Arkansas State Red Wolves (0-1, 0-0) vs. Auburn Tigers (0-1, 0-0)
DATE, TIME & PLACE: September 10, 6:30 PM CST at Jordan Hare Stadium
WHERE YOU CAN WATCH: SEC Network
ODDS: Arkansas State +19, 4.3% FPI
Listen, y’all, Arkansas State was soundly thumped by the Toledo Rockets at home Friday night. But panicking is for chumps and losers. As you’re all well aware, Arkansas State is the incumbent Sun Belt football champion, so we’re not going to waste valuable time wondering why the quarterback had one more rushing attempt (Chad Voytik, 18) than the team’s two lead running backs combined (Warren Wand and Armond Weh-Weh, 17), or why two of the team’s most talented wide receivers (Cameron Echols-Luper and Kendall Sanders) were targeted a grand total total of six times.
We’re not going to ask questions without answers. It doesn’t worry us at all that the “monster defense” registered zero sacks against the Rockets. Or that, by the staff’s own estimation, the defense allowed 176 yards after contact. We’re going to ignore the admittedly concerning fact that eight plays were “thrown off by bad snaps.” It’s all meaningless.
Sometimes, you lose games. Sometimes, you’re not even all that competitive. The match-ups are inconvenient, or the opponent is under estimated, or there’s a conspiracy afoot. Whatever. That was Week One. We’re now in Week Two.
It’s time to focus on playing the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference.
When Last These Titans Met
The year was 2013, and just by happy happenstance, head coach Gus Malzahn was freshly poached by Auburn from the Red Wolves, giving A-State an opportunity to extract a measure of revenge at Jordan Hare. It was not to be. For the sake of pure absurdity, the Red Wolves received 15-yard penalties to start each half because their dark gray and red jerseys did not have enough contrast. OUR JERSEY’S WERE TOO GRAY, YOU GUYS! Anyway, A-State lost 38-9.
How The Red Wolves Are Gonna Beat The Tigers
Basically, Arkansas State must do the exact opposite of what was executed in Jonesboro on Friday evening. That means no botched snaps, fewer quarterback draws, more involvement from the running backs, and a deeper and more dedicated devotion to wrapping up tackles.
It wasn’t a complete clown car in Jonesboro last week. The Red Wolves defense actually held the vaunted Toledo running game in check while collecting a pair of turnovers. Warren Wand and Armond Weh-Weh averaged about six yards per carry. J.D. Houston restored faith in the placekicking with a 43-yard boot, and punter Damon Foncham averaged better than 42-yards per punt in 5 tries. The team has skillz, yo.
Listen, Arkansas State can pull this off. And I’m going to give you three solid reasons why.
1. The Clemson Tigers already did most of the work
Let’s face it. The entire off-season on The Plains was about playing Clemson. Auburn (and its fans) expended nearly its last full measure of devotion in limiting Deshuan Watson and the Clemson offense to 19 points in the season opener. The Red Wolves slide in Jordan Hare on Saturday to face a team still waking up in the middle of the night screaming Mike Williams’ name.
2. The Tigers do not have their crap together
You think Arkansas State’s quarterback situation is as reliable as a Yugoslavian economy car? At one point during the Clemson/Auburn game, Gus Malzahn rolled out three quarterbacks in the span of six plays. That’s cray-cray, Gus. And it’s the kind of cray-cray Blake Anderson and crew can exploit.
3. Auburn is a seething camp of discord!
Apparently, Auburn linebacker TJ Neal was not amused by the amount of playing time he saw against Clemson, and he took to Twitter to express his chagrin. That’s not great, though Neal did smooth things over with a public apology.
“Disgruntled players” is the kind of distraction that Yoda would (eventually) say “leads to a loss against the Red Wolves.”
The Man Who Would Be Alpha Dog: QB Chad Voytik
Against Toledo, Chad Voytik was a frustrating 11 of 24 for 124 yards (which included this 83-yard gem to Blake Mack) and zero passing TDs. He also took 3 sacks. But it wasn’t all bad. Voytik took care of the ball, and he rumbled for the aforementioned 18 times, gaining 20 yards on one scamper. Blake Anderson is still leaving the door open for Justice Hansen, but for now, Voytik is mostly the man. And he has to be The Man if the Red Wolves are to find the tiny chinks in Auburn’s stout defense.
Tiger to Tame: DL Carl Lawson
Linebackers Darrell Williams and Deshaun Davis had a terrific game against Clemson, but All-SEC defensive end Carl Lawson (6’2″, 260) was the game’s highest rated performer with three tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries. For Voytik to become the Alpha Wolf, the A-State offensive line must find away to keep Carl Lawson of his scent.
A Quote That Could Be Interpreted as Classic Gamesmanship or Vigorous Brake Pumping
“This is not a great game to build confidence. (Auburn’s) defensive line is one of the best, if not the best. We will not have a speed advantage anywhere. We will have some who will match up, but no advantage.” – Coach Blake Anderson
Red Wolves Injury Report
Bruising running back Johnston “Silky” White is not expected to suit up (ankle injury) leaving Warren Wand, Armond Weh-Weh, and possibly redshirt sophomore Logan Moragne with the rumbling duties.
Also, defensive lineman Robert Mondie is expected to return, and OL Colton Jackson is expected to shake off a minor injury, too.
Oh yeah, there’s also this:
Whatever. Surely the coaching staff is exaggerating.
Quote That Reminds Us That Auburn Is A Bit of a Grease Fire Right Now
“Auburn’s offense had its worst first half, perhaps, of any team coached by Gus Malzahn over the last 26 years. Thirty-eight yards, including 1 yard rushing, is absolutely atrocious no matter how you try to spin it. The three-quarterback system with two more players taking snaps in the Wildcat formation proved to be a disaster, and Malzahn has said he plans to whittle things down this week for Arkansas State.” – Brandon Marcello of AuburnUndercover:
Three Keys To Victory
1. The new guys have gotta click.
Red Wolves fans fell in love with the recruiting stars and the eye-popping tangibles, but before the JUCO newbies and transfers can shine as individuals, they must gel as a team. As Anderson said in the post game, “It’s about each guy taking ownership of his specific job on each play.” Guys need to make tackles, run crisp routes, and execute basic functions like snaps and assignments.
2. Blake Anderson and Buster Faulkner need an evolving (and brilliant) game plan.
Whatever the plan was going into Toledo, it didn’t work. Not taking anything away from Rockets head coach Jason Candle, but Gus Malzahn is a certified (and possibly insane) Xs and Os genius. Faulkner will need to rebound and adjust, possibly between possessions, if the Red Wolves are to prevail.
3. The defense must find its inner-monster
Joe Cauthen’s defense is about taking big risks and reaping bigger rewards. Against Toledo, ball-swiping gambles didn’t pay off, resulting in big gains for Rockets after the first point of contact. The Arkansas State secondary isn’t a shut-down unit. The Red Wolves front line, led by Dee Liner and Waylon Roberson, must become as beastly as advertised to give the corners and safeties opportunities to create turnovers.
Enough of your stalling! Give us your prediction!
Worst Case Scenario: a seething Gus Malzahn takes offense to the criticism of his offense and dedicates himself to scoring 100 points on the Red Wolves. But I’m betting on the Best Case Scenario:a humbled but furious Arkansas State team upsets a completely zonked Auburn team, deepening Tammy’s well-spoken chagrin and restoring balance to the Red Wolves’ season. Arkansas State 21, Auburn 17
In Week 3, Arkansas State plays another Friday night game, this time in Logan, Utah against the Aggies of Utah State.