As the 2014 Appalachian State football season came to a close, Mountaineer fans had a lot to be excited about. The team ended the season on a six-game winning streak, the defense was playing at a level that had a chance to contend as one of the best in the country and freshman quarterback Taylor Lamb looked to be the future of the program.
Fast forward to the 2015 season and all of these things manifested themselves once again. The team currently has a 9-2 record, the best in years. The defense was ranked as one of the best in the country for a good portion of the season. But what has become abundantly clear is the consistency and ability that Lamb brings to the team.
Lamb has already surpassed a number of his statistics from last year and is on pace to challenge some school records in just his second season at the helm for the Mountaineers. This season has shown more growth and improvement under head coach Scott Satterfield.
“Last year it took him to the end of the year before he really understood [the system],” Satterfield said. “This year he had a great grasp as he started the season and overall he’s had an outstanding season.”
With one more regular season game remaining, Lamb has completed 142 of his 235 passing attempts. What’s more impressive is that he has only thrown seven interceptions, three of them coming against the undefeated Clemson Tigers, who happen to be the top-ranked team in all of college football.
“He makes good decisions in the passing game,” Satterfield said. “He’s on track to break the passing record here. He’s taken care of the ball as far as throwing interceptions. That in itself is showing his progression.”
While Lamb wasn’t an interception machine last year, throwing only nine, he said the real improvement has come from him trying to be a better manager on the field and having a real control over the game.
Lamb said the offense has built an identity of trying to string together long, sustained drives and protect the football, an identity that has been a work in progress at times this season.
“I think we’ve gotten better as the year has gone on,” Lamb said.
The stats don’t tell the whole story, though. Wide receivers like senior Malachi Jones have noticed an improvement in his accuracy, even though statistics say it is nearly identical to last year.
“When we need those deep balls, the ball is there, and we’re able to shift momentum and make those big plays,” Jones said. “Him being older and having the opportunity to have a year playing in the Sun Belt has given him an opportunity to progress and make those big plays. I think we, as a receiving core, have made more big plays this year than we have in many recent years.”
Passing the ball is only part of Lamb’s responsibilities as a true manager of the game. Appalachian State is a run-first team and Lamb also contributes in that department.
Lamb is the team’s fourth leading rusher with 367 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s averaged 5.1 yards per carry, which is just a tenth of a yard less than standout junior running back Marcus Cox’s average. The running threat that Lamb is for defenses, paired with his passing history makes the Mountaineer offense a headache to defend.
“He’s continuing to operate the offense and the run,” Satterfield said. “That’s something that people overlook in our run game — it really helps our offense as a whole.”
While many of his numbers have improved, Lamb only cares about one statistical category: The win-loss column.
“As long as we leave the field with a win it doesn’t really matter what I, or any of the team, does,” Lamb said. “It’s better than last year, and that’s our goal. To keep getting better every year.”
Lamb has been a pivotal part to the Mountaineer success this year, having different impacts on each game.
He’s thrown for four touchdowns on two separate occasions. He’s thrown for three touchdowns in four others. He has had two games with over 300 yards passing. Against Troy he ran for two touchdowns. He was even named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week when the team beat Old Dominion earlier this season.
All of that and more has led to Lamb being ranked seventh in the country for passer efficiency, according to ESPN.
Not only that, but ESPN also has him tied for twelfth in the country in passing touchdowns, throwing 27 already this season. That’s 10 more than all of last year. Lamb needs just 3 more touchdowns to break the record for single-season passing touchdowns set by App State Hall of Famer Armani Edwards in 2008.
“Records are meant to be broken and, fortunately for me, I’ve been a part of a lot of the records being broken over the last 10 years,” Satterfield said. “It’s hard to believe we can continue to break them, but we love to do it. Any time we can approach record, we find out what we need to do, and then we wanna go break it. It’s fun for the guys. It’s fun for the staff. That’s what keeps you motivated.”
What’s been most impressive is not that he’s been able to accomplish it, but how he’s been able to do it.
There is no primary receiver. Eight different receivers have over 100 yards. Six different receivers have double digit receptions. Five different receivers have three or more touchdowns.
“I don’t know how many different guys have caught a touchdown, but we may be creeping up on a record for that,” Satterfield said. “To me we’re hard to defend when we’re that way.”
The number he’s looking for is an astounding 13. That’s 13 different receivers that have caught touchdown passes this season. Jones credits it to the “awesome” chemistry between Lamb and his receivers.
“It’s on a level that can’t be described,” Jones said. “T-Lamb and the receiving core get along well. We’ve had these past two years to get to know each other and gel as a team.”
Looking forward, the team hopes to break the record for Lamb this weekend in their final regular season game against South Alabama. But it’s more than just about the records. The team has a confidence and a belief that Lamb is going to lead this team somewhere special.
“We know Taylor can make the throws,” Jones said. “We know he can make the right reads, and he’s a field general. We have all the confidence in the world in him. When we’re out there running our routes, we know the ball is gonna be there. We know if we do our job, he’ll do his part, and everything is gonna be good.”
Story by: Colin Tate, Sports Reporter