Appalachian State is on its third coach in three years, but the main goal or expectation for 2020 isn't going to change. New coach Shawn Clark - a former Appalachian State offensive lineman - takes over at his alma mater after Scott Satterfield and Eli Drinkwitz led the team to 24 wins and back-to-back Sun Belt titles over the last two years. Provided there's a smooth transition to Clark, the Mountaineers are primed for another run at the conference title and a spot in the top 25. Zac Thomas is the Sun Belt's best quarterback, and there's no shortage of talent at the skill positions and in the trenches. A defense that limited teams to just 20 points a game last fall returns just four starters but should still rank near the top of the conference. Appalachian State has tough road trips to Wake Forest and Wisconsin on tap, but Louisiana - its biggest competition in the conference - comes to Boone on Oct. 7.
Previewing Appalachian State's Offense for 2020
Since first-year head coach Shawn Clark led the App State offensive line in the mid-’90s, the Mountaineers have leaned on the run to fuel their success.
They’ll certainly do that again this season, as Marcus Williams Jr., Daetrich Harrington and Camerun Peoples all have the skills to give the program its ninth straight season with a 1,000-yard rusher, but this App State team will be plenty effective in the air thanks to third-year starting quarterback Zac Thomas.
Thomas, who completed 62.7 percent of his attempts for 2,718 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2019, has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, led by big-play receiver Corey Sutton (41 rec., 601 yards, seven TDs) and the sure-handed Thomas Hennigan (61 rec., 773 yards, six TDs).
A major reason for App State’s success lies up front, where the offensive line has helped the Mountaineers average a national ranking of 13.6 in rushing and 11.8 in sacks allowed over the past five seasons.
Four starters are back in that group, including first-team All-Sun Belt center Noah Hannon and second-teamers Cooper Hodges and Baer Hunter.
Previewing Appalachian State's Defense for 2020
After ranking 26th in total defense in 2019, the Mountaineers return several stars while also losing a few. First, the challenges: No matter how much talent is in the pipeline, there’s going to be an adjustment period when a team loses five of its top six tacklers. It’s even more magnified when that group includes linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither and both starting safeties.
The good news? One-man wrecking crew Demetrius Taylor (seven sacks, eight QBHs, three FFs) is back to anchor a strong unit up front that also features George Blackstock and Caleb Spurlin, who are capable of causing their own havoc in the backfield.
On the back end, first-team All-Sun Belt corner Shaun Jolly (five INTs, eight PBUs) can effectively take a receiver out of the gameplan, while Shemar Jean-Charles is rock-solid on the other side.
D’Marco Jackson (60 tackles, 3.0 sacks) is a sure thing at linebacker, while the rest of the group has talent but no superstars. Expect a deep rotation with contributors like Tim Frizzell and Nick Hampton.
Previewing Appalachian State's Specialists for 2020
The Mountaineers have continuity in the kicking game with senior punter Xavier Subotsch (42.7 yard average in 2019) and kicker Chandler Staton, who has made 31-of-40 field-goal attempts in his career. The speedy Jalen Virgil will get a shot as a kick returner and has a chance to make a difference, while Hennigan is always good for positive yardage as a punt returner.
The faces change, but the product remains the same: Appalachian State pounds the run with its zone blocking scheme, the defense locks opponents up when it matters and the Mountaineers win championships. This year should be no different for Clark — the program’s third coach in three seasons — whose hire injected even more energy into a passionate fan base.
Clark will have a chance to make an immediate statement with road games at Wake Forest and Wisconsin, giving the Mountaineers an opportunity to get on the national radar. If the defense can quickly get up to speed, the Mountaineers have a chance to battle for the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six bowl bid.
National Ranking: 42
(Top photo courtesy of App State Athletics)