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Stars Aligned for App State Defense

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Saturday’s Sun Belt Championship game will pit the best offense in the conference against the best defense in the conference.

Saturday’s Sun Belt Championship game will pit the best offense in the conference against the best defense in the conference.

Louisiana enters the contest leading the SBC in points per drive, total yards per play, and yards per rush, with the second highest yard per pass attempt average, placing them at #25, nationally, in offensive OAYP.

App State, meanwhile, is first among Sun Belt defenses in points per drive, total yardage per play, and yards per attempt, with the second fewest yards per carry allowed, putting them at #15 in the FBS in defensive OAYP.

Now, there’s a pretty good matchup on the other side of the ball, too, as the #2 offense and defense in the league will face off, but the biggest question surrounding this title bout is whether or not the Mountaineers can shut down the Cajuns’ and their three-headed monster at running back like they did the first time around, in Lafayette.

There are certainly reasons to believe that they can -- namely, the most impressive collection of defensive star power in the conference.

According to OAYP’s 2019 All-Sun Belt teams, released early this week, App State has one of, or in the case of the safeties both of, the two best players within all five position groups:

-Akeem Davis-Gaither (#1 Edge Defender)
-Demetrius Taylor (#2 Defensive Lineman)
-Jordan Fehr (#2 Linebacker)
-Shaun Jolly (#1 Cornerback)
-Desmond Franklin (#1 Safety)
-Josh Thomas (#2 Safety)

So, just as the Mountaineers will look to their stars on Saturday, let’s look to the star signs to see what we can glean in regards to how those respective stars will perform.

In a matchup like this, where the margins are so thin, it’s imperative to due one’s due diligence in exploring every possible avenue to project this game. Therefore, I’ve decided to comb through each of those six players’ horoscopes, courtesy of Horoscope.com, for tidbits that could hint at what to expect from each one.

EDGE Akeem Davis-Gaither, Virgo

Virgo’s are known for being helpful, perceptive, perfectionists. With the second most assisted tackles on the team, only behind Jordan Fehr, he obviously checks the first box. If we’re counting play diagnosis and recognition as being perceptive, he’s good to go there, too, boasting 23 total pass rush pressures on the season, 13.5 tackles for loss, and five batted passes, which leads all FBS linebackers. And, as technically sound as he is, it’s fair to assume that he clears the third bar, as well.

Weekly Horoscope: The sun continues in your home and family sector, encouraging you to get your place shipshape as the holiday season gets underway. But the main focus is on your sector of leisure, creativity, and enterprise. Philosophical Jupiter moves in for a stay of around a year, and its presence could boost your spirits. If you’ve worked hard and seen few results, they may begin to show up now.

Conversations over this week could be intense and prove to be a turning point regarding a project, business matter, or perhaps the future of a relationship. To add to this, you could find yourself drawn to someone and be eager to interact with them. As sweet Venus links with feisty Mars, you could sense the connection could be very productive should you decide to take things further.

Are you making plans for the holidays? If so, be sure everyone is on the same page, because confusion now could be a cause of delay later.

What it means: This line really sticks out -- “If you’ve worked hard and seen few results, they may begin to show up now.” He has obviously worked hard, but the results are there. Or are they? If there’s another level to his production that has yet to be seen, that spells out an absolutely nightmarish scenario for Louisiana.

As sweet Venus links with feisty Mars, you could sense the connection could be very productive…” Could this be a reference to his fellow edge defenders? Noel Cook’s production has taken a modest step back this season, but he’s still a top ten player in the league at the position, according to OAYP. Nick Hampton has also flashed some breakout potential with two monster performances in a rotational role over the last month, including one last week.

… be sure everyone is on the same page, because confusion now could be a cause of delay later.” This goes without saying. Miscommunications or undisciplined football against this Ragin’ Cajun offense will have devastating effects.

DL Demetrius Taylor & LB Jordan Fehr, Gemini

Gemini’s are best characterized by their smarts. Demetrius Taylor and Jordan Fehr are arguably both best characterized by their football IQ. The former, slightly undersized for the position, has far and away overcome any perceived physical limitations by turning his “weaknesses” into advantages. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and quickness, and deftly leverages that against his opponents. That was clear the first they played Louisiana and their massive offensive line, tallying a sack and a hurry, and otherwise wrecking general havoc in a usually impenetrable backfield.

