Calvin Mattheis | Ohio Athletics

Ohio vs. Appalachian State for the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

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When the Appalachian State Mountaineers (10-2) moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) just two years ago, they were patiently awaiting the arrival of a talented recruit that would lead the team to its first ever bowl game.

Dec. 19 in Montgomery, AL, sophomore quarterback Taylor Lamb will be behind center leading the Mountaineers against the Ohio Bobcats (8-4) in the second playing of the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.

Lamb poses a threat against a reenergized Bobcat defense that has returned to health following mid-season injuries. Lamb has thrown for 2,263 yards on a year highlighted with a 166.1 passer rating, tied for seventh in the nation with MAC star Matt Johnson of Bowling Green.

When dropping back to pass, Lamb does not have a favorite player. He stays disciplined to his reads and hits whoever finds their way open. On the team’s 31 touchdowns through the air, 13 different players have found themselves on the receiving end. Appalachian State’s top three receivers are separated by just 15 yards.

Lamb is much more than a pocket passer though, as he has carried the ball 76 times for 365 yards and four touchdowns. Many of these carries stem off of the team’s zone read scheme, although Lamb is a talented scrambler when under pressure.

Ohio will need to be disciplined on the edges to keep Lamb under wraps, which could go smoother than Bobcat fans have seen at times this season. According to Ohio head coach Frank Solich, linebackers Jovon Johnson and Quentin Poling are both approaching 100 percent health.

Ohio will need these two in the middle of the defense against a high octane Power Pistol offense of Appalachian State. The Mountaineers have both a tight end and second running back, whether it is a full back or tailback, beside Lamb for the majority of their offensive snaps.

With the extra bodies committed to the run game, Appalachian State dominates teams up front for an astounding 5.8 yards per carry, which ranks fifth in the country. Ohio has allowed 4.8 yards per carry, but those numbers are strongly skewed by the Western Michigan and Bowling Green losses, two of the three games Poling missed due to injury.

Ohio will face a much higher percentage of run plays than it is used to seeing. Ohio has faced the 9th fewest rush attempts per game in the country, whereas Appalachian State has attempted the 17th most runs in the FBS.

The main Mountaineer on the ground is Marcus Cox, who has amassed 1,261 yards on 219 carries and eight touchdowns. Although providing a majority of the rushing yards, Cox has help from teammates to carry the load. Appalachian State has six different players over 100 yards on the season, four of which are over 300, including Lamb. Many of the runners possess big-play potential, as seven Mountaineers are over five yards per carry.

On the other side of the ball, Ohio has found its previously non-existent run game. With multiple quarterbacks back to full health including Derrius Vick and JD Sprague, the ‘Cats have been able to establish the quarterbacks as running threats and open up run lanes for whomever is carrying the ball. The first game Sprague was healthy and ready to backup Vick came against Bowling Green, and Ohio was able to take the risk and use Vick as a runner more often. Vick became the team’s first 100-yard rusher on the season that week, and the running backs from Ohio have benefitted tremendously from that performance ever since.

With the need for defenses to be mindful of the quarterback keep, Ohio running back A.J Ouellette has been able to churn out back-to-back 100+ yard games. Ouellette leads the team with 642 yards on the year, over 260 of which came against Ball State and Northern Illinois.

Not only has Ohio found its run game, but they will also roll into Montgomery with one of its main playmakers back in pads. Running back Papi White is slated to play Saturday after going down mid-season with an injury during the Western Michigan loss. White has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and also presents big-play potential each touch he gets on special teams.

With many viable options in the backfield, Solich’s main decision prior to kickoff will be which player will be taking the snaps. Both Vick and Sprague have started at points this season, and both have rarely been healthy at the same time. Vick has thrown for 1,809 yards, and although he has completed a higher percentage of passes, he has also turned the ball over at a much higher rate. Vick has thrown 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, whereas Sprague has seven touchdowns and just one interception, giving him the slight passer rating advantage.

Whoever gets the nod will be looking for the green No. 6 stitched onto a white jersey. Sebastian Smith has been the go-to guy for Ohio quarterbacks this season. He has compiled 61 catches for 752 yards, both career highs, and has found the end zone seven times.

Smith is the most targeted Ohio receiver on third down and in the red zone. He will be looking to come up big for Ohio in the red zone against a scrappy Mountaineer defense that digs in once their 20-yard line is crossed. On opponent red zone trips, Appalachian State leads the country allowing just 3.43 points per possession inside its own 20.

With two tough defenses in this matchup, special teams could play a big factor. Neither team has allowed a kick return or punt return touchdown thus far. In a close game that could come down to a field goal as time expires, the numbers would give Appalachian State the edge. Ohio kicker Josiah Yazdani is just 70 percent on field goal attempts and has two misses inside 40 yards. Zach Matics has done the kicking for the Mountaineers this season and has been a useful weapon for his team. Matics is 13-for-14 on the year, which puts him second in the country at 93 percent.

Whether it be Yazdani or Matics booting the ball away in Montgomery, the first kick will take place at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN.