There’s a lot to this story that’s pretty fun and interesting beyond the “FCS champions/powerhouse upset P5 blueblood on their own field!” if that wasn’t enough to make this one of the more compelling games in history.
The two big takeaways for me were:
- As I’ve been trumpeting for the past year. College football is similar to college basketball in that EVERYONE has some good skill players.
You get to the NCAA tournament and find that some of those smaller schools often have pretty good guards. Occasionally you’ll find a future HOF’er at a smaller school, like Steph Curry at Davidson, but you’ll also find the senior guards that know how to manage tempo and can shoot from the perimeter, both of which can destabilize more talented but younger and less experienced teams. We see this all the time in the tournament.
Well the same is true of college football when you’re talking receivers and defensive backs. The world’s supply of athletic, 5-11, 200 pound people is too big for all of them to be concentrated at the major schools.
In this game App State showed how the spread offense could move the schwerpunkt of the game out to the perimeter battles between skill players where a school like Michigan wasn’t necessarily at advantage.
2. The underdog play today is properly to run the ball and limit possessions.
If you have the more talented team and better depth, you should want to use tempo to increase the number of instances over the course of the game in which the other team has to out-execute your squad.
Bluebloods were slow to accept up-tempo/spread strategies because it seemed to de-emphasize their advantages in recruiting big, physical maulers that could control games at the line of scrimmage.
The 2008 Oklahoma Sooners helped change the thinking here when they combined ultra-talented OL, simple run schemes, and blazing tempo to force teams to out-execute them on stuff like outside zone multiple times a game to have any chance of keeping them under wraps. Most of the Big 12 couldn’t even began to accomplish that monumental task and the Sooners were scoring 60 points with regularity.
Nowadays the Appalachian State Mountaineers use 21 personnel from the gun or pistol and try to slow the game down while using zone runs, sweeps, options, and unbalanced sets to try and increase the chances of winning the limited snaps that occur.
Back in the days of “the horror” they were lining up in empty with a dual-threat QB.
3. It took awhile for the Big 10 in particular to develop good nickel defense
More on this in a future article, but Big 10 squads at this time not only didn’t have personnel chosen and developed to play in nickel but they also didn’t have a playbook or packages that could allow them to be particularly multiple or flexible in nickel.
App State’s offense was designed around being in spread sets whereas most of Michigan’s defense was designed around defending TOFKAP. That really mattered in this one.