First Quarter: Arkansas State Red Wolves Under Review
The Red Wolves are four games (plus one forfeit) into the 2017 season. What do we make of this team as it rumbles into Sun Belt play?
On Wednesday night, the Red Wolves thumped a conference foe by 18 points on the road – a few seemed very happy about it. Justice Hansen threw for over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns against Georgia Southern, but he was also picked off a whopping four times. The defense recorded four sacks and a couple picks of their own, but also allowed 493 yards and 25 points to a team that only averaged 12. There were the usual mistakes on special teams and, of course, a personal foul. The running game is missing its punch. The tackling is horrendous.
Yet, 43-25 isn’t a bad win, y’all.
While Georgia Southern is not a good team, it does play the pass remarkably well, holding Auburn and Indiana to under 200 yards. Before running into the Red Wolves, the Eagles secondary had allowed only 6 passing scores. Hansen’s picks are not ideal, but the offense had the confidence to stick with it all the way to victory.
As for the defense, well, the missed tackles are hard to accept. But then again, the Georgia Southern triple option offense is a religion dedicated to the holy missing of tackles. Eagles RBs and QBs are supposed to be shifty and elusive, not straight-ahead, punch-you-in-the-mouth. Furthermore, the Red Wolves linebackers are having a solid season, led by Kyle Wilson, Tajhea Chambers and Antwon Turnage.
Am I extrapolating the wheat from the chaff? You bet. But there’s a lot of bread on this team that too many fans are refusing to eat. The Red Wolves have problems, but the plusses outweigh them.
This might be the deepest Red Wolves squad of quality pass catchers – ever!
Freshman wide receiver Jonathan Adams (6-3, 210) is rightfully getting buzz as the future of the Red Wolves receiving corpse. But we may be seeing the golden age of Red Wolves receivers today. Chris Murray’s 188 yard, 2 TD performance against Georgia Southern was fantastic, but it could have been a half dozen other guys on the team collecting those juicy stats.
Seven receivers (including the young Adams), have caught touchdown passes in 2017. The wealth is distributed so evenly on this team, it’s hard to say who is Hansen’s go-to guy. Murray (18), TE Blake Mack (16), WR Kendrick Edwards (16), WR Christian Booker (15) and WR Omar Bayless (15) led the team with receptions, and starter Justin McInnis (8) isn’t even one of them.
Justice Hansen is only 11 TD passes from setting an Arkansas State season record.
The immortal Ryan Aplin and the under-appreciated Fredi Knighten both notched a season passing 24 TDs (2012 and 2014 respectively). Hansen has 14 scores with seven games left on the regular season. That’s nuts.
Over the last six or seven seasons, the Red Wolves offense found success by mixing the ground game with the pass – Aplin and Knighten’s wheels were just as potent as their arms. Hansen doesn’t mind busting out a necessary keeper, but nobody will ever confuse him for Michael Vick. Hansen’s supernatural Supreme Chill™ makes him the perfect pocket passer, and his squad of righteous receivers will enable him to destroy the school’s passing TD record right about the time the Red Wolves take on New Mexico State at the end of October.
The Monster is still beneath the bed.
DC Joe Cauthen employs a bend-don’t-break defensive scheme that also takes a ton of chances on the front line. The Red Wolves love to blitz, and they love to create turnovers. And sometimes (as Shai Werts discovered) they get burned.
We haven’t seen a classic Monster Defense performance from the Red Wolves in 2017. (Holding the UAPB Golden Eagles to 3 doesn’t count). The massive Dee Liner is still hurt, so we haven’t really had a dominating run stuffer in the middle all year.
Meanwhile, the secondary is a mixed bag. It has talent and athletes, but it is prone to losing focus and surrendering big plays. SMU out-muscled the Red Wolves secondary for 8 yards per reception, and Georgia Southern seemed to catch the backfield off guard all night, delivering big gains that kept the Eagles in the game too long.
Coach Anderson’s play calling could be more aggressive
I’m not about to second guess play calling. What do I know? But fans thought the offense became way to conservative after rapidly scoring two touchdowns on Georgia Southern to open the second half. The result was three “3-and-outs” which pumped fresh oxygen into an Eagles team that had wanted to give up.
Anderson admitted that he lifted his foot off the gas too soon. He’s never been a “go for the jugular” kind of guy – also evidenced by his “take it easy” approach to UAPB. The fans wanted blood in both games. Anderson is too decent a guy to take it.
What’s the verdict, yo?
I think this will be one of the most entertaining Red Wolves teams we’ve seen, especially on the offensive side. Fans dig the pass, and Hansen has been dynamite with the deep ball. The running game needs help for Warren Wand, who is heroically toting the ground game mostly by himself. If Armond Weh-Weh and Johnston White are too busted up to contribute, somebody needs to step up.
Defensively, I worry that high-octane teams like New Mexico State will give the Red Wolves secondary too many problems. Arkansas State really needs a miraculous recovery from Dee Liner.
So yeah, SBC championship all the way.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.