BOONE — Elijah Diarrassouba understands that Appalachian State is 2-0. But the Mountaineers defensive end and his teammates on the defense are not happy with how they’ve gotten there.
Particularly, Saturday’s 56-41 win against Charlotte has lingered for Diarrassouba, and rightly so: the Mountaineers gave up 526 total yards, which is the first time an opposing offense had more than 500 total yards in a game since 2017, and the most points it had allowed since the Oct. 25, 2018, matchup against Georgia Southern (a 34-14 loss).
“Our offense did a great job putting up that many points,” Diarrassouba said. “Defensively, a lot of us — pretty much all of us — felt like we lost a game even though we came out with a W.
“That’s just not App State defense, giving up 41 points and that amount of rushing yards (230), man. It comes down to us and the leaders.”
The struggles manifested in three ways against the 49ers: giving up explosive plays, having difficulty adjusting in the second half and penalties.
Four of Charlotte’s scoring plays went for 20 yards or longer, including Charlotte running back Benny Lemay’s 58-yard run in the second quarter. The App State defense allowed a total of 11 plays of 20-or-more yards. Nine of those came in the second half.
Charlotte’s last two touchdowns, passes from Chris Reynolds to Victor Tucker, came on identical fade routes to the right side of the end zone.
The Mountaineers had 13 total penalties, five of which belonged to the defense (the defense was called for six, but two happened on the same play, allowing Charlotte to pick). All of the defensive penalties came in the fourth quarter. App State defensive end Demetrius Taylor was ejected after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
During his Monday press conference, Coach Eli Drinkwitz took questions on behalf of first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof and the rest of the defensive coaching staff.
No defensive assistants were made available for interviews Monday after Drinkwitz’s press conference. Meanwhile, all of App State’s offensive assistants, all players and special teams coordinator Erik Link were available. Typically, all players and assistant coaches are available each Monday.
When asked why no coaches from the defense were available for interviews, Drinkwitz said the week was about focusing on self-improvement as opposed to past games.
“It’s a bye week so we’re trying to focus on what we can control and what we can look at to get better, and we’re focusing on the bye week so there was no reason for them to be available today,” Drinkwitz said.
Drinkwitz did say he wanted to see a lot improve on the defense, particularly the unnecessary mistakes as well as the team’s ability to tackle and defend the deep ball. Reynolds connected on five passes of 20 yards or longer.
Diarrassouba was more blunt about it: team communication, he said, did not go well for the defense. Charlotte flashed new looks and frankly, Diarrassouba said, the team didn’t stay disciplined enough to contain the 49ers.
That’s not on the coaches at all, Diarrassouba said. It’s the players that make the play calls work.
“We’re glad it happened now. It’s a wake-up call for us,” Diarrassouba said. “We’ve got to dial it in more as players. We got to make sure we study more.
“It’s not the same playbook that we’re used to, you know, two, three years in a row. It’s new for all of us, staff included. They’ve got new players they’re trying to figure out their personnel, what they’ve got on the team and all those type of things. ... At the end of the day it’s us on the field, not them. So we have to do our job and everything else will have to take care of itself.”
Drinkwitz cautioned against overreacting to the defense’s performance on Saturday. And conveniently, Appalachian is off this week. The team will spend the next couple of days trying to self scout, Drinkwitz said, before prep begins for a Sept. 21 game against North Carolina, which is off to a 2-0 start under Mack Brown.
Diarrassouba said his teammates realize that play must improve to compete with the Tar Heels.
“We can’t bet on our offense giving us that many points,” Diarrassouba said. “... I believe in them, I trust them and I thank them for it. I thank all of those guys for that — bailing us out.
“But defensively, we’re not trying to give up nothing. You’ve got to have that mindset on defense, so giving up that many points is embarrassing, man. It’s embarrassing for us.”