Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Utah State Aggies
Friday, September 16th, 8:00 CST at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium
You Can Watch This Game On: CBSSN
The Odds: Arkansas State +9, 26.7% FPI
Sorry, Readers. I’m not going hand you a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon and compliment your Crocs. It’s time for some real talk. Arkansas State versus Utah State is going to be a messy, brutal, screwed-up mutation of a football contest. Children will cry after the game, but they will never cry again. By halftime, at least forty world leaders will mutter “May God help us all.” Pat Robertson will see this game as an eighth sign of the Apocalypse, and David Cronenberg will make a biopic of the outcome that will not be nearly as disturbing and disgusting as it was in real life. This Red Wolves vs Aggies game will be gross.
Why? Because both programs are a hot, steamy diaper-fire right now. Quick! Which program ranks 83rd in the nation for points scored? Which ranks 119th for points against? Who ranks 112th for passing yards and who ranks 91st? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that both teams’ fans could use a little assurance. Both programs could use a gross and ugly victory.
The Red Wolves Have Had an Ugly Start to the Season
At least the Utah State Aggies have a win – a 45-6 wedgie administered to Weber State, who went 6-5 in the Big Sky last year. The Red Wolves have yet to benefit from an FCS tune-up, having entered the season against eternal antagonist Toledo before facing former sansei Gus Malzahn in Auburn. As Coach Blake Anderson later suggested, Toledo and Auburn are likely the toughest opponents on A-State’s schedule. But after two games, the stats should’t look this horrendous.
|Stat Category||Nat. Rank||Global Reaction|
|Total Offense||117th||“Holy crap!”|
|Passing||91st||“Fredi come back”|
|Rushing Defense||127th||“That’s got to be a typo…”|
|Passing Yards Allowed||115th||“Kill me now!”|
|3rd Down Conv.||122nd||(staring blankly into space)|
|Red Zone Offense||T-117th||OMG|
|Time of Possession||116th||“…maybe we should slow down…”|
|Punt Returns||7th||Oh, hey, that’s cool, so…|
No amount of blinking will cleanse these statistics from your skull. The only cure is a beat-down enema against Utah State, the former Big West compatriot who enjoyed some big successes under Gary Patterson, but has endured two OC changes and three DC changes in three seasons.
When Last These Titans Met
It was kind of ugly in 2014, too. It took a blocked 4th quarter field goal from A-State to force an overtime to what unexpectedly transformed into a battle of defense. With talented but oft-injured QB Chuckie Keaton on the sidelines, Utah State’s Darrel Garrettson took over an offense that slogged through the Jonesboro night racking up a modest 400 yards of total offense and two scores. Meanwhile, the Fredi Knighten-led Red Wolves attack mustered only 316 yards of total offense, but a 24-yard Knighten-to-Dijon Paschal TD strike sealed the 21-14 victory in OT.
Amusing Trivial Tidbit
The all-time record between the Aggies and the Red Wolves is even at 3-3. Friday night is the tiebreaker.
Who Leads the Aggies Attack?
Devante Mays, a bruising 5’11” 230lb senior running back, torched Weber State for 208 yards and a trio of scores. But then the punishing back received a little punishment himself against USC, twisting his ankle midway through the contest.
Losing the dynamic Mays (and Daniel Gray for that matter) is bad news for Utah State, who didn’t have any offense for Southern California until posting its only TD late in the third quarter. If Mays can’t go, head coach Matt Wells will have to rely heavily on junior quarterback Kent Myers (204 yards, 25/37, 1 TD, 1 INT vs USC) to make plays. Myers is not without skill. Last year, he tossed for nearly 1,600 yards and 16 TDs. He can also run a little, if necessary.
On paper, it would seem that the strength of the Aggies lies on defense, starting with its two preseason All-Mountain West defensive linemen, Travis Seefeldt (6’1″ 305) and Ricky Ali’Ifua (6’2″, 280lb). However, it was the secondary that pleased Wells most entering the season. Utah State has experience at the corners with Jalen Davis and (the possibly injured) Daniel Gray. Against USC, sophomore free safety Jontrell Rocquemore (pronounced “Rock You More?”) picked up a sweet INT. But the USC Trojans did most of their business against the Aggies’ secondary in Week 2, totaling four passing touchdowns – including two from the back-up signal caller.
Where’s the Red Wolves’ Bite?
Okay, so Red Wolves fans aren’t happy about losing the home opener to Toledo and are less than thrilled to be squashed 51-14 by its old head coach. While the offense is still understandably gelling with new wide receivers, a new quarterback, and a new system under new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner, the problems on the defensive side of the ball are puzzling. The coaching staff under Joe Cauthen survived the off season intact, and a squad that led the nation in takeaways in 2015 seemed to only get stronger on paper.
And yet, the defensive stats are brutal.
