The Dollar General Bowl features one of the best Group of 5 matchups of college football’s postseason, as Toledo and Appalachian State meet in Mobile on Saturday night. This is the second consecutive season the Mountaineers and Rockets will meet in a bowl game. Last year, Appalachian State edged Toledo 31-28 in the Camellia Bowl.
With a win over Appalachian State on Saturday, Toledo would have a compelling case to finish in the top 25 poll. The Rockets went 11-2 in the regular season, with the only losses coming against Miami (52-30) and a 38-10 defeat to Ohio. Second-year coach Jason Candle is one of college football’s rising stars and has kept this program performing at a high level since Matt Campbell left for Iowa State. Toledo is 21-6 under Candle’s direction and 13-3 in MAC play. Candle guided the Rockets to their first conference title since 2004 by defeating Akron in Detroit 45-28 on Dec. 2. Additionally, a win over Appalachian State would give Toledo 12 victories – the school’s highest total since winning 12 games in 1971.
Appalachian State has experienced a smooth transition from the FCS to FBS level under coach Scott Satterfield. The former Mountaineer quarterback took over the program in 2013 and went 4-8 (Appalachian State’s final year at the FCS level). But since that season, the Mountaineers are 36-14 in four years at the FBS level and have made three consecutive bowl trips. Satterfield also led the program to back-to-back double-digit win seasons (2015-16) and claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in each of the last two years. Appalachian State lost three of its four games in 2017 by seven points or less, including a one-point defeat to Wake Forest. The only other loss for the Mountaineers was a 31-10 outcome at Georgia in the opener.
Appalachian State and Toledo only have one previous meeting, which was the 2016 Camellia Bowl. Sun Belt teams are 4-1 in the Dollar General Bowl over the last five matchups of this postseason game.
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Toledo - 7
Three Things to Watch
1. Toledo’s High-Powered Offense
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Toledo in recent years, and coach Jason Candle’s 2017 unit enters the bowl averaging 39.2 points a game. Candle and coordinator Brian Wright have assembled an offense capable of hurting opponents with a steady ground attack or with a big-play passing game.
The leader and unquestioned catalyst of Toledo’s offense is quarterback Logan Woodside. The senior earned first-team All-MAC honors after throwing for 3,758 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Woodside has only tossed five interceptions and completed 64.9 percent of his throws. In addition to the accuracy on short or immediate throws, Woodside was one of the best in the nation at delivering big plays through the air. He connected on 13 throws of 40 yards or more and three of 80 yards and beyond. The senior’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider Cody Thompson – Toledo’s leading receiver in terms of yardage last fall – was lost for the season in early October due to injury. In his absence, Diontae Johnson (72 catches for 1,257 yards) has stepped up as the go-to target, with Jon’Vea Johnson (41 catches), Danzel McKinley-Lewis (22) and tight end Jordan Fisher (18) providing secondary weapons.
Woodside helps to make the Toledo offense go, but he’s not the only source of production. Running back Terry Swanson inherited big shoes to fill after Kareem Hunt expired his eligibility and was drafted by Kansas City this offseason. Swanson has ensured the Rockets’ ground game wasn’t going to miss a beat. Through 12 games in 2017, Swanson rushed for 1,319 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sakif Seymour (704 yards and 12 TDs), and Art Thompkins (618 yards) also factor into the ground game. An underrated cog in Toledo’s offensive success was its offensive line, and two players – Elijah Nkansah and Brant Weiss – earned first-team All-MAC honors this fall.
Can Appalachian State find a way to slow down Toledo’s offense? In last year’s bowl game, the Mountaineers gave up an average of 6.9 yards a play. If the Rockets replicate that total this time around, the rematch is likely to go in favor of Toledo.
2. Appalachian State’s Ground Game
The best defense for Appalachian State might be its offense. The Mountaineers rank second in the Sun Belt by averaging 215 rushing yards a game. Additionally, the 5.4 per-carry mark is the best in the conference, while Appalachian State has also generated six runs of 40 yards or more. Jalin Moore is the lead back for coach Scott Satterfield and enters the bowl on the cusp of another 1,000-yard season. After rushing for 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall, Moore has posted 912 yards and nine scores in 2017. Injuries limited Moore in mid-October and early November, but he finished the year by gashing Georgia State for 239 yards and posted 110 against Louisiana in the season finale.
