The Appalachian State Mountaineers return home to Boone after their first conference loss of 2020 as they host the Troy Trojans, which are seeking a rebound from their own disappointing defeat at home.
After scoring 30 or more points in five of six games to start the 2020 season, Troy has been held to 30 total points over the last two weeks, a 20-13 loss at Georgia Southern on Nov. 7 and a 20-17 home loss to Middle Tennessee last week. Appalachian State was also kept in check last week, falling 34-23 at Coastal Carolina for its first loss in over two months. The loss drops the Mountaineers 1.5 games behind the Chanticleers in the Sun Belt standings with just three games left in the regular season.
Troy won the first meeting between these two programs 50 years ago, posting a 42-0 win on Nov. 21, 1970. But after the Trojans won again in 2000, the Mountaineers have come out on top in five of the next six meetings, including last year's 48-13 win in Boone.
Troy at Appalachian State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Spread: Appalachian State -14
When Troy Has the Ball
Gunnar Watson enters Saturday having completed 23.2 passes per game at a 68.5 percent clip, both of which lead the Sun Belt and rank 11th in the FBS. Last week against Middle Tennessee, Watson returned after missing the previous two games due to a pair of fractured ribs against Georgia State and completed 25 of 39 passes for 300 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
A healthy and productive Watson would do wonders to reignite the Trojans' offense, which has relied heavily on the aerial attack thanks to a run game that ranks 11th-worst in the FBS. Troy has rushed for just 102.1 yards per game this season, mustering just 92 in the loss to Middle Tennessee. On the receiving side, 10 different Trojans hauled in at least one pass from Watson. Khalil McClain led the way with six receptions for 92 yards and Watson's lone touchdown of the day.
Troy's offense will face a tough test in Appalachian State, which boasts a top-20 pass defense and top-25 total defense that allows 191.1 yards passing and 330.2 total yards per game. The Mountaineers have picked off 10 passes this season — just one behind conference leaders Coastal Carolina and Louisiana — with Brendan Harrington and Ryan Huff grabbing three apiece.
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
Last week, Zac Thomas had his first multi-interception game in nearly two years, throwing three costly picks against the Chanticleers with just one touchdown. His 211 yards passing against Coastal Carolina marked his third-highest total of the season, and he enters this week averaging just 187.0 passing yards per game in 2020. One area in which he's excelled in leading the offense is on third downs, with the Mountaineers converting at a 52.3 percent rate, which is the second-best mark in the Sun Belt and a top-15 mark nationally.
Thomas is buoyed by one of the strongest rushing attacks in the nation. Appalachian State rushes for 254.3 yards per game, which trails only Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt and is good for the eighth-highest per-game total in the FBS. The Mountaineers have been led by a strong dual-threat combination of Daetrich Harrington and Camerun Peoples, with both ranking among the top 10 rushers in the Sun Belt in touchdowns and yards. Harrington leads the conference in rushing touchdowns (seven) as well as rushing yards per game (99.2), but he'll be unavailable for the rest of the season with a foot injury. That leaves Peoples — who trails only Harrington for the conference lead in yards per carry — to take the reins going forward after he totaled 27 carries for 178 yards and a touchdown against the Chanticleers in Harrington's absence.
Troy has registered 11 takeaways this season, which sits middle-of-the-pack in the Sun Belt and within the top half across the FBS. But the Trojans have returned four of those takeaways — two fumbles and two interceptions — for touchdowns, a mark that is tied for the FBS lead with No. 1 Alabama. Terence Dunlap has notched three interceptions himself, which ties him for 10th nationally in that category.
This game will see a contrast in styles, as Troy leans fairly heavily on its passing attack while the run game is Appalachian State's bread and butter. In what should be a back-and-forth matchup, look for the Mountaineers to stay committed to the ground game in an effort to wear down and ultimately break through the Trojans' defense.
Prediction: Appalachian State 30, Troy 20
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(D'Marco Jackson photo courtesy of @AppState_FB)