The Arkansas State Red Wolves likely don’t have the horses to run with Alabama for sixty minutes on Saturday, but make no mistake: this isn’t your typical cupcake. Last season, the Wolves finished #44 in F/+, ahead of many Power Five programs, and S&P+ loved the offense in particular with a #19 ranking. Bill Connelly’s outstanding preview will give you the details, but here are the names to know. They return a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but it all runs through the signal caller.
#15 Justice Hansen, Sr.
A former four-star prospect who signed with Oklahoma out of high school, Hansen arrived at Arkansas State as a juco transfer in 2016 and has started since the third game of his sophomore season. He is primarily an explosive pocket passer, completing 62.6% of his passes last season for just under 4000 passing yards and 37 TDs but has plenty of athleticism and isn’t afraid to take off as evidenced by his 400+ rushing yards and seven additional TDs. If the Tide’s young secondary has any lapses in communication, Hansen is good enough to burn them running the wide open spread offense that the Red Wolves are known for.
The Wolves bring plenty of backfield experience to the table with seniors Warren Wand (above) and the spectacularly named Armond Weh-Weh. The two are quite different in build, with the diminutive Wand checking in at 5’5” and 184 lbs. while Weh-Weh is listed at 6’0”, 210. Talk about your thunder and lightning.
Wand has the most experience of the bunch, racking up 715 yards on the ground in 2017 to go with 145 receiving and seven total TDs. Weh-Weh has been a bit player until this season, and freshman Marcel Murray is likely to see some action as well. To be frank, the Wolves really only run the ball to keep defenses honest, and the vast majority of the carries are zone read RPOs.
The Wolves had 12 different players catch a pass in their season opening win over SE Missouri State, but the names to know are the very tall 6’6” Justin McInnis (above), 6’3” Omar Bayless, and 6’5” Kendrick Edwards. Needless to say, these guys can present matchup problems for most any secondary, particularly in the red zone. None were starters last season, but they still managed to combine for 119 catches and 1,673 yards. Javonis Isaac is the starting tight end and has only three career catches, but he did get loose for a 57-yarder last weekend.
This is the kind of offense that can drive a defense crazy. The epitome of “basketball on grass,” a skilled senior QB makes reads on the fly to use a defender’s choices against him. The key to stopping this type of scheme is, of course, dominating at the line of scrimmage and playing disciplined assignment football. Linebackers have to maintain depth and not get caught chasing the QB at the mesh point lest he complete short crosses behind him, as we saw happen to the Tide LBs against Louisville a few times. This should be a great test for a young back seven and fine warm-up for the SEC opener in two weeks against a potent Ole Miss offense running a similar scheme.