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Camellia Bowl Preview and Prediction: Toledo vs. Appalachian State

Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt

The third edition of the Camellia Bowl is arguably one of the better pre-Christmas bowl matchups, as Appalachian State meets Toledo for a compelling battle between two of the top Group of 5 teams from 2016. The Rockets and Mountaineers both finished the regular season at 9-3, and the winner of this game will reach double-digit victories for the second consecutive year.

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Appalachian State was the favorite to win the Sun Belt in most preseason predictions and opened the 2016 season with a near-upset of Tennessee in Knoxville. Following the overtime loss against Tennessee, the Mountaineers lost against Miami (45-10) but were largely dominant in most of their Sun Belt matchups. Appalachian State won its seven conference games by at least 14 points, with the only blemish coming at Troy (28-24). The defeat at Troy (along with the Trojans’ loss at Georgia Southern), resulted in a Sun Belt co-championship with Appalachian State and Arkansas State. Under the direction of coach Scott Satterfield, the Mountaineers have won 20 games over the last two seasons and made a quick transition since joining the FBS level in 2014. Satterfield is one of the nation’s top rising stars in the Group of 5 ranks.

In his first full year at the helm, Jason Candle picked up where former coach Matt Campbell left off and guided Toledo to a 9-3 mark. Candle was promoted to the top spot after Campbell’s departure last season and guided Toledo to a victory over Temple in the Boca Raton Bowl. This year, the Rockets once again used an explosive offense to challenge for the MAC title but fell short against Western Michigan (55-35) in the regular season finale. Toledo wasn’t far from a double-digit win season, as Candle’s team lost by two against BYU and by five against Ohio. Similar to Satterfield, Candle is a rising star and one of the nation’s top offensive minds. The Ohio native played his college ball at Mount Union and worked for one year with Satterfield on Toledo’s staff in 2009.

This is the first meeting between Toledo and Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are 1-0 in FBS bowl history, while the Rockets are 11-4 over 15 appearances. Toledo has won three out of its last four bowl trips, including a 32-17 victory over Temple in last season’s Boca Raton Bowl.

Toledo vs. Appalachian State (Camellia Bowl)

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Toledo -1

Three Things to Watch

1. The Quarterbacks

Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Despite the gap in statistical production by the two starting quarterbacks in this game, Toledo’s Logan Woodside and Appalachian State’s Taylor Lamb are both among the best in the Group of 5 ranks.

Woodside torched opposing defenses for 3,882 yards and 43 scores this year and completed 69.1 percent of his passes. Additionally, the junior tossed at least three scores in every game and was held under 250 passing yards only two times. Woodside has a talented array of options in the receiving corps. Five players have caught at least 38 passes, with Cody Thompson (59) and Corey Jones (60) at the top of the team in receptions. However, Cody Thompson (19.8 ypc) and tight end Michael Roberts (15 TDs) will see plenty of targets. Despite losing standout cornerback Latrell Gibbs due to an academic suspension this year, Appalachian State’s secondary is among the best in the nation. The Mountaineers rank sixth in pass efficiency defense and have allowed only 10 touchdowns through the air. The emergence of freshman Clifton Duck (5 INTs) and the steady play of Mondo Williams (4 INTs) is a big reason why this secondary has been stingy.

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On the other sideline, Taylor Lamb hasn’t matched his passing totals from 2015 (2,387 yards and 31 TDs). However, the junior has raised his completion percentage to 62.5 (up from 60.1) and has connected on 14 plays of 30 yards or more. Additionally, Lamb is an underrated runner (379 yards). A big reason for the drop in production through the air was the turnover at receiver. Appalachian State entered 2016 having to replace three out of its top four receivers and also battled injuries to a couple of the new contributors. Toledo ranks 74th nationally against the pass and has surrendered 23 touchdowns through the air. Can Lamb and his receivers take advantage of this matchup?

