There’s just no running from it. It’s not a long series, but it’s been extremely one-sided on the scoreboard.
UL has never beaten Appalachian State.
It’s part of what makes Saturday's trip to Boone, North Carolina, for the 11 a.m. Sun Belt Conference championship game on ESPN such a juicy challenge for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
And while it’s true all seven of the games were decided by double figures, there’s no denying the Cajuns have closed the gap since hiring Billy Napier.
The Mountaineers beat UL 27-17 in the regular season in Boone last season and then 30-19 in the Sun Belt title game, again in North Carolina.
In October, Appalachian State played better in the second half of a 17-7 victory at Cajun Field.
Prior to those three games, the Mountaineers had outscored UL 140-37 through the first four meetings.
In Saturday’s postgame news conference after the 31-30 win over UL-Monroe, it wasn’t hard to detect what was one of UL coach Billy Napier’s fa…
At his weekly press conference, Napier wasn’t about to reveal secrets about his staff’s plan against Appalachian State, which is ranked No. 20 in both major polls and No. 21 in the College Football Playoff ranking.
“I feel like we’ve played these guys three times now and we know them," Napier said. "We know their personnel. Certainly got a little bit more film on all three coordinators. It’s an individual game with individual matchups and we’re going to approach it that way.”
While the two teams will be playing for the fourth time in the past two seasons, ASU does have a new coaching staff this season. So head coach Eliah Drinkwitz feels too much attention is being placed on this year’s first meeting.
“We played such a long time ago,” Drinkwitz said. “I think both teams have changed, maybe formatted on who they are and are playing to their strengths more than they were in Week 5.
“For us, we were still trying to figure out who we were going to be and what our identity was going to be. So I’m not sure how much you put into it. Obviously, you look at the personnel matchups, but as far as schemes, I think you have to go back the more recent games and figure out what they believe are their best schemes.”
It is true each of the last three losses had their own storyline.
In the first meeting last year, the Cajuns were just starting the Napier era. Still, the Mountaineers only outgained UL 372-328.
With the score tied at 10 in the second quarter last season, UL got a bad break when Eric Garror intercepted a pass at the UL 38 and appeared headed for a long return when he was ruled down instead.
In the second half, the Mountaineers wore down UL’s defense behind 266 yards rushing.
In the title game last December, the Cajuns actually had a 301-300 edge in total yards and first downs 16-13, as well as time of possession.
The difference was a minus-2 turnover ratio and settling for four field goals — including a pair of short ones from 23 and 24 yards.
UL only threw for 85 yards in the game and ASU for 75.
The passing games figure to play bigger roles this time around.
Some of it has been opportunity and some of it is just an inexperienced player growing up down the stretch.
In this year’s meeting Oct. 9 in Lafayette, UL’s offense was limited to 254 yards.
Still, the Cajuns got a 42-yard field goal blocked that would have taken the lead in the third quarter, turned it over on downs at the ASU 1 to end an 11-play drive in the second quarter and the Mountaineers didn’t put the game away until a 19-play, 97-yard drive made it 17-7 with 1:55 left to play.
The other clear difference in that meeting was ASU quarterback Zac Thomas rushing for 63 yards and two scores on 15 carries, compared to Cajun QB Levi Lewis settling for four carries for a minus-16 because of three quarterback sacks.
“We had a few too many negative plays on offense, playing from behind the sticks a little bit and certainly missed opportunities down in the red zone,” Napier said. “We had fourth and goal from the one when we didn’t punch it in. We missed a field goal in the game."
While Napier obviously wasn’t going to unveil his game plan, the main characteristics of a Cajuns’ victory don’t appear to be a deep, dark secret.
Normally, UL senior wide receiver Jarrod “Bam” Jackson pays close attention when opponents are attempting field goals and extra points.
Typically upsets revolve around forcing turnovers. Short of winning the turnover battle, the Cajuns need to be able to score more touchdowns when in the red zone and not allow Appalachian State’s special teams to produce any points.
And of course, the rushing battle between the two mobile quarterbacks needs to be a lot closer this time around.
On one hand, it’s hard to imagine these two offenses being stifled as much in this rematch. There were a total of seven three-and-outs in that game and nine total combined punts on drives of six or fewer plays.
After all, UL is averaging 38.8 points a game and the Mountaineers 38.9 points a game.
But on the other hand, UL’s defense is only allowing 17.8 points a game, while Appalachian State’s defense allows 18.8 points a game.
“Each game has a life of its own,” Drinkwitz said. “You’re talking about a defensive game with field-position issues on both sides of the football and goal line stands and going for it on fourth down. It was more of an NFL-style game than maybe what an open college game is now, which is fine."
Sooner or later, UL is going to beat Appalachian State in football. The 2019 Cajuns just hope it happens Saturday.
A game that wound up being decided by field goals — one made, one missed — was supposed to match the Sun Belt Conference’s best rushing team a…