Despite distractions that the team’s recent coaching changes presented, Appalachian State was dominant in its 45-13 victory over Middle Tennessee in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday.
Interim coach Mark Ivy led the Mountaineers, who won the football game following the departure of coach Scott Satterfield, who left two weeks ago to become head coach at Louisville.
It was the Sun Belt Conference champions’ fourth straight bowl victory and their 11th win this season.
Here are five takeaways from the 32-point victory, the largest margin in the bowl's 18-year history.
Defense is still big deal
Appalachian State's defense allowed fewer than 20 points in its previous 10 wins, and that trend continued in its 11th win. The Mountaineers sacked Conference USA MVP Brent Stockstill six times and forced him to throw two interceptions. Defensive linemen spent much of the game in the Blue Raiders’ backfield.
A little trickery goes long way
Appalachian State offensive coordinator Shawn Clark had full control over the play-calling. The Mountaineers’ first two touchdowns came on passes from sophomore receiver Malik Williams, who now has three TD passes on five career attempts. The first one Saturday resulted in a 30-yard Thomas Hennigan catch. The second was a thing of beauty, as Darrynton Evans took the handoff, pitched it to Williams on the reverse. Williams found quarterback Zac Thomas open in the end zone for an 8-yard scoring catch.
Big plays make difference
Appalachian State was impressive on the ground. The Mountaineers gained 233 yards rushing, good for fifth all-time in New Orleans Bowl history. Freshman Camerun Peoples had a 63-yard touchdown run and Evans scored from 62 yards - good for the third- and fourth-longest runs in the bowl's history. The team's 6.9 yards per carry is a New Orleans Bowl record, topping the previous mark of 6.67 by Troy in 2010. App State’s five touchdown passes tied another record.
Ivey said after the game that “size is great, but speed is the answer to being successful.” It might have been the understatement of the night. Middle Tennessee simply didn't have an answer for the Mountaineers’ speed on defense or offense, and never was it more evident than on People's 63-yard TD as he outran the Middle Tennessee defense. That run was just a glimpse into the 6-foot-2, 200-pound freshman's future
Mountaineers embraced challenge
It's been a challenging two weeks with the coaching changes, but Ivey appeared to have pushed all the right buttons. A former App State player and long-time assistant coach, he embraced the changes, allowing former coaches to address players as they left and assistants in new roles to take ownership.
Senior defensive tackle MyQuan Stout applauded Ivey’s performance: “I am nothing but happy for Coach Ivey. Coach Ivey recruited me and was my defensive line coach, and just to see how positive he was during these two weeks, I commend him for that. For him to stay positive, that is hats off to him for me.”
The Mountaineers will introduce new coach Eliah Drinkwitz at a news conference on Monday.