Appalachian State has little time to celebrate its first national ranking since moving up to the FBS level in 2014, not with what could be essentially an elimination game in the Sun Belt East Division race coming up Thursday night.
The No. 25 Mountaineers (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt) travel to Statesboro, Ga., to take on division colleague Georgia Southern with kickoff at Allen E. Paulson Stadium at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The Eagles (6-1, 3-0) may not be ranked, but their list of victims includes Sun Belt West favorite Arkansas State, and their only loss is to No. 2 Clemson by a 38-7 score.
Scott Satterfield, who is in his seventh season on the Appalachian State staff and sixth as head coach, calls his team’s ranking “pretty awesome” and “great recognition” for the program.”
“But having said that, it’s not going to win you any football games,” he said. “It’s not going to beat Georgia Southern. So we told our team, ‘Hey, it’s great recognition and you are to be commended for that, but it has nothing to do with what our mission is this week, which is to go win a football game.’
“That’s been our focus this week.”
The Mountaineers have won five consecutive games after pushing Penn State to overtime in their opener before losing 45-38. They are coming off a 27-17 win over Louisiana that was their sixth straight win in Sun Belt play, a run that began with a 27-6 victory over Georgia Southern last November.
Running back Darrynton Evans rushed for 183 yards and scored two touchdowns to earn conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors. Evans had 115 yards on the ground in his previous game against Arkansas State and has 425 rushing yards for the season.
Quarterback Zac Thomas was only 10-of-20 passing for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Cajuns, but has completed 60.6 percent of his passes on the season for an average of 191 yards a game. He has 11 touchdown passes against four interceptions.
“They’re a really tough football team that runs the ball well and is very efficient in the pass game,” Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford said of Appalachian State. “They’ve got playmakers all over the place. This will be a big-time challenge.
“On paper I don’t know if we’ve even got a chance. Hopefully, our guys will really step up and play above their heads and give us a shot.”
Lunsford is in sixth year at Georgia Southern, including stints as wide receivers and tight ends coach. He took over as interim head coach just past the midpoint of the 2017 season and guided the Eagles to their only two wins.
They have bounced back in a big way from last year’s fall to 2-10.
Getting back to the run-oriented, triple-option attack that produced national championships for the program at the FCS level was one big key. The Eagles have averaged nearly 276 yards a game rushing with quarterback Shai Werts leading the team with 542 yards. Running back Wesley Fields has rushed for 472 but is coming off a groin injury that kept him out of last week’s 48-31 win over New Mexico State. It is unclear whether Fields will play Thursday.
Defensively, they have become more comfortable in the 3-4 scheme introduced by new defensive coordinator Scot Sloan, who came to Statesboro after an eight-year run at Appalachian State.
“He spent a long time up here at Appalachian State so obviously he’s very familiar with our personnel and what we’re trying to do,” Satterfield said of his former aide. “They’re running a very similar defense to what we’re running if not the same.”
Lunsford, who also was at Appalachian State as tight ends coach from 2001-03, doesn’t see Sloan’s background as a major factor.
“I don’t know if there is that big of an advantage,” he said.
Neither is Appalachian State’s new ranking, Lunsford said.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” he said.