This is the Really Big 2019 Arkansas State Red Wolves Preview (Deal With It)
The Red Wolves enter the season with the usual high expectations, but also with some unfamiliar doubts.
Wendy Anderson passed away on August 20, 2019, and she was laid to rest on Friday. She was, by every account, a lovely woman. Even as she battled the breast cancer that would eventually take her from us, Wendy was often seen in the company of her husband Blake and her beloved pack of Red Wolves, of whom she adored.
Wendy fought hard for more than two years, and in that time, her husband Blake persevered in his role as head football coach at Arkansas State. Supported by the positive nature of his faith, Coach Anderson never despaired. As we groused about the team’s performance (which was pretty darn good, by the way), Coach Anderson stubbornly siloed the story to Xs and Os. He had every right to say, “Listen, man, my wife is dying. Back off.” He had the right. He didn’t take it.
Coach Anderson never despaired, so many of us despaired for him, flooding social media with condolences and remembrance. Wendy’s death is tragic but her life was beautiful. Blake’s extraordinary composure is the golden standard for coaches, for fathers, and for husbands. Godspeed, Blake and Wendy.
On to the Review
Dip your toe into the pool of College Football Big Energy, and you’ll note a difference between Red Wolves Preseason 2018 and Red Wolves Preseason 2019. Last year, the program seemed to have all the pieces available for domination: an agreeable schedule, senior leadership at key positions, a number of big playmakers, and coaching stability on the sideline. This was gonna be THE year.
Football rarely sticks to the script, though. The Red Wolves collected eight victories, but angst and agony accompanied each of the team’s five losses. While there’s no real shame in losing to Alabama (even via a 57-7 face-smashing), Arkansas State opened the Sun Belt slate 1-3, with dismaying losses to Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Louisiana. The Red Wolves never recovered. To the chagrin of the City of Jonesboro, the very first Sun Belt Championship Game was held sans Arkansas State. The 16-13 loss to Nevada in the Arizona Bowl was simply the onion in the martini.
Quantum Leap into 2019. The Red Wolves have a new Operations Center (looking cool), and new starting quarterback (throws a nice spiral), and a Pontiac Sunbird-full of new assistant coaches (so far, so good). Coach Blake Anderson, entering Year Six, is now the conference’s wise patriarch. Familiar super-studs like Justice Hansen and Ronheen Bingham are gone, but new faces have emerged to carry the torch. Still, fan confidence is…shaky?
Rex Steele’s take notwithstanding, expectations are high for the Red Wolves, who are assumed to challenge Louisiana for the Sun Belt West. But this season, hype is mitigated by caution. 2018 was supposed to be THE year. 2019 is TBD.
When the bowl dust settled, it became clear that the staff needed a shakeup. After all, the Red Wolves posted a Red Zone offense that ranked a grisly 111th in the nation, underscored by near-comical red zone misery at the Arizona Bowl, where Arkansas State was 1-5 with only seven points.
Somebody had to pay, and OC Buster Faulkner and Offensive Line Coach Allen Rudolph were handed the bill. In to replace them are Keith Heckendorf (North Carolina) and Sean Coughlin (Missouri State).
Additionally, well-respected defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen left for Houston (taking well-respected defensive line coach Brian Early with him). He was replaced by David Duggan from Western Michigan. Also taking his leave, popular assistant coach Trooper Taylor, who accepted a position at Duke.
That’s a lot of churn. A new staff either breeds either new life or confusion. So far, harmony in Jonesboro is so good, Anderson has agreed to surrender the play calling to Heckendorf, freeing the veteran head coach to take a more CEO approach to the team.
Listen, not all of my subheads can be Shakespeare, okay? Let’s just make the smooth segue to “Redshirt junior Logan Bonner is the new sheriff under center in Jonesboro, and word on the street is that he has a quick draw and a sweet spiral.” Bonner’s performance at the team’s last scrimmage of Fall camp seems to validate the rumblings:
Bonner spent three seasons waiting for his shot, and now his has in his arsenal an entire posse of fleet-footed deputies hungry to haul in TD passes. Bonner will be tested as early as Week 1, when the SMU Mustangs visit Jonesboro. It was against the Mustangs that, while filling in for an injured Hansen, Bonner got a real taste of college action – and it tasted pretty gross. Bonner threw a pick and only completed only 7 of 17 passes that night. He’ll likely improve on those statistics August 31.
