The Appalachian State Mountaineers, led by head coach Scott Satterfield, have won 17 of 19 games since entering FBS play and had an impressive 11-2 record in 2015. They return several key players on both sides of the ball and look capable of having another 10-win season. As part of our way-too-early preview of the Miami Hurricanes 2016 football schedule, we'll examine Appalachian State’s recent success, preview the Mountaineers for 2016, and offer our thoughts on the matchup.
9/3 (Season opener) vs. Florida A&M Rattlers, 6:00 p.m. ET
9/10 vs. Florida Atlantic Owls, 6:00 p.m. ET
9/17 at Appalachian State Mountaineers, 12:00 p.m. ET
In 2015, the Mountaineers (11-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) ran roughshod over most of its fellow Sun Belt Conference members. The two blemishes on their record came from the 2015 ACC Champion, the Clemson Tigers, 41-10, and a Thursday night loss to the Arkansas State Red Wolves, 40-27. Appalachian State’s impressive record secured a postseason matchup against the Ohio Bobcats in the 2015 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. The game in Montgomery, Alabama was a closely fought contest but the Mountaineers prevailed, winning 31-29.
Previewing the Mountaineers in 2016
As SB Nation’s Bill Connelly notes in his in-depth preview of Appalachian State, in 2015, the Mountaineers favored its rushing attack and played at an average pace. Appalachian State rotates its backs frequently, allowing for a fresh body whenever it’s needed. Running backs Marcus Cox (Sr.), Jalin Moore (So.), Terrence Upshaw (Jr.), and Josh Boyd (So.) all return with game experience, which makes for a loaded Mountaineer backfield. Marcus Cox, a senior running back, led the backs with 243 rushes for 1,423 yards and 9 touchdowns, and had a 5.9 yards per carry average. The veteran backs are joined by redshirt sophomore Nikia Cathey and incoming three-star freshmen Marcus Williams Jr.
The Mountaineers feature a dual-threat quarterback who’s often involved in the rushing attack, Taylor Lamb. Lamb, a redshirt junior, is a strong runner, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 200 pounds. In 2015, Lamb rushed for 507 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries.
Concerns arise for Appalachian State’s passing game, however. Quarterback Taylor Lamb set records for passing yards (2,381) and touchdown passes (17) by a freshman at Appalachian State and has a 60.7% completion rate for his career. But a lack of returning experience among the receiving corps may hinder the Mountaineers passing game this upcoming season.
Appalachian State returns just one of its top four receiving targets from a year ago, junior Shaedon Meadors. Meadors caught 21 passes for 439 yards in 2015. The remaining receivers and tight ends have registered little action, making this an area of great concern for the Mountaineers heading into the 2016 season.
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly noted key elements that quarterback Taylor Lamb and the Mountaineers offense need to improve on for 2016:
Lamb himself still has some improving to do, too. He's a perfect distributor for this type of offense, but passing downs are playmaker downs, and he didn't make a ton of plays in those situations. He checks down to running backs and safer options, which is good ... to a point. But the next step of his maturation process (and here's where I feel compelled to mention he's only now a junior and is 18-7) will be making some bigger throws to catch the Mountaineers back up to the chains. And that might be tough to do with a less experienced set of receivers.
The Mountaineers return much of their defense, including four of their five leading tacklers. With so many returning players, there are several upperclassmen across each position group, making this a very experienced defense in 2016.
Defensive ends Nate Norwood and Olawale Dada are likely to be the starting ends. The two seniors combined for 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2015. At linebacker, another seasoned duo, Eric Boggs and John Law, make their presence felt on defense. Operating out of a base 3-4, Boggs and Law amassed 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and five interceptions last season. Their productiveness out of the 3-4 is heavily dependent on the play of the nose tackles, and seniors Tyson Fernandez and Darian Small return at that position.
Appalachian State will be good this season. They have a strong chance of another 10-win season and should be the favorite to win the Sun Belt.
Against the Hurricanes, however, many will expect Miami’s talent to prevail, much like Clemson’s did over the Mountaineers last season. The ‘Canes will be large favorites heading into Kidd-Brewer Stadium and despite this game being the first road trip of the year, they should win by a decent margin.