Related: Predictions for Every 2016-17 Bowl Game

2. Appalachian State’s Ground Game

It’s no secret the strength of Appalachian State’s offense is clearly with the ground attack. The Mountaineers have one of the top backfields in the nation, averaging 247.1 rushing yards per contest. The 247.1 rushing yards per game ranks 13th nationally and is the best mark among Sun Belt teams. Senior Marcus Cox is the headliner for coach Scott Satterfield and needs just 128 yards against Toledo to reach 1,000 for the fourth consecutive season. Cox also owns the school record for career rushing yardage (4,960) and ranks second on the team with 872 yards and eight scores in 2016. The senior missed four games earlier this year, which opened the door for Jalin Moore to build off a promising freshman season (731 yards in 2015). Through 12 appearances in 2016, Moore has rushed for 1,367 yards and 10 scores and averaged a healthy 6.2 yards per rush. The sophomore has recorded at least 100 yards in eight out of the last nine contests and was tabbed as the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year in December.

Few opponents have had much success in containing the one-two punch of Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox. Will Toledo have an answer on Saturday? Only one team (Idaho) held Appalachian State’s offense to less than 150 rushing yards in a contest this year. Stopping the run has been a challenge for the Rockets, as this defense ranks seventh in the MAC (165.7 ypg) and has surrendered seven runs of 30 or more yards. Giving up yards has been a bit of a boom-or-bust proposition for this defense. Toledo held four teams under 100 rushing yards but surrendered more than 200 in five contests, including 338 to BYU and 249 to Western Michigan. In order to slow down Appalachian State, the Rockets are going to need a big performance from three All-MAC defenders, starting with end John Stepec and tackle Treyvon Hester in the trenches. Linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley (11.5 TFL) is a playmaker around the line of scrimmage and will test an Appalachian State offensive line that ranks among the best in the Sun Belt.

Can Toledo find a way to slow Appalachian State’s ground game to put the offense in third-and-long situations? That’s the big question surrounding this matchup. If the Rockets can, then the Mountaineers will have to take to their air to loosen up the defense. And considering the firepower on the Toledo offense, Appalachian State needs to use its ground game to keep the Rockets on the sidelines and control the overall pace of the game.

3. Toledo’s Running Backs Against Appalachian State’s Defense

The stingy rush defense of Appalachian State against Toledo’s running backs will be one of the best matchups to watch on the opening Saturday of bowl action. Kareem Hunt (1,355 yards) headlines a deep backfield for Candle, but the Mountaineers are going to see plenty from Terry Swanson (583 yards) and potentially a few carries from Damion Jones-Moore (271 yards) or Art Thompkins (235).

Opponents haven’t found much running room against the Appalachian State front seven, which is anchored by a standout group of linebackers. Eric Boggs leads the team in tackles (92), with Kennan Gilchrist (80), Devan Stringer (69) and John Law (46) helping to anchor a defense that allowed only one opponent to rush for more than 190 yards this season. The Mountaineers ranked second in the Sun Belt against the run (125.8 ypg) and limited opponents to just 3.9 yards per rush.

Will Appalachian State’s success against the run continue against the deep Toledo backfield? Or can the Rockets utilize their standout offensive line to generate a push and find a way to gash the stingy front seven of the Mountaineers?

Final Analysis

The first two editions of the Camellia Bowl have produced thrilling finishes. In 2014, Bowling Green defeated South Alabama 33-28. And last season, Appalachian State edged Ohio 31-29. While the history of bowl games doesn’t mean much, another tight game and potentially last-minute finish is likely in store. Picking a winner or clear favorite for this matchup isn’t easy. Appalachian State has the edge on defense and its ground attack should be able to take advantage of Toledo’s defense. However, the Rockets balanced attack is going to arguably be the best offense the Mountaineers’ defense has faced since taking on Tennessee or Miami in September. One factor to watch: Turnovers. Appalachian State was plus-eight in turnover margin, while Toledo was minus-four. That could be critical in a close game. The guess here is the Rockets make one big play on offense in the fourth quarter that decides this one.

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Prediction: Toledo 31, Appalachian State 30