Special to College Sports Journal by Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Senior Writer Tim Gayle
MONTGOMERY, AL. — It seems a little strange to see Taylor Lamb setting all kinds of passing records at Appalachian State.
Not too many years ago, Lamb stood on the sideline of one of the Mountaineers’ most hated rivals. It was a mutual feeling, he admitted.
“My dad was the head football coach at Furman, played at Furman and coached at Furman forever, so I grew up in Greenville, S.C., around Furman University and grew up hating App State, to be honest with you,” Lamb said.
Bobby Lamb — a star quarterback, who led the Paladins to the 1985 I-AA championship game — had served as an assistant at Furman since 1986 and had been the head coach since 2002, so Lamb’s hatred was understandable between two ultra-successful Southern Conference rivals.
But underneath the hatred was a feeling of respect for a program that had accomplished so much.
When Bobby Lamb was fired as Furman’s coach after the 2010 season and accepted a similar position at Mercer to start back the Bears’ long-dormant program, it must have been a strange conversation between father and son when Taylor announced he was backing out of his commitment to South Alabama to accept a scholarship to Appalachian State.
“Traveling to App State, going to the games, the fans are crazy,” the young quarterback said, referring to Mountaineer crazies in a positive way. “I’d come back home and meet with my dad and say, ‘That would be a cool place to play.’ He’d say, ‘Don’t say that.’ I always wanted to go on the App State vs. Furman trips and watch the game just because of how crazy the atmosphere was.”
Taylor Lamb nearly ended up playing for one of Appalachian’s Sun Belt Conference rivals.
“I was committed to South Alabama and took a visit to App and loved it, so I came to App.”
If his arrival in Boone, N.C., seemed unlikely to the normal college football fan, consider the timing, which makes it an even stranger decision.
Lamb signed with the Mountaineers in 2013 as they were preparing to embark on a transition from Football Championship Subdivision to Football Bowl Subdivision and were not eligible for postseason play. He became the starting quarterback in 2014, their first FBS season which also included a postseason ban.
“I knew when I committed we were going to transition, so the first year I was here we were SoCon and we weren’t very motivated because we couldn’t go to the playoffs,” Lamb said. “Coming in (off a redshirt year), we were like, we’ve got to make something happen. The first six games, losing five, you’re wondering if we’re cut out for this. What’s going to happen the next couple of years. If we made the wrong decision. We came together as a team and really fought those last six games to get some good upsets at the time.”
It all turned in an October rout of Troy, triggering a string of 16 wins in the last 18 games, with the only losses coming to top-ranked Clemson and Sun Belt champion Arkansas State.
“We sensed it was turning because we had Troy, which had been at the top of the conference for a while, and then (Louisiana) Monroe, Arkansas State and (Louisiana) Lafayette back to back to back,” Lamb said. “We knew we had to win that one (at Troy) to get on a roll for those three, get some confidence going. So we went to Troy and played great on offense, played great on defense and won the ballgame pretty handily.”
And that bud of confidence has grown from there.
“It’s different when you don’t know if you can compete to where you know you can compete. Now we’re sitting here at 10-2.”
This season, Lamb ranks seventh in the nation in passing efficiency and should he finish as the league’s top-rated passer, as expected, he would become the first to ever lead the conference in passing efficiency as both a freshman and a sophomore.
“He’s a winner, he’s been around football all his life and he can throw the football, he’s talented,” Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said.
At Appalachian State, the comparisons to Armanti Edwards– from a winning perspective – are inevitable.
Lamb became the first freshman to start a game at quarterback since DeAndre Presley replaced an injured Edwards in 2008, the first freshman quarterback to rally his team in the fourth quarter since Edwards in 2006 and the second-most total offense yards in school history since Edwards in 2006. He also broke Edwards’ school marks for passing yards and touchdown passes by a freshman.
“Armanti is very special,” said Satterfield, who has coached both. “He broke 64 school records as a quarterback and he graduated in three and a half years as a two-time national player of the year. But what we’re doing now is a little bit different. Back then, we asked Armanti to run the ball a lot. We don’t ask Taylor to do that. We ask Taylor to distribute the ball to our playmakers and he’s done a fabulous job of that with 29 touchdown passes in an offense that primarily runs the football. But it makes the defense have to defend both the pass and the run.”
Those 29 touchdown passes are one shy of the school’s single-season record held by Edwards. Lamb also ranks in the top 15 nationally in yards per completion, touchdown passes, points responsible and yards per attempt.
Not bad for a guy on a run-oriented team.
“In high school, we ran the spread and threw the ball a whole lot, so I sort of had to fit into the system,” Lamb said. “But, now, I’ve got a pretty sweet job. Our defense is really good and we’ve got a stable of running backs behind a great offensive line that likes to run downhill. So, for me, it’s whatever is winning ballgames and that’s what is winning ballgames.”
If they can win one more, they’ll become the first team in history to transition from FCS to FBS and win 11 games in their first season of bowl eligibility.
“When we were recruited, it was like you guys can take us to App State’s first bowl game,” Lamb said. “It kind of went in one ear and out the other. Now, sitting here in Montgomery at our first bowl game, it’s huge. I mean, this is what we worked for. I hope we finish out the season with 11 wins.”