Appalachian State is coming off a 2011 season which saw it struggle more than any other since the inaugural season of the spread offense back in 2004. For the first time in seven seasons, Appalachian ended a campaign averaging less than 400 yards of total offense per game (390.2 YPG/38th in FCS) and less than 30 points per game (28.6 PPG/38th in FCS).
The real missing piece to the Appalachian offensive puzzle is easy to pin-point—generating a ground game. Nowhere were the struggles more evident than running the football in-between the tackles, as the Mountaineers ended the season averaging just 155.8 YPG (55th in FCS, 6th in SoCon); the lowest rushing total since the initial season the spread offense was adopted back in '04. In that season, ASU experienced one of its worst in school history moving the football on the ground, averaging a mere 102.9 YPG.
The one thing the Apps did do impressively on offense last fall was throwing the football. ASU completed the 2011 season averaging 233.6 YPG (37th in FCS/2nd in SoCon). The 233.6 YPG average is the best mark since the Apps averaged 258.6 YPG through the air back in '09.
Several key factors will benefit the Mountaineer offense this season, and those elements will be reasons why many believe the offense will find its rhythm once again in 2012. One of the major reasons we have already highlighted back in Part I of the 2012 preview, and that is the return of offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield.
With Satterfield at the helm of the offense, ASU was nearly unstoppable offensively from 2004-08. He now will add the experiences he has gleaned in his three seasons away from the High Country under some up-and-coming coaches in FBS football, such as Florida International's Mario Cristobal. In all, Satterfield's offense returns six regulars from a year ago, with most of the question marks centering around the offensive line and lack of experience in the backfield heading into the 2012 season.
Maybe even a bigger reason the Mountaineers will see their numbers drastically improve on the offensive side of the football this fall is the return of the league's top signal-caller, in junior Jamal Jackson (161-of-262 passing, 2,001 yds, 15 TDs, 8 INTs, 200.1 YPG).
Jackson took over in the fifth game of the regular season, starting against The Citadel for an injured DeAndre Presley. Jackson would never look back, and would turn in his best game of the season in the first start of his career. In the win over the Bulldogs, Jackson connected on 21-of-27 passes for 234 yards and three TDs.
The 6'3", 205-pound junior from Atlanta, GA., has an excellent, accurate arm. He also has good pocket presence and awareness, and though he lacks the speed of his predecessor, he can get yards on the ground if called upon to do so. Jackson has drawn comparisons by some to former Appalachian State signal-caller Richie Williams (2002-05).
Jackson became the first quarterback in the history of Appalachian State football to pass for 200 or more yards in seven-straight starts. He took over as ASU's full-time starter under center in the sixth game of the season against The Citadel, and he would never relinquish that starting post, garnering starts in the final seven games of the 2012 season.
Jackson also rushed for rushed for 296 yards and seven TDs, making him a quarterback opponents can't take for granted as just a passing threat. In total, Jackson was responsible for 2,297 yards of total offense and 22 TDs last fall. His 2,001 passing yards as a sophomore last fall were the most by any sophomore QB in the rich tradition of the Mountaineer football program.
While Jackson will start, the Mountaineers will also have solid depth under center this fall. Logan Hallock and Kameron Bryant are two solid talents waiting in the wings if called upon. Barnes is more akin to Armanti Edwards, while Hallock brings a savvy and poise to the position.
The 5'11", 185-pound sophomore, Hallock served as the Mountaineers' holder last season, and he has been impressive throughout preseason camp to this point. To give you an idea of Hallock's athleticism, if he doesn't end up finding the field as a backup quarterback this fall, he will likely find his way on to the field as a wide receiver for the Black and Gold.
During his senior season as a prep at West Wilkes High School, Hallock was named Wilkes County Offensive Player of the Year after totaling 3,079 yards of total offense and 30 TD responsibilities. He scored the only TD of his career by recovering a teammate's fumble in the 46-14 win over Western Carolina last fall.
Bryant, a 6'2",195-pound redshirt freshman signal-caller, completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,530 yards and 26 TDs, with eight INTs. He also rushed for over 400 yards as a senior.
With Jackson, Bryant and Hallock filling out the depth chart under center this fall, Appalachian State should once again be in great shape under center this fall. All three quarterbacks have the unique respective skill sets that will make this offense a success once again in 2012.
