It wasn’t a deep dark secret Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark tucked away until the season began.
Way back in July at Sun Belt football media days in New Orleans, he proclaimed to all listening that his Mountaineers’ offense would include a big-play passing threat.
He wasn’t joking.
Transfer quarterback Chase Brice has thrown for 1,360 yards with four receivers averaging more than 14 yards a catch, including one with more than 22 yards a pop.
It’s not really a do-or-die game.
Throw in two running backs with over 350 yards rushing through five games and the UL Ragin’ Cajuns have quite a chore on their hands heading into Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. ESPN2 Sun Belt Conference showdown at Cajun Field.
“They’ve got good skill players,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “Their backs are tough to tackle. The receivers have gotten open and the quarterback really has played exceptionally in my opinion. He’s been accurate, decisive, he’s distributed the ball well. They’ve played really well across the board.”
That’s especially challenging for the Cajuns (4-1, 2-0) after their defense allowed the bulk of South Alabama’s 243 passing yards in the second half on chunk plays.
“I feel like we just need to be more patient,” UL junior safety Percy Butler said. “In the second half, they saw us jumping a lot of their routes in the first half, so they schemed us up and they came out in the second half with double moves … which got them open and created some explosive plays for them.
"So I feel like we’ve got to be more patient.”
Part of Butler’s point ties right into the Mountaineers’ passing strategy.
The UL defensive front was instrumental during the program's first win over Appalachian State last season.
“They run the ball a lot to open some shots, and they take a lot of shots,” said Butler, who has 21 tackles and an interception on the season. “They’ve got that connection between the quarterback and the receivers, so they’ve been completing a lot of the shots they’ve been taking. They’re using the running game to make you fall asleep basically and then they throw a shot and they complete a 50-yard bomb on you.”
The Cajuns will be attempting to beat the Mountaineers for the second straight season after winning on the road last season for their first win over Appalachian State in nine tries.
Another major area of concern for UL in this matchup against the Mountaineers (4-1, 1-0) is the kicking game.
ASU placekicker Chandler Staton has made all 20 of his extra points and all eight of his field goal attempts for the season with a long of 48.
Meanwhile, the Cajuns lost starting kicker Kenny Almendares for the season to an injury after the Georgia Southern win, and Nate Snyder missed an extra point and two field goals in the 20-18 win at South Alabama on Oct. 2.
Freshman Logan Klotz has competed with Snyder for duties over the past week.
“Both have had really good weeks,” Napier said. “We kind of split the reps up there with Nate and Logan. We’ll evaluate that all the way until pregame is over with.”
When offensive lineman Ken Marks arrived on UL’s campus seven years ago out of Central High in Beaumont, Texas, he thought he knew a little ab…
Napier said he remains open to the possibility of utilizing both kickers, depending on game situations.
One area appearing much healthier for the Cajuns in their last game was the offensive line, where questions about the left side of the line were answered by senior Ken Marks moving to tackle and freshman A.J. Gillie sparking a 225-yard rushing attack.
“The big thing is A.J. Gillie is growing up,” Napier said. “He continues to grow up and that helps.
“Ken had an opportunity to spend an entire week at tackle, rather than we get a guy banged up in the middle of a game and he hasn’t been practicing there and he has to slide out and play tackle. Then we got consistent play on the edges. The running backs were decisive.”
However, as Napier was quick to point out, the offense still “left a lot out there against South Alabama.”
That will be much more difficult to get away with against a well-rounded Appalachian State team.
“They’ve got an identity,” Napier said. “This year in particular, they’ve done a nice job of adding some wrinkles that complement what they do and can create some problems for you. The main thing is they’re really fundamentally sound, they tackle well and they play extremely hard. I’ve got so much respect for how hard they play and the fundamentals they play with.
“They’re always sound conceptually and have really good team speed. That makes it hard on you.”
The strange portion of the UL football schedule has arrived.
UL’s young corps of running backs has shown improvement of late, and that’s critical with the Mountaineers sporting Nate Noel (80-511, 1 TD) and Camerun Peoples (67-353, 8 TDs).
Emani Bailey (34-249, 2 TDs) paces the balanced attack that also includes Montrell Johnson (45-232, 4 TDs) and Chris Smith (52-231, 3 TDs).
“Yeah, I think you can see where they’ve incrementally gotten better, more comfortable,” Napier said. “They’re learning from their mistakes. It becomes more real to them and certainly they’ve developed more confidence.”
Somehow, Napier is hoping his team can put it all together at the right time.
“We’ve played really well at times in certain areas, but we’ve yet to put it all together,” Napier said. “Regardless of who we play, we’re trying to compete against our best and I think we’ve yet to play our best football. That’s what we’re searching for.”