Wake Forest will head up the mountain this weekend to take on Appalachian St. in Boone. The Demon Deacons defense has been very stout so far, and another good week will be needed when it takes on senior quarterback Taylor Lamb and the Mountaineers offense.
Lamb is a fourth year starting senior, and one of the best quarterbacks in App State history. This season he has thrown for 6 touchdowns compared to no interceptions, for a 67% completion rate, while only taking four sacks. Now outside of Georgia, the competition was not stiff at all for Lamb, but even in Athens Lamb managed to finish 18-27 for 128 yards with just one sack.
This will be the 42nd game that Lamb has played in as a Mountaineer, throwing for 7,671 yards, and 69 touchdowns compared to just 26 interceptions. His best year came as a sophomore when he threw for 31 touchdowns to 9 interceptions in 2015.
The Mountaineers do a good job of staying on schedule on passing downs, ranking 42nd in the nation with a 46% success rate (basically this means that if it is a passing situation, App State gets the yards necessary to stay on track for getting the first down 46% of the time).
This has all been done while App State has missed its best receiver so far in senior Shaedon Meadors. It is unclear if Meadors has been sidelined due to an injury or for other reasons, but he caught 45 balls last year for 716 yards and two touchdowns.
Wake fans might remember his name because the Deacs were heavily involved in recruiting him, offering him a scholarship back in 2014.
App State has also been without Darrynton Evans so far this year, an explosive sophomore who can run the ball, catch the ball, and return the ball on punts dn kickoffs.
This is another case where Evans has not been listed on the injury report, but has not played in the first three games either. I am unsure if they are both serving suspensions of some sort that were just not announced, or if something else is going on.
In the absence of these two players, Lamb has relied heavily on a pair of freshmen in Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams. He has targeted them 19% of the time and 15% of the time respectively. Hennigan in particular has been impressive, catching 12 of the 15 targets from Lamb on the year for 102 yards and a touchdown for an 80% catch rate.
Senior burner Ike Lewis has been the primary deep ball threat thus far, catching four balls for 73 yards and a touchdown. Another freshman in Jalen Virgil has also shown some promise with 6 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Wake fans know all about a good tight end, and Collin Reed is a pass catching threat as well for App. He has hauled in four catches on five targets for 105 yards and two touchdowns, so that is another player the secondary will have to keep in front of them.
Following the departure of senior Marcus Cox, it was assumed that junior Jalin Moore would be the feature back for App State this year given he ran for 1,408 yards on 237 carries and 10 touchdowns last year. While Moore has gotten his fair share of carries, through three games it is senior running back Terrance Upshaw who has looked the better back thus far.
Moore has run the ball 33 times for 121 yards and a touchdown (3.7 yards per carry), while Upshaw has run it 31 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns (5.3 yards per carry). It does appear that the line has given Upshaw the better blocking (35% opportunity rate compared to a 30% opportunity rate fir Moore), but Upshaw is making more of his opportunities as well.
Upshaw played most of the second half against Texas State last weekend at the expense of Moore, but I would expect both guys to see carries this weekend against Wake Forest.
Another facet of the running game is quarterback Taylor Lamb. He has run the ball 16 times for 153 yards and a touchdown, putting up a very impressive 9.6 yards per carry. For comparison, John Wolford has run the ball 31 times for 213 yards and 3 touchdowns, for a 6.9 yard per carry average.
Taking a big picture look at App State shows a team that likes a balanced passing and rushing attack. The Mountaineers are averaging 28 PPG, but if you take out its 51 point performance against Savannah State it comes down to 15 PPG against two FBS opponents. As another comparison, even if you take out Wake Forest’s 51 point performance against Presbyterian, the Deacs are still averaging 40 PPG.
The biggest issue for App State so far this season has been staying on schedule to get first downs. Last year the Mountaineers were able to stay on schedule 46% of the time (21st nationally), but this year are down to 42% (70th nationally). This causes a heavier reliance on explosive plays, which App has actually done pretty well with (31st nationally).
App is also good at finishing drives, averaging 5.47 points per possession once it has crossed the opponent’s 40 yard line (16th in the nation).
I think the Mountaineers running game will struggle against the defensive front seven of Wake Forest, but the two backs are more than capable of breaking long runs.
The passing game of Taylor Lamb will be a big test for the secondary, and he just doesn’t take a lot of sacks (3.8% sack rate last year, 4.1% sack rate this year). The offensive line of App vs. the defensive line of Wake should be a battle this weekend.
The Wake Forest defense will have a much better idea of where it stands after this weekend. App State ranks 65th offensively in the S&P Ratings, which is much better than Boston College (124th), or Utah State (87th).