The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers will host the Appalachian State Mountaineers inside Brooks Stadium on Thursday night for a pivotal Sun Belt East rivalry matchup.
Appalachian State returned to action this past Saturday following a 10-day break to knock off FCS Robert Morris 42-3. It was the Mountaineers' second straight win in blowout fashion, helping them improve to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in conference play. They will now hit the road for an all-important Sun Belt East showdown, with a golden opportunity to make up a little ground on division leader and foe, Coastal Carolina.
Coastal Carolina rebounded nicely from its shocking upset loss to Old Dominion with a 24-13 win over Marshall on the road last Saturday. Now 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Sun Belt, the Chanticleers still control their own destiny, sitting alone atop the SBC East standings. However, there are five teams in the division with two conference losses that are knocking on the door, including Appalachian State. Will the Chanticleers knock off the rival Mountaineers on Thursday night to widen their division lead or will Appalachian State come out on top to narrow the gap for SBC East supremacy?
Thursday night's game will mark just the ninth meeting all-time between the two schools in this budding rivalry. Appalachian State holds a commanding 7-1 lead in the series. The Mountaineers also won the most recent matchup 30-27 last season in Boone. However, the last time the Mountaineers visited Conway in 2020, it was the Chanticleers that came out on top by a score of 34-23.
Appalachian State at Coastal Carolina
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
The Mountaineers' offense ranks in the top 25 nationally in both scoring offense (36.9 ppg) and total offense (459.6 ypg). They will face a Coastal Carolina defense that ranks 73rd nationally in scoring defense (27.3 ppg) and 98th in the FBS in total defense (413.3).
Senior quarterback Chase Brice has been solid orchestrating the Appalachian State offense — completing 64.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,921 yards with a Sun Belt-leading 22 touchdowns against four interceptions. He's also rushed for 60 yards and three scores. Wide receiver Dashaun Davis leads the team in receptions (31), while fellow wide receiver Christian Horn leads the team in receiving yards (414). Horn is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (4) with tight end Henry Pearson. The Mountaineers also feature a potent ground attack that ranks in the top 20 nationally, churning out 208.3 yards per contest. That effort is led by a trio of talented running backs in Camerun Peoples (86 att., 551 yds., 5 TDs), Nate Noel (45, 305, 3), and Daetrich Harrington (54, 266, TD).
Brice and Co. shouldn't have too much difficulty moving the football through the air against a fairly generous Coastal Carolina pass defense that is giving up 273.4 passing yards per game, which ranks dead last in the Sun Belt and 117th in the FBS. The Mountaineers look to have an edge in the run game as well. While the Chanticleers have been strong against the run for most of the season, they did give up 323 yards and four scores on the ground in an upset loss to Old Dominion just a couple of weeks ago. And the Appalachian State rushing attack might just be the biggest test yet for the CCU defense.
The Appalachian State offense has done well to commit just seven turnovers through eight games. However, the Mountaineers will need to take great care of the football against an opportunistic Coastal Carolina defense that has generated a Sun Belt-leading 19 turnovers. The Chanticleers also rank No. 6 nationally in turnover margin at plus-10.
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Coastal Carolina enters Thursday night's contest ranked No. 50 nationally in scoring offense (31.9 ppg) and No. 36 in the FBS in total offense (435 ypg). The Chanticleers will be paired against an Appalachian State defense that ranks No. 53 nationally in scoring defense (24.1 ppg) and No. 18 in total defense (310.3 ypg).
Redshirt junior quarterback Grayson McCall is the driving force behind the CCU offense — completing 68.8 percent of his pass attempts for 2,061 yards with 19 touchdowns against only one interception. The two-time Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year continues to stand out as one of the most efficient signal-callers in the country with a 9.5 yards per pass attempt average and a 176.1 passer rating. McCall has chipped in with an additional 158 yards and four scores on the ground. Wide receiver Sam Pinckney serves as McCall's favorite target with a team-high 45 catches and 628 receiving yards, while wide receiver Jared Brown serves as the deep threat (18.3 ypr) and has caught five touchdown passes. Running backs CJ Beasley (106 att., 559 yds., 4 TDs) and Reese White (52, 334, TD) headline a solid Coastal Carolina rushing attack that averages 172.4 yards per game.
McCall and the CCU passing game will definitely be put to the test by an Appalachian State pass defense that ranks No. 15 nationally, allowing just 179.4 yards per game through the air. That said, the Mountaineers have struggled a bit against a couple of the more prominent quarterbacks that they have faced so far this season. And McCall may be the best signal-caller that Appalachian State will face all season. He's certainly the most efficient. In terms of the matchup in the run game, Coastal should find some semblance of success against a good, but not necessarily great, Appalachian State defense that allows 130.9 rushing yards per contest on the ground (No. 8 in the Sun Belt and No. 52 in the FBS). The Chanticleers will need to place a big emphasis on ball security in this matchup. The Mountaineers have forced a conference-best 13 fumbles and are plus-seven in turnover margin as a team.
Coastal Carolina has the best record in the Sun Belt, one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and home-field advantage in this game. That is certainly a lot for Appalachian State to contend with. However, the Chanticleers have largely feasted on inferior competition, and their "Black Swarm" defense has taken a noticeable step back so far this season. That doesn't bode particularly well against a more complete Appalachian State squad that is battle-tested and solid on both sides of the football. The Mountaineers pull out a close one on the road to help narrow the gap in the hotly-contested Sun Belt East.
Prediction: Appalachian State 31, Coastal Carolina 27
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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
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