", 280-pound frame left his teammates free to attack.
Previewing Appalachian State's Specialists for 2019
Chandler Staton was 12-of-16 on field goal attempts last season, while Clayton Howell should contend for all-conference honors after averaging 43.6 yards per punt last season. In the return game, Evans has two career kick returns for touchdowns and is always a threat to take one to the house.
Drinkwitz couldn’t have inherited a better situation for his debut as head coach, taking over an experienced roster that will be favored to win the Sun Belt and could challenge for the Group of 5's New Year’s Six bowl bid.
The Mountaineers will be exciting offensively as Drinkwitz adds his own wrinkles, and they should maintain their aggressive edge on defense to help two new corners get up to speed.
The schedule sets up nicely with a winnable game at North Carolina on Sept. 21 and a Nov. 9 date with South Carolina, giving Appalachian State a real opportunity to make noise nationally.
National Ranking: 51
(Top photo courtesy of App State Athletics)