After a rough week three, the Sun Belt had another chance to notch a few signature wins in week four. While a few teams got the job done, a couple of others never clocked in. Along with big out of conference games, there were a pair of key conference games as well. We’ll take a look at how it all went down right here, starting with the heart-breaker.
Wake Forest 20
Appalachian State 19
So. Close. The Mountaineers’ 39 yard field goal in the final seconds was blocked, giving the Demon Deacons the win. Appalachian State’s defense came to play, though, holding Wake’s offense to just three points in the first half.
The Deacons burst into the second half with a pair of quick touchdowns to steal the lead in Boone. After trading field goals, it came down to the foot of Michael Rubino. Unfortunately, his kick was never given a chance.
Understand that App State head coach Scott Satterfield will not accept this as a moral victory. However, the Mountaineers showed that they have not gone anywhere. After a relatively poor performance on the road against Texas State, many suspected that App State could be down this year. That is not the case, though.
The Mountaineer defense is more than capable of pulling this team forward until the vastly under-performing Jalin Moore finds a groove. Until then, App State will continue to lean on the arm of Taylor Lamb on offense. Lamb had a career high 50 pass attempts against Wake but completed only 26 of them. He hasn’t thrown a pick this year- ball protection is his biggest strength- but he’s not going to make many big plays through the air either.
App State will get what will perhaps be its biggest challenge for the rest of the season next Saturday when it takes on New Mexico State. A win against the surging Aggies could set the Mountaineers up for an easy ride to the finish line. For now, a bye week will do the Mountaineers good.
Louisiana-Lafayette 50 OT
I was not alive the last time these two teams met so early in the season. I was only 10 years old the last time the Warhawks won this game by more than six points. The point? This was a big win for the Matt Viator rebuild in Monroe. After hitting the reset button last year, and losing to the Cajuns 30-3, Louisiana-Monroe showed the Sun Belt which Louisiana team is ahead of the other.
On the flip side, Mark Hudspeth is still searching for any semblance of a defense. His team is currently dead last in scoring defense at 53.8 points allowed per game. Scoring 54 points is asking a lot from a young offense and so far has produced only one win. Even that one win was closer than it should have been.
Monroe stuck with one quarterback for the first time this season and it paid off. Caleb Evans got the start and tore through the Lafayette defense all night long. He completed a whopping 82.4 percent of his passes for 343 yards and a touchdown. That’s not all, though. He added 129 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. Those five touchdowns are the most any Warhawk quarterback has ever ran for.
Each team still has plenty of work to do but for Monroe, the path to six wins and a bowl game just got easier. The Warhawks are now entering a four game stretch of very winnable games, starting with Coastal Carolina at home on Saturday.
If the Cajuns don’t pull its defense together quickly, they’ll be playing for experience and development the rest of the way.
South Alabama 23 OT
In a game that last nearly seven hours, the Vandals outlasted the Jaguars in Mobile to garner their first conference victory. With the win, Idaho pulls even (2-2) in a series that likely won’t see another game for a long time. South Alabama played well, but could not muster any offensive rhythm.
Dallas Davis struggled for the Jaguars but Xavier Johnson finally broke out with his best game of the season thus far. Johnson had 156 yards on 20 carries- both season-highs. If the passing game can progress, the Jaguar offense could give a few more top Sun Belt teams some trouble.
For Idaho, Matt Linehan had a season-high 273 passing yards and didn’t throw an interception for the first time this season. However, two fumbles from Isaiah Saunders and Alfonso Onunwor stunted an offense that could’ve done a little more damage.
These two teams are going to be the toughest to predict as we head into the meat of Sun Belt play. While each team figures to be on opposite ends of the conference spectrum, a double-overtime game throws a wrench into our perspective.
Troy nearly gave this one away. In one of the sloppiest, most unwatchable games of the week, the Trojans put the Zips away with a late 97 yard touchdown drive that was capped off by 23 touchdown pass from Brandon Silvers to Deondre Douglas.
Mistakes plagued each side in this contest. There was a total of 28 penalties for 259 yards, four turnovers, a missed extra point and two missed field goals. If you are not familiar with my Yards per Six Points stat (YP6P), it’s basically a measure of how disciplined a team is. Troy’s YP6P was 133.2. This means Troy had to gain 133 yards for one touchdown.. not great. Akron’s was 129.6, also not great. Anytime you have to see over 260 yards of offense for a 6-6 game (theoretically) it can be hard to watch.
Brandon Silvers and Jordan Chunn finally played to the level that has been expected of them with over 450 yards of offense between the two. While they’ve got go through LSU this week, a clicking Troy offense is a scary sight for the rest of the conference.
Georgia State 28
Remember my YP6P stat? Well, Georgia State’s 79.2 YP6P against Charlotte was about damn perfect. The Panthers had zero turnovers and was the victim of just one penalty. For a full recap of this game, click here.
New Mexico State 41
If you somehow have not jumped on the Aggie bandwagon, it’s probably time to. New Mexico State gets a huge rivalry victory heading into a monster two-game stretch. For a full recap of the UTEP victory, click here.
Arkansas State 21
SMU is one of the sneakier teams in the American Conference. If you don’t go in prepared, they’ll blast you. Not saying the Red Wolves weren’t ready for the Mustangs but this was a very telling result for each side.
Or was it?
Arkansas State is a traditionally weird team. You can pretty much throw out what the Wolves do out of conference once Sun Belt play goes full swing. So, instead of dwelling on this one so much, we’ll look ahead.
Arkansas State has a bye week this week before it enters conference play. The bye couldn’t come at a better time with quarterback Justice Hansen nursing a back injury. Opening up with Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette should give the Wolves a quick 3-0 start, pending the return of Hansen. Looming on October 28th, though, is a huge contest at New Mexico State.
Texas State 14
After a strong home showing against App State, the Bobcats were left in the dust of the Roadrunners. Texas State couldn’t muster a shred of offense behind Damion Williams nine completions in 25 attempts. As a team, the Bobcats rushed for 37 yards on 32 carries. On the plus side, Texas State had just four penalties and one turnover. The Bobcats YP6P ended being a cool 84.6. So, at least they’ve got the fundamentals down?
Georgia Southern 17
Georgia Southern fans have been living in an inescapable nightmare for all of September. Unfortunately for them, they just might not see their first win until October 21st when UMASS rolls through the Boro. There is a bright spot, though, for fans needing a little bit of closure. We’ve got leaked audio of former coach Willie Fritz’s final player meeting. If you have not heard it yet, give it a listen here.
Western Illinois 52
Coastal Carolina 10
There is no bright spot. In front of a near sell-out crowd, the Chanticleers got drubbed. The defense was shredded and the passing game continues to be a glaring problem. There’s still more short-term potential for Coastal this season than a couple of aforementioned teams but a few adjustments on both sides of the ball would do the Chants well.