Miami Hurricanes football: Five things to know about Appalachian State

Appalachian State cheerleaders take the field in 2015. (Getty Images)

Appalachian State cheerleaders take the field in 2015. (Getty Images)

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Most college football fans know Appalachian State, which hosts No. 25 Miami on Saturday (noon, ESPN), as the team that upset Michigan in the Big House in 2007. Rest assured they have Mark Richt’s attention, as he said Sunday evening.

Here’s a deeper look at the Mountaineers (1-1), who are about to host a Power Five opponent in Boone, N.C. for the first time ever:

Never scared.

College football fans will never forget that win over No. 5 Michigan in 2007, the first time any FCS school beat a ranked opponent.

The most recent scare they put into a big-name team: they took No. 9 Tennessee to overtime on the road in Week 1, leading the whole way and losing in overtime when the Vols recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Final score: 20-13.

Miami opened as a 3.5-point favorite, according to VegasInsider. That line moved to 5 points as of Sunday evening.

The Mountaineers went 11-2 in 2015, the most wins ever by a team in its first year of FBS bowl eligibility after transitioning from FCS. Its last-second win over Ohio in the Camellia Bowl made them the first team to win a bowl in its first bowl-eligible FBS year. App State is 13-1 in its last 14 Sun Belt games.

Between that Michigan upset and this year’s Tennessee game, App State lost each of its six meetings against Power Five teams by at least 28 points. You’ve got to admire the pluck they’ve shown, even in losses. After a 66-13 beatdown at No. 13 Virginia Tech in 2011, quarterback DeAndre Presley gave no compliments.

“I wouldn’t classify them as an elite team,” he said of the Hokies, who made the Sugar Bowl that year. “We made them look better than what they were.”

Fans are cocky, too:

Prolific, ground-based offense.

Former App State quarterback Scott Satterfield (age 43, 22-16 in three years as coach) runs a spread offense with six returning starters, including quarterback Taylor Lamb. The junior (6-2, 200) grew up two hours northwest of Athens and was the Gatorade Offensive Player of the Year in Georgia, but didn’t earn a look from Richt’s Bulldogs or any other Power 5 program.

The man to watch out for is big-play running back Marcus Cox, who entered his senior year with 4,088 career rushing yards and 43 touchdowns. He also had 899 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in three years.

Cox, who has 248 rushing yards and three scores so far, was bottled up by the first two Power Five opponents he faced (Georgia 2013, Michigan 2014). He averaged 3.1 yards per carry. But last year against a Clemson defense that was good enough to make the national title game, he went for 103 yards on 25 carries. Against Tennessee in this year’s opener, he gained 115 yards on 24 carries. He also registered 34 yards and a touchdown on four catches, including this one:

 

Cox, 5-10 and 205 pounds, is from 40 minutes outside Athens, but like Lamb, he didn’t earn a look from UGA. He’s dynamic and has plenty of help. App State dominates on the ground with zone blocking from an offensive line which in 2015 earned the highest run-blocking grade in the nation from Pro Football Focus. Guard Colby Gassett was the highest-graded at his position. PFF ranked App State’s offensive line No. 3 in the nation entering 2016. They’ve lost their starting left tackle and their center, but

Defense can stifle, but is a mixed bag.

Tennessee, which had dual-threat quarterback Josh Dobbs and talented backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, rushed for 2.95 yards per carry and one touchdown. App State’s secondary also busted a few times, giving up touchdown passes of 67 and 33 yards.

In last week’s 31-7 win over Old Dominion, the Mountaineers gave up 47.2 percent passing, 4.7 yards per attempt and zero touchdowns though the air. They also picked off a pass. However, they allowed 5.06 yards per carry and a rushing score. They allowed ODU, one of the weaker FBS teams, a 92-yard scoring drive.

The 3-4 scheme has eight returning starters, with losses at defensive end, safety and cornerback.

Special teams have been spotty, too. Against Tennessee, first-year kicker Michael Rubino missed an extra point and was wide-right on a 42-yard field goal that could have extended the lead in the fourth quarter. They were happy to see Jaquil Capel return a punt 57 yards, though.

Local connections.

One of the new faces who has made an impact so far: sophomore receiver Deltron Hopkins (5-8, 160), who earned a look from Miami but no offer. He was a high school teammate of Mark Walton, Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson at Miami-Booker T. Washington.

More familiar faces: former Palm Beach Gardens quarterback J.P. Caruso is Lamb’s backup. Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Frank Ponce played at Miami High, and coached at Coral Gables, Northwestern, Central, Coral Reef and his alma mater before earning his first college job as FIU’s receivers coach (2007-12). He’s been at App State since 2013. There are 11 Florida natives on the roster.

 One of the most famous Mountaineers is one-time Heat coach Alvin Gentry (now with the New Orleans Pelicans). Former NFL linebacker Dexter Coakley, who made three Pro Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, is App State’s most famous football alum. His No. 32 is retired. He is the only College Football Hall of Fame inductee. Another App State alum you may have heard of: NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who quarterbacked the team from 1998-2000.

Miami has a few North Carolina natives on the roster, and offensive line coach Stacy Searels coached in Boone from 1994-2000. Mark Richt knows the area since his sister, Michelle, was a Mountaineers volleyball player.

Kidd-Brewer will be rocking.

This is billed as the biggest sporting event in Boone, N.C. history, and App State football is already a very big deal in town.

The Mountaineers play to overflow crowds on a regular basis at 23,150-seat Kidd-Brewer Stadium, where they are 77-15 in their last 92 games. The local attendance record of 31,528 is guaranteed to fall Saturday. The game has been sold out for weeks, with a few tickets remaining on StubHub starting at $175. That’s about four times the value of a normal App State ticket.

The game wasn’t Miami’s first choice, but came about when an unnamed opponent dropped the Hurricanes. UM Athletics Director Blake James had to scramble to fill the spot, and App State was willing.

Per the game contract signed last Nov. 18, the ACC will select the on-field and replay officials. Miami gets 500 complimentary tickets and 1,500 for sale. According to UM, it actually received 2,500 tickets. Miami does not receive any compensation for traveling there; likewise App State, when the Mountaineers visit the Hurricanes five years from Sunday.

 

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