The Mountaineers have a new head coach in Eliah Drinkwitz and a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof. Both came from North Carolina State after Scott Satterfield was lured away to Louisville after six seasons at Appalachian State in which he built a 51-24 record.
The Bucs have mostly been practicing against their own schemes while installing their offense and defense. Now that game week is here, they’ll be working more on Appalachian State.
The Bucs and Mountaineers open the season Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 30,000-seat Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina.
“We have to make that transition, start thinking about what to expect from Appalachian State,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “It’s kind of a crapshoot. They have a new coach and we are going to have to look at a whole lot of film and kind of project what we expect them to do.”
Drinkwitz had been the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at N.C. State for three years after moving over from Boise State.
“It’s a really tough opener,” Sanders said. “Obviously, App’s a traditional rival and goes way, way back. There’s no question the 12 years that ETSU didn’t have football, App made the most of those years. They’ve taken their program to another level, literally and figuratively.”
After winning three FCS national championships, Appalachian State moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision and has won three consecutive Sun Belt Conference titles and four consecutive bowl games.
“It’s going to be tough,” Sanders said. “We’re awful excited about what happened last year, but we’re still just five years back from not having a football team. We’re not where we want to be and we’re not where we’re going to be.
“All that being said, we’re going up there to compete and we’re planning on making the game count. We know it counts in the stats and we’re going up to win, but we know it’s going to be a tough task.”
Sanders is excited about having the multitalented Malik McGue on the roster, but he was fretting about not having him sooner so he could see the former Science Hill star who transferred from Army in action during the team’s preseason scrimmages.
McGue, who is working out at slot receiver, running back and kick returner, had to do some classwork at Northeast State Community College to become eligible.
“He graduated on Thursday and we didn’t get him admitted to school for a whole seven days,” Sanders said, shaking his head. “I can see it not happening on Saturday or Sunday, but why did it take a whole week to get that done when he’d already been admitted to school twice before?
“He looks good. He looks like he can be in position to really help us. If we’d had him for scrimmages, it would have been nice. Now we’re going to try to see what he can do in practice. Obviously, we’ll find out a whole lot more in games when it gets live because we don’t have any more of those opportunities now.”
The Bucs have to replace graduated kicker JJ Jerman and punter Marion Watson and it appears as though two freshmen have won the starting jobs.
Tyler Keltner of Tallahassee, Florida, will be the placekicker and Garrett Taylor out of Oakland in Murfreesboro the punter.
“Losing JJ and Marion, you knew you were going to see some new faces,” Sanders said. “But a couple of the faces you may see are going to be a little newer than a lot of people expected. Those two guys are talented. I’ve always lived by the adage you can get talent experience, but you can’t get experience talent.”
Back in February, on signing day, Sanders said he had never signed a kicker before.
“First time in 31 years I’ve ever signed a kicker and we’ve got two of them in this class,” he said.
And now they’re starting.
Sanders said he’s made a decision on his starting quarterback, but he’s not ready to make the announcement yet.
Chance Thrasher, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, has gotten most of the snaps with the first team in recent practices and is expected to get the ball.
“I’ve pretty much made the decision and we’ve already had that talk,” Sanders said. “I am sure we’ll announce it in the next day or so, but why in the world would we announce it two or three days earlier than necessary to help App State out?”