Sun Belt Grudge Game: Red Wolves have unfinished business with the Jaguars
The Jaguars had never, ever, ever defeated Arkansas State – until last year, when South Bama upset the Red Wolves in Mobile.
Man, I know exactly where I was the night on November 11, 2018 when the Red Wolves lost to the Jaguars – getting tipsy at a charity silent auction. It was an open bar, and I was bidding on everything (premium purses, beer baskets, Bluetooth speakers, karate lessons, etc). The entire time, I kept checking my Twitter feed, waiting for the moment the Red Wolves would finally ice Cole Garvin and South Bama.
Guess what folks? It never happened! Sure, victory was within our grasp (four yards to be exactly) when some lug named Bull Barge blasted Justin Hansen at the goal line, forced a fumble and that was it. Game over. I drank another free beer and placed a bid on a bottle of 30-year-old Scotch just to feel something.
Sadly, the win over Arkansas State didn’t save South Alabama’s head coach Joey Jones’ job, who was canned and replaced by Red Wolves’ nemesis Steve Campbell (we’ll talk more about that later). It did, ultimately, cost the Red Wolves a Sun Belt title, and now somebody gots to pay.
When Last These Titans Met
Didn’t we just do this? Anyway, Garvin inexplicably threw for 343 yards and and two touchdowns while the Jag defense held Arkansas State to just 19 points, winning 24-19. Let’s move on.
Steve Campbell is a stonecold Red Wolves killer
I remember exactly where I was on September 24, 2016, when the Red Wolves fell to Central Arkansas. I was at Centennial Bank Stadium, having spent the afternoon merrily tailgating and drinking ice cold O’Doul’s. I was in a fine mood. The score was 16-7 after the first quarter, and not for a moment did I believe Arkansas State was going to lose.
I believed this even when the Bears took a 28-23 lead with only six minutes left in the fourth quarter. I still believed it when the last second ticked off the clock. Wait, don’t we have another quarter? Nope. It was a brutal, soul-devouring loss that darkened the mood for the entire season,
The architect of that terrible woe? None other than former UCA head coach Steve Campbell, the current head coach for South Alabama. Now he returns to the scene of the crime to face the Red Wolves on Homecoming, no less! This is Game of Thrones shit!
Yeah, but are the Jaguars any good?
The 2-6 Jags rank 114th in total offense, putting up 348 yards per game while scoring only 24.9 points per game. The defense is just as atrocious, surrendering 441 yards per contest for 39 points every game. Campbell’s offense ranks last in the Sun Belt in rushing. It ranks 7th in the conference for sacks. Yuck.
But senior QB Evan Orth hasn’t been too terrible tossing the pill, collecting 1,641 yards and 9 TDs this year. And senior wide receiver Jamarius Way leads the Sun Belt in receiving yards (619 yards). Furthermore, the secondary has gobbled up 10 interceptions, tied for second with Troy. The Jaguars aren’t without skills.
Red Wolves are reeling
Once the Red Wolves were ranked #25 by Phil Steele and projected to win the Sun Belt. Now Arkansas State is 1-3 in conference play and needs help for a shot at the conference playoffs. Where did it go wrong?
The Red Wolves have yet to play a complete game. When the offense is humming, the defense is struggling. When the defense is rolling, the offense is sputtering. Yes, a Homecoming victory over the Jaguars would do well to avenge last year’s loss to South Alabama and bury the angst created by Campbell’s upset in 2016. But what a win might also do is remind the Red Wolves that they still have the firepower to win out the rest of the season.
Jaguar to Watch: Jamarius Way, senior wide receiver
Way hasn’t had the same success as when he put up 173 yards against Texas State and then followed it up with 185 against Memphis. But the 6-4 monster is the Jag’s mightiest offensive weapon who must be neutralized.
Red Wolf to Watch: Marcel Murray, freshman running back
While most of the Red Wolves have fallen below expectations “Oui Oui” Marcel has been a burst of positive energy for the Red Wolves, leading the team in rushing by stubbornly refusing to go down after first contact.
Red Wolves Win This Game IF
After facing tough run offenses all year, the Red Wolves defense will have to focus on limiting Way in the passing game and prevent the big plays that have punished Arkansas State this season.
Jags Win This Game IF
If Steve Campbell busts out the old UCA game tape, he’ll find that the key to defeating the Red Wolves is getting into their heads early by forcing turnovers and playing solid special teams. Let’s hope he left that tape in Conway.
What’s Gonna Happen, Cap’n?
It’s difficult to believe that South Alabama has enough offense or defense to defeat Arkansas State in Jonesboro. But as you’ve just read, I’ve been witness to some terrible things when it comes to both the Jags and Steve Campbell.
The Red wolves host the Jaguars on Saturday, 2:00 PM on ESPN+
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.