CSJ 2021 Sun Belt Conference Championship Game Preview — Appalachian State at Louisiana

APPALACHIAN STATE AT LOUISIANA
WHEN: SATURDAY, DECEMBER 4, 3:30 PM EST
WHERE: CAJUN FIELD, LAFAYETTE, LA.
TV/STREAMING: ESPN / WATCHESPN

The two teams that the Sun Belt Conference has ever seen in its history of the game will meet again this year for the third time. Appalachian State will travel to Louisiana after these two schools met the first two times the SBC title game took place. Note, however, last year’s game was to be Louisiana at Coastal Carolina but was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols within the CCU program and the two division champions were declared co-champions due to the championship game not taking place.

Both schools were picked high in the SBC preseason polls with Louisiana finishing right where they were selected and now have been the SBC West Division champions four years in a row. App State was selected second behind last year’s East Division champion of Coastal Carolina.

App State leads the all-time series with UL 8-2, including eight straight wins from 2014-19. But UL won the last two meetings, including a 24-21 road victory in 2020 and a 41-13 earlier this year in Lafayette. See highlights of this year’s game below:

Appalachian State Mountaineers (10-2, 7-1 SBC)

LOCATION: BOONE, N.C.

HEAD COACH: Shawn Clark (2nd Season, 20-5 @ App St & Overall)

Appalachian State is back in the Sun Belt title game after missing out on what would have been this game last season. It will be the first one for second-year head coach Shawn Clark, who has led the Mountaineers to an impressive 10 wins including six straight victories to close out the 2021 regular season.

QB Chase Brice heads a potent Mountaineer offense that averages 439.9 yards and 35.8 points per game. The transfeer from Duke (and Clemson before that) has put together a solid campaign in his first year behind center for the Mountaineers completing 63.8 percent of his pass attempts for a Sun Belt-leading 2,901 yards to go along with 22 touchdowns.

The Mountaineers boast one of the best offensive lines not just in the Sun Belt but really in all of college football allowing just 10 sacks all season (fourth fewest in the FBS). App State also features possibly the best trio of receivers in the Sun Belt, all of which rank among the top 10 in the SBC in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. WR Corey Sutton headlines that group with a team-high 59 receptions for 876 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by fellow WRs Malik Williams (49 rec., 776 yds., 6 TDs) and Thomas Hennigan (49, 705, 5).

App State also has a great RB duo in Nate Noel and Camerun Peoples. Noel leads the SBC in rushing yards and is the only player in the conference to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark during the regular season. Meanwhile, Peoples is tied for the Sun Belt lead in rushing touchdowns (13).

The Mountaineer defense has also been outstanding this year. Appalachian State defense that ranks 12th in all of FBS in total defense (315.3 ypg) and 14th nationally in scoring defense (18.9 ppg). App State have accumulated 15 interceptions (sixth in FBS), while giving up just 11 touchdowns through the air in 12 contests.

CB Steven Jones’ tied for the most interceptions in the nation with five. LB D’Marco Jackson is another team leader with his 103 tackles, 15 TFLs, 5.0 sacks.

Key Player: QB Chase Brice

Brice has been a key to the Mountaineers winning the SBC East Division but one thing that has been thorn in his side is number of interceptions. He has 10 interceptions on the season and had two in the prior meeting with the Cajuns.

If the Mountaineers are going to pull off the road win over Louisiana, they will need to win the turnover battle so Brice will need to not turn it over. He will also need to be key on third downs to keep the Mountaineers offense on the field and to keep his team with the time of possession advantage.

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (11-1, 8-0 SBC)

LOCATION: LAFAYETTE, LA.

HEAD COACH: Billy Napier (4th Season, 39-12 @ ULL & Overall)

The big news ahead of this championship game for the Cajuns is that this likely will be Coach Billy Napier’s final game for the school he has built up in his four years. He got hired away by Florida and will be taking over that SEC program following this game.

QB Levi Lewis and the passing attack has been able to fill in the gap when the running game has been a little lackluster in some games, the defense allowed 21 points or fewer in nine of the last ten games, and turnover margin has played a monster role in some close wins for the Cajuns.

WR Peter LeBlanc leads the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (350), while fellow WR Kyren Lacy leads the Cajuns in touchdown catches with five. All-conference tackle Max Mitchell headlines a stout Louisiana offensive line that has given up a respectable 20 sacks in 12 games while leading the way for a dangerous four-pronged rushing attack that produces 192.3 yards per contest. That group consists of RBs Chris Smith (134 att., 834 yds., 8 TDs), Montrell Johnson (135, 776, 11), and Emani Bailey (71, 431, 5) to go along with Lewis at quarterback (79, 226, 4).

The defense for Louisiana has been a key to winning this season. This unit has given up 349.7 yards and just 18.5 points per game. In the first meeting this season, Louisiana limited the Appalachian State offense to a season-low 211 yards and 13 points. The Cajuns also forced four App State turnovers, which could once again be a critical factor in this rematch.

Louisiana is led on this side of the ball by LB Chauncey Manac (team-high 9.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss) and DE Zi’Yon Hill (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble).

Key Player: QB Levi Lewis

Lewis will be playing in his final home game in his Cajun career and will be looking to go out with a full Sun Belt title. He has a 33-7 record as a starter and already holds school records for total offense and career touchdown passes. He will need to though play the same way he has really throughout his career at Louisiana.

He led a balanced offensive attack in the win earlier this season and will need to again lead a similar offense in this rematch that is anticipated to a much tighter game than this one. In that game, he threw for 209 yards through the air and added a three-yard rushing score so similar numbers to lead to a Louisiana win.

Fearless Forecast:

I think the prior game this season between these two squads was not truly how App State will play in this game so this game should be much tighter. The Mountaineers will play better than they did in the previous game also in Lafayette.

But I think the emotion of Coach Napier leaving the team and having the home field advantage will lead the Cajuns to a victory but will need a late touchdown to overcome the Mountaineers and the Louisiana defense will force a couple of Mountaineer turnovers (just not four like the prior meeting).

I think Levi Lewis and company will deliver on a late scoring drive to send Coach Napier and Lewis off with a Sun Belt title. Louisiana 31 Appalachian State 27

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