Usually we have a Q&A with an opposing blogger during game week to help preview the game. This year, it might be just for the non-conference games, but we'll see. Here to give us better insight into the Appalachian State Mountaineers are the fine folks from AppFan. A big thanks to them for taking the time to go as in-depth as they did.
GC: Since beating Michigan to open the 2007 season, Appalachian State has fallen to FBS opponents LSU, ECU and Florida. Did the Michigan win change the way FBS opponents view the Mountaineers and prepare for them? It almost had to, right?
AF: Sure .. without question. It is one thing for a coach to tell his team to not take an underdog team lightly - but to have video and a literal reference to use to prepare a team is much more meaningful. The App State win at Michigan will be used as a David vs Goliath example for coaches and players on both sides of the equation for years to come.
The Mountaineers have some outstanding skill position players, led by QB DeAndre Presley. However, you lost three starters on the line and will start two redshirt freshmen. How do you think that will affect your offense, especially early in the year?
This has to be one of the 2 biggest questions Appalachian State is facing going into the 2011 season (the other being the defense scheme change). Last year's offensive line allowed just 9 sacks in 13 games. Four of those linemen were all-Southern Conference, and three were seniors (one a draft pick). While the o-line would like to take all the credit it does help to have a highly mobile quarterback.
Not only do we add inexperience to the line, the unit is being totally rebuilt. The foundation is Matt Ruff, long-time right guard, and Orry Frye, a right tackle moving to center. The rest are a mix of backups and new faces. Senior Xan Thomas is expected to start at right tackle - he only started in one game last season but did see action in 9 games. The other two spots appear to be going to redshirt freshmen Kalan Jones and Kendell Lamm - listed as starters on the left side at guard and tackle.
Dylan Bostick and Regan Dufort, both 6-6 sophomores who played backup roles last season, were candidates to start at tackle, but both have been sidelined with injuries.
What has made the ASU offense so effective in recent years?
The change in the offense to the Spread has clearly been the reason. This style of offense seems to be perfect for the athletes that Appalachian State recruits: quick, highly adaptable, and typically labelled as undersized. Many of these kids were either overlooked by FBS recruiters or told they didn't have the physical attributes 'big' schools in the FBS were looking for. They tend to play with a chip on their shoulder and in one sense might have more to prove than highly recruited athletes.
Our coaches studied both Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriquez's utilization of the spread and developed a system that has worked pretty well here. Offensive co-coordinators Scott Satterfield and Shawn Elliott were the primary catalysts for convincing Head Coach Jerry Moore to make the change back in 2004. Moore, a career long believer in a more direct, smash-mouth style of offense was reluctant but could also see the shift occurring across the college football landscape. While Scott Satterfield has moved on to the Offensive Coordinator role at Florida International and Shawn Elliott is the Offensive Line/Run-Game Coordinator at South Carolina, the offense has continued to flourish.
In 2010, the offense averaged 431 yards and 34.3 points/game. Quarterback Deandre Presley stepped into the shoes left by Mountaineer legend Armanti Edwards and passed for 2,631 yards, rushed for 1,039 yards, and was responsible for 35 touchdowns.
In just 7 years since changing to the zone read spread option, the Appalachian State offense has produced the first player in NCAA Division 1 football history to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 in a career (Armanti Edwards, 2006-2009, who has too many other records to list). At the same time, the offense produced the school's all-time leading rusher in Kevin Richardson (4,804 yds), 2004-2007.
So this begs the question - is it A. the system, B. the coaches, or C. the players, that has worked so well. Easy answer = D. All of the above
Do you think switching to the 3-4 will help the Mountaineers' defense improve this year or do you think there will a steep learning curve during the transition?
It has been said that the 3-4 defense is to the defense what the spread option is to the offense. It really boils down to size and speed. It is harder for App State to recruit 300 pounders for a 4 man front and to have any quality depth. So, theoretically, it should be easier to have 3 big guys on the line and use the leaner, faster talent we attract to our advantage to man the outside/rush linebacker positions.
Much of the focus in camp has been on the switch to a 3-4 defensive formation, from a 4-3. Coaches say they have been pleased with the progress.
"I think our defense overall has been very good the whole camp," Moore said. "It's been hard to move the ball on them."
Dale Jones, the defensive coordinator, said: "I'm pleased to this point. The thing you've got to remember is that it's a process. We learn a little bit more every day, things that are going to make us better."
Moore said that the change to three down linemen and four linebackers fits his team's personnel, with enough size up front and a multitude of linebacker candidates.
"We haven't always had the depth that we have right now, but we've always had pretty good linebackers that can run," Moore said. "Then you take a Lanston Tanyi for instance (who has moved from defensive end to outside linebacker), he can play defensive end, but he can run like a linebacker."
Dan Wylie, a 6-foot-1, 305-pound senior, has had an impressive camp by all accounts and will anchor the defensive front.
"I'm not sure there can be a better nose guard in the country," Jones said. "He's just built for it and plays the position well."
Senior Gordy Witte (6-6, 315) has solidified a spot at defensive tackle as expected, but a surprise in camp has been the emergence of freshman Ronald Blair (6-4, 260), who has moved in front of redshirt freshman Will Corbin (6-6, 300) at weak-side defensive end in the three-man front.
"He's probably going to be starting," Jones said of Blair, who had 112 tackles, nine sacks and 12 quarterback hurries last season at Greene County High School in Greensboro, Ga. "He could lose it between now and then, but he's got a good chance to start."
Freshmen Davante Harris (6-6, 250) and James Robinson (6-5, 235) - both from Blythewood (S.C.) High - have been productive in camp and will fill backup roles.
"We think we're as good up front as we've ever been," Jones said. "We have depth there.
With all the talk of the 3-4 we think an even more critical component of the defense has been somewhat overlooked. The secondary. The corners have been prone to the occasional burning on the deep route and no longer have 2-time All-American safety Mark LeGree to bail them out. While most seem worried about the guys up front our concern lies more so in how this year's secondary will defend the pass.
What's it going to take for ASU to pull the upset?
To win, Appalachian State needs to play their best game since September 1st, 2007. On the ground the Apps need to average 4 yds/carry, lose no fumbles, and rush for at least a combined 300 yards between running backs and QB Deandre Presley. First downs on the ground are essential to attempt to maintain some balance in time of possession. Senior receiver Brian Quick (6-5; 220) has to have a career game with a minimum of 8 catches and the Mountaineers need another receiver to emerge as a clutch go-to receiver for 3rd down conversions. Senior Tight End Ben Jorden must be integrated into the passing game early and often.
Defensively, the key will be how well the coaches have prepared the Mountaineers to execute the new 3-4 scheme. App State must be able to adjust on the fly without confusion and not give up big plays to give themselves a chance.
Special teams don' t have to do anything spectacular but they have to prevent Va Tech from doing spectacular things. That would be a major victory in itself.
To really entertain the idea of an upset, not only would the turnover ratio have be heavily on the side of Appalachian State but, more importantly, points off turnovers would need to be 10 or more points.
Is an upset possible? Yes
Is an upset likely? No way