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It will have been 25 days since Appalachian State (2-1) last played a football game when it meets Arkansas State University (3-2) in Boone, N.C., tonight.

Although the Mountaineers have had a long layoff due to covid-19 issues, the Red Wolves still expect a difficult challenge as a double-digit underdog.

"Same old App State," ASU Coach Blake Anderson said. "They're going to come down hill at you and hit you in the mouth. They're going to throw the ball over you when they can. Quarterback is still a nightmare when you let him out of the pocket. You better figure out how to get someone to him because he can really run.

"I told our guys the other day this is going to be a good ole fashioned, toe-to-toe slug fest. It's going to be, 'Get in the ring and start throwing blows,' that's what what we're going to have to do to beat them."

App State is the two-time defending conference champion and is led by senior quarterback Zac Thomas, who oversees a high-powered offense.

Through three games this season, Thomas has accounted for 650 yards and three touchdowns. He's joined by junior running back Daetrich Harrington, who has rushed for 301 yards and 6 touchdowns, and senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan, who has 275 receiving yards and 1 score.

Arkansas State's defense surely will have its hands full after giving up 52 points and 583 yards to Georgia State last week. This also will be interim defensive coordinator Nick Paremski's first game calling plays, after Anderson's decision to fire David Duggan on Friday. Anderson has not made Paremski or any defensive players available since the decision, saying they will be available to media after this week's game.

Anderson said the defense -- which ranks 70th in the country -- has a long ways to go, but it can start moving in the right direction tonight by doing one simple thing.

"We've got to be able to stop people. You've got to make them kick the ball. It may be that simple. It may just be that we have to force kicks in punts or field goals," Anderson said. "We can't give up touchdowns. We can't give up buckets of touchdowns.

"Even if they move all the way down there, we have to force them to kick the ball, and that would be a huge improvement. Just forcing more kicks would be a huge improvement. Take the yardage and throw it out the window. Force more kicks."

Making this big of a coaching change in the middle of the season is not something teams normally do and is not something Anderson wanted to do, he said. He felt as though his team needed a spark on that side of the ball.

He also hopes his defense make fewer mental mistakes. Anderson said that starts with simplifying the defense, which he said is the plan against Appalachian State.

"If there's one thing we have to do, it is we have to simplify something for them. And I think that's where you take Nick [Paremski's] background, [Allen Johnson's] background, Ted [Haag's] background -- if you look at their history, they've been at places with less resources and were limited in experience," Anderson said. "Beyond that, we've just got to keep progressing and being as competitive around the ball as we possibly can. I think those two things would impact the defense because it's not an effort problem. It's not an effort problem and I don't think it's a talent problem.

"You look at our league and I think we're as talented or more talented than a lot of people. We've got to make less mistakes and I contribute that to confusion or lack of communication. I think that just comes from confidence and you're more confident when you know what to do. And hopefully we can free them up."

In the end, Anderson said tonight's game will come down to one thing.

"Who can get the stop?" Anderson said. "We won a game the other night. And as bad as we played as a defense, we forced two field goals and we got a fourth-down stop. That's what it took."

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