Sunday, February 7, 2016

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Appalachian State Mountaineers

Appalachian State Mountaineers
2015 Record: 11-2 (7-1 Sun Belt)
Bowl: Camellia, Defeated Ohio 31-29
What Went Right: The offense was clicking very nicely in 2015, as the Mountaineers averaged 36.7 points per game, while the defense gave up just 19.1 points per game. With both sides of the ball performing, ASU won 11 games based on a very balanced approach, including a late bowl win. ASU ran the ball very effectively, gaining 5.83 yards per carry, while allowing 3.44. Marcus Cox was a star, rushing for 1423 yards and 9 TDs on 20.25 carries per game. He averaged 5.86 yards every time he ran the ball. Sophomore Taylor Lamb was a star as well at QB, as he passed for 2387 yards and 31 TDs to just 9 picks on the year. He only attempted 21.8 passes per game, so expect him to get more action as next season opens up.
Senior Ronald Blair was a beast up front, recording 19 TFLs in 2015 to go with 7.5 sacks and 71 tackles. Sophomore Latrell Gibbs was a star in the secondary, recording seven INTs, and should be a center piece in 2016.Sophomore LB Eric Boggs led the team with 104 tackles, and junior LB John Law recorded another 72.
What Went Wrong: ASU was in a tight race in the Sun Belt, but when the big opportunity came, they folded against Arkansas State, a loss that essentially handed the Red Wolves the SBC crown for 2015. While the receiving corps was plenty balanced when it came to production, nobody ever stepped up to be the guy in the passing game for Lamb. That would need to change for Lamb to develop more effectively. Otherwise, very little went wrong in 2015.
Stars: QB Taylor Lamb, RB Marcus Cox, RB Jalin Moore, P Bentlee Critcher, PK Zach Matics, DB Latrell Gibbs, LB Eric Boggs, DL Ronald Blair, TE Barrett Burns
Best Win: Georgia Southern 31-13
Worst Loss: Arkansas State 40-27
Look Ahead: Lamb is a junior in 2016, and so should have more liberty to operate in the system. He will have to focus on improving upon a 60% completion rate. Both Cox and Moore are back to RB, giving ASU an interesting one-two punch out of the backfield. The WR corps is somewhat decimated, with three of the top four WRs departing. Only Shaedon Meadors and TE Barrett Burns return, and they combined for 36 grabs last fall. Burns did grab 8 TDs last fall, however, so he should be more potent in the passing game.
Blairs loss on defense to graduation is huge. He was a major force, and it may take more than one player to fill his shoes in 2016. Nate Norwood, Olawale Dada, Tyson Fernandez, Antonious Sims, Tashion Singleton, and Darian Small will all get time next fall. John Law, Eric Boggs, and Devan Stringer all are slotted to return at LB, giving the Mountaineers one of the best LB groups in the Sun Belt. Caleb Fuller and Kennan Gilchrist add depth. ASU picked off 18 passes in 2015, and every major contributor returns in Latrell Gibbs, Mondo Williams, Alex Gray, and Tae Hayes. Doug Middleton departs, but AJ Howard returns. as do Josh Thomas and Junior Sigalo.
All in all, ASU looks like they could be an odds on early favorite in the Sun Belt in 2016, and I see no reason to fear a drop off, especially if they can find some production on defense to replace the loss of Blair. The future looks bright. The non-con schedule could be a little tough, as they travel to take on Tennessee and Akron on the road, but they get Miami and Old Dominion at home.
2016 Projection: 9-3, bowl bid

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