An early midweek matchup features a rematch of last season’s inaugural Sun Belt championship game. And if the first month of the season is any indicator, Wednesday’s nationally televised affair between Louisiana and Appalachian State in Lafayette could be a preview of the 2019 title game.
Both schools have done nothing but build momentum since playing for the 2018 title last December in Boone. Appalachian State entered the season as favorites to repeat and will enter Wednesday’s matchup as the only unbeaten team in the conference.
But if there is a flaw in the Mountaineers’ game, it’s a defense that is allowing far more yards and points than it is used to. That’s where UL Lafayette will look to attack as it brings the league’s best rushing attack to the table.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were stout offensively last season, but a leaky defense couldn’t hold up in Boon during the title game as Appalachian State’s defense was able to do enough to slow down the ULL attack and pave the way for a win.
“Unique Wednesday night game and a chance to run up against a good Appalachian State team,” ULL coach Billy Napier said. “They’ve got a veteran team that knows how to win. They’ve played in big games and played well in them.
“We’ve got our own core group of veterans that is leading our team and I think we’re in a good place, but we’re still a work in progress. I think we played our best game yet against Georgia Southern the last time out, but now we need to play our best game again.”
Appalachian State first-year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz was equally adept at doling out the compliments ahead of one of his team’s biggest challenges of the first half of the season.
“Coach Napier has done an amazing job,” Drinkwitz said. “They run unbalanced formations, go with tempo, run out of multiple formations and the quarterback is throwing it well. They’re a complete offense and (Napier) has a good command for calling the plays.”
EAGLES HARD AT WORK DURING BYE WEEK
Georgia Southern still has high hopes for its season, but needed a late drive in regulation and some more heroics even later on to win its first Sun Belt game and improve to 2-3 in a double-overtime thriller at South Alabama last Thursday. It was an odd game as the Eagles dominated much of the stat line, but needed a last-gasp drive to tie things in regulation and had to overcome a missed field goal in overtime before blocking a field goal of its own and then forcing a fumble to set up a walk-off kick by All-American Tyler Bass.
“We challenged the kids to do what we do and let the score take care of itself,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “It wasn’t pretty on the scoreboard, and we need to do better about allowing big plays on defense, but we didn’t beat ourselves and we were able to finish.”
EVERYONE’S IN ON THE EAST
The season began with Appalachian State and Troy as the presumed favorites in the Sun Belt East, with Georgia Southern lurking in the shadows while Georgia State and Coastal Carolina were mostly afterthoughts.
Instead of a wide array of talent, the division looks like it has everyone gunning for top spots.
App is taking care of business and Troy is still favored to make a run despite an 0-1 start. And Georgia Southern is right there as well. But both Coastal and Georgia State have shown far more offense than most expected and look as dangerous as anyone in the conference.
The Panthers and Chanticleers match up on Saturday in an unexpectedly high-stakes matchup. The loser might be resigned to worrying about bowl eligibility, but the winner will have the full attention of the supposed powers of the division moving forward.