No. 25 Mountaineers visit Eagles in matchup of Sun Belt Conference unbeatens
Checking in at No. 25 in the in the AP Top 25 on Sunday, Appalachian State landed in the longtime college football poll for the first time in school history. Fresh off a 27-17 home win against Louisiana, the Mountaineers will take their new ranking and momentum on the road Thursday for a Sun Belt Conference contest with Georgia Southern. Appalachian State boasts a 5-1 overall record and is perfect at 3-0 in conference play.
At 6-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play, Georgia Southern is part of a log jam (with Appalachian State and Troy) atop the Sun Belt East division, so the second half of the season will be fun. In his first full year at the helm, Chad Lunsford has the Eagles off to their hottest start in recent history, which is even more impressive considering Georgia Southern went 2-10 last season. The Eagles defeated New Mexico State 48-31 last week to clinch bowl eligibility.
Appalachian State owns an 18-13-1 advantage over Georgia Southern in the all-time series and earned a 27-6 win in last year’s meeting. The Mountaineers currently have a three-game win streak over the Eagles. Georgia Southern this season is 4-0 at home.
Appalachian State at Georgia Southern
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Appalachian State -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Appalachian State’s high-octane offense
The Mountaineers scored 27 points last week, which ended up being a season-low. However, that performance is far from indicative of what Appalachian has been able to do this season. The Mountaineers are averaging 44.8 points per game, which ranks them No. 5 in FBS and No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference in scoring offense.
Appalachian State has scored 186 over its last four contests, and its offense enters Thursday having scored 36 touchdowns in six games this season. The Mountaineers rattled off 38 points against Penn State in Week 1 in a game where the Nittany Lions needed overtime to secure a seven-point win.
Georgia Southern’s defense this season is allowing 15.6 points per game to Sun Belt Conference opponents, and the unit currently sits at No. 24 in FBS in scoring defense (19.3 points per game).
2. Georgia Southern’s rushing attack
With 1,929 yards rushing this season, Georgia Southern has the FBS’ No. 5 rushing offense (275.6 yards per game). Quarterback Shai Werts and running back Wesley Fields have made the Eagles formidable on the ground. Werts has already amassed 542 yards rushing and a Sun Belt Conference-leading nine ground scores this season, while Fields has run for 472 yards and four touchdowns. They rank No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, in yards rushing in the Sun Belt Conference.
Fields suffered an injury in Georgia Southern’s Oct. 11 victory at Texas State, and he didn’t play last week against New Mexico State. Despite his absence, the Eagles were still able to amass 389 yards rushing, thanks in part to contributions from Logan Wright and Wesley Kennedy III. Wright, who started in place of Fields, rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns, and Kennedy dashed for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
The short week isn’t ideal for Fields’ recovery, but Wright and Kennedy have are worthy replacements should he not be ready to play.
3. Appalachian State’s rushing defense
In order for the Mountaineers to exit Allen E. Paulson Stadium with a win, keying in on and stopping Georgia Southern’s rushing attack is paramount. If Appalachian State’s past performances this season offer any indication, the defensive unit is well-suited for the task. Opposing running backs are averaging 112.3 yards per game against the Mountaineers this season, and the defensive unit has allowed just seven ground scores. Those efforts have the Mountaineers sitting at No. 18 in FBS for run defense.
Appalachian State hasn’t allowed an individual 100-yard rusher all season. The Mountaineers' vaunted run defense is allowing 2.97 yards per rush and has surrendered 674 ground yards all year.
The Sun Belt Conference has garnered well-deserved attention this season due to the efforts of Appalachian State, Troy and Georgia Southern, and the national audience will be treated to a front-row seat Thursday for this pivotal conference matchup.
Fields’ status remains unclear, and although Wright and Kennedy performed well in his absence last week, Fields’ impact on Georgia Southern’s offense is undeniable. His loss would be a big blow to the Eagles.
Appalachian State ranks at or near the top of the Sun Belt Conference in several offensive categories. Georgia Southern, while talented, isn’t suited to match the Mountaineer offense point-for-point. Appalachian State should clinch bowl eligibility with a win Thursday.
Prediction: Appalachian State 35, Georgia Southern 21
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Top photo courtesy of @AppState_FB)