I’m not known for many college football articles. If you look at my “Football” section on this website, you’ll see mainly high school and professional football articles. Well, there’s a first time for everything. It’s fitting, because for the first time ever, the 25th-ranked Miami Hurricanes will travel to Boone, North Carolina this Saturday to play the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
For those who don’t know the western North Carolina demographic well, majority of the people here love collegiate sports than they do the professional levels. There’s a sense of overpaid players in the NFL opposed to college players using their heart, and though the strictness of that philosophy is lessened with football, it still applies. Many have picked their teams of the four major schools (Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Wake Forest) and then they’ve also subscribed to their alma mater or whatever tiny school is near them (Appalachian State, Western Carolina, etc.). It’s not a normal approach, but you’d never expect them to play each other. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who have picked an out-of-state school to root for in sports (Alabama, Miami, Notre Dame, Tennessee, etc.). Here, I know of at least half-a-dozen Hurricane fans in my inner circle alone. With this said, Saturday’s game will have a lot of Appalachian State Mountaineer fans, but also a lot of Miami Hurricane fanatics in the stands (and on the hill) as well.
This Saturday’s game is going to be one for the history books. Appalachian State just celebrated 9 years of the upset at the Big House, upsetting the Michigan Wolverines 34-32 in front of 109,000+ that day. Now, nine years later, they’re hosting a school that’s produced some of the best college and NFL players known in the world. Now I have the privilege to preview this game we never imagined happening.
Talking about the visiting Miami Hurricanes a bit, they are a Div. I-FBS football team, as many would, or should, know. The Hurricanes have an enriched football history with 5 national championships and an all-time 63.2% winning percentage since opening shop in 1926. Ninety years later, in spite of some slump years, the Hurricanes are still recognized as a football powerhouse and a prestigious school.
This Hurricanes squad is in its first season with well-respected head coach Mark Richt, who worked previously with the Georgia Bulldogs. Richt has led Miami to two easy home victories against Florida A&M (70-3) and Florida Atlantic (38-10). The Miami Herald has resources that I don’t, and was able to interview Coach Richt about his upcoming opponent, Appalachian State. “How can you take this team lightly? How can anybody who knows football take this team lightly? We don’t even have to say that to our guys. They’ve seen the film. They watched them play against Tennessee. They know. It’s really almost an insult to have to answer the question. Not being rude to you, but this is a really good football team and everybody knows it and we’re geared up to try to do the best we can to play great that day.” For any team like Miami, it’s easy to underestimate a rural team… just ask Michigan.
The Hurricanes are stacked with talent this year and it all starts with top prospect Brad Kaaya. Kaaya is a projected first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and some even believe his name will be one of the first five called that night. Kaaya will be a handful, but he’ll have to show he can be consistent when playing a steady defense. In the first two games, which should have been a cakewalk for a first-round projected quarterback, he has combined for 326 yards and posting a completion percentage below 59.2%, while yet to have 200 passing yards in either game. After tying a career high of 4 touchdowns opening week against Florida A&M, Kaaya failed to throw a single one the next week versus Florida Atlantic, instead, he threw twice to the other team. It’s unclear what Kaaya we’ll see Saturday in Boone, but we’ll keep our eye on him.
Miami, if they want to sustain success (in my opinion) will need to rely on the running game and establish it early. Being able to run the ball effectively takes pressure off of Brad Kaaya and will set up opportunities on the outside for the receivers. Relying on sophomore running back Mark Walton will be key. Walton has averaged 8.5 yards a carry with 5 touchdowns in the opening two weeks, his first career starts at Miami, and should look to continue the success against Appalachian State. It’s safe to say if Mark Walton and the running game doesn’t show up, Miami loses last week to Florida Atlantic.
If you’re not a local fan, you probably don’t have much information on the Appalachian State team that continues to be mentioned. The Mountaineers had their first year of FBS play in 2014, and though having a 7-5 record with second-year head coach Scott Satterfield, were ineligible during their transition to a FBS school. Satterfield didn’t let that improvement from a 4-8 to a 7-5 team go to waste, capitalizing in 2015 with an 11-2 record (one of which to the Clemson Tigers) and winning their first FBS bowl game against Ohio, 31-29. Appalachian State’s football program came into existence in 1928 and including their time serving as a FCS team, the Mountaineers have a 63.4% winning percentage in its history.
The Mountaineers, so far this season, haven’t had much of a cakewalk. Of course, they had a 31-7 dominant outing last week hosting Old Dominion, but they began their season booked at Tennessee playing Joshua Dobbs, another highly-valued quarterback prospect, and the Volunteers. Tennessee was ranked 9th in the nation at the time when Appalachian State lost in overtime, 20-13.
Although Appalachian State doesn’t have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, they do have a competent and very capable man under center named Taylor Lamb. Lamb is a junior and is in his third year of starting after redshirting in 2013. Lamb is well respected by the team and coaching staff and by the time he’s done at Appalachian State, he should be able to rename the record books the “Book of Taylor”. It’ll be intriguing to see how Lamb fares against Kaaya when Lamb almost mirrored Joshua Dobbs two weeks ago in Tennessee.
If Appalachian State wants to win this huge game in front of its crowd and lifelong supporters, two players will need to play their heart out. Like Miami, the Mountaineers will need to establish a run game early and often. Appalachian State has their senior running back Marcus Cox who has the second-highest career rushing yardage total in the nation for returning running backs, just behind San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey. Cox was able to show up against the Volunteers with 115 yards on 24 carries that night. The other player on the defensive side is Clifton Duck, a true freshman that was a two-star recruit out of Butler High School. If anyone stood out the Volunteers game, it was Clifton Duck. The 5’10”, 175-pound corner played tremendously and though picked on as a freshman, the Volunteers didn’t get much out of it. If he comes to play against the Hurricanes like he played the Volunteers, Appalachian State will be in the best position possible to overtake The U.
Tomorrow’s line is favoring Miami by 3.5 points. My guess is the game remains close throughout and it comes down to the 4th quarter for one team to separate themselves. You know what the keys to this game are, so leave your predictions down below and enjoy the game!