Sun Belt

Arkansas State Red Wolves Football Preview 2016

Arkansas State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Red Wolves, best players and season prediction.

It took a year for Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson to win a Sun Belt title. While that might have been a year too long compared to the norm for Red Wolves head men, he showed he’s easily able to handle the Next Coach Up pressure.

After all, Bryan Harsin won a title, and went on to keep Boise State fantastic. Gus Malzahn won a title, and went on to take Auburn to the BCS Championship. Hugh Freeze won a title, and he turned Ole Miss into a powerhouse.

Anderson went 7-6 in his first season and the team finished tied for an unacceptable fourth in the conference. And now all is right with the world.

There might not have been any big, splashy wins, but the Red Wolves rolled through the conference to be win the title, highlighted by a huge 40-27 road victory over Appalachian State. With four championships in five seasons, nothing less than yet another Sun Belt championship will be okay.

The rushing offense was devastating, the run defense was good enough, the special teams were solid, and more than anything else, the team just knew how to win. This year’s team might have a few new starters in key spots, but it’s going to be Sun Belt Title or Bust again.

Gone is star RB Michael Gordon and QB Fredi Knighten, but four starters return on the offensive line and just enough good receivers return to make up for the loss of Tres Houston and TE Darion Griswold.

Two good starters are done in the secondary, but six of the starters in the front seven return – the D is going to be every bit as good as it was last season, if not far better.

And Anderson is back, at least for another year, with another title right there for the taking. If there’s another Sun Belt championship on the way out to a bigger gig, okay. It’s Arkansas State – it’ll find another head coach who’ll win, too.

What You Need To Know About The Arkansas State Offense

Even with offensive coordinator Walt Bell going to Maryland, Middle Tennessee OC Buster Faulkner will do just fine. The devastating rushing attack that finished 15th in the nation, and the total offense that averaged 40 points per game and rolled over the second half of the regular season, loses top back Michael Gordon and QB Fredi Knighten, but gets back everyone else note. The line should be amazing with four returning starters to keep the rushing fun going with Warren Wand and Johnson White combining in a rotation. The receiving corps should be fine despite losing top targets Tres Houston and J.D. McKissic, but it might take a little while before the quarterback situation sorts itself out. There are options, but no one’s in a hurry to name anyone the No. 1 guy.

Biggest Key To The Arkansas State Offense
The running game will be just fine even after losing offensive coordinator Walt Bell to Maryland. The production might not be there at quarterback with Fredi Knighten gone – depending on who ends up getting the nod – and losing the 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns from Michael Gordon isn’t a plus, but the Red Wolves are still loaded. Warren Wand was a nice No. 2 option averaging over six yards per carry in his freshman year, and Johnson White rumbled in for 14 touchdowns on 616 yards. There’s more where they came from in a deep backfield working behind a terrific line.

What You Need To Know About The Arkansas State Defense

All the defense had to do last season was not be a disaster while the offense took care of the rest. The secondary had its problems – partly because teams spent so much time bombing away to try keeping up – but the run D did its job. As good as the defense was at times, this year’s version should be even stronger with eight starters back starting with a potentially dominant front four. The secondary loses two key parts in S Chris Humes and CB Rocky Hayes, but it’ll still be solid with so many ball-hawkers.

Biggest Key To The Arkansas State Defense
The secondary has to be a bit tighter. The offense was hanging 40 on the board every game, so the defense had to deal with opposing quarterbacks bombing away, but it proved to be a big problem at times getting hit for 300 yards or more six times with USC cranking up 324 yards and four scores in the opener, and Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel throwing for 458 yards and three touchdowns in the bowl – both ASU losses. The defensive backs made up for the problems with 26 picks, but none came against USC or La Tech, and one came in the loss to Toledo, while allowing 308 yards. Three starters are back and the pass rush should be great, so if the Red Wolves can be just a little bit stronger in the defensive backfield, the overall numbers should be outstanding.

Arkansas State Will Be Far Better If …

The penalties slow down. The Red Wolves couldn’t stop getting tagged, committing over eight per game for over 80 yards, getting worse as the season went on. Just when it seemed like things were getting better, they kept screwing up committing 11 in three of the last four games and nine in the other. The 15 for 169 yards against Idaho didn’t matter, but overall, it’s not a positive when you get hit seven times or more 11 times. It’s been a problem under Blake Anderson, though, committing 104 in 2014.

Best Arkansas State Offensive Player

OT Jemar Clark, Sr. – There might be some strong running backs ready to step up and shine, and there are plenty of good quarterback options, but the strength of the ASU offense should be on the line starting with Clark at left tackle. The 6-6, 306-pound veteran all-star has been a mainstay over the last few years, joining guard Colton Jackson to give the Red Wolves, potentially, the league’s best line.

Best Arkansas State Defensive Player

DE Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, Jr. – One of the Sun Belt’s best pass rushers has to be accounted for on every play, but that’s a problem with so many veterans returning and so many solid players to pick up the slack. Even so, the linebacker-sized Rolland Jones can do just fine on his own coming up with 16 sacks over the last two all-star seasons. The linebacking corps will help the cause, and Walyon Roberson is a solid anchor on the nose, but it’s Rolland-Jones who’ll be the first option to stop.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Chad Voytik. – Or Oklahoma transfer Justice Hansen. James Tabary struggled when he got his chances, but he was a good all-around talent. Now it should be up to Voytik, a Pitt transfer who comes in as a grad transfer after losing his gig with the Panthers. Hansen is an interesting option with the talent to be considered a good get for the Sooners, but he was lost in a crowded depth chart, went the JUCO route, and now he could be too good to keep off the field. Hansen has the 6-4 size, the speed, and the skill to be outstanding. No matter who wins the job needs to be the final piece – ASU has just about everything else in place.

The Arkansas State Season Will Be A Success If …

It wins the Sun Belt title again. Nothing else will be acceptable after rolling through the schedule last season. This year’s team should be even better in some ways, and there’s nothing on the schedule go keep it from having another great year. There’s no Appalachian State to deal with and most of the other conference games are more than manageable, meaning …

Key game

Oct. 5 vs. Georgia Southern – The Red Wolves should be favored against everyone else on the conference schedule but maybe Louisiana-Lafayette on the road. To get there in late November with the Sun Belt title on the line, they need to stop the wicked Georgia Southern rushing attack on a Wednesday night home game. At the very least, it’ll be a tone-setter for the rest of the conference season.

2015 Arkansas State Fun Stats

– Penalties: Arkansas State 109 for 1,032 yards – Opponents 93 for 837 yards
– Fourth Down Conversions: Arkansas State 10-of-20 (50%) – Opponents 5-of-15 (33%)
– Interceptions Thrown: Opponents 26 – Arkansas State 15