Appalachian State enters today’s contest against South Alabama tied atop the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division with Coastal Carolina and holds the tie-breaker with a head-to-head win over the nationally ranked Chanticleers on Oct. 20.

The Mountaineers (7-2, 4-1 SBC) will have to defend their home field against a Jaguars team that had a potent combination in quarterback Jake Bentley (2,073 yards passing, 15 touchdowns, five interceptions) and receiver Jalen Tolbert (1,032 yards, six TDs), but Bentley suffered a knee injury last week against Troy and was diagnosed with a torn MCL. Sophomore Desmond Trotter will start in his place.

South Alabama (5-4, 2-4 SBC), which drubbed App State 47-21 in the Mountaineers’ first season in FBS and the Sun Belt, has lost the last three meetings between the two schools.

Since that tough first season at college football’s highest level, App State has gone 77-22 and is 76-17 since the loss to the Jaguars in 2014.

Defensively, the Jaguars allow 22.1 points a game and 117.2 rush yards a game under first-year coach Kane Wommack, who was the defensive coordinator at South Alabama from 2016-17 and at Indiana from 2019-20.

The Jaguars started the season 3-0 and have wins over Georgia Southern and Arkansas State, and they suffered a narrow 20-18 defeat against Louisiana.

Noel nearing 1,000 yardsNate Noel needs 111 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard milestone for the season and extend App State’s nation-leading streak of 10 consecutive years with a 1,000-yard rusher. Minnesota and Buffalo both have active streaks of three seasons with a runner reaching four figures in rushing yardage.

Ball-hawking Mountaineer

Steven Jones Jr. intercepted three passes and returned two of those for touchdowns last week in the Mountaineers’ 48-14 win at Arkansas State. As a result of that performance, Jones was named the Walter Camp Football Foundation and Bronco Nagurski national defensive player of the week, and ESPN awarded him a “Helmet Sticker.” He tied four others for the school’s single-game interception record and matched three other App State alums for the pick-six TD record in a single game.

The returns of 47 and 34 yards, sandwiched around a leaping interception at the goal line, gave the first-year starter from Rockingham three pick-six TDs and four total interceptions over the last two games. With five interceptions this season, Jones and South Carolina’s Jaylan Foster are tied for first place nationally.

“I was just focused on doing my job — staying on top, looking at the formations,” Jones said. “From watching film, I knew a couple plays, and I just capitalized.”

Jones’ three interception returns for touchdowns in one season and four in a career are school records.

The Mountaineers have 114 interceptions since the start of the 2015 season, which leads FBS — Alabama is second with 113 in that span — and includes six INTs in the last two games with a trio of three-interception games against Georgia State, ULM and Arkansas State.

Saturday’s game is set for a 2:30 p.m. kick and will be streamed on ESPN+.