Strange as this sounds, considering the result, that first defensive play Saturday for Appalachian State was run just as it was drawn up.
The Mountaineers anticipated 25th-ranked Miami opening this game with an inside power run. The front seven engaged the Hurricanes’ blockers and safety A.J. Howard stepped into the hole to engage running back Mark Walton.
From that point on, nothing went as planned.
Howard didn’t complete the tackle, and by the time any other defender sprung toward Walton, it was too late - a spirit-sapping 80-yard run to the end zone that summed up the difference in a 45-10 Hurricanes victory.
That difference was wide, and Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield didn’t sidestep that reality.
"There’s a reason why they call them ‘Power 5’ – Tennessee is really good, Miami is really good," said Satterfield of the name-brand football programs to beat Appalachian State this season.
"There is not one player on our team that they wanted."
That’s the harsh truth for a program that has had a meteoric rise from the Football Championship Subdivision level to the Bowl level of late. The Mountaineers qualified for and won a bowl game last season. In their opener this season, they put a huge scare into the then-top 10 Volunteers before losing in overtime in Knoxville.
But to repeat that feat Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium, Appalachian State had to hit every note correctly. And that wasn’t anything like the direction this game took.
Satterfield was quick to admit his team played sloppily. The secondary was disorganized when a safety failed to cover over the top, giving up a 55-yard touchdown connection from Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya to wide receiver Stacy Coley.
That made it 21-0 with three quarters left to play. The rest of the game was competitive only briefly, when Appalachian State linebacker John Law jumped a Miami pass route close to the end zone and returned an interception 60 yards. That gave the Mountaineers sufficient field position to score a touchdown. Quarterback Taylor Lamb found tight end Barrett Burns behind Miami’s defense for a 24-yard throw-and-run into the end zone.
That was Appalachian State’s only touchdown, and I’m not quite sure how many more quarters it would have taken to find the end zone again.
"In the first half everything went wrong that could go wrong on offense," said Lamb.
Lamb missed with eight of his first nine passing attempts. Then star running back Marcus Cox suffered a leg injury. He finished with just seven carries for 30 yards, sitting out the entire second half.
Satterfield didn’t have much detail on Cox’s injury, except to say it would have been pointless running him at half-speed. Jalin Moore did a solid job in replacement, finishing with 89 yards on 23 carries.
Continuing on Lamb’s what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong theme, the Mountaineers’ defense fell into the habit of giving up big plays in third-and-long situations or committing penalties at the worst of times.
All these snafus made for an offense so predictable that Appalachian State became easy prey for Miami.
"The first half we just got behind the chains. It’s so hard to throw the ball when you’re behind the chains because they know you’re throwing the ball," said Lamb, who was a miserable 10-of-21 passing for 115 yards, that one touchdown and an interception.
The good news is the schedule finally comes back in their direction now. Despite allowing 549 yards Saturday, the Mountaineers still look like the favorites in the Sun Belt this season.
"Obviously the season isn’t over," said Satterfield. "We’ve got a good football team and we can salvage the season."
Which would put the pep back in a home crowd (a record 34,658 attendance) that all but cleared out for the fourth quarter Saturday.
That provided Satterfield with one more observation worth repeating:
"Just because we played in our backyard doesn’t guarantee we’d play well. "