Arkansas State Red Wolves vs Troy Trojans: Somebody’s Got To Pay
Two banged up Sun Belt contenders throw hands early in the season.
It’s always a little personal when Arkansas State and Troy meet on the gridiron. In 2016, the Red Wolves punted Troy out of the Top 25. The next season, Troy bounced the Red Wolves out of the Sun Belt title. The acrimony goes back even before both joined the Sun Belt in 2001, though becoming conference rivals certainly added more pepper to the soup.
This Saturday in Troy, nobody is getting ejected from the Top 25, but even this early in the season, championship fortunes may hang in the balance. With so much parity in the Sun Belt, every game in the win column is essential, and every loss a potential disaster. Both teams are besieged with injuries, but neither will show quarter or mercy.
During their blockbuster game with Southern Miss, the Trojans lost Preseason Sun Belt POY BJ Smith for the season, leaving the bulk of the run duties to sophomore DK Billingsley, who put up an even 100 yards on the Akron Zips in Week 4. Billingsley has chops, and a big offensive line. Still, losing Smith is a big blow.
But not as big a blow as the dark curse that has befallen the Red Wolves. Starting running back Marcel Murray is battling a bum ankle. His replacement, Ryan Graham, tore his ACL in Week 4 and is finished for the season. Starting defensive tackle Kevin Thurmon is out more than a month with a broken hand. And Jerry Jacobs, the Red Wolves’ most effective defensive back, is also done for the year after injuring his knee versus Georgia.
But the most devastating injury is a busted thumb, sustained by starting quarterback Logan Bonner. He’s sitting out the rest of the season, finishing the year with 10 TDs, 1,000 passing yards and one pick. That kind of production will be hard to replace.
Enter Layne Hatcher
Hatcher (also a champion wrestler) broke a pile of Arkansas high school passing records before verbally committing to Arkansas State in 2018. That commitment broke down, and Hatcher joined Nick Saban and a pile of five-star QBs in Alabama. A season later, Hatcher revisited that Red Wolves offer and joined the squad.
Now the 6’0″ 200lb dual-threat signal caller gets the starting nod, but a conference opener against a Sun Belt contender isn’t exactly a trial-by-pillow. Still, Hatcher brings a fierce winning mentality to the huddle. Is a week’s worth of practice snaps enough to prepare for Troy?
I don’t know what to make of Troy
Troy has already enjoyed a bye week, and they’ve yet to record a victory over an opponent with an FBS win. Rolling into Akron and picking up a 35-7 victory isn’t unimpressive, but the Zips are 0-4. The Trojan’s second win came at the expense of FCS Campbell.
That leaves the loss to Southern Miss to provide clues as to what these Trojans are made of. Golden Eagles quarterback Jack Abraham piled up 463 passing yards and a pair of scores against the Troy secondary. In total Troy gives up about 270 yards a game, which means if Hatcher would rather pass than use his legs, he’ll likely find some success.
Offensively, Kaleb Barker is putting up boss numbers: 1,000 yards, 9 TDs and a single pick in three games. Barker can sling, and junior wide receiver Khalil McClain is providing the big plays, hauling in 33% of Barker’s scores. New head coach Chip Lindsey, a former wide receiver himself, is clearly comfortable with shootouts.
Still, given the sporadic level of the opposition, I don’t feel we have a complete measure of Troy just yet. The team has lost a lot of big-name talent the last two seasons, and Lindsey is still learning the ropes. How the team responds to the Red Wolves should reveal whether or not the Trojans are ready to contend again in the Sun Belt East.
Next Men Up for Arkansas State
The number of injuries endured by the Red Wolves is pretty alarming. Too many starters; too many all-Sun Belt talents. That forces some players to grow up early, such as freshman running back Isaiah Azubuike and sophomore cornerback Nathan Page. But the real pressure is on Hatcher, who must replace a player racking up monster stats.
This was supposed to be a showdown between Barker and Bonner, Marcel Murray and BJ Smith. Instead, we’re getting both teams down significant talent points. But then again, Trojans versus Red Wolves rarely disappoints. Barker is having a storied season, and the Red Wolves’ Omar Bayless is emerged as the conference’s most dynamic receiver. There’s still plenty to watch on Saturday.
Arkansas State Red Wolves @ Troy Trojans, Saturday, 5:00PM 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.