Five takeaways from App State’s season opening 35-20 win vs. Charlotte

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Max Correa

App State senior captain and QB Zac Thomas makes a throw during App State's season-opening 35-20 win over Charlotte Sept. 12 at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

Cameron Burnett, Reporter

1. App State’s ‘Legion of Boone’ secondary looks reloaded

Coming into this season, both senior cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles and junior cornerback Shaun Jolly were preseason All-Sun Belt players according to league coaches and Athlon. They lived up to the hype in their first game of the season, limiting Charlotte QB Chris Reynolds to 140 yards and two interceptions. Senior safety Kaiden Smith impressed with an interception to ice the game and helped hold Reynolds to little success in the air. 

“Knowing formations and being able to anticipate before, that plays a big role in (our success),” Jean-Charles said. “It allowed not just me, but the whole secondary, the whole defense, to be able to put ourselves in the correct positions to make plays.”

Jean-Charles logged 7 tackles and 4 pass breakups on the day, leading his unit in his first game as a team captain. 

2. App State’s RB unit: “A three-headed monster”

The Mountaineers’ rushing attack was on full display Saturday. There wasn’t a true starter for the position: instead the team played all three running backs. Each one scored a touchdown and was effective moving the ball down the field on the ground.

“That’s like a three-headed monster,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “I don’t think there’s a real starter in that group. Marcus Williams got the nod today because he’s a fifth-year senior, but I’m proud of all three of those guys.”

The unit came together for 279 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Senior running back Marcus Williams Jr. led all rushers with 117 yards and one touchdown while sophomore running back Cam Peoples finished with 102 yards and one touchdown. 

Junior running back Daetrich Harrington ran for 60 yards while scoring twice on the ground.

On a rainy day in Boone, this unit proved it is capable of filling the shoes that Darrynton Evans left behind for the Mountaineers.

3. Mountaineers must take better care of the football

App State converted on multiple drives and scored 35 points in the game. Although the team won by double digits and had opportunities to score more points, it struggled to take care of the ball.

The Mountaineers turned the ball over three times in the game, including twice in the red zone. This included a fumble at the 1 yard line on the first drive of the game, where they moved the ball 46 yards in just six plays.

“First thing we’re gonna focus on is ball security. That’s probably the biggest thing,” Clark said. 

After leaving points on the field due to turnovers, it’s concerning after a year in which Zac Thomas had just six interceptions and Darrynton Evans didn’t lose a single fumble. 

App State’s defense stepped up and made the stop when Cam Peoples lost a fumble on the 12-yard line, but putting the defense in short-field situations can lead to easy points for their opponents.

4. Thomas Hennigan is the clear #1 receiver for the Mountaineers

As a senior, Hennigan came into the season with high expectations after being listed as a second-team all-Sun Belt player in 2019. After Corey Sutton opted out, Hennigan became Thomas’ main target.

Despite the rainy and wet conditions, Hennigan led all receivers with five catches on five targets for 120 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown catch where he left the defender on the turf. 

“Zac just gave me a chance, threw it up, and I believe the corner just slipped on the inside of me,” Hennigan said. “After that it was just me and the safety, and I couldn’t get tackled by the safety. My teammates wouldn’t have let me live that down.”

That was the longest play from scrimmage for the Mountaineers on a wet day where running the football was at a premium.

This was Hennigan’s second 100-yard game of his career. His strong performance answered questions about whether the Mountaineer passing game would be okay without Sutton.

5. Special Teams mishaps cost the Mountaineers

After App State scored a touchdown late in the first half, the team immediately gave up a 97-yard kick return to negate the previous score.

“We had the guy dead to rights and the contain broke down. They made a long run for a touchdown. In this game, you have to have a short memory,” Clark said.

This mistake allowed Charlotte to trim the lead down to one point late in the third quarter, taking the momentum right back after it had looked like App State was getting things going on both sides.

Earlier in the third, the Mountaineer defense made a stop at the Charlotte 40-yard line, but the special teams unit committed a roughing the kicker penalty on fourth down, allowing the 49ers to continue their drive, where they eventually converted on a 49-yard field goal.

The unit ended up creating 10 points for their opponent, allowing Charlotte to hang around late in the game. In a close game, special teams mistakes can prove costly for the Mountaineers and it’s a development to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

App State safety Kaiden Smith is also a senior reporter for The Appalachian sports desk.