The Red Wolves are OH NO-and-4 entering Sun Belt Play

 

I was going to dissect the Red Wolves/UCA Bears game for y’all, but what’s the point? UCA, a very good FCS team that should have begun faltering after one quarter with A-State’s bigger, deeper team, wound up winning 28-23. It was a game where the Bears’ FCS sized defensive line manhandled the Red Wolves offensive line, creating four turnovers to the Red Wolves’ zero. What else is there to say? That it was the program’s first loss to an FCS opponent since 2001? That it was the team’s worse loss in modern times? That the Red Wolves are actually regressing in areas after four games?

What’s the point? How about we just look at some statistics instead. After the Auburn game, I went ahead and created a chart of key statistics pertaining to the Red Wolves’ struggles. After two more contests, the Red Wolves continue to struggle.

Stat Category Nat. Rank after Week 2 Nat. Rank after Week 4 Heroically Positive Spin
Total Offense 117th 102nd “Baby steps!”
Rushing 112th 125th “Better than Texas State!”
Passing 91st 38th “Justice for all!”
Total Defense 128th 118th “Improved!”
Rushing Defense 127th 115th “We’re actually better than Ole Miss”
Passing Yards Allowed 115th 89th “Maybe our secondary is gelling.”
3rd Down Conv. 122nd 127th “Thanks to Purdue, it could be worse!”
Red Zone Offense T-117th 111th “Field goals!”
Time of Possession 116th 114th “3 and outs are murdering us.”
Punt Returns 7th 79th “We need a spark.”
Net Punting 72nd 106th “GAH!”

As you can see, it’s not all terrible. Thanks to Justice Hansen’s penchant for throwing downfield, the passing game has the team’s total offense on the rise. Against UCA, the Red Wolves delivered exciting pass plays of 40, 44, 48 and 58 yards. But while Arkansas State made all the big plays Saturday night, it seemed to make none of the small plays that ultimately win games.

A glance at the Red Wolves offense and defense.
A glance at the Red Wolves offense and defense.

Time of possession is still miserable, in part a result of the defense’s staggeringly inept ability to prevent third down conversions (opponents have converted 32 of 56 attempts). A-State’s rushing attack is equally ineffective. Against UCA, Red Wolves running backs were constantly met at the line of scrimmage by multiple defenders. Johnston White averaged less to 2 yards per carry – against an FCS defense.

For a team that prides itself on Faith, Family and Fun, this squad is lousy with ugly penalties, many of which are of the “personal foul variety.” In fact, only the Akron Zips have received more yellow flags than the Red Wolves this year. There’s nothing fun (or particularly faithful) about losing yards because an individual player has a beef with an opponent.

So Why Do We Feel So Bamboozled?

In my season preview, I wrote that “you conveniently forget the weaknesses” at the start of the season. We all ignored the fact that the Red Wolves were starting the season with a new offensive coordinator, running backs coach and offensive line coach. We forgot that Fredi Knighten, Flash Gordon and J.D. McKissic were gone, and that a lot of new faces were brought in to take their place.

But it’s more than new faces at new places. The Red Wolves have been juggling with fire for several seasons now, just like every Group of Five program that tastes success. Today, the G5 powers are Houston and San Diego State. Yesterday it was Marshall and Northern Illinois. Where are those guys now? Where will the Cougars and Aztecs be tomorrow? Success is not easily sustained at the Group of Five level, and Red Wolves fans like myself conveniently forgot that.

Wait, So There’s No Hope?

The Monday after the UCA debacle, the Red Wolves held a “players only” meeting at the behest of defensive back Cody Brown. What came out of the meeting is all conjecture, but that Cody Brown is taking charge is encouraging. There is a great deal of individual talent on the Red Wolves roster. What’s needed is cohesive leadership. Brown, a senior who’s seen much in his years in Jonesboro, is the perfect “keeping it real” guy to bring some hard-nosed teamwork into this Dirty Dozen.

So yeah, there’s hope, y’all.

 

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