In my preview for this year’s Camellia Bowl, I said that a game between two of the top teams in the Sun Belt and MAC wouldn’t disappoint. Toledo and Appalachian State are two schools that have built programs out of players who fit well in these “lower” conferences. I was right. We were treated to two talented football teams playing their hearts out in a great game.
One of the biggest matchups to watch was how the Appalachian State defense could stop the Toledo offense, led by a strong offensive line and star running back Kareem Hunt. For most of the game, the Mountaineers, especially the defensive line, were more than up to the task. Appalachian State really dominated the line of scrimmage for most of the first three quarters, not giving Hunt any room or ability to get any rhythm.
Toledo’s explosive offense responded to this by finding seams with the passing game. Logan Woodside went 18-26 and threw for 247 yards, keeping Toledo in the game. The Toledo offense would really take control in the fourth quarter, as it seemed that the offensive line had finally worn down the Mountaineers. Toledo was unable to finish drives, especially at the end, which eventually cost the Rockets in this game.
Toledo did not lead once in this game, but that did not diminish the excitement in the slightest. Every time Appalachian State was able to score, Toledo matched it on the following drive–except for in the third quarter, when Toledo matched two drives later. Appalachian State was never able to establish a multiple-score lead or any form of control of this game, but Toledo was never able to get over the hump and take control back.
The underrated story of this game will show up in one statistic: Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb ran for more yards (126) than he threw for (119). Time and again, especially in the second half, Lamb had wide swaths of the field open in front of him when he pulled the ball on the zone read. Lamb is not usually a running quarterback, though he is pretty mobile, and Toledo was clearly unprepared to deal with him actually running the ball. There was no spy or contain on the edge when it looked like a handoff up the middle–from an Xs and Os point of view, this may very well have been the deciding matchup in the game.
Even though Toledo could not establish a running game or contain Taylor Lamb, the Rockets were never out of it. The offensive line finally opened some holes for Hunt in the fourth quarter. With under three minutes remaining, the Rockets were driving and down only three points. With Hunt sitting out a few plays (possibly due to being a bit shaken up), the drive stalled at the Appalachian State 17-yard-line. In a moment of confusion about whether to go for it on 4th-and-(a short) 2, head coach Jason Candle failed to call a timeout to prevent a delay of game. Jameson Vest’s 30-yard field goal attempt sailed barely wide right, and one first down sealed the game for Appalachian State.
Into the Offseason
The win marks Appalachian State’s second-ever bowl win (moving to 2-0 all-time) and second consecutive ten-win season. The Mountaineers return plenty of talent, including Lamb, in 2017 so coach Scott Satterfield and his team have to be optimistic about continuing moving this program forward. The Mountaineers almost started 2016 off with a bang by coming oh-so-close to upsetting Tennessee; they will get another chance to do the same next year when they open the season at Georgia.
For Toledo, the loss marks just another notch in a long string of years being unable to really turn good seasons into great ones. Toledo consistently has the talent to compete and make noise, at least among the “mid-major” programs, but something always seems to just hold the Rockets back from achieving the level of success that a program like Northern Illinois or San Diego State (let alone Boise State or Houston) has reached in recent years. Toledo will lose Kareem Hunt, most likely to the NFL, for next season, but Logan Woodside returns to lead a team on the cusp of being considered a top Group of 5 program–but just never quite there.