At the turn: Red Wolves poised to make Sun Belt noise

Hi, Red Wolves Fans. It’s me, A-State Fan Rules. While the football team is enjoying its BYE, let’s talk frankly about these Red Wolves for a moment. Grab a coffee or a snifter of 100-year-old brandy. This column is best read before the glow of a roaring fire (or perhaps in the harsh fluorescents of a police station interrogation chamber).  It’s me, so words will be minced with a jovial blade. But even with my hard-earned fan-boy reputation in full play, I am tempted so say, “These Red Wolves could be a little more exciting.”

Fast, Physical and “Ho Hum”

Am I implying that a 17-7 victory over the South Alabama Jaguars, of which only 10 of those points were scored offensively, is b0ring? Was it any less thrilling than Appalachian State’s joyless 24-0 oil change at Lafayette? Listen, I enjoy a 60 yard scoop-and-score as much as the next guy (thank you very much, Chris Humes), but I’m not so much a big fan of punts. Especially punts that average about 34 yards a boot. Wacky fact: against the Jaguars defense (which is quite good), only one Red Wolves offensive play exceeded 20 yards (thank you very much Blake Mack). But “a win is a win,” as we fans like to say after 17-7 victories.

Another thing fans like to say: “Defense wins championships.”

“Whooooh, we’re halfway there! Whoh-WHOH, we’re live’n on a prayer!”

Let’s review: The Red Wolves are 0-4 out of conference (including 0-1 vs the FCS), 2-0 in conference, and 1-0 vs. a team who beat a ranked program and a SEC team (but is also 0-3 in conference). Does that cover it? I think it does. Here’s something fun we can do! Let’s look at some stat progressions.

Stat Category Nat. Rank after Week 2 Nat. Rank after Week 4 Nat. Rank after Week 6 Reaction
Total Offense 117th 102nd 98th “Yay, running game!”
Rushing 112th 125th 98th “Thanks, Eagles (343) and Jags (204)!”
Passing 91st 38th 72nd Boooooooring
Total Defense 128th 118th 92nd “Back to Monster form”
Rushing Defense 127th 115th 94th “Against the Eagles!”
Passing Yards Allowed 115th 89th 79th “Against the Jaguars!”
Defensive 3rd Down Conv. 122nd 127th 117th “Still surrendering 3rd down 47% of the time”
Red Zone Offense T-117th 111th 115th “Should we be worried?” (A: Yep)
Time of Possession 116th 114th 100th “We’re a running team now, so…”
Punt Returns 7th 79th 114th “THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A STRENGTH!”
Net Punting 72nd 106th 117th “Averaging a crisp 34 yards per boot.”

As you can see, progress has been made, especially on the defensive side of the ball where the Red Wolves appear to be back to Monster form. Yes, it’s a little ego-crushing that the improvement  coincides the moment the Red Wolves started to play Sun Belt competition. Maybe A-State is built to crush, subjugate and rule the Sun Belt, I dunno.

Will the Red Wolves rule the Sun Belt again?

Yeah, that’s a pretty good point. But here are some more good points: 1) the November 17th tilt at Troy remains the stiffest challenge on the schedule, 2) until then, Red Wolves get ULM and New Mexico State at home, and play a Georgia State team that has never beaten them, and 3) Texas State and ULL look horrendous.

That’s business the Red Wolves can easily earn a cup of coffee by closing escrow and signing on the line that is dotted. What the Red Wolves cannot control is Appalachian State, also 2-0 in conference with dull victories over Georgia State and Louisiana. But the remainder of the Mountaineers’ road is a a lot rockier. Appalachian State visits Georgia Southern at the end of the month, and then faces the Trojans at Troy in mid-November.

Oh yeah. What about Troy?

Crap. I forgot about Troy. The Trojan’s decade-long slide into obscurity does that. Seeing that 3-0 Troy hosts Appalachian State and Arkansas State puts the Trojans (and their 21st ranked scoring offense) in plum position to body slam conventional wisdom and take the Sun Belt title outright. Forget the Mountaineers, Red Wolves fans. The biggest threats to Arkansas State’s Sun Belt sovereignty are Neal Brown and the Trojans.

In Conclusion: tons of excitement remains for 2016

After a sloppy, five-turnover win against Georgia Southern, and a grim battle of field position against South Alabama, it’s tempting to believe that the Red Wolves are in for a less than inspiring finish to the season. But in actuality, the drama of the season is just unfolding. Troy, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Arkansas State are combining forces to create an intriguing 4-way race for the conference title. Furthermore, the top drawer statistical analysis implies that the Red Wolves are getting stronger.

Hold on to your Sun Belt, Red Wolves fans. Unless I miss my guess, we’re in for a wild second half to the season.

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