This week’s college football schedule gets started with a massive mid-week showdown in the Sun Belt between the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. Kickoff is at 8:00 EST on Wednesday, October 9 at Cajun Field in Lafayette, Louisiana. The game can be seen on ESPN2.
Current betting odds list Louisiana as 3-point favorites at home with an over/under of 69.5 points. Click here to check out a full schedule and betting odds for this week’s college football games.
The Mountaineers are off to a 4-0 start under new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who took over after Scott Satterfield left for Louisville. On paper, wins over East Tennessee, Charlotte, and Coastal Carolina aren’t all that impressive. However, Appalachian State also has a road win over ACC opponent North Carolina, which was one of the most impressive wins by a Group of 5 team this season. The Mountaineers prevented that win from going to their head when they held serve against Coastal Carolina the following week. But they have their most challenging Sun Belt games ahead of them, starting with a road trip to Lafayette this week.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, meanwhile, have rattled off four straight wins after a 10-point loss to Mississippi State in their season opener. That stretch has included back-to-back road wins against Ohio and Georgia Southern, two teams that were bowl teams a season ago. At 4-1 and 1-0 in conference play, the Ragin’ Cajuns have established themselves as favorites to repeat as champions of the Sun Belt West division. However, they now have arguably their two toughest games back to back in Appalachian State and a road game against Arkansas State.
Of course, this game is a rematch of last year’s inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game. The Mountaineers won that game on their home field 30-19 after beating the Ragin’ Cajuns 27-17 during the regular season. In fact, Appalachian State has won all six of their head-to-head meetings with Louisiana, all of which have occurred in the last five seasons and have had a margin of victory of at least 10 points. That includes wins in both of their trips to Lafayette in 2014 and 2016.
I won’t deny that the Mountaineers appear to have some flaws despite remaining unbeaten. But I’m not going to go against this much history. Louisiana is yet to get a win over App State in six tries, and I don’t feel comfortable stepping out on a limb and saying it’s going to happen now. That makes it easy to lean toward Appalachian State as an underdog.
Despite a change at head coach, the Mountaineers have continuity at the quarterback position with Zac Thomas. The junior is on pace for the same touchdown total that he posted last season. However, Thomas has seen a significant bump in his completion percentage and his passing totals. He’s actually had his two best games against North Carolina and Coastal Carolina, which are the two toughest opponents App State has faced this year. He may not have thrown a touchdown pass against UNC, but he completed 20 of his 29 passes for over 200 yards to lead the way.
Compared to last season, Thomas has been used a little less in the running game, but the Mountaineers haven’t seen any meaningful drop-off in productivity thanks to Darrynton Evans. After rushing for just under 1,200 yards last year, Evans is on pace to top that number this season, averaging seven yards per carry and already setting a new career-high with nine rushing touchdowns. He’s also getting plenty of support from his backfield mate Daetrich Harrington, helping the App State offense remain balanced and put Thomas in a position to be successful throwing the ball.
Of course, the Louisiana offense is no slouch either, especially when it comes to the running game. Every Ragin’ Cajun running back who has touched the ball this season is averaging better than six yards per carry, most notably the tandem of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell, who have already combined for 15 rushing touchdowns. However, I have some concerns about Levi Lewis and the passing attack, which Louisiana will likely need in a game like this. Despite limiting himself to just two interceptions in five games, Lewis has only thrown for over 200 yards once this season, and that came in the loss to Mississippi State.
Admittedly, my one concern with Appalachian State is their defense, which has yielded over 30 points in three straight games. However, they’ve given up a lot more yards through the air than on the ground, especially in their last two games. That should put them in a good position to handle the Louisiana rushing attack and force the Ragin’ Cajuns to throw the ball a little more, taking them out of their comfort zone.
Ultimately, this game has high-scoring shootout written all over it. That means the balance of the Appalachian State offense and the experience of Thomas should end up making a difference. I don’t fully trust Lewis to create big plays against the App State defense if he needs to. Instead, I’ll trust that Thomas can make clutch plays and give the Mountaineers another win over Louisiana.