Mountaineers turn attention to Texas A&M

App State looks to bounce back after a tough loss to UNC

Nate Noel, who rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns in App State's 63-61 loss to UNC, and the Mountaineers face a stiff test when they travel to face No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday. (Reinhold Matay / AP Photo)

BOONE — A week after it narrowly lost one of the most entertaining games in program history, App State heads to College Station to face No. 6 Texas A&M for the first time.

The visit to the national title hopeful comes after the Mountaineers’ 63-61 shootout loss to UNC on Saturday — the highest-scoring game in the histories of both programs as well as the first home crowd of 40,000-plus fans in the history of Kidd Brewer Stadium.

“A great football game,” App State coach Shawn Clark said following the loss. “Why we don’t play these in-state football games every single year blows my mind, but I’m very proud of our football team. We were down 20 in the fourth and our guys never quit. We’re going to have a helluva football team.”

That team will have to show up against the Aggies (1-0), one of the SEC’s best teams.

“They recruit at the highest level in college sports, and Coach (Jimbo) Fisher has done an outstanding job for the last three or four years that he’s been there,” Clark said of Texas A&M on Monday. “They have great playmakers. They have an exceptional offense and defense. Schematically, they give you a lot of tough situations on both offense and defense. We have our work cut out for us, but our guys are excited to go out there to College Station. It’s an outstanding place to play a college football game.”

It will also be an opportunity to play in front of a large television audience on ESPN for the second week in a row. That means great exposure for the Mountaineers, but Fisher knows this game will be about more than just TV time for the Sun Belt opponent.

“(App State) can play in any league,” Fisher said. “They have great players. They’ve gotten a few transfers in but have recruited well. They believe. They have a culture there. And I’m gonna tell you, this is an excellent, excellent football team that can play on all sides of the ball.”

The Aggies will have to be ready for quarterback Chase Brice, who was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week following his record-breaking performance against UNC in which he set a school record with six touchdown passes while completing 25 of 36 throws for a career-high 361 yards. During the fourth quarter, Brice led App State to 40 points by passing for 203 yards with four touchdowns.

“He knows ball and he played great there last year,” Fisher said of Brice. “He can throw the ball down the field, can create plays with his legs and he’s got a savviness to him. Just body language and throw the ball here and flip the ball there. Man, he can just really play the game.”

While the Mountaineers are entering Week 2 following a heartbreaking loss, the Aggies are coming off a 31-0 shutout victory over Sam Houston State.

In that game, A&M managed just 110 yards on 32 carries (a 3.4-yard average) on the ground and quarterback Haynes King threw three touchdowns but also a pair of interceptions. The Aggies’ defense, however, was in midseason form, keeping the Bearkats off the scoreboard and holding them to just one third down conversion.

Defensive back Antonio Johnson and linebacker Edgerrin Cooper lead an Aggies defense that will try to slow App State running back Nate Noel (116 yards, two touchdowns in Week 1) and wide receiver Dashaun Davis (six receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown).

App State’s defense, meanwhile, will need to be better than it was in the opener to have any chance of pulling off an upset — the 63 points allowed against the Tar Heels on Saturday were more than Texas A&M has allowed in their past five games combined.

Mountaineers linebacker Nick Hampton — fresh off a 2.5-sack performance — will look to slow down an Aggies offense built around senior wideout Ainias Smith and King’s passing game.