Mountaineers Look to Improve on the Ground
By Matthew Osborne
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With better cohesion amongst the coaches and a simplified playbook, the Mountaineers may finally return to their once dominant ways of running the football.
For most college football programs, running for over 1,800 yards in a season would be considered a solid effort from the ground game. However, when you are the program that set the standard for running the football in the spread offense at the FCS level, a mere 1,870 yards on the ground simply won’t cut it.
While Appalachian State is still widely considered one of the premiere teams in FCS football, the Mountaineers’ trademark running game has taken a drastic decline in recent years. A mere five seasons ago, the Mountaineers compiled an astonishing 4,311 yards rushing on 755 attempts (5.7 yards per carry). In 2011, App State’s 1,870 yards came on just 464 rushing attempts (4.0 yards per carry).
In an attempt to reinvigorate a once dominant ground game, the Mountaineers underwent a complete overhaul of the offensive coaching staff this offseason, including hiring former App State player Scott Satterfield as offensive coordinator.
Veteran head coach Jerry Moore has frequently alluded to the fact that there was some dissention amongst the coaching staff last season, which was the main factor in his decision to shake up the offensive coaching staff.
According to new offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford, the new Mountaineer coaches have meshed exceptionally well this spring.
“From Day One, everybody is getting along great," Ledford said. “There really seems to be a great mesh. And if we have a strong bond, I believe that does carry over to the players.”
In addition to changing things up on the coaching staff, the Mountaineers knew that schematic changes were also in order, as App State’s number of rushing attempts has decreased each of the past four seasons. While some of the decline in the prioritizing of the running game can be attributed to the emergence of a solid passing attack, some people close to the App State program believe that the increased complexity of the running scheme caused the tempo of the offense to slow down.
While the Mountaineers will undoubtedly continue to expand their playbook during summer camp, Satterfield made emphasizing an up-tempo attack a bigger priority than diversifying the play-calling during spring practice.
“It takes zero talent to go hard, and that's what we're really trying to get our guys to do — go hard, and at the same time play fast,” the new Mountaineer offensive coordinator commented. “When they do that, and when we start mentally being right, then we're going to make some plays.”
Resurgence in the ground game would certainly have to come courtesy of improved play along the offensive line, where the Mountaineers return just two starters. Kendall Lamm started the first seven games of last season at left tackle, but missed three games due to injury and was eventually dismissed from the program. He has since been reinstated by Jerry Moore and will hold down a starting position at tackle this fall. The other returning starter for App State will be sophomore Alex Acey, who started all 12 games at center a year ago.
The good news for the Mountaineers is that they also return a pair of players that started a significant number of games at the end of last season, in G Graham Fisher and T Ian Barnard. Both Fisher and Barnard started the last five games of the 2011 season, including the playoff game against Maine.
Redshirt freshman Shaq Counts saw action with the first-team offense this spring, and can be expected to compete for a starting job during fall camp.
There is no question that the Mountaineers have a talented collection of players on the offensive line. The concern with the unit, however, is how well an extremely young line will handle the week-in and week-out grind of the Southern Conference.
On top of getting solid production from the big bodies up front, the Mountaineers will also need improved play out of the tailback position in order to rekindle their running game.
Senior Steven Miller, who was injured during spring practice, is the favorite to take over for the departed Travaris Cadet in the backfield. Miller is App State’s leading returning rusher, having gained 380 yards last season.
A young player with a tremendous opportunity to make an immediate impact for the Mountaineers this fall is true freshman RB Tysean Holloway, who enrolled early at App State and participated in spring practice. Holloway was ranked as a three-star prospect by Scout.com and accrued multiple FBS scholarship offers prior to signing with the Mountaineers.
All in all, it appears that the Mountaineers possess the talent to once again assert themselves as a premiere running team. Although the ground game will predominantly be composed of underclassmen, there will be no denying the wealth of talent present in the starting lineup.
With better cohesion amongst the coaches and a simplified playbook, the Mountaineers may finally be able to return to their once dominant ways of running the football. If that were to take place, they would also have a realistic chance to bring home the program’s fourth national championship in less than a decade.