2019 Sun Belt Football News and Notes

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• Sun Belt Conference football hits the midpoint of the season with a Week 8 slate highlighted by four conference matchups and a pair of games set for national network broadcasts. All five games this week are slated for live coverage on the ESPN family of networks.

• Appalachian State earned the Sun Belt’s highest-ever football rankings, coming in at 24th in both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches powered by USA Today Sports Top 25 polls for Oct. 13. Appalachian State garnered the conference’s third all-time Top 25 ranking and first-ever ranking in the Coaches Poll. Troy ranked 25th in the Nov. 13, 2016, AP Poll and the Mountaineers made their first NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision poll appearance a season ago ranked 25th in the Oct. 21, 2018, AP Poll.

• Prior to being ranked, Appalachian State appeared among the teams receiving votes in both polls every week this season.

• Appalachian State’s 11-game winning streak is the third-longest active streak in the FBS behind Clemson (21) and Ohio State (12). The Mountaineers are one of 12 FBS teams still unbeaten and one of just three schools among the Group of Five conferences without a loss, joining Boise State (6-0) and SMU (6-0).

• The Sun Belt has been working collaboratively with the Cure Bowl benefiting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) and AutoNation for its Coaches for a Cure initiative during the month of October. This year’s initiative will receive a special on-field presentation during the Louisiana-Arkansas State game on Oct. 17. This presentation will recognize the conference and its support of the Cure Bowl’s mission as well as honor Wendy Anderson, late wife of Arkansas State football head coach Blake Anderson, and Kerry Maggard, wife of Louisiana Director of Athletics Dr. Bryan Maggard.

AutoNation, America’s largest automotive retailer, is generously offering to match 100 percent of the dollars generated by Sun Belt institutions in October, up to $100,000, as part of its DRV PNK Initiative. The money collected will go to BCRF in honor of Wendy Anderson.

Donations are being accepted online at Give.BCRF.org/SunBelt.

• The Sun Belt is building on its non-conference success from a year ago with 19 wins and the third-best winning percentage among the Group of Five conferences so far this season.

1. American – 32-13 (.711)
2. Mountain West – 27-16 (.628)
3. Sun Belt – 19-18 (.514)
4. Conference USA – 22-29 (.431)
5. Mid-American – 18-30 (.375)

• Appalachian State’s touchdown drive of 19 yards and 97 yards that lasted 10:11 against Louisiana on Oct. 9 may go down as one of the longest in Sun Belt history. The drive was the longest in the league this season in terms of plays and time of possession. Other long or lengthy scoring drives in the conference so far this season:

– Louisiana – 14 plays, 99 yards, 5:36 (TD) vs. Mississippi State
– Georgia State – 16 plays, 97 yards, 5:32 (TD) vs. Furman
– ULM – 6 plays, 97 yards, 2:08 (TD) vs. Grambling State
– Troy – 15 plays, 91 yards, 6:37 (TD) vs. Akron
– Texas State – 15 plays, 75 yards, 5:26 (TD) vs. Georgia State
– Georgia Southern – 15 plays, 64 yards, 8:22 (FG) vs. Louisiana
– ULM – 16 plays, 74 yards, 6:53 (FG) vs. Memphis

• Among the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision statistical leaders entering the week:

– Arkansas State redshirt senior wide receiver Omar Bayless leads the nation in receiving yards per game (140.5), receiving yards (843) and receiving touchdowns (10).

– The Sun Belt boasts four of the top 35 running backs in the nation in rushing yards per game – ULM redshirt junior Josh Johnson (7th, 118.7), Appalachian State junior Darrynton Evans (11th, 108.0), Georgia State senior Tra Barnett (28th, 96.3) and Louisiana redshirt junior Trey Ragas (31st, 95.3).

– Ragas leads the nation in rushing yards per carry (9.08).

– Troy senior quarterback Kaleb Barker ranks ninth in passing yards per game (295.2), 10th in points responsible for per game (18.0) and 12th in passing touchdowns.

– ULM junior cornerback Corey Straughter ranks seventh (0.7) and Coastal Carolina redshirt senior cornerback Chandler Kryst ranks ninth (0.5) interceptions per game.

– Appalachian State junior defensive end Demetrius Taylor ranks tied for third in forced fumbles per game (0.60).

– Troy sophomore linebacker Carlton Martial ranks second in tackles for loss per game (2.2).

– Georgia Southern redshirt senior placekicker Tyler Bass ranks first in field goals per game (2.40).