Green On The Scene
Instead of ridiculing my subheads, appreciate that wide receiver Dahu Green is back, baby! Last season, the Oklahoma transfer suffered a season-ending ankle-busting in Week 1 against Southeast Missouri State. But now the 6’5″ stud is back on the field.
Oui, Oui Marcel
Last year’s breakout stud for Arkansas State was RB Marcel Murray. The freshman electrified the backfield with a quick and hard-nosed style of play. A year wiser and an off-season stronger, Murray gets help from bruising, 5’11 200LB junior Ryan Graham and possibly some freshman assistance from Samy Johnson and Donovan Marshall. Also making some noise: DJ Chatman, a jumbo-sized 6’1″ 230LB beef battleship from Independence Community College.
With Murray providing the lightning, and possibly Graham/Chatman supplying the thunder, the Red Wolves run game should be a dangerous unit.
INTERLUDE 1: I like this graphic
Red Wolves Have the Best Defense in the Sun Belt
Appalachian State will always be tough on D. Georgia Southern gets nice press for its stingy secondary. Man, I even heard somebody say positive things about Texas State’s defense. But the Red Wolves are going to be stacked on defense again, led by six Sun Belt all-conference selections, including defensive linemen Kevin Thurmon and Forrest Merrill, who’ve politely gone to the trouble of coining their own catchy moniker so we don’t have too:
Meanwhile, serial-sacker William Bradley-King looks to take over QB-stuffing duties from Red Wolves legend Ronheen Bingham, and Jerry Jacobs might be most talented DB in the conference (with respect to Kindle Vildor). Joe Cauthen didn”t leave the pantry bare for new DC David Duggan.
Five Under-Hyped Guys Who Will Deliver Quality Minutes in 2019
- Tajhea Chambers (LB)
- Klint Harvey (OL)
- Bubba Ogbebor (WR)
- DJ Chatman (RB)
- Jeff Foreman (WR)
Foreman is a freshman who raised eyebrows in the kick return game. Harvey, a transfer from Arkansas, is a big ol’ 6’6″ 320 redshirt senior lineman who may see his potential in 2019. Boise State transfer Bubba Ogbebor looks to be a playmaker this season, and Chambers provides leadership at a linebacker squad that looks a little green.
Interlude 2: Red Wolves vs. Unnamed In-State Program
“They should be begging us to play,” said A-State Athletic Director Terry Mohajir, and he’s probably right. Frankly, all the balls are in motion for a Red Wolves vs hogs game. The uOFa is already opening their kimono to sibling campuses (and were rewarded with a crushing baseball defeat at the hands of the UALR Trojans). Fans (not all) of both programs genuinely want the game. It would be fun.
But, just so we’re clear, a Red Wolves vs hogs game played exclusively in Fayeteville would be met dimly. Very dimly.
Good News: Cody Grace has applied a powerful full-Nelson on the punting.
Bad News: the field-goal game is a work in progress. Right now, whoever wins between sophomore Blake Grupe and freshman Tristan Mattson gets the straw. Honestly, the Red Wolves has struggled in this regard since the great Brian Davis hung up his sterling spikes. Now every field goal takes a year off our lives.
Roll The Dice: Eugene Minter
Eugene is a 6’5″ 220 transfer out of Dodge City (Kan.) CC who plays wide receiver but is built more like a tight end. Minter made some nice plays during the Spring Game. His size could come into play as the season progresses.
Usually, I leap out onto the limb of credibility and predict a 13-0 season for the Red Wolves. But maybe that’s a jinx. Though well-intentioned, perhaps I inadvertently tipped the cosmic scales against Arkansas State. It’s all my fault! Instead, I’m not making any predictions. The cosmos can eat it.
