North Carolina

App State coach on playing UNC: Big game, sure, but Mountaineers have bigger goals.

Yes, Appalachian State’s football team is excited about playing Saturday at North Carolina.

But Mountaineers’ coach Eli Drinkwitz said Monday that the 2019 season doesn’t begin and end with this weekend’s visit to Chapel Hill.

“It’s a great opportunity to play an ACC opponent,” Drinkwitz said during his weekly news conference.

But, he added, “We have a 12-game schedule.”

The Mountaineers, 2-0 and coming off an open date on the schedule, have a pair of matchups with marquee Carolinas programs this fall — Saturday, and Nov. 9 at South Carolina.

Those games give Appalachian State a chance to score some victories against Power 5 competition, in addition to the potential value it provides with high school recruits across the Carolinas.

But Drinkwitz said he prefers his team focus on a bigger picture.

“Our goal is to win the Sun Belt Conference and go to a bowl game,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is one game. Regardless of the outcome Saturday, we still have nine games left.”

Having said all that, Drinkwitz spent much of the remainder of Monday’s media gathering praising his Saturday opponent.

“I went back and looked at the recruiting rankings for the last two or three years, and they consistently ranked in the top 25,” Drinkwitz said of the Tar Heels.

He praised freshman quarterback Sam Howell, said the Tar Heels have plenty of offensive weapons, and called UNC’s defense “havoc.”

If all that isn’t enough, Drinkwitz said Tar Heel head coach Mack Brown “has been a very good football coach for a long time.”

Injury report: Drinkwitz said the Mountaineers are in good shape, with no new injuries. The team earlier announced that running back Cam Peoples and defensive back Willie Edwards are out for the season with injuries.

Wide receiver Corey Sutton, who was suspended for the first two games after a marijuana-related arrest in June, apparently will play Saturday. When asked about Sutton’s status, Drinkwitz said, “He’s ready to roll.”

Weekend off: Drinkwitz said the Mountaineers “had a great bye week. Our guys did a great job of working on the fundamentals.” He said the game plan for North Carolina was in place by Thursday, and the Mountaineers made some modifications Saturday after watching the Tar Heels’ loss Friday night at Wake Forest.

No advantage: Drinkwitz said serving as an assistant coach at N.C. State the last few years won’t give him any special advantage in preparing for his Saturday opponent. “They have new schemes, new players, new energy,” he said of the Tar Heels. “I don’t know if it helps me, other than to know what good football players they are.”

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle