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What to make of App State football at the halfway point

Junior+wide+receiver+Christian+Horn+heads+up+field+on+a+route+against+ECU+Sept.+16%2C+2023.
Landon Williams
Junior wide receiver Christian Horn heads up field on a route against ECU Sept. 16, 2023.

At this point in 2022, the Mountaineers held the same 3-2 record they hold now. Without the upset at College Station, and College GameDay sending Boone into madness, this year’s team holds a very different aura. 

In hopes of getting back on track after a 6-6 2022 season, App State football saw multiple coaching staff changes, 15 incoming transfers and 19 enrolled recruits. It was expected for the Mountaineers to suffer from growing pains due to 28 seniors graduating, 14 former Mountaineers transferring and a new starting quarterback.

While the Black and Gold have shown sustained offensive success with averaging 36.4 points per game, the defense has struggled to get off the field in allowing 30.8 points per game. 

The identity of past App State teams revolved around an effective run game and a stout defense, but times have changed. While the Mountaineers average 204.6 rushing yards per game, the defense gives up 187.4 yards per game. 

Conceding nearly 200 rushing yards per game is predicated on the defensive line, but also tackling from linebackers in the second level. The Mountaineers’ secondary has only allowed 177.8 passing yards per game, an impressive feat for a secondary to limit any team to under 200 passing yards. While it’s entertaining from a fan’s perspective to witness the big flashy plays from their team, football is built in the trenches of the offensive and defensive line. Throughout the beginning of 2023, App State’s defensive line has lost that battle in the trenches.

Since head coach Shawn Clark took over in 2020, each season has seen an increase in points allowed from the previous year. In hopes of stopping this trend, Scot Sloan returned as defensive coordinator for 2023 after overseeing the defense from 2010-17. 

After five games, the Mountaineers’ defense has yet to hold an opponent under 20 points and gave up 40 points twice. In an effort to keep the Black and Gold in games, the offense has had to step up numerous occasions. 

Junior quarterback Joey Aguilar’s play under center has become of the utmost importance. Aguilar’s early season performance has been up and down, mostly due to his inexperience and decision making, which is expected out of a first-year starter.

Through five games, Aguilar has posted 1225 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. While he’s settled into a role, impatience from his growing pains may force Clark to go back to his initial season opener starter in redshirt freshman Ryan Burger once he recovers from a hand injury. 

Whoever is under center, the focal point of the offense will continue to be junior running back Nate Noel, who eclipsed 100 rushing yards every game in 2023. To go along with Noel, the offensive line has allowed their starting running back to find open rushing lanes. Clark will continue to let Noel lead the offense into November adding to his 651 rushing yardage total, but having a sustainable quarterback at the helm will be a crucial area for this offense. 

The focal point of 2022 was one-score games as the Mountaineers suffered a 2-6 record in those games. To begin 2023, App State is 1-2 in one-score games, meaning this team could easily be 5-0 or 2-3 if certain scenarios played out differently. In what’s expected to be a highly competitive Sun Belt Conference, the Black and Gold will continue to be a part of these highly critical one-score games till the end of the season. 

While the Mountaineers hold a 3-2 overall and 1-0 conference record heading into their bye week, this team controls their own destiny as their Sun Belt schedule continues in hopes of hosting the Dec. 2 championship game. 

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About the Contributors
Chance Chamberlain
Chance Chamberlain, Associate Sports Editor
Chance Chamberlain (he/him) is a senior journalism major, media studies minor. This is his second year writing for The Appalachian.
Landon Williams, Photographer
Landon Williams (he/him) is a Junior majoring in Commercial Photography from Winston Salem, NC. This is his second year with The Appalachian. 
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