Appalachian State and Troy will compete Saturday for the Sun Belt Championship, and while JMU fans will put an asterisk on the result, the showdown should entertain anyone who tunes into ESPN at 4 p.m. ET Saturday.
The two programs are among the best, and hottest, in the conference. Troy has won nine consecutive games following a 1-2 start, winning all of its Sun Belt Conference games after falling 16-14 to JMU in September. The Trojans will need losses from Tulane and Liberty to have any chance of earning a New Year’s Six bid, but they’re one of the best programs in the Group of Five.
As for App State, the Mountaineers are 8-4 and riding a five-game winning streak. The streak includes a road victory at JMU. They’re expected to put up a good fight against the Trojans, with Troy only a 6.5-point favorite, according to college football betting odds.
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Can App State Stop Vidal?
One of the biggest questions facing App State will be the team’s ability to stop Kimani Vidal. Troy’s standout running back has 1,349 yards and nine touchdowns this season, averaging more than 100 rushing yards per contest.
App State’s rushing defense ranks 119th nationally in expected points added per play. The Mountaineers have struggled to consistently stop the run, but they’re strong against the pass. A run-first offense is a tougher matchup for App State than a pass-first attack.
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, JMU’s offense lives and dies by the pass. The Mountaineers didn’t have to worry about JMU’s rushing attack during that upset victory. That won’t be the case this weekend, as Troy loves to lean on Vidal and the running game to complement its strong passing game.
If App State puts too much emphasis on slowing Vidal, quarterback Gunnar Watson can beat the Mountaineers over the top. Watson has thrown at least two touchdown passes in five consecutive games, including four games with at least three touchdown tosses.
Troy’s defense dominates headlines, but the Trojans are good offensively.
Can Troy’s Defense Maintain Its Pace?
Troy leads the Sun Belt in scoring defense, allowing 16.7 points per game. App State has scored 36 points per game in conference games, the best mark of any Sun Belt team.
With Joey Aguilar at quarterback, the Mountaineers are dangerous offensively. They dropped 55 points last week in a win against Georgia Southern, and Aguilar tossed four touchdowns in the victory. The running game also surpassed 200 yards, with App State finding offensive balance in a fantastic performance.
Troy’s defense is special, but App State’s offense looks like the best unit in the Sun Belt right now. The offensive consistency over the five-game winning streak is impressive, and the Mountaineers have scored at least 21 points in every league game this season.
The Trojans held JMU’s strong offense to fewer than 20 points. Can they have a similar performance against App State?
It’s good against good on Saturday, even if JMU won’t be on the field despite finishing atop the Sun Belt East. App State is a worthy adversary for Troy, and the matchup should lead to a compelling game.