Moore will see the bulk of the carries, but he’s not the only weapon for Satterfield at this position. Freshman Marcus Williams has rushed for 432 yards and two touchdowns through seven games and is developing into a solid No. 2 option. Quarterback Taylor Lamb has also pitched in on the ground. The senior ranks second on the team with 539 yards and five touchdowns. Lamb earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors after throwing for 2,606 yards and 27 scores this season. His favorite target has been Ike Lewis (47), with freshman Thomas Hennigan (44) not far behind on the stat sheet. In order for Appalachian State’s offense to click, this group may have to throw on early downs in the first quarter to loosen up Toledo’s defense. Another area to watch: Play-action throws. If the Mountaineers have success running the ball, it should open up Lamb to connect with Lewis and Hennigan downfield.
In last year’s meeting, Moore was held to 35 yards on 16 carries. However, Marcus Cox posted 143 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts, and Lamb chipped in 126 yards on nine carries. Appalachian State posted 297 overall rushing yards and averaged 6.1 yards a carry in last year’s meeting between these two teams.
Expect to see Appalachian State lean on a similar formula once again on Saturday night. The Mountaineers averaged nearly 31 minutes in time of possession this year. If Moore can find running room early on, Satterfield’s offense can control the pace of the game and effectively ground Toledo’s high-powered attack.
3. Which Defense Gets the Most Stops?
This may seem simple, but it’s also no secret this game won’t be a defensive slugfest. Last year’s matchup between these two teams in the Camellia Bowl generated 790 total yards, 59 combined points and 39 first downs.
Toledo’s offense averages 7.1 yards per play and nearly 40 points a game. How will Appalachian State counter this explosive attack? The Mountaineers limited opponents to 5.5 yards a play, which was a slight increase from the 4.99 total last fall. After finishing ninth nationally in scoring defense in 2016, Appalachian State slipped to 33rd this season. However, this defense was still one of the better groups in the Sun Belt. The Mountaineers racked up 83 tackles for a loss, generated 22 turnovers and allowed only five plays of 50 yards or more. This unit boasted three first-team All-Sun Belt performers, with one coming at each level. Lineman Tee Sims (9.5 sacks), linebacker Eric Boggs (97 stops) and cornerback Clifton Duck (5 INTs) led the way for Satterfield’s defense this season. Appalachian State’s secondary ranks second in the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense and has limited opponents to just 14 scores through the air. This unit will provide a tough test for Woodside and the explosive Toledo receiving corps.
Appalachian State featured three first-team All-Sun Belt performers from its offensive line this season, and that group is going to challenge a Toledo front that had issues at times against the run. In last year’s matchup, the Mountaineers posted 297 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 6.1 yards a carry on the ground. The Rockets enter Saturday’s game giving up 166.4 rushing yards a contest. A closer look at that number reveals Toledo’s defense gave up 393 yards in a loss to Ohio, 423 in a three-point against Tulsa and 254 in a defeat against Miami. While the Rockets are going to give up some yards on the ground, this team is only allowing 25.6 points a game. Additionally, this unit ranks third in the MAC in pass efficiency defense and has generated 20 takeaways. Stopping the run has to be priority No. 1 for Toledo’s defense. If this group struggles on first down to contain Appalachian State’s ground game, the Rockets will spend a lot of time on the field, which limits the damage Woodside can do.
The location, year and some personnel have changed, but there should be a little familiarity between these two programs on Saturday night. In addition to the rematch factor, Appalachian State and Toledo were two of the top programs in the Group of 5 ranks this fall. Which team can establish its style of play? Toledo wants to jump out to an early lead and force Appalachian State to go away from the run. The Mountaineers would prefer to use Moore to pound away on the ground and limit the possessions of Woodside and the dynamic Toledo attack. The guess here is both sides land their share of punches. However, the Rockets get revenge for last year’s close loss.