MOBILE, Ala. — Ranked and still unbeaten, No. 21 App State didn’t let a pregame storm rain on its nationally televised parade.
After warming up in a downpour at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the Mountaineers shut down South Alabama’s offense in a 30-3 victory that kept them alone atop the Sun Belt Conference standings.
“I thought our defense played unbelievable today and held them in check all game,” App State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “It really allowed us offensively to kind of find ourselves. We struggled converting third downs and really didn’t play solid enough offensively, but we played well enough to win and we’ll be on to the next one.”
App State (7-0, 4-0) returns to action Thursday with a home game against Georgia Southern.
Late in the third quarter Saturday, while holding a 23-0 lead on ESPNU, the defense for App State had allowed just 43 yards on 32 plays from South Alabama (1-7, 0-4).
Elijah Diarrassouba recovered a fumble, Demetrius Taylor blocked a field goal and the Mountaineers recorded three sacks as they limited the Jaguars to 139 yards of total offense for the game.
App State officially recorded 11 three-and-outs on defense, but 10 times in the first 11 chances and 13 times overall the Mountaineers needed three plays or less to force a punting situation or turnover once South Alabama’s offense took the field. A roughing-the-punter penalty officially wiped out one three-and-out stand, but the Jaguars had to punt again three plays later.
“The biggest part was us flying around, playing hard and playing physical,” senior linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither said. “We knew they wanted to get the perimeter, so we really focused on that.”
Offensively, App State’s Marcus Williams Jr. scored once while rushing for 94 yards on 11 carries, and true freshman Raykwon Anderson came in late to add 99 yards on four carries thanks to a 67-yard touchdown. Zac Thomas’ 132 passing yards included a 19-yard touchdown to Thomas Hennigan, who had six catches, and Malik Williams had three early third-down conversions.
The Mountaineers totaled 445 yards of offense, including 313 on the ground, in a turnover-free effort.
“We have to keep protecting the quarterback, and no fumbles,” Williams said. “One hundred-percent ball security, that’s the main goal.”
The Jaguars totaled 19 plays for 2 yards on their first six possessions, with the lone first down coming on the roughing penalty following Ryan Huff’s tackle for a third-down loss of 5 yards. South Alabama’s first chain-moving offensive play occurred in the final minute of the first half, and App State went into the break with a 203-23 advantage in yards gained.
Williams’ first three catches were third-down conversions, including a 12-yard gain to prolong App State’s first scoring drive. Three plays later, with 7:06 left in the first quarter, Thomas threw a touchdown pass to Hennigan to give the Mountaineers the lead for good.
Diarrassouba immediately followed a missed field goal with a fumble recovery at the South Alabama 14, and Chandler Staton’s 19-yard field goal increased the margin to double figures early in the second quarter. He added a 37-yard field goal with 1:09 remaining before halftime to cap a drive in which Williams Jr. had a third-and-1 rush for 13 yards and Darrynton Evans gained 7 yards on a third-and-3 rush.
The Mountaineers moved ahead 20-0 midway through the third quarter thanks to a 3-yard touchdown from Williams Jr., who set up the score with gains of 20 and 35 yards. South Alabama made a quarterback switch at that point, with its offense having gained 35 yards on 29 plays, and another three-and-out series preceded Staton’s season-long field goal of 46 yards. Jalen Virgil’s 21-yard rush and Thomas’ 29-yard keeper put App State in scoring range on that drive.
“Coach (Ted) Roof and the staff had a great gameplan, and we went out and executed it,” senior linebacker Jordan Fehr said. “We played as a unit and all did our jobs to the best of our ability. I was pretty mad when they got three points up there, because we wanted the shutout.”
App State prolonged its shutout bid when Taylor blocked a 32-yard field goal early in the third quarter, giving him two blocks this season and his team an FBS-leading five this season. After South Alabama broke through with a 37-yard field goal in the closing minutes, Anderson broke loose for his first career touchdown on his second carry of the game.
He added a 29-yard run on his next attempt.
“It was a great feeling,” Anderson said. “Coach told me to be ready when my number was called, and I was ready.”