By David Rogers. September 19, 2020. HUNTINGTON, WV — The Thundering Herd…well, they thundered by the #23-ranked Appalachian State football team on Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Outplayed in all facets of the football game, the Mountaineers succumbed to host Marshall, 17-7.
COVER IMAGE: Marshall’s junior RB Brenden Knox finds a gap at the line of scrimmage, contributing to 136 yards rushing on the day vs. App State. Photo courtesy of Marshall Athletics
In some respects, neither team lived up to the lofty expectations they established for themselves in last week’s victories. After rolling up more than 300 yards rushing vs. Charlotte in Week 1, Appalachian State managed only 96 total yards running the football in this road game.
As for Marshall, after passing for 307 yards and four TDs in his collegiate debut last week vs. Eastern Kentucky, redshirt freshman Grant Wells was mostly held in check by the App State defense. Wells completed just 11-of-25 passes for 163 yards, no TDs, and one INT against the Mountaineers, but posed just enough of an aerial threat to keep the High Country visitors off balance.
Keys to the Game
- Marshall orchestrated a balanced offense that featured a punishing rushing attack, led by redshirt junior RB Brenden Knox’s 136 yards on 28 carries
- Marshall’s defense stopped App State’s highly touted rushing attack, limiting the Mountaineers to just 96 net yards on the ground, with no rushing TDs
- Marshall controlled possession almost four minutes longer than App State (31:59 to 28:01, much of that advantage in the decisive 4th quarter)
- While the teams’ net Total Yards of offense were almost even, 364 by App State vs. 379 by Marshall, the Thundering Herd’s two forced fumbles, including one fumble recovery in the end zone, were key difference makers
A balanced attack may well be the key to Marshall’s offensive performance. Led by redshirt junior running back Brenden Knox, Marshall rolled up 216 yards on the ground. Knox’s 138 yards on 28 carries included five “chunk plays” of 10 or more rushing yards by the RB over the first three quarters of the game and two of them came on third and long situations that extended Herd possessions and kept App State’s offense off the field.
In fact, App State’s inability to consistently stop Marshall from converting third downs was but one key weakness in this game. The Thundering Herd made good on 46.7% (7 of 15) of their third down situations. With 6.6 yards their average distance to go on third down, Marshall’s offense rose to the challenge. On two first downs gained through the air, the Herd averaged 13 yards per completion. On five first downs gained on the ground, the home team averaged 6.4 yards.
On most Saturday afternoons, the Mountaineers might be satisfied with only allowing an opponent 17 points — and come away with a win. On this day, Marshall’s defense held the often explosive App State offense in check.
To be fair, the Mountaineers were “in” this football game for the better part of the first three quarters of play and looked like they could pull off another come-from-behind win. They trailed 10-7 at halftime and 17-7 after Wells ran around the left side with 4:44 left in the third period.
In response to Wells’ score, the Zac Thomas-led Mountaineers could only manage 25 yards on six plays before having to punt. The defense shut down Wells and the Marshall offense on the hosts’ last offensive possession of the third quarter, forcing a three-and-out.
Then it appeared as if Thomas, the Mountaineers’ senior QB, had rekindled some offensive “mojo” as the third quarter turned the corner into the 4th. He completed a 10-yard pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Christian Wells before junior running back Daetrich Harrington added two more yards rushing to end the third period. On the second play of the final period, Thomas alertly picked up seven yards around the left side after faking a pitchout to his running back, Harrington. On 4th-and-1, with the Marshall defense stacked up to stop an expected Camerun Peoples run for short yardage, Thomas faked the handoff to the big sophomore RB, whirled, raised up, and sent a perfect spiral into the hands of senior tight end Mike Evans sprinting into the open over the middle.
The 6-3, 235 lb. transfer from Lenoir-Rhyne two seasons ago gathered in the pass near the Marshall 38 yard line and started sprinting for paydirt. The Thundering Herd’s redshirt senior safety Brandon Drayton caught up with Evans at about the 8-yard line and twice tried to punch the ball out of the Mountaineer’s arms as he was tackling him from behind. The second time he was successful, at the five yard line, and Evans (along with all of App Nation) could only watch in dismay as Marshall’s other safety, redshirt senior Nazeeh Johnson recovered the punched out fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
From there, it was all about ball control for the Thundering Herd. Marshall controlled offensive possession for 10 minutes, 12 seconds in the 4th quarter, to App State’s 4:48. Thomas & Co. fashioned a 14-play, 77 yard drive that could have pulled the Mountaineers to within a touchdown of tying the game, but senior placekicker Chandler Staton’s field goal attempt from the Marshall 26 yard line was pushed just outside of the right upright.
With only 2:54 left in the game at this point, the writing of a rare Mountaineer football defeat was on the proverbial wall.
“That was a big momentum swing,” Mountaineer head coach Shawn Clark conceded in his post-game remarks. “Score a touchdown and we are only down by three (with most of the final quarter left to play). But it was a turnover and we have to get that corrected, and in a hurry.”
In summation, though, Clark was quick to credit Marshall. “They have really good players…and they outplayed us today.”
Appalachian State returns to the friendly confines of Kidd-Brewer Stadium next Saturday to face a rising FCS program in Campbell University, which lost to Coastal Carolina, 43-21, on Friday. Marshall will have a couple of weeks off before traveling to Bowling Green, KY to open Conference-USA play at Western Kentucky.