Ranked App State heads to Marshall looking to build on opening win

The Mountaineers’ revamped schedule has them traveling to Huntington to face the Thundering Herd

Appalachian State hits the road to play Marshall on Saturday. (Allison Lee Isley / The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

Homecoming celebrations have been one of the many football-related casualties of the coronavirus crisis because of the inability of fans to attend games in person.

First-year Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark, on the other hand, will get to experience an unexpected homecoming because of COVID-19.

His Mountaineers weren’t originally scheduled to play at Marshall on Saturday. But because of cancellations caused by the worldwide pandemic, the game was added as a last-minute replacement.

So instead of traveling to Madison for a showdown with Wisconsin, Clark will take his team to Huntington, West Virginia, to play the team he rooted for as a youngster growing up in nearby Charleston.

“Outside of Appalachian State, the only schools I look at are Marshall and West Virginia, so I have a lot of respect for those guys,” Clark said during his weekly media conference Monday. “A lot of great memories, a lot of good people down there. They’ve got some great fans in Huntington. I’m very excited about this game.”

Since a limited number of fans will be allowed in the stands, Clark said he’s already gotten plenty of phone calls from family members and friends looking to him for tickets.

The social aspect of the game, however, is the furthest thing from his mind as he prepares his team for a challenging early-season test.

Marshall, which was originally set to play at East Carolina on Saturday, looked impressive in a season-opening 59-0 rout against Eastern Kentucky last week.

Redshirt freshman Grant Wells completed his first eight passes on the way to setting a school record for passing yards by a quarterback in his Thundering Herd debut, going 16 of 23 for 307 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Defensively, Marshall limited its opponent to just seven first downs and 166 total yards in recording the shutout.

Although the level of competition was a step below that of the FBS, the performance was enough to catch Clark’s attention.

“I think coach (Doc) Holliday has done a great job recruiting team speed,” Clark said. “They have an outstanding quarterback and it always starts with a quarterback. Grant Wells, a kid from my hometown that I know a lot about, really shined versus Eastern Kentucky. And then their offensive line, it’s five seniors.

“They play the game the way it should be played, and again, if you can stop the run, they have a vertical passing game. And with their receivers, they can straight out fly. They’re long, they have length. And we have to be very good to stop them.”

While Clark’s veteran Mountaineers weren’t perfect in their opener against Charlotte last week, they were still good enough to pull away in the second half for a 35-20 win against an opponent that won seven games and went to a bowl a season ago.

Two running backs — Marcus Williams with 117 and Camerun Peoples with 102 — rushed for more than 100 yards in the game while the defense picked off a pair of passes.

As opening games go, Clark said Saturday’s win was a good place to start, but he added that there’s still a lot of work left to do.

“The positives were that we had 29 first downs and we rushed for 308 yards,” Clark said. “That’s something we had to do because of the elements. I was very happy with that. I wasn’t satisfied with turnovers. It’s something we work on on a daily basis, and we had two fumbles and went for it on fourth-and-3.

“On defense, I thought we were excellent. … We were 11 for 14 on third down, and that’s just our attention to detail.”

The Mountaineers will have to be even more focused this week, and not just because they’re playing on the road against a quality opponent.

Their win against Charlotte, combined with the elimination of all the teams whose seasons have been postponed, helped them jump to No. 23 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. ABC has also bumped the game up to its featured 3:30 p.m. time slot so it can be broadcast to a national audience.

They’re factors that have Clark and his staff working hard to avoid distraction.

“Our goal is to be 1-0, and I told them (Monday) in our team meeting that the Charlotte game is gone, and we reached our goal about being 1-0,” he said. “And we’ll go week by week. Again, playing Marshall, our goal is to be 1-0. We’ll keep it here in the present and let the future hold what it holds.”