The Mean Green take on Appalachian State in the first-ever Myrtle Beach Bowl on Monday, December 21st at 1:30pm central time on ESPN.
That’s the when and who. Let’s maybe discuss the how of it.
We should not here at the beginning when you are feeling good that North Texas is not expected to do much on Monday:
ESPN FPI: North Texas chance of winning 10%. NT #119 Army #40
SRS: North Texas #113 Army #31
MASSEY RATING: North Texas #120 24 – 38 App State #74 with an NT chance of winning at 20%
VEGAS: North Texas -19
The Opponent: App State
Appalachian State is a good program with long history of winning. The Mountaineers jumped back into FBS in 2014, but you might remember their upset of Michigan in 2007 more than anything. They were coached by Jerry Moore that season and it wasn’t so much of an upset considering that App State won the Division 1-AA title that year. That was the first of three-straight. Moore left the job 1 to Scott Satterfield led the team through the transition into FBS. App State went to the Camelia Bowl in ’15 and ’16, going 21-5 over those two seasons. From 2016 to last season App State has either won or shared the Sun Belt title. 2
In case you are curious, Troy and Arkansas State are the all-time Sun Belt leaders in number of league championships at six. North Texas and Appalachian State are tied with four. NT owns three outright titles to App State’s two.
Satterfield left during 2018 and was replaced Eli Drinkwitz who left after part of one year and was replaced by current head coach Shawn Clark.
This shortened season has not been so short for App State. They are 8-3, 6-2 thus far. Both conference losses came to ranked teams — at 15 Coastal Carolina 34-23, and 20 Louisiana 24-21. The other loss was the CUSA East division champion Marshall 17-7. App State was ranked 23rd at the time.
How Do They Play?
The App State offense is predicated on running. They finished second-to-last in the conference in passing yards per game this year, but that’s not unusual. That has been the norm throughout their time in FBS. Today, we will see a lot of pistol and heavy looks. Cameron Peoples leads the squad in rushing with 807 yards but Daetrich Harrington is averaging 99 yards per game. All the backs are shifty and good at reading the play and finding space.
They balance all of this running with some timely throws. QB Zac Thomas only trails Trever Lawrence in the win categories. Against Arkansas State he threw a rope to Christian Wells for a big score. He throws a lot of interceptions — Georgia State took one back for six. He makes good decisions, and can run. NT can probably benefit from the fact that he stares down his targets too often (the interceptions).
The defense is tough but got beat by Louisiana’s running QB’s timely runs. The Mountaineers rank second behind Coastal Carolina in scoring defense and are great in a lot of categories. Like a lot of good defenses at this level, they do the right things, tackle well, and do not make mistakes. Like anyone, they are vulnerable to talent.
The Mean Green will be without Austin Aune (mystery) but will have Jason Bean and (likely?) no chance of pulling him for making a small mistake. The Aune/Bean hybrid is the most productive quarterback play in the league by far. Grant Wells is the league leader in touchdowns with 18 after the CUSA title game but Aune/Bean have combined for 25 scores.
The passing attack is missing its best weapon in all-time record holder in Jaelon Darden. North Texas has weapons — Deonte Simpson, Austin Ogunmakin, Greg White — but none has shown the consistency of Darden. This is a great opportunity to see what North Texas has in the depth chart.
Next season NT will be looking to Simpson and Jyaire Shorter — out with injury — and anyone on the roster with designs on taking those top two spots can show up in this one. The App State defense is good and will not get gashed like Middle or UTEP. It will be more like the Rice and UTSA games.
North Texas is explosive, but inconsistent. Losing Darden is losing both its most dynamic big play maker but also it most reliable pass-catcher. There is enough talent on the roster to expect some big plays but also we have seen NT fall flat with play-calling, execution, and mistakes.
Defensively, NT is going to struggle to stop the run game and the game plan is going to be to try to load up against it, and take advantage of Zac Thomas’ occasional proclivity for throwing a bad pass. The problem there that NT had not done exactly that against some of the other QBs that wanted to throw some interceptions early in the season — Shane Buechele et al. The defense picked off UTEP four times but still allowed 43 points (yes, there was a little pre-garbage time point-getting from UTEP late).
App State: An App State win looks like this: 300+ yards rushing and an opportunistic defense takes advantage of NT mistakes and the absence of Jaelon Darden. Final score: App State 45-21
North Texas: A Mean Green win looks like this: 500 yards of offense is nearly a given, and this time Jason Bean shines running all over App State’s bewildered defense. The turnovers and mistakes from State put them behind and the run game cannot dominate the way they want. Final score: North Texas 47 – 41
What This All Means
North Texas is playing this bowl game to kick the bowl season off right as Army, a 9-2 team, is on the outside of the postseason. NT would surely be drawing some ire as a team that could drop out for the Black Knights. NT is taking on a really good team in this bowl game and it is really more about experience and playing time than it is about a deserving end-cap to anything.
Appalachian State is in a bowl as a reward for another good season that fell short of their standard. They have to see this as an opportunity to blow out a team with a terrible defense on the way to filling their trophy cabinet.