Anatomy of a Drive(s) Appalachian and ULM’s Back and Fourth Final Three Minutes

Welcome back to our series, Anatomy of a Drive, don’t touch anything. This week you’re getting more bang for your limited buck, we’re actually looking at 2.5 drives from the Appalachian State/Louisiana Monroe instant classic. Contain your excitement. You probably don’t know happened in the App State/ULM game because you were busy watching a couple of oversold and under-delivered Power 5 schools in a tickle fight. You missed out, spoiler alert, ULM won 52-45.

We’re going to have a look-see at the final three-plus minutes as these two Sun Belt teams exchanged haymakers.

What do you do when plan A falls apart? As much as we preach having a plan B, most people don’t. Maybe we can’t conceive of a world where our top option falls through the floor, but must be prepared to adapt. Adaptation is a key to your daily commute and winning football games.

A little history, Appalachian State moved up into the FBS a few years ago and made themselves right at home. The Mountaineers are winners of 33 games in those four seasons, while losing just fourteen. Scott Satterfield’s squad has won ten or more games in each of the last two seasons. Contrast App State with Louisiana Monroe where Matt Viator, the longtime McNeese State head coach, and assistant is in year two of his rebuild. Since 2013, when App State moved up, the Warhawks are 20-38.

Heading into last Saturday’s game, the Mountaineers were 5-3, and the Warhawks stood at 3-5. The two teams ping-ponged back and forth until the final four minutes when ULM took a 45-38 lead over the Mountaineers. Appalachian State needed seven to tie.

We’ll pick it up from the kickoff…

Forget all the time management and scheming, nothing jump-starts an offense like a great return. Here App State’s most explosive offensive player, Ike Lewis does a lot of heavy lifting by getting the ball to midfield on the return.

The Mountaineers aren’t in a two-minute scenario yet, but time is looming as a factor. App State has a full allotment of timeouts and the entire playbook at their disposal. After a short run, a procedure penalty and an incompletion, it’s 3rd and 11 for the Mountaineers.

3rd & 11, ULM 44, clock stopped

In the ebb and flow that is an offensive series, the Warhawks decide to force App State’s hand by manning up on the edges and blitzing. The Mountaineer offensive line is a strength and was all day; they deal with the edge twists and green dog blitz to give Taylor Lamb time to find Lewis over the middle.

Notice how the Mountaineers move Lewis from the field to the boundary side and how ULM gives away its coverage, not only by man keys on the outside receivers but also by running with Lewis. Mouse Davis and run-and-shoot progeny started using motion to draw out coverages in the early 80s. We like what Satterfield does with Lewis; he moves the senior all over the formation so you can’t anticipate where Lewis lines up.

This catch gets ten of the eleven yards required, and it’s fourth and one. The fourth down is the first time ULM has a chance to make a winning play. Make a stop here, and the game is basically over. The Mountaineers take a timeout to set things up.

4th & 1, ULM 34, clock stopped

Appalachian State is fully operational, they have their entire playbook to work from as time is not a factor. Again, the physical advantage up front comes into play on this short yardage play.

The interior of the Mountaineer line blows out the ULM front, and the Mountaineers make the first down. At a certain point Viator might start thinking about using timeouts to preserve some time for his offense, but with App State needing a touchdown, that strategy never comes into play.

After another false start and a seven-yard run, it’s 3rd and eight, another opportunity for ULM’s defense to put the Mountaineers into a corner. Once again, to get on the right page, the Mountaineers take a timeout.

3rd & 8, ULM 29, clock stopped 

Taylor Lamb is an old hand at quarterback for the Mountaineers, he was very nearly the architect of a massive upset at Tennessee last season, and while he’s not flashy, you wouldn’t trade him. He values the football and plays with excellent efficiency. There’s not much the senior from Calhoun, Georgia hasn’t seen. So when ULM gets a free rusher into his face on a “gotta have it” down, Lamb adapts.

