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Defense on Display in App State at Louisiana

By Jim Johnson
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On paper, everything we knew about both App State and Louisiana this season pointed to a shootout. Instead, it was a good, old fashioned defensive showdown.

The outcome wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but the way in which it unfolded certainly was.

On paper, everything we knew about both App State and Louisiana this season pointed to a shootout. Instead, it was a good, old fashioned defensive showdown.

Between App’s Darrynton Evans and the Cajuns’ terrific trio of backs, both rushing attacks were supposed to have a field day against overmatched defenses.

Instead, both teams averaged 3.7 yards per carry.

Louisiana’s offensive line, whose starters run about three inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than the Mountaineers’ average defensive line starter, should have bullied their opponents, as they had everyone else this season, with all that length and power.

Instead, smaller and faster gave them fits.

App State’s own offensive line, in that upper echelon of the Sun Belt, itself, was expected to have its way with what had been one of the worst run defenses in the country, to date.

Chauncey Manac, Zi’Yon Hill, Bennie Higgins, Kris Moncrief and company had other plans.

The secondary had been Louisiana’s weakest link a season ago. The cornerback play had certainly shown early improvement, but the safeties were still cause for concern. App State hardly bothered testing them. Corey Sutton got loose once on a deep ball, but that was about it. Zac Thomas did some damage with his legs, a sight not unfamiliar to the home team, but hardly any at all with his arm.

On the flipside, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Coastal Carolina had all found success picking on App’s relatively inexperienced cornerbacks. Surely Ja’Marcus Bradley, who would arguably be the best receiver for any of those teams, would do the same… He caught just one of his five targets for 15 yards.

The most consistently successful pass plays for either team were 50/50 balls that drew interference flags.

Give credit to Ted Roof and Ron Roberts. They had ten days to prepare for this matchup and seemingly used every minute of that time scheming up perfect gameplans.

It was a good game. Competitive. Clean. Turnover free. Just not the sort of game that we expected.

And there were some high level performances. Just not from the guys that we necessarily would have guessed.

Akeem Davis-Gaither proved for the umpteenth time that he is among the most playmaking linebackers in the nation. He lived in Louisiana’s usually impenetrable backfield all night, notching two tackles for loss and half a sack, while also displaying his ability in coverage, albeit on limited opportunities.

Opposite Davis-Gaither, Noel Cook, too, maintained his all-conference caliber play, sharing a sack with Jordan Fehr, who also continued to, well, do Jordan Fehr things -- which could roughly be defined as impacting the game in every facet of the defense. Trey Cobb, the lone new starter in 2019 among that intimidating linebacking corps, allowing an average of just 2 yards per play on his six tackles.

Along the defensive line, Demetrius Taylor added a sack, bringing his 2019 total to 4.5. Fret not, Coach Drinkwitz, this guy is clearly more than just a one-hit wonder.

Even the young cornerbacks finally stepped. Shemar Jean-Charles effectively neutralized Bradley, outside of that one 15 yard grab, and has a pass breakup, while Shaun Jolly was just as good on the other side, although he was on the receiving end of one of those aforementioned pass interference calls.

At the rate that game went, those teams could have played four more quarters and not hit Vegas’ over.

Rather than the elite offensive showcase we thought we were getting, great defense and special teams were on display.

In some ways, though, that makes both of these teams even scarier. I still think these are two great offenses, albeit obviously not as unstoppable as they appeared just hours ago. But now, we’ve seen what both of them can be if they put it all together.

The team that got that one key stop was supposed to win the game. Instead, it was the team that managed an extra couple of scores -- scores that were few and far between. Tonight, that was App State.

Louisiana is close, and one can’t help but think we’ll see this matchup again, later this year.

However, for the time being, the Mountaineer machine keeps rolling and the path to a NY6 bowl is more clear than ever.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP