If last week's mid-week Sun Belt action was any indication for how the rest of the season will play out, we are in for a treat on Thursday with the matchup between the Arkansas State Red Wolves and Appalachian State Mountaineers.
The Red Wolves (3-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) are coming off of a thrilling 59-52 shootout last week against Georgia State where they racked up 551 passing yards and eight touchdowns from three different players. Even in a winning effort, head coach Blake Anderson was apparently not pleased with the performance of the defense as he fired a pair of defensive coaches, including the coordinator, stating that Arkansas State needs to "turn a corner defensively and get the results we want."
As for Appalachian State, Thursday will be the first time we've seen the Mountaineers (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) since Sept. 26, with cancellations and bye weeks impacting their schedule. Last time out against FCS opponent Campbell, the Mountaineers went wild on the ground, rushing for 404 yards and seven touchdowns.
An elite passing game vs. a dominant rushing attack should make for an appealing matchup on Thursday night.
Arkansas State at Appalachian State
Kickoff: Thurs., Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Appalachian State -11
When Arkansas State Has the Ball
For Arkansas State, the ole adage of "if you have two quarterbacks, you have none" doesn't apply. The Red Wolves's 384.2 passing yards per game ranks third in the country and their 23 touchdown passes ranks first as they continue to rotate between Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher on a weekly basis. Against Georgia State, it was Hatcher who had the hot hand as he threw for 332 yards and four scores on the night, though Bonner was exceptional too with three touchdowns himself. The stat Anderson was probably most happy with is zero. As in, zero interceptions thrown by either quarterback even though the combined for 56 pass attempts vs. the Panthers. Whether you agree or not with the rotation, the results are proving that it's currently working.
Of course, both quarterbacks benefit from having one of the best receiving corps in the country with potential All-American Jonathan Adams and former 4-star prospect Dahu Green terrorizing opposing defenses. While Adams has been excellent all year long, Green has really come on of late with five touchdowns in the last three games, including his nine-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown performance against Georgia State. Both Adams and Green are currently averaging more than 100 yards per game. Senior slot receiver Brandon Bowling rounds out the starting trio and is no slouch either with four touchdowns in the last three weeks.
One area of concern for Arkansas State is the running game. Injuries to starting running back Marcel Murray haven't helped, but the Red Wolves are in the bottom third nationally in rushing and averaged just 1.49 yards per attempt against Georgia State.
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
As good as Arkansas State has been on offense this year, the Red Wolves have been equally as bad on defense, hence why a pair of coaches (defensive coordinator David Duggan and defensive pass game coordinator Ed Pinkham) were let go this past week. After giving up 583 yards to Georgia State, Arkansas State is dead last in the Sun Belt in total defense, allowing 481.8 yards per contest, and second-to-last in scoring defense at 39.8 points per game. Only marginally better is a run defense that is giving up 175.4 rushing yards per game, which spells trouble against an Appalachian State team that ranks fifth in the country, averaging 269.3 yards per game on the ground.
The Mountaineers will have their full collection of backs available after all this time off with Marcus Williams and Camerun Peoples back on the depth chart after missing the contest against Campbell. Expect both to be involved, along with Daetrich Harrington who posted a career-high 211 yards and four touchdowns against the Camels.
Appalachian State hasn't needed to throw the ball much in 2020, but when the Mountaineers do, it's with a trusted veteran under center in senior Zac Thomas, who is completing 62.3 percent of his passes. Thomas may also find success with his legs this week after seeing Georgia State quarterback Cornelious Brown IV rush for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns (along with throwing for 314 yards and three scores).
Tough to gauge what we should expect from Appalachian State coming off of such a long layoff, having not played since late September against an FCS opponent. And the Mountaineers do not get to ease into their schedule with an Arkansas State passing game that is as prolific as any team in college football right now. Because of those reasons, and the fact Appalachian State is 0-3 against the spread this year, I like for Arkansas State to keep it close but believe the dominant running game from the Mountaineers will be the difference in the end.
Prediction: Appalachian State 35, Arkansas State 30
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
(Dahu Green photo courtesy of @AStateFB)