PSU fully aware of App State challenges
When No. 10 Penn State and Appalachian State take the field in front of nearly 107,000 fans at Beaver Stadium today, it will have been exactly 11 years since the visitors pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NCAA football history.
On Sept. 1, 2007, the Mountaineers traveled to Michigan and opened the season with a stunning 34-32 victory over the No. 5 Wolverines at the Big House.
It was a game that has since been labeled as one of the biggest upsets of the 21st century thus far, and for good reason.
The final minute alone saw Appalachian State take the lead on a go-ahead field goal with 26 seconds left, in one of the toughest environments in any sport. The Mountaineers then blocked a potential game-winning field goal for Michigan as time expired.
Over a decade later, and Appalachian State is an FBS program, the defending co-champion of the Sun Belt conference for the last two seasons, and have won their last three bowl games.
In fact, in their last three seasons, the Mountaineers have posted a combined record of 30-8. This includes wins against Toledo and Wyoming, and an overtime loss at Tennessee.
All of this has garnered Appalachian State a fair bit of respect amongst coaches across the country. The Mountaineers totaled 16 voting points in the Amway Coaches 2018 Preseason Poll, effectively ranking the Mountaineers 39th in the nation heading into this weekend.
“They’re a very well coached team, I think [head coach] Scott Satterfield has done a great job over there,” coach James Franklin said. “This is a team that has played really well against high-level competition on the road…we expect a challenge on Saturday.”
Historically, Penn State has had success against Sun Belt opposition. As recently as last season, the Nittany Lions hosted Georgia State and throttled the Panthers 56-0.
However, this is an opponent that is more than just your average underdog from a smaller conference.
What makes Appalachian State click on offense begins with standout running back Jalin Moore.
The senior is on the Maxwell and Doak Walker award list, in addition to being named as one of the 150 FBS players to watch (62nd overall, 11th among running backs) by NFL.com, and garnering preseason All-Sun Belt first-team honors.
Last season, Moore ran for over 1000 yards and tallied 13 total touchdowns in 11 games played. This followed a sophomore campaign in which he ran for nearly 1500 yards and racked up 10 touchdowns while averaging six yards per carry.
For his career, Moore has rushed for 3,170 yards, which is the second most among returning FBS players. He’s also only active FBS back who’s rushed for at least 235 yards in four career games.
“He’s a real specimen and obviously presents a lot of problems for anyone,” Franklin said.
Quarterback Zac Thomas will step into the starting role this season for the Mountaineers, but he will have two very capable targets to throw to on the outside in Thomas Hennigan and Jalen Virgil.
Hennigan was awarded third-team All-Sun Belt honors this preseason, while Virgil was named the Sun Belt’s fastest receiver by Street and Smith, and shares the No.11 spot on The Athletic’s “Freaks List”.
“They’ve got a fast skillset, and guys on the perimeter who can really run,” redshirt junior corner John Reid said. “It’s good football.”
On defense, the Mountaineers bring a lot of experience back from last year’s squad.
Junior corner Clifton Duck is the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the Sun Belt, according to the coaches and media poll. Duck is tied for first nationally with 11 interceptions since the start of 2016, and is a two-time All-Sun Belt first-team member.
Seniors Myquon Stout and Anthony Flory are both impact players on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Stout was third among Sun Belt interior lineman in tackles last season, while Flory finished second on the team in tackles last year and was named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt first-team.
“[Penn State] has really good skill players in guys like [Juwan] Johnson and [DeAndre] Thompkins,” safety Josh Thomas said. “They’re both good players in space. They run routes that put them in good position to get open, and [Trace] McSorley puts the ball on the money, so you just have to be able to match those routes and play tight coverage.”
Satterfield talked about Penn State’s strengths, while also acknowledging that he believes in his team on both sides of the ball and their ability to hang with the Nittany Lions, even in a tough road environment.
“Penn State is aggressive, but they’re very sound…They don’t give up very many big plays,” he said. “They have a very solid defense, and one we’ll have to play exceptionally well against to be able to move the ball and have success come Saturday.”