Arkansas State (6-5, 6-1) v Texas State (2-9, 0-7)
Saturday, December 3rd, 6:30 PM CST at Bobcat Stadium
You Can Watch This Game On: ESPN2 (surprise!)
Wagering (as if!): -23 Red Wolves, 8.8% FPI Bobcats
The Red Wolves
completely blew missed an opportunity to become sole Sun Belt Champions last Saturday by allowing the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns to break Arkansas State’s 2-year Sun Belt win streak. Such is life! One does not enter Sun Belt play and expect to just roll like Lord Humungous. I mean, come on. This is the Sun Belt, bro, and anybody is capable of delivering a death stroke.
Take the Bobcats, for example, winless in conference but an okay 2-2 out of conference with a surprise win over MAC East champion Ohio. Texas State, under new management with head coach Everett Withers, is doing that thing where the program has to sink to total horribleness in order to someday become pretty good. But right now, the Bobcats are terrible, ranking 118th in total defense and 125th in total offense. It would appear that Texas State is doomed to allow Arkansas State a share of the Sun Belt title.
Except, this is the Sun Belt (bro)!
What’s up with the Cats?
Last season, Texas State grew bored with NCAA journeyman Dennis Franchione and fired him after a defense-free 3-9 season. In comes Everett Withers, who is a former Eddie Robinson FCS Coach of the Year candidate after guiding the James Madison Dukes to the playoffs in 2013. Withers first order of business was to bring back a winning culture to San Marcos.
That hasn’t been easy. After a magical 56-54 win over Ohio, Texas State was outscored 106-6 by Arkansas and Houston, and they have played exactly two competitive games since – one a 48-17 win against Incarnate Word and the second a 40-34 loss to ULM. The Bobcat defense surrenders 40 points a game to Sun Belt foes, while the offense only manages 14. Tyler Jones, a seasoned senior who tossed 22 TDs in 2014, is the second-lowest rated starter in the Sun Belt with only 11 touchdowns. The defense, once a strength of the program, is now without any significant playmakers and giving up 482 yards a game.
So really nothing’s up with the Cats. All Bobcats fans can do is hope Withers can recruit (and the commitment of highly rated DE prospect Jakharious Smith seems to suggest that he can).
What’s the dealio, Dogs?
The Red Wolves alarming inability to convert in the Red Zone ultimately cost Arkansas State an outright Sun Belt championship, when A-State fell to the Cajuns 24-19 in Lafayette. While Blake Anderson’s squad improved significantly in nearly all facets once conference play began, red zone conversions remained woefully horrible. Hey, here’s a chart!
|Stat Category||Rank: W2||Rank: W4||Rank: W6||Rank: W8||Rank: W 10||Rank: W 12||Reaction|
|Total Offense||117th||102nd||98th||89th||88th||76th||Not great but not bad.|
|Rushing||112th||125th||98th||101st||108th||103rd||Never got off the ground.|
|Passing||91st||38th||72nd||56th||55th||50th||Hansen puts up numbers.|
|Total Defense||128th||118th||92nd||77th||68th||51st||Red Wolves rank 27th for total sacks.|
|Rushing Defense||127th||115th||94th||86th||76th||51st||Solid work.|
|Passing Yards Allowed||115th||89th||79th||65th||67th||67th||Secondary still gives up big plays|
|Defensive 3rd Down Conv.||122nd||127th||117th||115th||71st||41st||Went from ass to badass.|
|Red Zone Offense||T-117th||111th||115th||84th||100th||114th||That’s not good.|
|Time of Possession||116th||114th||100th||100th||99th||76th||(shrugs)|
|Punt Returns||7th||79th||114th||120th||73rd||92nd||Very disappointing.|
|Net Punting||72nd||106th||117th||114th||77th||81st||Poor field position a problem all year.|
Good news for the Red Wolves: the Texas State Bobcats rank dead last in college football for red zone defense. Something has to give, and it’s likely going to be that soft Bobcats defensive line.
Don’t assume the Sun Belt championship splits three ways
So, you can say that the Red Wolves Sun Belt win streak wasn’t popular with everyone in the conference, and when Arkansas State fell to Louisiana, two fan bases in particular were pretty jolly.
Congrats to Appalachian State and Troy! Many assumed that the Red Wolves would take care of business in Lafayette and San Marcus, and that a second consecutive Sun Belt trophy would be mailed to Jonesboro. Nope! The Cajuns’ upset reminds us that nothing is a given in college football! Troy ventures to Statesboro this Saturday to take on Georgia Southern, who still has enough winning muscle-memory to upend the Trojans. And never forget, before Louisiana upset the apple cart, it was Texas State who last defeated the Red Wolves in conference. The only team in the Belt with a guaranteed share of the trophy is Appalachian State, who’d love to be rewarded by Mistress Chaos.
Cat to Catch: Stedman Mayberry (RB)
The Bobcats most productive wide receiver, Elijah King, scored two TDs against Ohio and hasn’t seen the endzone since. That leaves Mayberry, sophomore running back (5’10”, 189lbs), as the offensive threat for Texas State. Mayberry isn’t heating up the Sun Belt, but he does provide at steady 3.9 yards per carry and some production in the pass game (41 receptions for 321 yards). With signal caller Tyler Jones having already absorbed a merciless 33 sacks on the year, look for Stedman to get a steady dose of rock.
Dog(s) to Pound: Chris Odom and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (DEs)
This week, Chris Odom and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones were named to the 2016 Hendricks Award Watch List, given annually to the nation’s top defensive end. The tandem were the only two teammates to make the list. Coach Anderson was stoked.
The two have absolutely looted the Sun Belt, dropping quarterbacks and creating havoc behind the line of scrimmage. The Bobcat offensive line is among the softest in the nation, having given up 36 sacks (3.27 per game). Odom and Rolland-Jones will feast on Saturday.
History repeats itself?
The last time Arkansas State concluded the season with Texas State, the Red Wolves wound up hoisting the conference trophy (that was mailed to the Arkansas State Athletic Department from the Sun Belt). Now the Bobcats face the prospect of consecutive seasons of enduring a Red Wolves championship celebration. (However, seeing anyone celebrate in Bobcat Stadium might be a novel experience.)
Rolland-Jones still has some records to bust
Ja’Von Rolland-Jones is already the Sun Belt all-time sack leader with 28 career takedowns. With 11 sacks on the year, the junior defensive end needs two sacks to tie A-State’s season record (Brandon Joiner, 13 in 2011) and three sacks to tie the Sun Belt season record (Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, 14 in 2010).
Catch the Bobcats game and win some sweet swag
The future of Texas State looks not bad
With success lacking on the gridiron, Withers is finding victories on the recruiting trail. The Bobcats have secured the 76th ranked recruiting class, and it includes the program’s QB of the future, 3-star Jaylen Gipson. With more than 40 freshman on the roster, Withers is starting a program nearly from scratch. Steady recruiting could have the Bobcats contending soon.
Come on. Who wins?
Gertrude Stein once said that the problem with her hometown of Oakland was that “there is no there there.” There’s no there in San Marcos right now. No offense. No defense. Just some decent punting from Lumi Kabi, who gets a ton of practice. It’s difficult not to believe that the ESPN 2 broadcast ends with Red Wolves dancing with the Sun Belt trophy in Bobcat Stadium. But then again, the Sun Belt has proven us wrong again and again and again.