App State Closes Road Swing With Another Trip to Texas State (2018-11-10 14:57:33)

There's a lot at stake for Appalachian State in its second trip to the Lone Star State.

For the second straight year, the Mountaineers will play at Texas State, which has back-to-back victories going into the Sun Belt Conference matchup Saturday at 4 p.m. ET (or 3 p.m. local time). The game will be available on ESPN3. Locally, the game can be heard on WATA 1450 AM/96.5 FM, beginning at 2 p.m.

App State (6-2, 4-1) remains in contention for an East Division title in the first year of a divisional format for the league, a change that affected scheduling and helps explain why the Mountaineers are going to San Marcos, Texas, for the second straight year. Texas State is 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the league under third-year head coach Everett Withers, who played at App State from 1981-84.

Saturday will be the third of three straight conference road games for the Mountaineers, who limited Coastal Carolina to 178 total yards in a 23-7 victory last weekend.

"Right now, our guys are fired up," App State head coach Scott Satterfield said. "We've had great energy at practice, and winning helps. I feel like we're in good spirits and in good health overall to be in this part of the season."

Last season, with the mid-September temperature at 91 degrees during the first half, Appalachian fell behind 10-0 before rallying for a 20-13 victory. Thomas Hennigan's touchdown catch with 29 seconds left in the second quarter started the rally, and Michael Rubino converted two big field goals, including a 46-yarder with 6:48 remaining.

Clifton Duck's 41-yard interception return put the Mountaineers in position to seal the outcome, but a fumble at the 1-yard line with 2:26 remaining preceded a 14-play, 98-drive by Texas State. A.J. Howard, who is now a member of the New York Giants, made a tackle at the App State 1-yard line after the Bobcats completed a pass on a slant route in the closing seconds.

This year, with forecasts predicting a temperature in the low 50s at kickoff, App State faces an opponent that won 40-31 at Georgia State last weekend and 27-20 against New Mexico State on Oct. 27. Before that, the Bobcats hung tough in a 20-14 loss at ULM and a 15-13 home loss to Georgia Southern.

The Mountaineers are fresh off a road win in which they had two 100-yard rushers (Darrynton Evans, Marcus Williams Jr.) and held Coastal Carolina to 72 rushing yards as a team. Zac Thomas is expected to return at quarterback after missing the last two games.

Satterfield said Thomas has had a live arm at practice as he emerges from being sidelined.

"We have to do a better job of throwing the ball down the field and creating some space so it helps open up the run game," Satterfield said.

With Caleb Spurlin tipping a punt and Tae Hayes blocking a field goal at Coastal Carolina, App State now ranks No. 2 nationally with six blocked kicks on the season. Only Toledo, with seven, has more.

From scoring four TDs (a total that is tied for the FBS lead), punting well (Clayton Howell ranks 14th nationally with a net average of 41.2 following snaps from senior Elias McMurry, plus Xavier Subotsch contributed to three punts being downed inside the 10 at Coastal) and kicking well (Rubino is in the top 25 nationally in both touchbacks and touchback percentage, while Chandler Staton is averaging 7.0 points a game), App State's special teams have been extremely productive to date.

Texas State has had five kicks blocked this season, one fewer than the national high, and the Bobcats are 6 of 13 on field goals with four PAT misses, so special teams are one area in which App State has performed better to this point in the season.

Texas State's improved 3-4 defense is anchored by inside linebacker Bryan London II, who is tied with App State's Akeem Davis-Gaither for the league lead in tackles per Sun Belt game, but London will miss the first half of Saturday's game because of a third-quarter targeting penalty at Georgia State. The Bobcats did hold Georgia Southern to 164 rushing yards.

With Davis-Gaither, Jordan Fehr and others leading an App State defense that is allowing only 15.1 points every four quarters — Coastal Carolina's only points came on an interception return for a touchdown — Texas State will counter with an offense in which 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore quarterback Willie Jones III averages team highs of 136.9 yards passing and 55.9 yards rushing per game.

The top target for Jones, who completed 21 of 25 passes for 325 yards and rushed for 62 yards at Georgia State, is 250-pound tight end Keenan Brown. He 37 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns.

"With the quarterback playing the way he is now, they're hard to defend," Satterfield said. "We have to do a great job of staying in our gaps and staying on top of receivers, because one of the things he does very well, when he gets out of the pocket, if you lose coverage, all of a sudden he can throw a touchdown pass."