Appalachian State’s message all last week was that its national ranking didn’t matter.
Well, the message must persist after a 52-7 dismantling of UL Monroe on Saturday and another rise in the nation’s perspective.
The Mountaineers (6-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) are now No. 21 according to the AP Top 25 poll. They’re the first Sun Belt Conference member to remain nationally ranked in back-to-back weeks.
Here are five more takeaways from App State’s victory against ULM:
Say hello to the Mountaineers
Starting quarterback Zac Thomas fielded a few questions after the game. But one shed light on the team’s confidence right now.
A reporter asked what Thomas would like people to know about this team right now. And Thomas responded by saying the team finally put a complete game together.
“Honestly, I think this was probably the first game that all three phases are starting to click,” Thomas said. “I mean, you can say — if you look back at the other games, offense will be clicking, defense would play good but not to where their standard would be. Special teams would sometimes slack in what we know their standard’s in.
“I think this is the first game that all three phases have played really, really good, and I mean, it’s scary good. We’re a really good football team, and I think now the sky is the limit. We’ve just got to keep working.”
Thomas making some time
It was a strong day for Thomas, who tied a career high with four total touchdowns.
On top of finding Thomas Hennigan, Collin Reed and Darrynton Evans for trips to the end zone, he also pieced together a 32-yard run that helped set up Reeds’ second-quarter touchdown.
Drinkwitz gave props to Thomas for another skill after the game: keeping plays alive when pass rushers got through. App State didn’t give up a sack, a tribute to Thomas’ feet.
“I thought he did a nice job scrambling,” Drinkwitz said. “I know there was at least three times he had free rushers that shouldn’t have happened that we’ve got to do a better job in protection.
“We can’t count on him to just make people miss in the pocket and go get us a first down. You know, specifically on third down.”
“Third down is play-maker down”
That’s a line that Drinkwitz dropped in his postgame press conference. It turned out to be true for App State against ULM.
Thomas’ touchdown pass to Hennigan — which gave App State the lead for good — and Evans were both on a third down. So was Thomas’ rushing touchdown, a third-and-goal situation. A 54-yard pass from Thomas to Corey Sutton came on a third-and-8.
Jordan Fehr’s interception in the third quarter was also a third-down play. It was Fehr’s first interception since the 2017 opener against Georgia.
Josh Thomas staying hyped
Before the game, Josh Thomas was visibly pumped, and he was making sure to do his part in getting his teammates psyched up too. When the defensive backs came down the tunnel from the locker room, Thomas was waiting for them. He got very animated, slapping his hands while his voice escalated, before they all ran out together.
Thomas, Drinkwitz said, has been a key figure in why this program has transitioned so smoothly under the first-year coach. Thomas, a senior safety and team captain, has helped the other players buy in.
Thomas said he’s done so because it takes everyone’s focus to achieve what the Mountaineers want to this season.
“I feel like last year, we had a really good team, but it was just small things that kept us from going to the next level,” Thomas said. “So I feel like Coach Drink is always pushed this team to do that. And just being a leader, I’m always trying to emulate, I’m trying to just not copy, but portray the message that coach is giving in a different way.
“And so I felt like that’s what the team needed today. Just going out there and being hype and getting them ready to go.”
After two games of clogged up run lanes, Darrynton Evans took off against UL Monroe.
The junior running back had 136 yards rushing and a touchdown, pairing that with 46 yards receiving and another touchdown. The Mountaineers offensive line was able to establish creases for the speedy Evans to run through, and he capitalized. Evans’ first carry of the game was a 59-yard touchdown.
Noah Hannon, App State’s starting center, said Evans’ day was a product of run-blocking execution.
“You’ve just got to do your job,” Hannon said. “The coaches put a scheme together so that we, if we do our job, the plays will hit.
“We left a lot of run yards out here, but the best part is we’ve got great backs like Darrynton that if you just give him a little hole, they’ll be able to run through it.”