Appalachian State plays its second consecutive game against a Sun Belt West Division team with a new coach this week as the Mountaineers visit Arkansas State.
Former University of Tennessee coach Butch Jones leads the Red Wolves (1-7, 0-4 SBC) against App State, which is garnering AP Top 25 votes after consecutive wins over then-No. 14 Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Monroe.
“Not to take anything away from our previous opponents — we’ve played some very, very good football teams and very, very good football programs, but I think this is probably the most complete football team we’ve played to date,” Jones said earlier this week. “They win in the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively, extremely talented and they play angry all the time. It’s a top-25 football program with a mentality and so again, for me, it’s a great measuring stick.”
The bowl-eligible Mountaineers (6-2, 3-1 SBC) lead the all-time series with the Red Wolves 3-1 and won last year’s game in Boone 45-17. In its last trip to Jonesboro, App State claimed a 35-9 victory in 2018 and won 37-32 at Arkansas State in the Mountaineers’ FBS debut season in 2014.
App State head coach Shawn Clark said in his weekly press conference that the Mountaineers saw a team with a great deal of confidence last week in Louisiana-Monroe, and his message that week was don’t take that team lightly. The message was received, and the Mountaineers routed the Warhawks 59-28.
“I mentioned all week to our players that practice habits become game-day reality,” he said Monday. “Our guys had a great week of practice, came out and showed what we could really do. We were hitting on all cylinders in all three phases in the first half, and there are still a lot of things that we have to get corrected. As good as it looked on the scoreboard, we had missed assignments, we can’t get lined up sometimes and those things aren’t a big deal until they’re a big deal.”
Offensively, the Mountaineers have a two-headed monster at running back. Nate Noel leads the Sun Belt in rushing with 767 yards (95.9 yards per game), and Camerun Peoples leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 12 despite missing two games earlier this season; he has rushed for 1,804 yards and 26 TDs in 21 career games and has scored 17 TDs in his last seven contests.
Running back Daetrich Harrington returned to the lineup on Oct. 12 at Louisiana after tearing the ACL in his right knee for the second time in his college career on Nov. 7, 2020 at Texas State. Harrington didn’t play against the Warhawks last week for precautionary measures, but Clark said he’s fine and is expected to contribute as the season progresses.
The combination of Noel and Peoples, when they’re on the field at the same time, has been effective for the Mountaineers, and Clark said the two players complement each other and splitting the load keeps both of them fresh.
“Cam is the bigger back that can get you the 2-3 yards, and Nate can take it the distance anytime he touches the football,” he said. “It keeps them fresh — that helps a bunch. When one isn’t getting the 40 carries a game, I think you can cut that in half and they’re fresh throughout the game and especially the second half. I’m very proud we have those guys on our football team.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 2 p.m. EDT, and it will be televised on ESPN+. Locally, the game can be heard on 97.3 FM.