Appalachian State Coastal Carolina Football (copy)

Improving the protection around Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas needs to be a higher priority, according to center Noah Hannon. “There’s no excuses for the times that Zac’s been hit thus far, and we take responsibility for that.”

During Appalachian State’s off week last week, the program got a surprise addition: coach Eli Drinkwitz, above, and his wife, Lindsey, welcomed their fourth daughter to the family.

Appalachian State and Louisiana square off on national television tonight.

The Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) travel to Louisiana (4-1, 1-0) for an 8 p.m. matchup on ESPN2. The game is a rematch of the two teams that played last year in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference championship game.

The victor tonight will gain an early advantage in the race to play host to the second installment of the title game in December.

Here are three things to know about the game against Louisiana:

Mountaineer perfection

App State is a perfect 6-0 against Louisiana. The two programs have played every year since 2014, which was the Mountaineers’ first in the Sun Belt Conference.

Up until last season, Appalachian had won each game by at least 19 points. The two met twice in 2018. First, App State notched a 27-17 win in the regular season. The Mountaineers then beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 30-19 in the inaugural Sun Belt title game.

This will be only the third time App State has played in Lafayette. The Mountaineers won their only away game this season, a 34-31 victory at North Carolina.

Ragin’ runners

Louisiana has the nation’s third-best rushing attack, racking up an average of 314 rushing yards per game. It’s a three-player effort of Trey Ragas (548 rushing yards), Elijah Mitchell (402) and Raymond Calais (273).

“They’re a unique challenge for us because of all the multiplicity of what they do and the uniqueness of their formations,” coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “So we’ve got our hands full.”

A little clarification is required there: UL ran for 407 yards against Liberty and 440 versus against FCS-level Texas Southern.

That said, Louisiana still opened conference play with a 37-24 win against Georgia Southern, scoring 13 points in the final quarter. The Ragin’ Cajuns ran for 275 yards with two scores apiece by Mitchell and Ragas.

Keeping Thomas upright

Drinkwitz has mentioned improving the offensive line’s play over the last couple of weeks.

The group, which returned four starters from last year, has seen its sack total decrease in the last three games — from allowing three against Charlotte to two against UNC to just one versus Coastal Carolina.

But quarterback Zac Thomas has taken a few hits during this early part of the season, and center Noah Hannon said that needs to change.

“We’ve got to do a better job of eliminating mental mistakes, technical errors and stuff like that,” Hannon said. “There’s no doubt that we know what we’re supposed to do, it’s just executing it.

“There’s no excuses for the times that Zac’s been hit thus far, and we take responsibility for that — us, the tight ends, running backs and everybody that’s involved for the protection of that play — and we’ve got to fix it.”

Ethan Joyce is a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal.

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