From the former FCS powerhouse to the rising mid-major, Appalachian State offers Penn State football a quality first game. The Lions might have a game to play.
The past two seasons have been marked by easy wins in the season opener for Penn State football. The Nittany Lions defeated MAC opponents Kent State (2016) and Akron (2017), 33-13 and 52-0 respectively. Penn State led the first by just three at halftime, but ultimately won by 20 in Trace McSorley’s game opener as quarterback. Those two games haven’t been a lot of competition, but this year’s opener against Appalachian State might give a better test in Game 1.
App State is off to a good start on its transition to FBS. The Mountaineers are 37-14 in their first four years in Div. I, including three bowl wins and four winning seasons. Head coach Scott Satterfield did it with a mixture of smothering defense and effective attacking.
The running game hit opponents with the shotgun and pistol, using multiple backs to carry on the defenses. Principal rushers Jalin Moore and Marcus Williams Jr are back. Moore has consecutive seasons of over 1,000 yards and over 3,000 rushing yards for his career. He’ll be the guy who gets the most runs as a powerful, sneaky, fast runner at 5-11, 205lbs.
The passing game will be the key variable in this game. Four-year-old starting quarterback Taylor Lamb has graduated and is truly the only quarterback Satterfield has known in Div. I. Now it’s up to the double threat of sophomore, Zac Thomas. He hasn’t played much in college yet, but he has had a star-studded coaching career.
He’s racked up over 6,000 total yards in his three-year career, including nearly 2,000 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns in his last two years of balling in high school, so he’s got some speed. .
On the other side of the ball, App State’s 3-4 defense has kept their opponents averaging 20 points or less per game for the past three seasons. They’ll be a young team in terms of rush – that will help McSorley find a rhythm. The four best pass rushers in terms of sacks are gone, but the linebacker body and key returning secondary players make this team a seven heavy returning team.
Corner Tae Hayes is a returning top executive. He’s racked up 53 tackles, four tackles for a loss, four interceptions and 12 pass deflections, a high for the team in a year with the First Team All-Sun Belt. Interception leader (six) Clifton Duck is back through Hayes, making him a deadly corner tandem.
These two players will give the D-Line some time to get to the quarterback, while senior linebacker Anthony Flory solidifies the midfield with a solid defense. He was second on the team in tackles with 87. In total, App State has lost seven starters in defense, but he’s a consistently dominant machine.
The Mountaineers consistently do one-dimensional offenses, allowing just 3.4, 3.9 and 3.9 yards per carry in each of the past three seasons. Racing games cannot start, forcing infractions to beat them through the air. Luckily for Penn State, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins are seasoned wide receivers that McSorley can pitch to.
App State is a constant winner. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Sun Belt team caused problems for Penn State and forced the Nittany Lions to face some challenges in Week 1.