SMU @ Arkansas State, Saturday, August 31
Man, it’s going to be a hot, muggy evening at The Cent when the Red Wolves host the Mustangs. Revenge is a dish best served sweaty, in my opinion, and SMU has it coming after rudely destroying Arkansas State 44-21 a couple seasons ago in Dallas.
Arkansas State @ UNLV, Saturday, September 7
It’s a dry heat in Nevada, but the Rebels will be attempting to serve ice-cold vengeance on the Red Wolves, who trumped UNLV on a stormy night last season 27-20. (Sorry about the two consecutive allusions to the old Klingon proverb.) Chances are good that weather conditions will be more favorable for scoring this time.
Arkansas State @ Georgia, Saturday, September 14
The Bulldogs are a Top 5 teams who, reportedly, have some skills. The Red Wolves receive $1.8M for accepting this challenge, and I don’t think Terry Mohajir will feel guilty about cashing the check.
Southern Illinois @ Arkansas State, Saturday, September 21
It might be difficult coming off the high of trouncing Georgia to face the Salukis. But a good team rises to all challenges.
Arkansas State @ Troy, Saturday, September 28
For the second season in a row, the Red Wolves open the SBC season on the road against a formidable foe. The Trojans enter the season with a new head coach, Chip Lindsey, who arrives to Troy after OC stints at Southern Miss, Arizona State and Auburn.
Arkansas State @ Georgia State, Saturday, October 5
The Red Wolves take a second trip to the Peach State when they take on the Panthers at beautiful
Turner Panthers Stadium. Arkansas State has never lost to Georgia State, but that won’t discourage Shawn Elliot and his staff from giving it a try.
Louisiana @ Arkansas State, Thursday, October 17
The Red Wolves finally return home and, yay, play on a Thursday night. At least it’s against the Cajuns, our despised rival. I’d be remiss not to note that the Red Wolves haven’t exactly delivered a good show during mid-week games, including those against the Ragin’ Cajuns. But it’s never too late to reverse a downward trend.
Texas State @ Arkansas State, Saturday, October 26
Man, it’s weird to see the Bobcats so early in the season, but here we are. Texas State brings one of the most experienced teams in all college football to Jonesboro. The Bobcats also have the most experience in getting trounced by the Red Wolves.
Arkansas State @ ULM, Saturday, November 2
Matt “Darth” Viator will have likely laid a trap for our pathetic rebel band, but the Red Wolves always seem to escape in a trail of Death Star chunks. However, Warhawks starting QB Caleb Evans is a vastly underrated talent. If ULM ever manages to field a defense, it could be the beginning of a new Empire in the Sun Belt.
Coastal Carolina @ Arkansas State, Saturday, November 16
Coastal will come to Jonesboro and brings its confusion with it. Who knows what the hell kind of shenanigans Jamey Chadwell will field. Eleven quarterbacks? A pack of “Girls of Hee Haw” playing cards? The cast of Hamilton? You just don’t know.
Georgia Southern @ Arkansas State, Saturday, November 23
Ooooh, this is a good one. Played late in the season, this could be a must-win for both programs. Good thing it’s played in wonderful Jonesboro, where that November breeze should feel quite invigorating.
Arkansas State @ South Alabama, Saturday, November 30
Playing in Mobile in the dead of winter is nothing unusual for the Red Wolves. However, this game gives me the willies. Nobody is predicting amazing things from Steve Campbell this season, but the dude knows how to beat the Red Wolves. This smells like a crap-trap.
Sun Belt Championship Game, Saturday, December 7
It’s gonna be the Red Wolves and somebody crazy, right? Like Georgia State.
Interlude 3: A word from our sponsors
This content is sponsored by the cool, crisp taste of O’Doul’s non-alcoholic beer. When I want to keep my edge, I drink an ice cold O’Doul’s.