Your quarterback gurus don’t teach this throwing motion, falling back, 3/4 arm motion, probably eyes closed, bracing to get knocked into Sunday, but playing quarterback is about adapting to variables. Joel Klatt, the overly-handsome Fox analyst, and former CU Buff describes quarterbacks as middle infielders.

A good quarterback can throw from different arm angles, similar to a shortstop who may need to throw while turning a double play, racing towards second, or deep in the hole. If a middle infielder only made plays when he could set his feet, use pristine form, and vamp, he wouldn’t last long.

On the other end of this great throw is a great run. Jalin Moore gives a textbook demonstration of running through contact. Notice how he lowers his shoulders to give the defender a hard target, keeps his legs moving and spins. That’s a violent run after catch, and it keeps the Mountaineer hopes alive.

2nd & 10, ULM 20, clock stopped

The Warhawks are playing man with a single high safety. The slot coverage, including the player covering Ike Lewis, are standing flat footed and off the ball until well after the snap. I dislike this coverage. I understand that ULM is guarding against some form of pick or rub play, but it’s an unnatural position for a defensive back, playing man coverage, to be in.

Lewis has a ten yard run at the DB before the DB moves. Stand still and ask your wife to run past you and then, as she’s head up with you, turn and try to accelerate to keep up with her, you can’t, and you were a great high school athlete. Some say you were a legend.

Never mind the fact that you can’t use your hands to redirect or throw off timing. The result is Lewis runs straight past man coverage and into a five-yard cushion. Lamb has made more difficult throws in his backyard. Boom, it’s tied up. ULM, the ball is in your court.

ULM gets a great return as well, as the Warhawks return man gets ULM set up at their own 36-yard line. It’s not as long as Ike Lewis’ return, but it’s no less critical.

After two seven-yard completions, the Warhawks are in business at midfield.

1st and 10, 50 yard line, clock stopped

You’ll hear commentators ask, during these high leverage situations, whether a team is going to “play for a field goal.” It’s nice TV, but that thinking isn’t applicable here. You’re operating the offense; the goal is always a touchdown or a successful play. If the clock bled further down, much further down, playing for a field goal might enter your mind, but we see kickers miss kicks every week, over and over so you’d rather not risk leaving the game in their hands or legs.

Coaches teach a scramble drill for just this occasion. Once the quarterback is off-rhythm and typically scrambling, receivers break off their routes. Chances are you’ve already run your stop route, and you’re standing, looking like an idiot anyway, so you go into a scramble, meaning deep routes run back towards the line of scrimmage and short routes go deep. It’s basketball on turf now, and you have the advantage of knowing where you’re going.

R.J. Turner sees Warhawk quarterback Caleb Evans moving towards the line of scrimmage. The play’s timing is busted, and Turner does as he is coached and takes off, getting a jump on his defender. Evans makes a great thrown on the run, adapting to his circumstances, and Turner is off.

We’d rather not say that App State botched this, but they did. The safety loses all form and apparently all control of his appendages as Turner runs towards him, and a trailing linebacker makes the cardinal error of assuming a tackle, and as a result, no one makes a tackle. The Mountaineer defenders are swatting at bees.

Turner scores and ULM is up 52-45.

One last play because we love you that much.

Here’s the hail mary attempt by App State, because of course, they’ll be throwing into the paint with three seconds to play.

The Mountaineers were THIS CLOSE to pulling off one of the great game-tying plays of the last decade. Notice the safety standing, heals on the end-line like he’s fielding a punt, arms ready to cradle the ball all the while Thomas Hennigan is running like his hair is on fire and looks like he actually gets his hands on the ball, but just can’t bring it down.

Remember kids: God gave you moveable legs and arms for a reason if you’re a defender go up and high point the football. Get yourself a free interception rather than risk looking like you’re fair catching a punt while your opponent celebrates a game-tying score.

App. State and ULM put on a great show Saturday, and each adapted as plan A tanked. The result was a back and forth affair that sadly one team had to lose.

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