App State looks to upset another Big Ten powerhouse

Eleven years after the Mountaineers stunned college football with a win at Michigan, App State travels to Happy Valley for a matchup with No. 10 Penn State

Quarterback Taylor Lamb (11) has graduated, but running back Jalin Moore (25) returns to pace the Mountaineers offense. (Randy Sartin / USA TODAY Sports)

Saturday will mark the 11th anniversary of what many consider the greatest upset in college football history.

Scott Satterfield was an assistant coach at Appalachian State at the time and was on the sideline the day the Mountaineers shocked the nation — and Michigan in particular — by beating the Wolverines 34-32 before 109,000 hostile fans.

Memories of that historic victory are being rekindled this week as Satterfield, now the head coach, takes his team to Penn State to begin a new season against another of the sport’s traditional blue bloods.

It would certainly be an upset if App State goes into Happy Valley and knocks off a team ranked No. 10 in the preseason Associated Press poll. But as Satterfield is quick to point out, that’s about the only thing such a victory would have in common with that memorable game against the Wolverines.

“That was 11 years ago. It was a different team, different staff, different everything,” Satterfield said Monday. “So it just proves that underdogs can go in and win a game.”

That’s good news for the Mountaineers, considering that Penn State is favored by 24 points on Saturday. Unlike the 2007 team, though, this year’s Mountaineers will head into the game with more than just a wing and a prayer.

Instead of being an FCS program moving up in competition to earn a nice payday, albeit one on its way to a third straight subdivision championship, App State is now an established FBS team coming off three consecutive bowl victories and favored to win its division in the Sun Belt Conference this year.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the approach the Mountaineers will take when they run into that hostile environment Saturday. They’re not going to Happy Valley for the payday. They’re going there to win.

“We do have a bit of a challenge ahead of us this week, playing Penn State up on the road at their place, a hostile environment and (we’re) just really excited about going into that,” said Satterfield, who admitted that the only time he mentions the Michigan game is during the offseason when he’s on the recruiting trail.

“Coach (James) Franklin and his staff and their players have done a great job. They have some really good players, they’re scheme-coached well. A lot of things you look for in a top-10 program, they have that. So it’s a big challenge, but we’re looking forward to it, and our guys are eager to show the hard work they put into the offseason and showing what they got.”

App State returns 21 players that started at least one game while helping their team to the Sun Belt title in 2017. Only 12 of them are seniors, leaving a potential leadership void.

Compounding the situation is the fact the Mountaineers will need to find a replacement for the record-setting quarterback that helped make their transition from FCS to FBS so successful.

Strong-armed sophomore Zac Thomas has emerged as the heir apparent to three-year starter Taylor Lamb, who started 49 games and threw 90 touchdown passes in his career. Although last year’s leading receiver Ike Harris has also graduated, Thomas should still have plenty of available targets, led by sophomore Thomas Hennigan (45 catches, seven touchdowns last season) and Kansas State transfer Corey Sutton.

The Mountaineers should also have a solid ground game with the return of 1,000-yard rusher Jalin Moore.

Defensively, App State will have a new coordinator in former secondary coach Bryan Brown — who takes over after former co-coordinators Nate Woody and Scot Sloan both left for other opportunities — but plenty of familiar faces on the field.

Among them are preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year Clifton Duck and fellow cornerback Tae Hayes, a pair that combined for 10 interceptions and 18 pass breakups last season. Up front, defensive tackle MyQuon Stout was a key figure in the Mountaineers’ four-game winning streak that culminated in a 34-0 shutout of Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl.

Despite all that returning talent and the preparation put in during preseason camp, Satterfield said there’s an element of the unknown at the start of every new year.

Regardless of who the first opponent might be.

“I think there are some questions that have to be answered whenever you do play that first game,” he said. “You’re trying to find out your strengths, your weaknesses, what you do well and that’s what you want to do.

“It’s the same thing with personnel. You have a pretty good idea about a bunch of your personnel, but there are a couple guys that you don’t really know what they’re going to do until they go out there and play in that first game.”