Midweek college football returns on Wednesday night, as Appalachian State hosts Coastal Carolina for a huge showdown in the Sun Belt. The Mountaineers (4-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) were soundly defeated last week against Louisiana, but a win over the Chanticleers would put coach Shawn Clark's team back in the driver's seat to win the East Division. For Coastal Carolina (6-0, 2-0), a New Year's Six bowl isn't out of the question if this team manages to finish the regular season undefeated. However, the first priority for coach Jamey Chadwell's team is to win the division and Sun Belt title. Beating Appalachian State on Wednesday night would be a step in that direction.
Coastal Carolina was the breakout team of 2020, and Chadwell's squad has picked up where it left off. The Chanticleers have won five of their six games by 17 points or more, with the 28-25 victory at Buffalo the only matchup decided by one score. Behind a high-powered offense led by quarterback Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina has scored at least 52 points in four of its six games. Also, the defense ranks first in the Sun Belt by limiting teams to 15 points a contest. If the Chanticleers win on Wednesday, there's a good chance this team runs the table until the conference championship game with remaining matchups against Troy, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Texas State, and South Alabama.
Appalachian State enters Wednesday's game desperate to get back on track after last week's loss to Louisiana. The Mountaineers have picked up wins against East Carolina, Elon, Marshall, and Georgia State this fall, with the team's only other loss coming to Miami (25-23) back in Week 2. The schedule gets considerably more favorable after the showdown versus the Chanticleers, as Clark's team is likely to be favored in upcoming matchups against ULM, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Troy, and Georgia Southern.
Appalachian State holds a 3-1 series edge over Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers won last year's game 34-23, but the Mountaineers won the first three meetings between these two teams.
No. 14 Coastal Carolina at Appalachian State
Kickoff: Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Coastal Carolina -4
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Coastal Carolina brings one of the nation's best offenses to Boone, North Carolina, on Wednesday night. The Chanticleers pace the nation with an average of 48.8 points a contest and 8.82 yards per play. Additionally, this unit ranks first nationally in third-down offense (61.8 percent conversions) and is tied for fifth in most plays of 10-plus yards (123).
It's no secret the catalyst for Coastal Carolina's high-powered attack is sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall. After a breakout redshirt freshman season in 2020, McCall is off to another blistering start. Through six contests, McCall has completed 79.8 percent of his throws for 1,478 yards, 14 touchdowns, and just one pick. The sophomore doesn't lack for weapons on the outside, as receiver Jaivon Heiligh and tight end Isaiah Likely (12 combined TD catches) are a big play waiting to happen. Also, while his numbers are down on the ground (82 rushing yards), McCall is still a dangerous runner and the perfect conductor for this offense. With the commanding leads the Chanticleers have held in five of their games this year, McCall's legs haven't needed to be a factor. But that could change on Wednesday night.
Slowing down McCall isn't the only obstacle to beating Coastal Carolina on Wednesday night for Appalachian State. The Chanticleers lead the Sun Belt in rushing offense (263.5 ypg) and average 6.7 yards per carry. No team has managed to hold Chadwell's offense under 200 rushing yards this year, and it's easy to see why with McCall's potential on the ground, along with the play of Reese White (455 yards), Shermari Jones (401), and Braydon Bennett (268). This trio of backs will test an Appalachian State defense coming off a subpar performance against Louisiana. The Ragin' Cajuns ran for 246 yards last week, the most allowed by the Mountaineers in 2021.
Appalachian State's defense enters Wednesday night's game ranked fourth in the Sun Belt in yards allowed per play (5.5) and fifth in points (23.5 per game). Also, this group ranks third in the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense and has surrendered six plays of 40-plus yards. The challenge for the Mountaineers on Wednesday night has to be to fix the mistakes that plagued this group in last week's loss and do a better job in the trenches to contain Coastal Carolina's ground game. Forcing the Chanticleers to go on long drives and convert — instead of hitting big plays — would be crucial to a win.
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
Similar to the defense, getting back on track is a priority for Appalachian State's offense this week, as this unit had its worst performance of the year in last week's loss to Louisiana. The Mountaineers managed only 211 total yards (3.84 per play), failed to convert a third down over 11 attempts, and were held to just 13 points.
For Appalachian State to rebound, jump-starting the ground attack is a must. The Mountaineers enter Wednesday night's game averaging 177.3 rushing yards a contest but were held to 76 yards (2.6 a carry) in last week's loss. Nate Noel (553 yards this year) powers the backfield with Camerun Peoples missing the last two games due to injury. The junior's status is uncertain for Wednesday night, which could mean a heavy dose of Noel, along with Notre Dame transfer Jahmir Smith and Daetrich Harrington in the backfield. Of course, getting the ground game on track versus Coastal Carolina won't be easy, as this defense ranks second in the Sun Belt versus the run and has held each of its last three opponents – UMass, ULM, and Arkansas State – under 75 rushing yards. Appalachian State's ground game is a much stiffer challenge, but no team has averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry against the Chanticleers in '21.
Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice is also under pressure after connecting on 15 of 26 throws for 133 yards and two picks against the Ragin' Cajuns last Tuesday. That performance was clearly the worst of Brice's career in Boone, as he pieced together solid efforts against Marshall (283 yds.), Georgia State (326 yds.), and East Carolina (20-of-27 passing) in the opener. Helping Brice's chances of an improved effort this week is a deep collection of receivers, with Corey Sutton (34 grabs), Thomas Hennigan (25), and Malik Williams (27) forming a challenging trio for Coastal Carolina to slow down.
The Chanticleers haven't played the strongest collection of offenses through six games, but it's still notable this group ranks first in the Sun Belt in fewest yards allowed per play (4.45) and scoring defense (15.0). Also, Coastal Carolina ranks second in the conference against the run and pass efficiency defense, while also limiting big plays allowed all season. The formula for Chadwell's defense on Wednesday night should be to stuff the Appalachian State ground game to get Brice into obvious passing downs.
Appalachian State has lost only five games at home since 2015, and with last week's result in mind and some desperation to stay within striking distance of Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt East, Clark's team isn't going to lack for motivation. Turnovers could play a huge role in this one, as the Chanticleers have committed a total of three all of this year, while the Mountaineers rank near the bottom of the conference with 11 giveaways. Whichever team limits the mistakes and does a better job of establishing the run should come out on top. Home-field advantage is a plus for Appalachian State, but Coastal Carolina's offense is more dynamic and has the better quarterback (McCall). That should be enough for the Chanticleers to remain unbeaten.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 34, Appalachian State 24
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