The latter is, in many ways, the quarterback of the defense. He leads the team in tackles and his eight tackles for loss place him among the league leaders at inside linebackers. Outside of Troy’s Carlton Martial, who is having an absurd, All-American caliber campaign, he is the best off-ball linebacker in the Sun Belt.

Weekly Horoscope: The focus on a more intense sector intensifies this week, so you could be in a unique situation. What could help is the movement of jovial Jupiter into Capricorn and this same zone. It remains here for around a year, and it could encourage you to have more faith in yourself and a greater ability to tap into your inner resources.

You might be pushing yourself hard to get certain things accomplished, but don’t forget to ask for help. You don’t have to do any of this alone. Reaching out to others for advice can make things much easier. If you have a difficult decision to make, talk it over.

The weekend could bring a more confused outlook as the sun angles toward dreamy Neptune. It could seem like someone is trying to undermine your plans. If so, a conversation could clear things up and save the day.

What it means:… could encourage you to have more faith in yourself and a greater ability to tap into your inner resources.” This one bodes well for Taylor. He should be brimming with confidence after the season he’s had, but it’s important to maintain that on a down to down basis against the Sun Belt’s offensive line that is grueling to compete against, led by one of the best guards in the nation, Kevin Dotson. Nobody is going to win every single rep against the unit, but you have to make it count when you do.

You might be pushing yourself hard to get certain things accomplished, but don’t forget to ask for help. You don’t have to do any of this alone.” Teamwork makes the dream work. Taylor doesn’t have to carry that defensive line. The rest of the group isn’t as playmaking as he is, but they don’t need to be. Simply holding their own and maintaining their run fits will go a long way in this one.

Same goes for Fehr with the linebackers. Outside of the aforementioned Davis-Gaither, Cook, and Hampton, both D’Marco Jackson and Trey Cobb have stepped in admirably at inside linebacker this season. An incredibly consistent second half of the season even saw Jackson earn a third team All-SBC nod from OAYP.

The weekend could bring a more confused outlook as the sun angles toward dreamy Neptune. It could seem like someone is trying to undermine your plans. If so, a conversation could clear things up and save the day.

That’s a hard one to parse because Louisiana’s offense isn’t incredibly complicated. It’s about as complex as a punch in the face. However, they are most assuredly trying to undermine App State’s plans of repeating as Sun Belt champs. Communication is key.

CB Shaun Jolly, Libra

The most prominent Libra traits, according to the internet, are idealistic, reasonable, strong social skills, charming, artistic, and kind-hearted. Honestly, I’m having a hard time translating that to the gridiron. What I do know is that Jolly has not only been the best cornerback in the Sun Belt, but one of the best in the nation, with a mere 49.8 allowed passer rating on throws into his coverage and five interceptions, which is tied for the lead within the conference.

Weekly Horoscope: With a very potent focus on your home and family sector, you may wonder how this holiday season will pan out. If there have been various issues to contend with, sobering Saturn’s developing connection with powerful Pluto could encourage you to do something about it.

However, as upbeat Jupiter moves into this same zone and the sign of Capricorn, its presence could uplift your spirits. You may begin to have faith that things can work out as you hope. And it can bring a very positive quality to any celebrations and gatherings

It may be important to be resourceful at this expensive time of year, and toward that end you might go about organizing lists and working out how to get the best deals on food, presents, and anything else necessary to make this a successful holiday season.

A lovely Venus-Neptune connection this weekend could see you getting along very well with someone in either a platonic or romantic sense.

What it means:You may wonder how this holiday season will pan out. If there have been various issues to contend with, sobering Saturn’s developing connection with powerful Pluto could encourage you to do something about it.” One major issue to contend with is Louisiana’s star receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley, who is OAYP’s #2 WR in the conference. He was limited to just one catch for 15 yards when these teams met in early October. He’ll be out for revenge, but Shaun Jolly can do something about that.

It may be important to be resourceful at this expensive time of year, and toward that end you might go about organizing lists and working out how to get the best deals on food, presents, and anything else necessary to make this a successful holiday season.” This has no relevance to the football game, but it is just good advice in general.

