By Brett Strelow | Application State Athletics
BOONE, North Carolina —
Missteps — figurative or literal — can serve as a painful reminder in the App State football program.
The hallway floors in the north end zone facility at Kidd Brewer Stadium contained small wooden mousetraps this week. The Mountaineers were riding high after a win at No. 6 Texas A&M, a result that prompted a trip to the High Country on ESPN’s College GameDay show, but App State’s push for a Sun Belt Conference title depends on quickly turning its attention to what lies ahead league opener against Troy.
College GameDay ends at Sanford Mall at noon, and the ESPN+ game between the Mountaineers and Trojans is set for 3:30 p.m.
The message from the head coach Sean Clark has been clear since App State returned home – many hours later than expected due to a flat tire on the plane – from his attention-grabbing score.
“When you’re doing well, it’s human nature to think you’ve arrived, but don’t get the cheese,” Clark said. “Be careful when people want to tell you how good you are. It’s a friendly reminder to be locked up.”
App State has won four straight against Troy and seven straight Sun Belt openers. In their last 100 games overall dating back to their FBS debut in 2014, the Mountaineers are 80-20.
It’s unclear whether ESPN guest picker and country music star Luke Combs will pick his alma mater to win. When ESPN’s Lee Corso dons the Sun Belt mascot’s hat to close out Saturday’s pregame festivities, it will be the 66th different school hat he’s worn since the show’s inception in 1993.
Across campus, the Mountaineers will be in game mode.
Troy has a new head coach in former Kentucky defensive coordinator John Sumrall, who joins familiar names like Carlton Martial, Kimani Vidal and Gunnar Watson. The Trojans opened the season with a 28-10 loss at Ole Miss and a 38-17 win against Alabama A&M.
A sixth-year senior linebacker, Martial has 457 career tackles and needs just three more to become the Sun Belt’s all-time leader. He has made 52 stops against App State in his career.
Martial led a defense that limited the Rebels to 167 passing yards, and Troy has intercepted multiple passes in a game 28 times since the start of the 2016 season. That total ranks second nationally behind App State’s 29.
“They’re very aggressive on defense,” Clark said. “They’re a 3-4 defense, which is very similar to what we do, and there are some ties to coach Eric McDaniel, who I coached at Purdue and brought to App State (in 2016) and is their defensive line coach. line. Sheil Woods, who was at Wofford with Nate Woody, he’s there as their defensive coordinator.”
The Mountaineers are still looking for their first interception of 2022, but at cornerback Dexter Lawson Jr came up with a huge play by forcing a fumble on that teammate Nick Hampton recovered during win at Texas A&M. Strong safety Nick Ross made a key stop behind the line of scrimmage on a third-down screen pass en route to a team-best seven tackles, and the Mountaineers scored touchdowns on their two forced turnovers.
App State’s defense will face a Troy offense with Watson in his third year as the starting quarterback and Vidal in his third year as the starting quarterback. Vidal threw for 1,303 yards in 22 career games and Watson threw for 626 yards in two games in 2022, including 351 with four touchdowns in the win against Alabama A&M.
“The quarterback is outstanding,” Clark said. “He has a 70 percent completion rate and their receivers don’t drop balls. They have a very good offensive line and are very aggressive on special teams.”
The key to App State’s success in College Station was complementary football. After scoring 40 points in the fourth quarter in a 63-61 loss to North Carolina, the Mountaineers used a methodical, time-consuming offense and sparse defense to stop the Aggies, who managed one offensive touchdown.
With the likes of Cooper Hodges, Anderson Hardy, Isaiah Helms, Bucky Williams, Damien Daly and Troy Everett up front, App State’s offensive line averages 6-foot-4 and weighs 292 pounds, and the Mountaineers have performed well while protecting the quarterback Chase Brees against bigger defensive lines with plenty of recruiting prospects.
Picking up tough yards on Texas A&M, App State went 9-for-20 on third down and 3-for-5 on fourth down while finishing with big advantages in play (82 to 38) and time of possession (41:29 to 18 :31).
That kind of mistake-free ball control could be important against a Troy defense that has recorded four sacks and forced five turnovers in two games.
“You watch the tape, they get better and better as you watch them,” Clark said. “As the season goes on, they’re going to be a very good football team, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.” We have to be very consistent and perform on Saturday to have a chance to win.”