BOONE — Beau Nunn and Colby Gossett set up shoulder to shoulder on the right side of Appalachian State’s offensive line.
Close proximity is common for the two redshirt juniors, who were freshman roommates in Cone Hall during the summer of 2013 before sharing a first-floor room in Justice Hall once the fall semester began.
“Justice actually has the biggest rooms on campus, so it wasn’t terrible,” a laughing Gossett said, “but Cone was when we first got up here, and we were right across from each other — like 5 feet.
“It was a tight squeeze with two guys around 300 pounds in there.”
Relying on the chemistry and skill of a tight-knit line, Appalachian State (7-2, 5-0 Sun Belt) is averaging 220.6 rushing yards per game as it prepares for a first-place showdown at Troy (7-1, 4-0) on Saturday afternoon.
The Mountaineers’ line opened the season with a No. 3 national ranking from Pro Football Focus, and the experienced group will be in charge of creating running lanes for Jalin Moore, Marcus Cox and quarterback Taylor Lamb against a Troy defense that ranks fourth nationally by allowing only 97.8 rushing yards per game.
Moore, who leads the Sun Belt with 1,030 yards, has gained at least 100 in all six of his starts since Cox suffered a leg injury against Miami on Sept. 17. Cox returned two games ago and also surpassed 100 yards in each of those victories, leaving him only 187 yards shy of Kevin Richardson’s school record for career rushing yardage.
“When you can run the football and control the clock, people recognize you,” said Shawn Clark, who left Kent State after the 2015 season to replace current N.C. State assistant Dwayne Ledford as App State’s offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator. “Our goal is to be the best offensive line in the country, regardless of what level we’re at. There’s no bones about it.”
With Nunn at right tackle, Gossett at right guard and Parker Collins at center, the Mountaineers have a trio of three-year starters. All three enrolled in 2013, and Collins played as a true freshman, contributing primarily at left guard before switching to center as a senior.
Another veteran, redshirt senior Jamie Collmar, has started every game at left guard after stepping in at right guard last year, when an injury cut short Nunn’s season and forced Gossett to move outside to right tackle. Redshirt freshman Victor Johnson has started every game protecting Lamb’s blind side as the left tackle, and redshirt sophomore Tobias Edge-Campbell has seen his role increase in recent weeks.
Rather than a long-term construction plan, starting lines are formed more with a need-based approach to each season, as Collins filled a void at center after being a preseason All-Sun Belt selection because of his track record at left guard.
“There’s no real science to it,” Collins said. “Wherever they need us to be, we jell together, and through great coaching we make it happen on Saturdays.”
The science is lacking, but there is a recruiting strategy in place.
App State utilizes a zone blocking scheme, with head coach Scott Satterfield often stating semi-seriously the Mountaineers have only two running plays: the inside zone and outside zone.
Troy coach Neal Brown said this week that Appalachian is the best team in the country at running the outside zone, which calls for linemen to move laterally at the snap. With defenders willing to flow toward the sideline, taking on the correct assignment and blocking the inside portion of a defender’s body can create a cutback lane for Moore or Cox.
Given its scheme and status as a Group of Five program, Appalachian State often recruits linemen who are smaller (with an ability to add weight) and more mobile than Power Five prospects.
FBS schools are allotted 85 scholarships, and recruiting coordinator Scot Sloan said he’d prefer to have 16 offensive linemen on the roster. That’s three sets of five, along with an extra center or an extra tackle, which can often be converted into a guard, if necessary.
“There’s nothing worse than running out of linemen,” Sloan said. “We look for guys that are athletic and fluid because of what we do on offense. We’d prefer to take a 250-pound guy out of high school and let him grow into 300 than take a 300 and have to manage him to keep him from going to 330 because of the nature of our scheme.”
Appalachian already has a Class of 2017 commitment from 6-foot-2, 265-pound center Noah Hannon, who is a finalist for South Carolina’s “Mr. Football” award. If he were bigger, more Power Five programs would be seriously interested, but he could develop into a standout player for the Mountaineers.
Recruiting linemen to Boone can require patience and creativity.
A graduate of North Augusta (S.C.) High School, Collins committed to Georgia Southern before switching to App State. Johnson, who graduated from the same high school two years later, initially committed to East Carolina and was named to South Carolina’s Shrine Bowl team as a tight end.
Collmar excelled as an offensive lineman but also stood out as a nose guard at Forestview High School, and Sloan said Gossett had a bigger impact as a defensive end at North Forsyth (Ga.) High School.
Gossett was pursued by Cincinnati after he committed to Appalachian, and now he’s a 6-6, 315-pound pro prospect. As Nunn can attest, both from lining up next to Gossett and living with him, that’s a big frame for a defender or roommate to maneuver around.
“It was tight in Justice, but it was good,” Nunn said. “It doesn’t have air conditioning, and he’s bigger than I am, but that’s two big guys in a small dorm room.
“We all like to have fun with each other, and it makes it more fun when you’re gashing a defense.”