By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
NORFOLK, VA. — For several years, Appalachian State and Old Dominion have admired each other’s football programs from afar. On Saturday afternoon, these two Football Bowl Subdivision newbies will get to take their fresh rivalry to the field.
App State (1-1) travels to Foreman Field for a 3:30 p.m. game that will match programs with a common goal — reaching their first NCAA Division I Bowl game in their first year of eligibility.
“They’ve got a very good program,” ASU coach Scott Satterfield said of Old Dominion (2-1). “They are very similar to us.”
There is one major difference, however. While Appalachian and Georgia Southern were building success in the Football Championship Subdivision with a combined nine national titles on the way to accepting bids to the Sun Belt, Old Dominion is one of a number of schools who has started, or restarted football in the past few years and has used its quick success to secure its future in Conference USA.
Both teams are coming off lopsided losses to Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.
Appalachian had a week off following its 41-10 defeat at Clemson and Old Dominion dropped its 38-14 decision at North Carolina State on Saturday.
It puts both teams in the position of needing out-of-conference wins with league competition around the corner in a couple of weeks.
“It’s a big game for us,” said Satterfield. “For the third game of the season, it doesn’t get much bigger for us.”
Against the Monarchs, App State will be facing a squad that has built its reputation on outscoring opponents with its high-octane spread attack. Even though ODU’s coach Bobby Wilder built his reputation as a defensive coordinator at Maine, it has been offense that has fueled Old Dominion’s rise.
Quarterback Taylor Heineke won the 2013 Walter Payton Award by breaking tons of passing marks at ODU, including passing for an NCAA-single-game record of 730 yards in a contest against New Hampshire.
With Heineke having graduated, Wilder has turned the controls of his explosive offense over to redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley and has put more emphasis on the running game behind breakaway threat Ray Lawry.
Bentley was 11-of-23 for 151 yards passing against a tough NC State defense.
“Shuler continues to improve,” said Wilder. “He threw two touchdown passes an no interceptions (against the Wolfpack).”
Satterfield said this young quarterback reminds him of another young player, this one who wears ASU’s gold and black.
“Their quarterback reminds me a lot of Taylor Lamb last year,” Satterfield explained, making the comparison with Lamb’s first season as a starter. “He has a lot of the same skills.”
While ODU is running the ball more, it still has the ability to strike quickly with the pass with a stable of talented and speedy receivers.
While ODU is improved on defense, that improvement hasn’t been as quick as Wilder would like.
“I thought at this point in the year, we would have a much improved defense from last year and we do,” Wilder said. “Last year we gave up an average of 38 points per game and right now we are giving up 27. That’s not quite where we want to be.”
That could turn out to be a problem against a Mountaineer team that has displayed its dominant running game and balanced it with an effective passing attack against every team not named Clemson in winning six of their past seven games.
“I definitely think we have an advantage (on offense),” said senior receiver Malachi Jones. “This is a statement game in my opinion.”
The Mountaineers should expect to grind things out behind the Marcus Cox-rushing attack, but they need a return to form from Lamb, who was forced into three second-quarter interceptions at Clemson.
“They are a good running team,” Wilder said of the Mountaineers. “They have eight juniors, or seniors on offense, so you can do a lot more when you’re dealing with a veteran team.”
ASU junior free safety Alex Gray is looking forward to getting back on the field after the loss to Clemson and thinks that last week’s off-week will help the Mountaineers get back on track.
“We’ve had two solid weeks to get ready for them,” said Gray. “This is the most important game we’ve played. We beat a Howard team we were suppose to beat and we lost to Clemson. Now we are matching ourselves against someone a lot like us.”