– Appalachian State ranks tied for first in blocked kicks (4) and tied for first with Georgia State and Texas State in blocked kicks allowed (0).

– Georgia Southern ranks second in kickoff return defense (10.75).

– Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern rank tied for fifth in defensive touchdowns (2).

– The Sun Belt is home to five of the top 30 rushing offenses – Louisiana (6th, 282.2), Georgia State (8th, 253.5), Georgia Southern (23rd, 223.4), Appalachian State (25th, 218.8) and ULM (28th, 217.5).

• So far this season, the Sun Belt has received several in-season honors, including:

– Appalachian State redshirt junior quarterback Zac Thomas and ULM senior quarterback Caleb Evans were named among the 20 finalists for the 2019 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

– Eckrich National Team of the Week powered by Pro Football Focus – Appalachian State junior running back Darrynton Evans, Arkansas State senior cornerback Jeremy Smith and Louisiana redshirt junior linebacker Chauncey Manac (Week 2), Troy sophomore linebacker Carlton Martial (Week 3), Louisiana redshirt junior Trey Ragas (Week 5) and ULM junior cornerback Corey Straughter (Week 7).

• The 2019 Sun Belt Football Championship Game pits the East and West Division champions with the best conference winning percentages on Saturday, Dec. 7. The second edition of the league’s football title game is slated for live coverage on ESPN or ESPN2 at 11 a.m. CT/Noon ET.

Zac Thomas, Appalachian State (RJr., QB, Trussville, Ala.)
Appalachian State redshirt junior quarterback Zac Thomas scored both touchdowns in leading the Mountaineers to a 17-7 road win at Louisiana. Thomas was an efficient 11-for-17 passing for 147 yards and was a difference maker with his feet, rushing for 63 yards on 15 carries including a pair of seven-yard touchdown runs. His first score capped a seven-play, 95-yard drive in the first quarter. His naked bootleg score with 1:55 left in the game capped a decisive 19-play, 97-yard drive that took 10:11 off the clock and proved to be the game’s final points.

Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State (Sr., LB, Thomasville, N.C.)
Appalachian State senior linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither led a stout defensive effort in the Mountaineers’ road win at Louisiana, totaling a team-high 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sack. Davis-Gaither was making plays all over the field against the Ragin’ Cajuns’ rushing attack that entered the game as the nation’s leader in rushing yards. Appalachian State held the home team to a season-low 123 rushing yards and seven points. Louisiana was held 37.4 points below its season scoring average, 286.0 yards below its average for total offense per game and 191.0 yards below its average for rushing yards per game. Louisiana’s longest play from scrimmage against the Mountaineers’ defense was a 22-yard run, and its longest pass gained 21 yards.

Rhys Byrns, Louisiana (So., P, Melbourne, Australia)
Louisiana sophomore punter Rhys Byrns played a pivotal role in flipping the field position in the game against Appalachian State, averaging 49.3 yards per punt. Of his six attempts, four went for over 50 yards, a new career high. Three of the four punts inside the 20 settled inside the five-yard line.

2019 Weekly Award Winners
Offensive Player
September 2: Dan Ellington, Georgia State September 9: Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
September 16: Kaleb Barker, Troy
September 23: Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
September 30: Omar Bayless, Arkansas State
October 7: Dan Ellington, Georgia State
October 14: Zac Thomas, Appalachian State

Defensive Player
September 2: Carlton Martial, Troy
September 9: Chandler Kryst, Coastal Carolina
September 16: Rashad Byrd, Georgia Southern
September 23: Demetrius Taylor, Appalachian State
September 30: Jacques Boudreaux, Louisiana
October 7: Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southern
October 14: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State

Special Teams Player
September 2: Massimo Biscardi, Coastal Carolina
September 9: Tyler Bass, Georgia Southern
September 16: Monquavion Brinson, Georgia Southern
September 23: Joshua Rowland, Texas State
September 30: Cody Grace, Arkansas State
October 7: Cody Grace, Arkansas State
October 14: Rhys Byrns, Louisiana

Wednesday, October 16
*South Alabama at Troy (ESPN2), 7 p.m.

Thursday, October 17
*Louisiana at Arkansas State (ESPNU), 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, October 19
*Coastal Carolina at Georgia Southern (ESPN3), 2 p.m.
*ULM at No. 24 Appalachian State (ESPN+), 2:30 p.m.
Army West Point at Georgia State (ESPN+), 6 p.m.

*Sun Belt Conference contest
All Times Central and Subject to Change

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