Sun Belt Showdown: Arkansas State Red Wolves (5-2) vs South Alabama Jaguars (3-6)
The Jaguars have never, ever defeated the Red Wolves.
Dogs @ Cats, Saturday November 11th, 4:00 CST at Ladd Peebles Stadium, broadcast on ESPN3
Apart from South Alabama, no Sun Belt team has played more games at ancient Ladd Peebles Stadium than the Red Wolves, who went to four consecutive GoDaddy Bowls in Mobile. It is an edifice both grand and grimy, harkening back to the day when the only attraction to a football game was the action that took place on the gridiron. You’ll not find club level amenities or so much as a bounce-house for the kids at LP. No waterfalls in the end zones. No signature food items or bronze statues of Jaguar greats. You will get ass-breaking steel bleachers and vendors selling canned beer out of coolers.
This Spartan aesthetic to Ladd Peebles is the whole of its charm. The football is kept pure by stripping the experience of all unnecessary impurities. It is a man’s man stadium, where one breathes in both the air of history and possibly an assortment of concrete-based molds. Never change, Ladd-Peebles! To update or remodel would be a crime.
When last these titans met
Red Wolves and Jags are generally defensive affairs, and last year’s donnybrook was no different. Red Wolves DB Chris Humes contributed a 60-yard Scoop-n-Score to assist Arkansas State to a sluggish 17-7 victory in Jonesboro. RBs Warren Wand and Johnston White tacked 140 yards on the ground, leaving Justice Hansen little to do but throw for 93 yards and a pick. The Red Wolves defense did the heavy lifting, holding the Jags to 255 total yards – 194 of that coming from the Cole Garvin/Dallas Davis QB combo.
South Alabama continues to perplex
Last year, the Jags were thumping Mississippi State and San Diego State while going 2-6 in conference. This year, South Bama is 1-3 out of conference, but has already taken out Troy and ULM. Who are these guys?
Not even head coach Joey Jones really knows, ping-ponging between starting QBs like a schizomaniac. Lack of identity at QB and at running back has made South Alabama one of the lowest-scoring teams in the Sun Belt.
That leaves the Jaguars a chiefly defense-minded team, though the unit is not much for applying pressure (only 13 sacks and 3 INTs). But for its last four conference games, South Alabama is only allowing 17.75 points per game, including just 8 to Troy. The Jaguars red zone defense is 11th best in the country, allowing only 17 red zone TDs all year.
Red Wolves are steaming through the Sun Belt
If the Jaguars can’t put pressure on Justice Hansen and the Red Wolves passing game, then it will likely be a brutal day for South Bama. Hansen, who has already thrown for a school record number of touchdown passes, is leading an offense that has completely annihilated Sun Belt defenses, averaging 44.5 points per conference game.
But what’s really warming up is the Arkansas State defense. The Monster D is now tied with Appalachian State for the Sun Belt lead with 26 sacks – while playing two fewer games. Attempting to become the NCAA all-time leader in sacks, Ja’Von Rolland-Jones is busting through offensive lines like a bulldozer…MADE OF BATTLESHIP CANNONS! South Bama QBs have absorbed 16 sacks this year. By Saturday night, that number will be more.
Lastly, an underrated weapon for the Red Wolves has been special teams. Punter Cody Grace has pinned opponents behind the ten yard line like clockwork. Once again Blaise Taylor is a dangerous playmaker returning punts, and the team speed has been a difference-maker on kick off coverage. Even if the Jag defense makes stops, its offense won’t likely enjoy good field position.
Arkansas State may be rearming on Saturday
The Red Wolves lost starting RB Warren Wand versus Coastal Carolina, prompting Blake Anderson to give more reps to Johnston White, Chauncey Mason and Jamal Jones. It also meant more running for QB Justice Hansen, who was the team’s leading rusher versus Louisiana.
Hansen as the go-to running back isn’t ideal. But Wand may be healthy and ready on Saturday to pick up the slack against the Jags. If so, Anderson has another toy with which to torture the Jags.
The Jags have a knack for making good teams look kind of lousy (just ask Troy). But South Bama has yet to play a conference foe as complete as Arkansas State, who is excelling in all phases of the game. History calls for a low scoring affair. But look for the Red Wolves to wear out the Jaguars and start piling on numbers in the fourth quarter.
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.