One of the biggest question marks entering the 2012 season is at running back, where the Mountaineers must find a replacement for 2011 starter Travaris Cadet, who has graduated. Originally, Quarterrio Morgan was slated to line up behind Jackson this fall, however, Morgan did not qualify academically after transferring into ASU from Western Kentucky.
Appalachian State hasn’t had a running back rush for over 1,000 yards since 2007, when Kevin Richardson completed his standout career in the Black and Gold by rushing for 1,348 yards as a senior.
The hopes of the ASU running game will be pinned on the shoulders of Steven Miller (76 rush att, 380 yds, 3 TDs, 5.0 YPC) this fall, who will be entering his second season in the ASU Black and Gold after transferring in from Nassau Community College in Piscataway, N.J.
Miller has the kind of big-play potential that can change a game, as his biggest asset coming out of the ASU backfield is his tremendous speed. Miller turned in his top performance of the 2011 season in the 49-42 win at The Citadel, finishing that contest with 102 yards and a pair of scores on just 18 carries.
Competing alongside Miller for the starting position throughout fall camp thus far has been senior Rod Chisholm (27 rush att, 111 yds, 1 TD in 2010). Chisholm is a player that has had a number of bad breaks in his Mountaineer career, as a result of injuries and academic issues, but now is finally ready to be a big contributor for the ASU offense this fall.
At 5'9", 201 pounds, Chisholm has the kind of size and power that can wear on tiring defenses late in games. He gives the Mountaineers a true between-the-tackles runner with the ability to stretch out a drive in increments, but more importantly, he is the kind of running back that will help the Mountaineers take precious minutes off the clock from teams in the league that sport potent offenses, such as Georgia Southern. For his career, Chisholm has rushed for 244 yards and a TD on 44 carries (4.1 YPC).
Michael Frazier and Tysean Holloway are a couple of players that should also have a real chance to see time in the ASU offense this fall. Frazier, who moved from defensive back to the offensive backfield in the spring of 2011, is much like Chisholm in that he is a bruising, power-type back. Frazier redshirted the 2011 season after moving over from the defensive side of the ball.
Holloway is a talented, true-freshman back this season that ASU will likely try and redshirt, but overall lack of depth coupled with his tremendous attributes might prevent that from happening.
The 6'1", 193-pound true freshman from Asheville, N.C., has been on the ASU campus since January and went through spring drills with the team. He graduated early from Asheville High School just to get the opportunity to push for the starting running back job this fall, which he is doing.
During his prep career at Asheville High School, he rushed for 4,844 yards and 77 TDs during his prep career and was ranked a 2-star recruit by Rivals.com. He was named the 2011 Mountain Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,405 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior.
Overall, the ground game will be versatile and getting this unit the ball in creative ways will be one of the ways this unit could potentially be explosive once again this fall after going stagnate the past couple of seasons.
Despite losing two of the greatest pass-catchers in program history with the graduation of Brian Quick and tight end Ben Jorden. Quick, of course, finished his career as the program's all-time leading receiver in four major categories before becoming the highest draft selection in the history of the program. He was the first pick (33rd overall) of the second round by the St. Louis Rams. ASU's strongest offensive position once again will be wide receiver.
The Apps will have a great mix of veterans and youth and have one very big surprise with a BCS-conference transfer that could make an immediate impact this fall.
The veterans that will be looked to this fall to lead this unit are Andrew Peacock (48 rec, 564 yds, 3 TDs, 11.3 YPR) and Tony Washington (32 rec, 355 yds, 2 TDs, 11.1 YPR). They will be the headliners of the talented unit. Both Washington and Peacock were second-team All-SoCon selections in the preseason by the league's media. The talented duo are the only ones to have recorded all but one of the receptions on the current ASU roster.
Peacock is the leading returning wideout for the Apps and he will likely open the season as the starter at the 'M' wide receiver position, which he occupied last fall. Peacock, a 5'10", 193-pound junior, put together a solid sophomore season, turning in a three-week period which saw him haul in 16 passes for 185 yards and a TD.
Peacock opened the scoring in ASU's win over Georgia Southern, hauling in a 25-yard pass for a score in ASU's 24-17 upset win over top-ranked Georgia Southern. He had his top receiving performance of the season a week later in a 20-10 loss at Furman, hauling in eight passes for 79 yards. Peacock's speed and route-running ability will make him one of the league's top wideouts this fall.
