Saturday's R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, on the first day college bowl games are played this season, could well be a game in passing.
That is, the matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome likely will come down to whether the stout defense of Sun Belt Conference champion Appalachian State (10-2) can keep in check the passing game of Conference USA runner-up Middle Tennessee State (8-5) and quarterback Brent Stockstill.
Stockstill, the C-USA MVP, passed for 3,214 yards and 28 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
“What makes our offense so good is any one of eight guys can have a big day catching the ball,” said coach Rick Stockstill, Brent's dad and the C-USA Coach of the Year. “(Leading receiver) Ty Lee (67 receptions, 828 yards, seven touchdowns) might catch 10 passes one game and not catch that many the next game. But another guy will emerge, depending on what we're trying to do.”
Appalachian State interim coach Mark Ivey, who coaches the Mountaineers' defensive line, said that's because the Blue Raiders attack from many formations, which can cause a defense to be confused.
“They move players around a lot, and they have three seniors and two juniors on the offensive line,” Ivey said. “That veteran presence on the offensive line is big. And, they have a senior quarterback who is a veteran, and he can make throws with guys hanging all over him.”
Rick Stockstill said Appalchian State's defense presents a big challenge, however. The Mountaineers rotate defensive linemen to keep up their attack against offenses. Linebackers Akeem Davis-Gaither, Anthony Flory and Jordan Fehr are among the top tacklers in the Sun Belt, and the speedy secondary — which goes by the moniker "Legion of Boone," named for the campus' location in Boone, North Carolina — plays coverage with a swagger and has intercepted 15 passes.
Appalachian State ranks third nationally in pass defense, second in yards allowed per pass (5.3) and sixth in total defense.
“It starts with their front seven,” Rick Stockstill said. “You have to slow them down.”
A good running attack would help to complement Brent Stockstill, who is No. 1 among active FBS quarterbacks with 105 career touchdown passes and has completed 70.5 percent of his throws this season. Chaton Mobley leads the Blue Raiders in rushing with 579 yards. But Flory said that could be misleading.
“First of all, he is a big, strong back, a former linebacker,” Flory said. “He's tough. Then they have six other running backs they play regularly.
“All season long, we've tried to take away the run and then pressure the passer. And we certainly will be looking to do that Saturday.”