You know how this works by now. I asked some questions about Arkansas State to our friends and Underdog Dynasty, and Josh was kind enough to give me some responses. We can now consider ourselves all the wiser on all things Red Wolves.
Brent: Assume pretty much all of us snobby SEC school folk probably know absolutely nothing about Arkansas State, other than the fact that it seems like everyone that gets kicked off of Auburn goes there. If you had to highlight one player on your team to showcase, who would it be, and why?
Josh: I’d love to make this an under-the-radar fancy selection, but success for the Red Wolves begins and ends with senior quarterback Justice Hansen.
He is the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year, who set single-season team and conference records last year for passing touchdowns (37), total touchdowns responsible for (44) and total offense (4,389 yards).
Justice is a former Oklahoma four-star commit. He is athletic enough to make plays when they break down and has a nose for the first down marker.
He will need his athleticism and mobility to buy time against a formidable front like Alabama has.
Brent: What kind of offense does Arkansas State run? More importantly, how well do they execute it?
Josh: They pass to set up more passing. Arkansas State likes to play with pace and
The Red Wolves best running back is 5’5” Warren Wand, who has shown flashes, but make no mistake, this is a pass first, pass second offense.
Hansen has nice chemistry with most of his receivers returning from last year. He threw six touchdowns in the opener, but SE Missouri St. is a far cry from an accurate measurement.
Still, they move the ball between the 20s efficiently and had the fifth best passing offense in all of FBS last season.
This Saturday, it will all be about that offensive line trying to keep the Tide defensive front at bay long enough. If Hansen can get some semblance of time, they will put a few scores on the board—even against Alabama.
But that “if” about the O-line is enormous.
Brent: What is the best unit of your defense, defensive line, linebackers, or secondary? What is the weakest?
Josh: Last year, I would have said the defensive line. However, after losing the graduating Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who had 26 sacks the past two seasons and was a constant disruption in offensive backfields.
I give an edge to their secondary based on experience. Senior safety Justin Clifton and junior safety B.J. Edmonds are solid playmakers. Their corners do need more seasoning, but the athleticism is there.
Of the three units, linebacker is where the most questions exist. Tajhea Chambers, Caleb Bonner and Trent Ellis-Brewer are nice pieces, but a bigger sample size of work is needed before fans can feel better at that level of defense.
Brent: What are the general expectations for the season for you guys? Is your fan base excited about the potential for the team? Or a little more pessimistic? What do you predict your final record will be?
Josh: Anything short of a Sun Belt title would be a disappointment for stAte.
The Sun Belt has instituted divisions for the first time this year. They are in the East, while the heaviest competition for the conference championship is Appalachian State and Troy, both of whom are in the West.
I think the fan base is excited for redemption after falling just short of a third straight conference title last season. I also believe his fan base is sure that it is the best team in the state of Arkansas (and I think they might be right).
I believe, when the dust settles, they finish 9-3 and are wearing the conference’s inaugural belt.
Did I mention the winner of the Sun Belt gets an actual belt?
Sun Belt 1, SEC 0 when it comes to trophies, at the very least.
Brent: I usually try to sound too homerish, but, well, this is Alabama vs. a small school. It is what it is. That said, based on your knowledge/perception of the Alabama program, what particular matchup do you think Arkansas State has the best chance to exploit?
Josh: Receivers in the red zone and on short yardage.
The Red Wolves have impact wide receivers, most of whom are very tall targets: Justin McInnis (6’6”), Dahu Green (6’5”), Omar Bayless (6’3”), Jonathan Adams Jr. (6’3”).
I imagine the Crimson Tide corners will try to be as physical as possible with these guys to try and negate their height advantage. If Arkansas State wants to have any shot of putting points on the board, these targets will have to use their tall frames to win some jump balls.
They will also need Oregon/Texas A&M transfer Kirk Merritt (not quite as tall) to get separation with his speed to give the passing attack more balance.