WKU vs App State: Different styles clash, Zappe and Kittley prepare for final game together


Jacob Latimer

WKU Hilltoppers quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) warms up before the game November 6, 2021.

Wyatt Sparkman, Sports Editor

WKU will play in its eighth bowl game in the past 10 years against the Appalachian State Mountaineers in the Boca Raton Bowl Saturday morning. 

The Mountaineers defense vs the Hilltoppers offense 

WKU and Appalachian State are walking into Saturday with two different identities. The Hilltoppers come in with a very pass-happy approach, running the pigskin the third-fewest times in the nation. The Mountaineers are very run-heavy, but the key for them is their defense. 

WKU has put up at least 30 points in every game while averaging 528.4 total yards per game this season. App State has only allowed 30 points in two games, while only allowing over 400 total yards of offense once all year and has kept opponents aunder 300 yards in six of its 13 games. 

“They have some really great players,” WKU graduate quarterback Bailey Zappe said. “Two that come to mind is number 31. We call him the rush. He’s kind of like a D-end, kind of hybrid type of guy. He’s a great player, a phenomenal player and athlete. Then 52 is their premium linebacker. He makes a lot of tackles. He’s their main tackle guy… the secondary, they’re very athletic. They play a lot of man and zone and stuff like that.” 

One way of slowing this offense down is getting to Zappe. The Mountaineers have 35 sacks on the year, but the Hilltopper offensive line has one of the best in the nation. The o-line has given up 16 sacks this season on 650 pass attempts. 

WKU is one of the two programs with 500 or more pass attempts while allowing less than 25 sacks. The other is USC with 18 sacks, but the Trojans have thrown the ball 150 fewer times. 

No defense has been able to keep a lid on this offense all season long. However, one way to slow a great passing attack down is with great ground and time management. 

App State Ground game 

The Mountaineers boast one of the more run-heavy attacks in the nation. They have ran the ball 524 times this season, averaging 187.7 yards per game on 3.7 yards per carry. App State has rushed for over 225 yards in six games this year. 

“App State has a great team, great coaches, and we just have to come in and just play as hard as we can,” senior defensive end DeAngelo Malone said. “It’s the last one so, [the] seniors just have to go out with a bang.”

The Hilltoppers have struggled against the run all year. They have given up over 115 yards in 11 of their 13 games this season. On average, WKU gives up 4.0 yards per carry. 

WKU’s inability to stop the run has cost them games this year, like giving up 304 rushing yards in its last game to UTSA in the Conference USA Championship. The Hilltoppers need to stop the run to give themselves a chance to win on Saturday. 

Factors outside the game 

Bowing Green was hit by a tornado in the early morning hours of Dec. 11. The EF3 tornado killed 17 in Warren County. WKU Athletics hasn’t lost a game since that heartbreaking day. 

“When you look at our basketball team, they got a big win the other day,” junior wideout Jerreth Sterns said. “I think they did that for the community, and hopefully, we can do the same thing in Boca Raton, just bring some hope and positivity to this community.” 

This will also be the last game that WKU offensive coordinator Zach Kittley will coach Zappe. Kittley and Zappe came to the Hill after three years together at Houston Baptist. 

“We’ve built quite a relationship. Something that’s going to last a lot longer past this and something that will carry on past him being at [Texas] Tech or wherever else he goes,” Zappe said. “… He deserves it. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of what he’s done. It’s awesome to be able to witness that firsthand of what he’s been able to do.” 

“Personally, he’s been able to change my career and switch what I was doing my freshman year, kind of alter the path I was on and to be here right now and be in this situation with [Rusty] Staats and being with Jerreth and Josh [Sterns] here at WKU and win all these games, none of that stuff happens without him coming to HBU that year,” Zappe continued. “He’ll hate me to say it, but I’m forever grateful for him and he’s really changed my career around.” 

Alongside his coach, Zappe has a chance to break the all-time FBS passing yards and touchdowns records. He is 289 yards away and five touchdowns away from claiming those marks.

The game is set to kickoff at 10 a.m. CT on Dec. 18 and will be broadcast on ESPN.