Washington, a 5'10", 200-pound junior from High Point, N.C., will be more of a possession-type receiver for ASU as the starter at the 'Z' wideout position this fall, although he has the speed to be a big-play threat. Like Peacock, Washington definitely benefited from playing in the same receiving corps with Quick last season, and he will likely not see as much freedom this fall.
Washington had some solid performances last season, with his top-two games of the campaign coming against Samford and Furman. In the 35-17 win over Samford, Washington hauled in six passes for 78 yards, including a 41-yard TD. In the 20-10 loss at Furman, Washington hauled in a career-high seven passes for 59 yards.
Rounding out the expected starting trio at the 'X' wide receiver this fall for ASU will be talented redshirt freshman Sean Price (1 rec, 6 yds), who has been touted by some as the next Brian Quick. Price is certainly comparable in height, coming into camp at 6'5", 210 pounds.
The redshirt freshman from Reston Lakes, VA, probably has slightly better speed than his predecessor Quick. Price was a standout performer as a prep during his time at South Lakes High School, where he was able to haul in 49 passes for 820 yards and eight TDs, while running 14 times for 275 yards and four scores. His speed and ability to go up and haul in the ball at its highest point are two strengths, but his greatest asset that he will bring the ASU receiving corps this fall is his tremendous hands. He might have the best set of hands on the ASU roster.
While ASU is certainly pleased with the trio slated to start the opener against East Carolina in a couple of weeks, much of the talk surrounding the receiving corps and the offense as a whole in the second week of camp was the addition of a very high-profile transfer.
That high profile arrival is Tacoi Sumler, who arrived on the ASU campus at the beginning of the second week of camp from defending Rose Bowl champion and PAC-12 member Oregon. Sumler was a highly sought after recruit as a prep, and was rated a 4-star recruit by Rivals.com and was a member of the prestigious "ESPN 150" coming in ranked as the No. 62 ranked player in the country.
Sumler, a player also sought after by local regional FBS powers Clemson and South Carolina, transferred to ASU hoping to get a chance to get on the field sooner, as well as having the ability to get back on the same side of the country as his hometown, which is Miami, FL.
If speed is any indicator, Sumler should see the gridiron plenty in 2012 for Jerry Moore's Mountaineers. With the transition back to a faster-paced offense, which will likely once again feature three cadences, Sumler's astounding 4.24 speed in the 40-yard dash should come in handy. His 40-time was the fastest of any freshman recruit in the nation in 2011.
The 5'9", 173-pound redshirt freshman did catch three passes for 15 yards in the Oregon spring game. As a prep at Christopher Columbus High School, Sumler was a two-time National Underclassmen Combine MVP and caught 116 passes for 1,984 yards and 26 touchdowns over his final three seasons.
He should be figured into the plans as an H-Back and slot receiver option for the Apps this fall. He will likely find himself used both equally as a receiving and run threat this fall, and could also factor into the kick-return game with his electrifying speed.
Other wideouts that figure to contribute to the ASU cause this fall are Bobo Beathard and Simms McElfresh. Both Beathard and McElfresh could be significant factors in the passing game this fall for the Apps.
Beathard, a talented redshirt freshman, is coming off a true freshman campaign which saw him suffer from a head injury. The 5'10", 181-pound native of Haymarket, VA, saw action in the first three games of the campaign before his season came to an end abruptly as the result of a head injury. Beathard will likely see time behind Price at the 'X' receiver position for the Apps this fall.
McElfresh, a 5'10", 183-pound freshman from Charlotte, N.C., was especially impressive during spring drills, working his way into the plans of the ASU coaching staff for the upcoming season. McElfresh's hard work, savvy and his set of hands will serve him well in the ASU lineup as a reserve, likely behind Peacock at the 'M' wide receiver position for the Apps this fall.
ASU must also find a way to replace Ben Jorden, who meant as much to the Mountaineer offense as any player that graduated last fall. Jorden was a four-time All-SoCon honoree and is not only one of the best tight ends in school history, but also is one of the top receivers in the history of Appalachian State football. His 14-career TD receptions ranked him sixth all-time on the school's all-time ledger.
The tight end position will be occupied by Drew Bailey and Zac Baker, and even though both will likely tag-team the duties this fall, expect Bailey to be the starter. The 6'4", 250-pound sophomore native of Spartanburg, S.C., entered camp as the favorite to garner the starting nod, and has done nothing to dismiss those prognostications as of yet. Unlike Jorden, Bailey is more of a blocking tight end as opposed to being a proficient pass-catcher, as Jorden was.