As upbeat Jupiter moves into this same zone and the sign of Capricorn, its presence could uplift your spirits. You may begin to have faith that things can work out as you hope.” *App State fans start furiously knocking on wood*

S Desmond Franklin, Aquarius

Calm and intelligent all stand out as traits consistent with Franklin and his fellow Aquarius’s (Aquaruii?). Perhaps the best deep safety in the Sun Belt, in coverage, he has allowed a 33.2 passer rating over the past six weeks. For a point of reference, if a quarterback simply took the snap and threw the ball into the stands, his passer rating would be 39.6. App State is tied for fifth in the country with only five completions of 30+ yards allowed, and Desmond Franklin is the preeminent reason why.

Weekly Horoscope: With a full house in your spiritual sector, there is a lot going on within that could help change your inner game. There is good news in this regard, though, as philosophical Jupiter enters this zone from Monday for a yearlong stay. As it moves through Capricorn, it could help you develop faith in a higher power as well as in yourself. Your intuition may be enhanced, and this could be a great help when dealing with the ups and downs of life.

Still, with dynamic Mars moving through your sector of goals and career, you might have big plans. Are your head and heart in sync, though? A time of reflection could help you understand your motives and enable you to take charge of your mindset so you can forge ahead to success.

Are you thinking about joining a club or organization? Check out the price of the deal first, especially this weekend, because there could be a hidden catch.

What it means:Your intuition may be enhanced…” This is a huge boost in App State’s favor. It’s so easy to get sucked in by Louisiana’s rushing attack, only to get beaten over the top by Ja’Marcus Bradley. Franklin isn’t usually one to bite on play fakes anyway, but heightened intuition can only beneficial.

“Still, with dynamic Mars moving through your sector of goals and career, you might have big plans. Are your head and heart in sync, though? A time of reflection could help you understand your motives and enable you to take charge of your mindset so you can forge ahead to success.”

I’m not entirely sure how one syncs their heart and head, but that seems like a worthwhile endeavor if Franklin has any free time between now and Saturday.

… there could be a hidden catch.” This can only mean one thing: Desmond Franklin is getting a pick this weekend. Mark it down.

S Josh Thomas, Scorpio

Among the Scorpio traits, ‘intuitive’ sticks out with regards to Thomas. A natural athlete, this guy makes it look easy. Thus far in 2019, he’s allowed only 45.5% of the targets into his coverage to be caught for a 68.0 opposing passer rating. A multi-faceted playmaker, he has also recorded a pair of tackles for loss, and the third most tackles on the team.

Weekly Horoscope: There’s a lot going on in your sector of talk and thought that could keep you very busy. But as fortunate Jupiter moves into this zone on Monday for a yearlong stay, you will begin to have faith that there will be a breakthrough. If you’re battling certain problems, upbeat Jupiter’s presence could connect you with someone who inspires you and perhaps enables you to see things in a more constructive light.

Still, you could be involved in some serious conversations. This week could see you making progress on a plan, relationship, or perhaps both. And as lovely Venus links with feisty Mars, your connection with someone could deepen as you find you share the same interests and passions.

The sun continues its journey through your money zone and links with dreamy Neptune this weekend. Therefore, take care if shopping or doing anything involving money, because you may not get the best deal. A little research could save you any hassle.

What it means:If you’re battling certain problems, upbeat Jupiter’s presence could connect you with someone who inspires you and perhaps enables you to see things in a more constructive light.” The matchup with Louisiana’s hyper efficient offense will be nothing short of a battle. With that in mind, he will need to connect and work in concert with the rest of these standouts to come out on top.

The sun continues its journey through your money zone.” This can only be a reference to key third downs, sometimes referred to as money downs. App State ranks in the national top ten, allowing opponents to convert just 29.31% of their money downs. They also held Louisiana to a 30.77% conversion rate, the first time around. Continued success in these high leverage situations will be imperative.

A little research could save you any hassle.” In other words, all of these guys should be living in the film room this week.

With six of the best players in the conference littered throughout every level of the defense, suffice it to say, the stars are aligned for an App State repeat.

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