Kidd Brewer Stadium, tucked away in North Carolina’s majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, seats 23,150.
But between additional bleachers, hillside seating and standing-room-only, nearly 35,000 fans — many of them anticipating an upset — are expected for what is being billed at noon Saturday as the biggest sporting event in Boone history: the No. 25 Miami Hurricanes vs. Appalachian State.
“I spent seven years at App State as my first job,” UM offensive line coach Stacy Searels said. “It’s different. The mountains are beautiful. The leaves will be changing. The people are very passionate about their football, and those kids play with a chip on their shoulder.”
Even ESPN is intrigued, choosing to broadcast the game and possibly smelling something compelling on the horizon — 3,333 feet high.
UM (2-0) is favored by four points.
“It’s starting to creep in now, the magnitude of this game and how much it really means to this university and campus,” Appalachian State senior linebacker John Law told the Winston-Salem Journal this week. “Talking to people around campus and just seeing how much hype is around this game, I’ve never been part of anything like this.”
This week, UM coach Mark Richt made it clear that this is not the usual nonconference opponent, saying he was almost insulted to have to answer a question about whether he has communicated to his players about not underestimating the Mountaineers — not after they lost in overtime at then-No. 9 Tennessee in the season opener, a game that wouldn’t have gone into OT had the Appalachian State kicker not missed an extra point.
“Not being rude to you,” Richt said, “but this is a really good football team and everybody knows it.”
UM quarterback Brad Kaaya reiterated that message in several different ways.
“They were [11-2] last year,” Kaaya said. “They won their conference. Nothing about them should be taken lightly. They’re a legit college football team — one of the best teams on our schedule, honestly.”
Added Kaaya: “The way that we’re preparing, the way that I’m preparing, it’s as if we’re about to go play Florida State. We’re going into Tallahassee, we’re going into Blacksburg, Virginia. That’s the way I’m preparing and that’s the way everyone else is, too.”
After the opening-night loss in Knoxville, the Mountaineers (1-1), who until Saturday have never hosted a Power Five school, defeated Old Dominion 31-7.
ASU holds a 226-72-5 all-time record at Kidd Brewer, including wins in 72 of its past 86 home games.
Miami athletic director Blake James said Thursday that there was a late change in UM’s home schedule and that Appalachian State, which wanted the home-and-home matchup, was the substitute. The Miami Herald first reported the matchup last November.
“We agreed to a home-and-home with Appalachian State to finalize our 2016 schedule,” James said by text message.
Now, the Hurricanes are hoping to send their own message on national TV.
“That’s awesome,” Kaaya said of the ESPN telecast. “It’s good for the country to see us. It’s good for the country to see Appalachian State. Hopefully we give all the fans a good showing. The last time we were on ESPN at noon,” he said of UM’s loss to Washington State in the Sun Bowl, “it wasn’t a good visual of what Miami should look like.”
What the Hurricanes have looked like after games against Football Championship Subdivision opponent FAMU and FAU is a team with an impressive running game (sixth in the nation with 659 yards) and dominating defense (No. 1 in tackles for loss, rush defense and tied for first in sacks).
It doesn’t mean anything, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz basically said Wednesday.
“We still haven’t shown anything as a defense, offense, football team until we’ve proven we can take a punch,” Diaz said. “Anyone can play when it’s 70-3. … When things are good, we’re good. But that’s not what defines great teams.
“Great teams are defined by when things are bad, we’re still good.”
Appalachian State runs a spread offense out of the shotgun, but the Mountaineers love to run. They’re led by senior Marcus Cox, who has 248 yards and three touchdowns this season and entered 2016 as the nation’s second-leading rusher, with 4,272 yards. Receiver Deltron Hopkins was a teammate of UM tailback Mark Walton’s at Booker T. Washington High.
UM’s trio of true freshman linebackers said they’re not taking any team for granted, but like the Mountaineers, who became famous for upsetting No. 5 Michigan at Michigan in the 2007 opener, they have no fear.
“We have to get off the plane focused,” weak-side UM starter Mike Pinckney said. “It’s on ESPN. Ain’t no difference to us. We’re just going to do our job and come out victorious.”