Bear in mind that 1) Toledo and Auburn are two very good teams, and 2) Cauthen’s defense is a high risk/high reward system that relies on the defensive front to put pressure on the quarterback, forcing mistakes the secondary can exploit. The Red Wolves have faced two very heavy and talented offensive lines. Furthermore, the offense is only converting on 3rd down 25% of the time, forcing the defense back on the field. A combination of facing excellent talent and total exhaustion has hurt the defenses’ effectiveness.
Now the Red Wolves face a more manageable Utah State team, though traveling all the way to Logan on a short week gives the Aggies a nice home turf advantage. Still, A-State quarterback Chad Voytik demonstrated flashes of ability in Week 2, and if he can keep the offense on the field for extended periods, look for the Red Wolves Monster D to return to beastly form.
Hey, How Far Is It Between Jonesboro and Logan?
Who’s Busted Up and Who’s Returning?
We already mentioned the injuries and questionable statuses for Devante Mays and Daniel Gray for Utah State. Arkansas State suffered more long-term injuries in Week 2, with RB Armond Weh-Weh and LB Antwon Turnage both receiving season-ending injuries. One bright spot for the backfield: Johnston White is expected to return for the Red Wolves. White collected 100 yards and a TD against Utah State in 2014.
Who Must Rise for the Red Wolves?
Now is the time for the defensive line to pull off its nerdy human mask and become the monster we believed it to be. The hosses in the middle – Waylon Roberson and Dee Liner – need to plug the running lanes and give Chris Odom and 2015 Sun Belt sack leader Ja’Von Roland Jones the time to disrupt. If the defensive line can return to its glory, we’ll start seeing more fumbles and picks.
Who’s Da Man for the Aggies?
If Devante Mays is out for the game, the key to Utah’s success might be 6’3″, 315lb center Austin Stephens. A first team All-Mountain West selection for Athlon Sports and Phil Steele, Stephens leads an offensive line whose mission is to keep Kent Myers upright and looking for his talented tight end, Wyatt Houston (6’4″, 250lb). If Myers gets comfortable in the pocket, it could be another night of disaster for the Red Wolves.
Four Intriguing Match Ups to Study
Quarterbacks: Chad Voytik vs. Kent Myers
At a glance, Myers and Voytik are similar quarterbacks. Both are careful with the ball (only one INT between them). Both have 50 yards rushing on the year. They’re even about the same size (Voytik has an inch on the 6′ Myers). Most importantly, both signal callers are looking for their first signature game of the season. Myers didn’t have much to do against Weber State other than hand the ball off the Mays, and his performance against USC was only serviceable (204 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT). Meanwhile, Voytik seems to be catching up with Faulkner’s system after a miserable game against Toledo and an improved performance at Auburn. One quarterback is leaving Maverik Stadium with some vindication.
Tight Ends: Blake Mack vs. Wyatt Houston
The leading receivers for both programs are the starting tight ends. Mack has 136 yards on 5 catches on the year, with a long of 83 against Toledo. A converted wide receiver, the 6’3″ 230lb junior is fast for a big man. Houston scored Utah State’s only touchdown against USC, and appears to be Myers’ favorite target. The hulking 6’4″ 255lb senior leads the Aggies with 65 yards on 7 receptions.
Free Safeties: Bo Sentimore vs. Jontrell Rocquemore
With both quarterbacks seeking their mojo, free safeties will have to be on their horses Friday night. Rocquemore is a 6’1″ 200lb sophomore who grabbed a pick against USC. Sentimore, recovered from a season ending injury and looking for a knock-out game, is a 6′ 180lb ball hawk the Red Wolves need at his best.
Receivers: Kendall Sanders & Cameron Echols-Luper vs. Ron’Quavion Tarver & Rayshad Lewis
If there is a time for Red Wolves’ new wide receivers to rise, Friday night is it. Sanders (6′ 187), the transfer from Texas, has had all of one reception in two games. Echols-Luper (6′ 190) has enjoyed a little more success with 6 receptions, one for 42 yards, but the Red Wolves need more from this multi-tooled receiver. Both Tarver (6’3″ 210) and Lewis (5’10” 165) were active against USC, both snagging four receptions for 37 and 34 yards respectively. Myers needs production and focus from his young receivers to see success.
Nice Business Suit
The “scarlet & black attack” is always a dramatic look on the Red Wolves, but the crimson combo should really stand out this Friday night against the stark backdrop planned at Maverik Stadium.
Stop Stalling! Prediction, Now!
Two early losses have regulated Arkansas State in the Sun Belt background. A win against Utah State, predicted in the preseason to finish third in the Mountain Division behind Boise State and Air Force, would restore the Red Wolves’ confidence while signaling to the conference that the defending champs are far from finished. The talent is there. While Utah State has plenty of weapons, there is great reason to believe A-State will deliver the ugly victory. Arkansas State 17, Utah State 10.
The Red Wolves welcome in-state FCS program UCA to Jonesboro, while the Aggies host the conference’s Top Gun, Air Force.