CSJ 2020 Myrtle Beach Bowl Preview: Appalachian State vs. North Texas

Appalachian State vs. North Texas
When: Monday, December 21st, 2:30 PM EST
Where: Brooks Stadium, Conway, S.C.
TV/Streaming: ESPN, WatchESPN

Appalachian State and North Texas M are set to kick off bowl season Monday afternoon in the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl. This is the first bowl game due to the Dec. 19th Frisco Bowl being canceled.

The Mountaineers are appearing in their sixth consecutive bowl game. Appalachian State, is 5-0 in these appearances over that span and overall all-time. First year App State Coach Shawn Clark led Appalachian State to an 8-3 record this season.

North Texas was just 4-5 overall this season but this will be the Mean Green’s fourth bowl in the last five years. Coach Seth Littrell is 1-3 in bowls with a 52-13 loss to Utah State in the 2018 New Mexico Bowl the most recent after missing a bowl a year ago. UNT is 2-7 all-time in bowl games.

These two teams will meet for the first time. North Texas was a prior member of the Sun Belt Conference but exited the year before Appalachian State entered the league in 2012. The Mean Green then entered Conference USA, where they have been since.

This game might be one of the biggest mismatches at least on paper of all the bowl games, especially on defense, this year (not knowing all the match-ups as of yet). Below shows this comparison, along with key performers on each side of the ball for each team:

Appalachian State Mountaineers (2nd SBC East, 8-3, 6-2)

The Mountaineers’ had a bit of down season for their standards–having won the prior three Sun Belt Conference titles. The three losses for the Mountaineers came against Marshall, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana – three Group of Five Schools that made it to their conference championship game.

Senior QB Zac Thomas led the Mountaineers’ offense with 2,075 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes and added 277 rushing yards and two scores. In his career, he is No. 3 in school history with 68 career TD passes, No. 4 with 6,865 passing yards and No. 5 in TD responsibility (87).

Thomas has a number of receivers to find. The top receiver is WR Thomas Hennigan, who leads the team with 45 receptions for 571 yards. Fellow senior Malik Williams (41 rec., 536 yds.), is right behind him. Both Hennigan and Williams have caught three touchdown passes, one fewer than team leader Christian Wells, who ranks third on the team with 220 receiving yards on 14 receptions. WR Jalen Virgil has 210 yards and three scores among his 20 catches and is likely the fastest member of the Mountaineers.

Appalachian State ranked second in the SBC and ninth in all of the FBS in rushing offense during the regular season, averaging 243.55 yards per game. Senior Marcus Williams Jr. and junior Daetrich Harrington were expected to be the lead backs for the Mountaineers this season, but both have missed multiple games with injuries and are unlikely to play in this bowl game. In their absence, Camerun Peoples has emerged to lead the team with 807 yards and is tied with Harrington (595 rushing yards) for the team lead with seven touchdowns.

App State is allowing 19.3 points per game. Remove two pick-six TDs and a kickoff return for a TD against the Mountaineers, and App State’s defense is responsible for allowing 17.4 points per game.

The App State secondary has been one of the nation’s best. CBs Shemar Jean-Charles and Shaun Jolly lead the group, while emerging CB Steven Jones returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown against Troy.
Jean-Charles. He has 16 PBUs and 17 passes defended to lead the nation. LB Trey Cobb led the defense in tackles with 79.

Key Player: QB Zac Thomas

Thomas was expected to take a step forward towards what would be a promising NFL draft spot after this year. He, however, has not shown up big especially in the three losses this year. While he is a senior, this potentially could be his last game (although with the NCAA has granted another year of eligibility for all players due to the COVID-19 pandemic). He would like to regardless if this is his last college game to finish this season strong. He will need to use the running game behind him and then mix in the short passing game first before going long.

North Texas Mean Green (4th C-USA West, 4-5, 3-4)

The quarterback position has been a two-man show for the Mean Green. Both Jason Bean and Austin Aune have made starts and often switched during games. Bean has started the last five game but in the last game he only attempted one pass before giving way to Aune, who then had possibly his best game of the year with 302 yards passing and five touchdowns.

Whichever signal caller had played, they made a point to find WR Jaelon Darden. But he he decided to sit this game out as he announced his intentions to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. The nation’s leader in touchdown catches (19), Darden leads Conference USA and ranks among the top five nationally with 74 receptions and 1,190 yards. WR Deonte Simpson (25 rec., 517 yds., 4 TDs) is the UNT top receiver entering the bowl game.

With the possible uncertainty with the receiving side, the Mean Green might turn to the running game. UNT used a trio including North Texas has DeAndre Torrey, Oscar Adaway III and Tre Siggers all season. All backs have had their moments with all rushing for over 300 yards each.

The Mean Green defense has been the big question mark this season as it has had an explosive offense. Trying to stop the App State offense will be a big concern.

LB K.D. Davis has 70 total tackles this season along with three sacks, while DE Dion Novil led the team in tackles for a loss (8) to go with 37 stops. These two will try to lead the team to control the Mountaineer offense.

Key Player: WR Deonte Simpson

Simpson will move into the lead receiver roll in this game and will need to outperform his output thus far this season. The key for the Mean Green offense to move the ball will be to get Simpson involved early to keep the offense flowing. He will garner the top coverage against one of the nation’s top cornerback group so he will need to try to find opening and likely UNT will need to use the short passing game and move it slowly to keep the ball away from the powerful App State offense.

Fearless Forecast:

This game looks to start the bowl season off with a bang with a lot of scoring with two powerful offenses. The App State defense is much better on paper and think that will also come out on the “Smurf Turf” of Brooks Stadium. The Mountaineers will win this one going away and send its large group of seniors off with another bowl victory. App State 41 North Texas 20