It took nearly a month for the Appalachian State Mountaineers to get back on the field, but Shawn Clark's team showed no rust in a 45-17 victory over Arkansas State last Thursday. With an earlier 17-7 loss to Marshall (who is now ranked No. 19 in the AP Top 25) the only blemish, the Mountaineers improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in Sun Belt play.
Now, Appalachian State faces a relatively short nine-day turnaround for its trip to take on the ULM Warhawks Saturday. ULM, still searching for its first victory in 2020 following a 38-14 loss to South Alabama last week, is now 0-6 overall and 0-3 in conference play. The Warhawks have beaten the Mountaineers just once in their five meetings dating back to 2014, a 52-45 home win in 2017.
Appalachian State at ULM
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31, at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Appalachian State -32
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
The numbers are stark in the Mountaineers' three wins compared to the loss to Marshall. Appalachian State averaged 339.0 rushing yards per game at 6.6 yards per carry, with a total of 13 rushing touchdowns, against Charlotte, FCS Campbell, and Arkansas State, while managing just 96 yards on the ground, 2.9 yards per attempt, and zero touchdowns against the Thundering Herd. Overall, the Mountaineers rank seventh in FBS and lead the Sun Belt with 278.3 rushing yards per contest, and we should expect more of the same this week with Deatrich Harrington leading the way.
Harrington has unexpectedly emerged as the top ball carrier for Appalachian State this year after he broke out with 211 yards and four touchdowns against Campbell. With 137 yards and another score last week, Harrington ranks second in the Sun Belt with 109.5 rushing yards per game. His seven rushing touchdowns (he scored twice on 15 carries in the season opener) are three more than the closest conference peer. Marcus Williams Jr. was expected to be the top option coming into the season, and he ran for 117 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. Williams has averaged an incredible 11.3 yards per carry but did not appear in two games and fumbled on his only opportunity against Arkansas State (albeit after a 53-yard run). It was Williams' third fumble this year. Camerun Peoples (180 yards, TD) and Nate Noel (137 yards, TD) give the Mountaineers excellent depth at the position.
Quarterback Zac Thomas can run, too, and has gained 129 yards on the ground with two touchdowns this season, surpassing 1,000 career rushing yards in the process. Thomas, who should make his 31st career start Saturday, has completed 64.0 percent of his passes this year for 819 yards and six touchdowns (four against the Red Wolves) and three interceptions (one last week). Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams are tied for the team lead with 14 receptions, including one touchdown apiece, though Hennigan has been more of a big-play threat (287 receiving yards, 20.5 ypr) compared to Williams (160, 11.4). Freshman Christian Wells (7 receptions, 103 yards, 2 TDs), tight end Mike Evans (4, 67, TD), and speedster Jalen Virgil (5, 62, TD) give Thomas plenty of options should he need, or choose to use them.
When ULM Has the Ball
On the bright side, on the strength of a pair of 300-yard games, ULM quarterback Colby Suits leads the Sun Belt with 1,407 passing yards and an average of 234.5 yards per game. But for added context, it's also worth pointing out those numbers don't stack up incredibly well nationally, ranking No. 12 and No. 34 in FBS, respectively. Furthermore, while Suits has completed 61.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, and his five interceptions and led to him been replaced by Jeremy Hunt on multiple occasions.
Suits' passing numbers also indicate the Warhawks have been forced to throw because of a largely ineffective rushing attack. ULM has averaged 62.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 98th nationally out of the 101 active FBS teams. The Warhawks are 91st with an average of 2.9 yards per carry and, digging deeper, have averaged -0.512 expected points added per run in non-garbage plays against FBS competition, which ranks ahead of only Michigan State (-0.651 in its only game to date). On early downs, the Warhawks have averaged -0.413 EPA/rush, which ranks 99th, consistently putting ULM behind schedule and making it difficult to sustain drives. Not surprisingly, the Warhawks have converted only 21.52 percent of third-down opportunities — worse than all but five FBS offenses.
Appalachian State typically plays tough defense and ranks among the top 25 nationally in total defense (332.8 ypg allowed) and 30th in yards allowed per play (5.04). ULM ranks 64th in total defense (427.0) but falls to 87th on a per-play basis (6.54) and has struggled mightily to stop the run. They are allowing 246.7 rushing yards per game — last in the Sun Belt and No. 94 in FBS — and surrendering 5.2 yards per carry, which ranks 84th. Simply, that's a bad combination when challenged by one of the best rushing offenses in the country. We may see 400 or more yards on the ground alone by Appalachian State in what should be a big win.
Prediction: Appalachian State 47, ULM 14
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions