Red Wolves Have Another New Coach. Will it Mean Another Title?
(This is the eighth in a series previewing Sun Belt Conference teams as well as the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns non conference opponents. Today: Arkansas State. The Cajuns host the Red Wolves in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 Tuesday, October 21st.)
If you’re one of those fans who thinks stability in the coaching staff is everything in college football, don’t look at what Arkansas State has done lately.
2011-First year head coach Hugh Freeze wins the Sun Belt—and is hired by Ole Miss
2012-First year head coach Gus Malzahn wins the Sun Belt—and is hired by Auburn
2013—First year head coach Bryan Harsin wins the Sun Belt—and is hired by Boise State
The Red Wolves will be looking for their fourth straight title and bowl bid—with another new head coach.
Blake Anderson, who spent a year as the offensive coordinator at UL before leaving for Southern Mississippi and then North Carolina is the new head man for the Red Wolves…and has already said he plans to not be a one-year wonder.
Anderson is walking into a pretty good situation, with plenty of veterans who are used to winning.
Fredi Knighten came off the bench last year to lead ASU to a couple of wins, including a last minute drive against Ball State in the godaddy.com bowl. He’ll be the signal caller for ASU. Knighten threw for only 213 yards but rushed for 344 and five scores. Michael Gordon started the year as the backup to David Oku but wound up leading the club in rushing with 754 yards and ten touchdowns. He’s back to anchor the running game. J. D. McKissick was the possession receiver for ASU a year ago and caught 81 passes, but for only 860 yards. ASU lost two good receivers in Julian Jones and Allen Muse. Darion Griswold returns at TE where he was a second team all-SBC selection. ASU got hit on the offensive line. C Bryce Giddens had to give up football because of multiple concussions. That leaves tackle Colton Jackson and JUCO transfer via South Carolina Kyle Harris to man the load up front.
The defensive line took a hard hit as well. Chris Stone returns at DE, but overall, Arkansas State lost six of their top ten linemen. Dexter Blackmon and Chris Odom have some experience, but All-league Ryan Carrethers. But after that, there are a lot of veterans. MLB Qushan Lee is the pre-season Defensive Player of the Year and he’ll get plenty of help at linebacker from Frankie Jackson and A. J. Turner. Everyone in the defensive backfield returns, including all SBC CB Rocky Hayes and second team FS Sterling Young. If they get their questions answered up front, this will be a pretty salty group.
Arkansas State does not play Georgia Southern or Troy in 2014. Their non conference schedule is formidable, with trips to Tennessee and Miami (FL) as well as a home game against Utah State. They open league play at home against ULM, but then play three straight conference games on the road. They have to travel to San Marcos to play Texas State, but they get South Alabama at home. And, again this year, their game against Louisiana is nationally televised on ESPN2 on a Tuesday night.
OUTLOOK: By now, Arkansas State shouldn’t be fazed by a new head coach and new staff. They’ve shown they can make the adjustment. Defensively, this is a solid, veteran unit in the back seven. Offensively, Arkansas State has questions, particularly at wide receiver and the offensive line. But Anderson is an offensive guy and he’ll have a plan for these guys. Last year, Arkansas State got a share of the title thanks to their defense. The defense will have to carry them again, especially early on as the offensive line matures. But, new coach or not, it’s a pretty safe bet ASU is going to be there at the end.