Baker, a 6'2", 238-pound junior from Tunnel Hill, GA, has been learning a new position, having switched sides of the football. Baker spent three seasons plying his trade as a defensive line-linebacker hybrid type player, possessing enough athleticism to play either position, making the transition to the offensive side of the ball a possibility. Baker's versatility and athleticism could make him a significant contributor at a position where the Mountaineers lack experienced depth.
While there's no Brian Quick in this season's wide receiver corps, the good news is that the Apps appear to have plenty of young, talented athletes set to join the experienced Washington and Peacock for the pass-catching responsibilities this fall. I would put ASU's starting trio of wideouts up against any other starting trio in the league going into the 2012 season.
The one known question mark coming into the 2012 season for the ASU coaching staff was the offensive line.
One of the reasons many have concerns about the ASU offensive front this fall is the final two players from the "old guard"—Orry Frye and Matt Ruff—have graduated. The most experienced returnee along the ASU offensive front heading into the 2012 season is sophomore center Alex Acey.
Acey, a former walk-on, is the type player that ASU has built its championship success during the Jerry Moore era, especially when you look at recent history and the center position. Acey has the potential to follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest centers to ever suit up for the Black and Gold, in Scott Suttle (2004-07), who like Acey, began his career as a walk-on for the Mountaineers.
The 5'10", 268-pound sophomore from Clay, AL, started all 12 games he saw action in last season, garnering SoCon All-Freshman honors in his first season on the mountain. He recorded a season best 86 percent grade in the game at Furman last season.
The only other returning starter along the offensive line heading into the 2012 season is left tackle Kendall Lamm. The 6'6", 280-pound sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., started the first seven games of the 2011 season before sitting out for much of the remainder of the season due to injury and disciplinary issues.
Lamm has all the tools to be an all-conference player at the left tackle position for the Mountaineers, and he brings great athleticism and footwork to the ASU offensive front. Lamm, a more mature player, could be a difference-maker this season, and sometimes it takes a season of being thrown into the cauldron to develop that "mean streak" that every offensive lineman must find. He had his best performance of the season against The Citadel, recording four knockdown blocks in the 49-42 road win.
The offensive guard positions will likely be occupied by Graham Fisher at right guard, while impressive freshman Shaq Counts has a solid hold on the starting left guard position. Fisher, a 6'2", 285-pound sophomore, has five-career starts and is an extremely intelligent, savvy offensive lineman. He has taken on the role of mentor to his younger OL mates in his third season in the program.
Look for 6'4", 277-pound Ian Barnard to see a fair amount of action at right guard, and could still win the position before the close of preseason camp.
Rounding out the starters along the offensive line heading into the season opener at East Carolina is right tackle Regan Dufort. Dufort, a 6'6", 315-pound native of Fredericksburg, VA, is the biggest player on the ASU offensive front and a player that is ready to shed the tag of having "big potential" and transition that into "talented and reliable."
Dufort could be ready to realize that talent this season, as the junior has come into his own during spring and fall camp. Now, all that needs to be done is converting that effort and work ethic into 11 or more Saturday afternoons.
The obvious question with this unit is experienced depth and the example of Dufort can be said of all the ASU offensive linemen. No one questions the potential of what are some of the most accomplished ASU O-Line recruits in the history of the program, but there has been a failure to position that talent to go from "potential" to "talented and reliable." With Ledford at the helm of the unit, expect a little more positive reinforcement for his green unit, which will produce a substantial improvement along the front this season. ASU's offensive line will be one of the most-improved and productive in the SoCon in 2012.
If things go well, this offense has a chance to be really good. The offensive line and running game are the biggest question marks, but I think there are plenty more positives than negatives with both units heading into the season. Part of any college football team's success is how they are coached off the field far away from gridiron glory on Saturday afternoons.
ASU wasn't as far away from a big season on offense in 2011 as many would think; it was just an unseasoned outfit. With a new energy infused by offensive coaches, who are not too far removed from being players themselves, this unit could return to the ASU offenses most of us who follow the SoCon are so accustomed to in the spread era—which is an offense with big-play potential and versatility.
Coming up next week, stay tuned for Part III of the preview, as I take a look at what should be a vaunted Appalachian State defense that returns eight starters, and I will also take a look at the 2012 schedule.