These Guys Are Going To Kill It in 2019
It’s difficult to look at the Red Wolves’s roster and acknowledge the bounty of talent Coach Anderson and his staff enjoy. Here are ten guys, in no particular order, that Anderson will rely on most.
Kirk Merritt, Senior, Wide Receiver
The 6’0″, 215 pigskin scooper is a human sticky bomb – nothing escapes his grasp, and his play is explosive on the gridiron. Merritt looks to be Bonner’s go-to.
Forrest Merril, Junior, Defensive Lineman
Merrill is a 6’1″, 338 bearded beef battleship of a man who already has the full attention of Georgia.
Cody Grace, Senior, Punter
A great punter is a football program’s most underrated weapon. Last season, Grace posted a single touchback in 64 punting attempts. His punts were returned just eight times for -15 yards, leading Arkansas State set a NCAA record for punt return defense.
Marcel Murray, Sophomore, Running Back
Murray’s ascent to backfield superstar as a bit of a surprise last season, but the the 5’11” 197 bowling ball was clearly one of the talented dudes on the field, even as a freshman. Everybody is stoked about Year 2.
Jerry Jacobs, Junior, Cornerback
Like Murray, Jacobs seemed to appear out of nowhere in 2018 to snag four picks and become the team’s shutdown corner. He’ll be even stronger this season.
Dahu Green, Senior, Wide Receiver
We already heralded Green earlier in this way-to-long preview. But, in case you forgot, his game is gonna slap, yo.
Logan Bonner, Junior, Quarterback
Bonner, who takes over for Sun Belt Player of the Year Justice Hansen behind center, has had a sharp Fall camp and has never been short on confidence. He has the skills and the on-field assets to be The Man. Will he deliver?
Troy Elliot, Junior, OL
At 6’5″ 278lbs, you may think him a bit light for the job. You think wrong, bub. Troy missed most of 2018 with injuries, but he’s going to make up for lost time this season by pancaking defenders.
Omar Bayless, Senior, Wide Receiver
I feel like I’ve been touting Omar for 100 years. As a senior, he brings a heavy dose of experience to the huddle. As a freak athlete, he’ll bring a heavy dose of big plays, too.
William Bradley-King, Junior, Defensive End
WBK put up six sacks in 2018, and it’s not unreasonable to think the 6’4″ 248 bag-boy will deliver double that in 2019.
Five Guys Who Could Have Made The List Above
- Jonathan Adams, WR
- BJ Edmonds, DB
- Andre Harris, OL
- Kevin Thurmon, DL
- Darreon Jackson, DB
Why the Red Wolves are gonna win the Sun Belt West, the Sun Belt, and ultimately the nation’s respect:
Logan Bonner and that five-star stable of incredible wide receivers will benefit from a meaty offensive line, and the potent run game will absolutely crush in the Red Zone. Meanwhile, the aggressive defensive line will put enormous pressure on opposing QBs, resulting in a record number of interceptions for Jerry Jacobs. Also, it turns out that our field goal kicking ain’t nearly as bad as feared.
Why the Red Wolves are gonna lose too many close conference games and earn the deepening chagrin of the fan base:
Despite the beef, the Red Wolves offensive line is too green and the system too new for Logan Bonner develop any comfort in the pocket, neutralizing the talent of the wide receivers. With Bonner locked down, defenses stack the box against Marcel Murray, and the Red Zone woes continue. Meanwhile, limited depth at linebacker results in two many first downs on third and short, giving opposing offenses a huge ball possession advantage. Also, our field goal kicking is horrible.
The Final Analysis
You know, I think this team is pretty good. The Red Wolves lost both its best offensive and defensive player from last season, but the guys stepping up are no slouches. The usual litany of worries remain: inconsistency at the offensive line, shallowness at linebacker, and yes the before-mentioned field goal kicking. This must be overcome.
But what this team needs more than anything is focus: reduce dumb penalties and protect the ball. The team enters the season beneath a cloud of tragedy (may we find comfort in Wendy’s peace). I expect the leaders of this team to dedicate this season to Wendy and rise to the challenge.
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.