Eight and Five: Looking Back at the 2019 Red Wolves
Bottomline: it was a better season than we predicted
On December 30th – fifteen days after the Red Wolves closed out the season with an entertaining victory over FIU in the Camellia Bowl – Arkansas State head coach was awarded the FWAA Orange Bowl Courage Award, recognizing Anderson’s character and strength after the passing of his wife.
It was an appropriate coda for a season that bore both heartbreaking losses and breathtaking victories. Anderson marched forwarded on the season without his wife. Along the way, he saw his team endure season-ending injuries that took out his starting quarterback, nose guard and defensive back. Working with a brand new staff, Anderson found a way to motivate a decimated team to eight victories.
The team suffered some extraordinary low points – a first time ever loss to Georgia State and a humiliation at the hands of 2-10 South Alabama among them. But the triumphs outweighed the failures. And you were with me to witness it, my brahs. No need for a recap! But I’m contractually obligated by cold, refreshing O’Doul’s to provide college sports ball related content, so here we go.
Omar Bayless is the greatest Red Wolves wide receiver of all time
That’s not a cavalier declaration. Senior wide receiver Omar Bayless finished the season second in the nation with 17 Touchdowns (an A-State and SBC record) first nationally for with 1,653 yards, and 26 career touchdowns – most in school history. And still he was disrespected! How does the Senior Bowl not extend and invite to THIS man:
Layne Hatcher and Logan Bonner are the Voltron of college quarterbacks
How would you like a quarterback who threw for 3,998 yards and 37 touchdowns? Combined, Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher ranked 5th nationally in passing yards and passing TDs, making the tandem by far the most statically accomplished signal callers in the Sun Belt. Logan Bonner is projected to be healthy and throwing for 2020. Are we looking at a quarterback controversy in Jonesboro? Maybe, but probably not. I think the senior Bonner gets every opportunity to pick up where his bum-thumb left off.
Darreon Jackson and William Bradley-King were quietly brilliant
Jackson compiled 116 total tackles this season, second in the Sun Belt. Bradley-King racked up 8.5 sacks, also second in the Sun Belt. Arkansas State ranked 124th in total defense in 2019, and were responsible for the increase in booze and Tums sales in Jonesboro. But these two leaders, along with linebacker Logan Wescott, kept the Red Wolves in games.
Georgia treated us good before beating us bad
Was it nice of Georgia to do this? Absolutely.
Was it polite to follow that up with this? Brutal!
We thought we’d go 7-5 (just not like this)
Poll a fan during the preseason, and 7-5 seemed like the consensus prediction. Not great. But also, not bad, especially in “transition” season that had questions at quarterback, linebacker and offensive line. Going 2-2 in the OOC seemed on script.
Not on script, losing to Georgia State, to whom the Red Wolves had never lost. The Panthers were a bowl team in 2019, and very much improved. Still, Dan Ellington and Crew put 700 yards of offense on the Red Wolves. It was truly staggering to see how flimsy the defense had become.
Still, Arkansas State had to feel good about beating Troy on the road – even if the Trojans were only a pale facsmile of the program that dominated the Sun Belt under Neal Brown. Putting Georgia Southern away, another bowl program, was also reassuring. An eight-win season seemed sealed and delivered.
But the regular season-ending loss to South Alabama was jaw-dropping. It’s as if the Red Wolves are destined to be cooked by Steve Campbell, who helmed UCA when the Bears upset Arkansas State in 2016. Later, Coach Anderson would say the Jaguars loss was all the motivation the Red Wolves required to beat FIU. That might be true, but the defeat likely cost Anderson a P5 gig as well.
We should have beaten SMU
You know it’s true, Mustangs. Shane Buechele was as advertised behind center for SMU, throwing for 360 yards against a frustratingly generous Red Wolves pass defense. And RB Xavier Jones, who destroyed the Red Wolves two years ago, added three more TDs to his LinkedIN page.
But Logan Bonner was even better, throwing four TD passes, all to emerging superstar Omar Bayless. The difference in the game came down to two special teams gaffs – a failed coverage on a kick off return and a fumble on a punt return – that both resulted in Mustangs TD scores.
If the Red Wolves had defeated SMU, would the Mustangs had ever enjoyed their time in the Top 25? Would the victory have set the trajectory for Arkansas State? Alas, we’ll never know.
That was a pretty damn good Camellia Bowl
It was a little cold and a lot rainy. But those who braved the elements were treated to a pretty good show between Arkansas State’s Omar Bayless and FIU’s Austin Maloney. Combined, the two put up 360 receiving yards and a TD apiece. But it was a gem from Arkansas State’s Jay Adams that sealed the victory for the Red Wolves and Coach Anderson.
Predictions That Hit And Mostly Missed
Every year, I post a big Red Wolves preview, and every year, the crucible of the season crushes my predictions. Let’s look back and laugh.
Dahu Green is back, baby!
This appeared to be Green’s year, coming back from injury. Alas, we only saw the big wide receiver for a handful of plays. Let’s hope Green makes the scene in 2020.
Red Wolves have the best defense in the Sun Belt
Heh heh…no. Even had Forrest Merrill and Jerry Jacobs remained healthy, it was clear after the first few games that this year’s version of defense was too easily exploited.
Bad News: the field-goal game is a work in progress.
Hilarious. Probably the most consistent aspect of the Red Wolves offense was Blake Grupe, who missed just one XP and was 84% from the field.
Eugene Minter could be a factor
Maybe next year.
This smells like a crap-trap
That’s what I predicted about the regular season-ending game with South Alabama, and wow it came true.
The Final Analysis
It wasn’t that bad a year. Yes, the Red Wolves were omitted from the Sun Belt Championship game again, and sure it sucks to lose to the Jaguars and Panthers, but rollercoasters are fun, and this season certainly was a potpourri of highs and lows.
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.