Red Wolves Review: Game #1 at Nebraska

Back on August 7th, I wrote a prediction article discussing each game for the Red Wolves games in 2017 and when it came to my thoughts on the game against the ‘Huskers, here’s what I wrote….

 

“As much talk has been made about this season being a rebuilding year for the ‘Huskers, we ALLLLLL know about the struggles Arkansas State has in Out of Conference play (which we’ll discuss in more detail momentarily). While dominating UCF in the Cure Bowl certainly reminded me that it’s always possible to get that rare non conference victory, I wouldn’t be disappointed nor shocked if we see a 42-27 type score in a few weeks.”

 

…MAN! Red Wolves were SOOOOOO close to getting their first win over a P5 team since 2008.

 

But alas, despite the remarkable opening day showing Justice Hansen had, as well as the blazing speed from Blaise Taylor, Nebraska was able to make awesome special teams plays of their own (along with forcing two interceptions and scoring a TD off one of those turnovers) which ultimately helped secure the tight victory for Nebraska, 43-36. While coach Anderson made it abundantly clear he’s not one for moral victories, considering Astate’s rather bleak success against playing the power 5 teams, I for one was very very pleased with the overall performance especially offensively. Let’s Grade all three aspects of the game and look ahead to game #2 against Miami.

 

OFFENSE: A

Despite only rushing for 82 yards on the night, the Red Wolves really didn’t need to rely on the running game because the passing game virtually went uncontested all night, particularly the screens. Hansen wound up setting a new school record for completions made, ending the game with 46 completions out of 68 attempts for 415 yards, three touchdowns and 2 picks. Kendrick Edwards first game as a Red Wolves was certainly a big time debut as the former Razorback hauled in eight receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown (his longest catch for nearly 40 yards). The big storyline heading into the game for the offense was the offensive line, and whether the relatively young and inexperienced group would be able to hang with Nebraska. While some maybe would’ve liked to have seen more production out of the running game (and they did give up a safety late in the 4th to push the Cornhuskers lead to 43-29 at that point in the game) on the flip side they were pretty much able to protect Justice for majority of the game, giving up only 1 sack. In past seasons, Arkansas State has had a rather bad tendency to start off rather sluggish in season debut games, so to see the offense put up nearly 500 yards, 36 points and have a chance to force overtime against a traditional power like Nebraska is very promising going forward in ’17.

 

DEFENSE: C+

What was rather surprising seeing the defense play somewhat inconsistently, as this was supposed to be one of the stronger units in the league. To further compound this aspect was Nebraska’s quarterback Tanner Lee-who many assumed it would take a while for him to get settled after his somewhat iffy performance during his time at Tulane-who instead had a very solid night against the Red Wolves secondary, completing 19/32 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns (no picks). His offensive line provided pretty solid protection for him as well, as Lee was only sacked once Saturday night as well. Perhaps the most troubling stat defensively of the night for the Red Wolves was the rushing yards surrendered to Nebraska–225. The majority of those yards came courtesy of Tre Bryant, who scrambled for 192 yards and a score (perhaps the most negative aspect of those numbers is considering the fact the sophomore running back only tallied 172 total yards last season). Regardless, the defense certainly bent but didn’t break and was able to all around help keep the game from getting too far out of reach. With that said, if Arkansas State is going to have a shot at defeating Miami defensively the performance has to improve from what we saw in Lincoln Saturday.

 

(astateredwolves.com)

 

SPECIAL TEAMS: C+

Had to think about this one for a little bit because on one hand, Blaise Taylor kicked off his senior season with a huge BANG after recovering his own fumble and proceeded to juke and jive and haul 63 yards for the punt return for a touchdown, which the Red Wolves their first lead of the night 7-3 (keep in mind BT is currently chasing the league’s all time punt return and returns for TD record which is held by former Troy return man Leodis McKelvin). With the big time play taken into account, this now puts Taylors punt return touchdown total to four and only needs three more to tie McKelvin’s record of 7 (he still has a ways to go to catch up to McKelvins career return yards of 1,471). As spectacular as that was, it was shadowed literally within minutes as Astate gave up a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, handing the lead right back to Nebraska 10-7. To make the grading more complicated, after getting the back to within 7 late in the 4th, Arkansas State came up with the improbable onside kick recovery! Had Arkansas State been able to get the tying score as a result from the onside kick, easily could’ve boosted up the grade but unfortunately the Red Wolves came up short. So, while Arkansas State was able to do everything we pointed out as well as successfully make all their PAT attempts and kick two field goals, the touchdown given up on the Kickoff would really come back to haunt Astate in the grand scheme of things, which is why I wound up giving the unit the grade of “C+”.

 

Bonus Points: Nebraska Student Section A+++

 

Earlier last week, there had been rumblings the Nebraska student section known as “The Iron N” was planning some type of sign to Blake Anderson’s wife Wendy as she recovered from her battle with breast cancer and as you can see from their twitter post above, they didn’t disappoint. Definite mad props and solid ‘A’ infinity plus grade for the incredibly thoughtful gesture.

 

THOUGHTS GOING FORWARD 

(pinterest.com)

Gotta say it was probably the 2009 lost to then ranked #13 Iowa 24-21, that I’ve felt this great coming off an Astate defeat. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still areas of improvement that need to happen and happen pretty quick if the Red Wolves are going to have a shot at beating the Hurricanes Saturday–there’s got to be more production from the running game and hopefully a 100% healthy Dee Liner will make his first start of the season and help lead the defensive line to generate more pressure than what we saw last week (and of course not giving up another kickoff return for a touchdown not only would be great, but I think pretty doable). With that said, we haven’t seen an Astate offense come out with so much pop right out of the gate in a long, long time and there were some tremendous individual performances that should make any Arkansas State fan excited as we continue along in 2017. While Miami head coach Mark Richt has already been telling media there’s no way he or his Hurricanes are going to be overlooking Arkansas State after the performance they delivered last Saturday, remember the ‘Canes do have a looming date in week three against their bitter arch rivals Florida State. If there ever was a quintessential scenario for a trap game…

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