Last summer, I ranked the top five defenses in the Sun Belt Conference. Despite winning the SBC last season and leading the nation with takeaways, I ranked the Arkansas State Red Wolves fifth. That led to a lot of Twitter heads coming out of Jonesboro, where fans and players looked down at my rankings.
But almost four months later, I look at A-State now. And I nod in confidence that my concerns about the Red Wolves’ inability to stop the pass and prevent big plays were confirmed.
The A-State defense hasn’t played well at all to start the 2016 season, ranking ninth in the Sun Belt in total defense and eighth in scoring defense.
Along with their defensive issues, the offense has been an absolute mess, and the Red Wolves find themselves at 0-4 to start the season. And worse off, A-State will have to face a very good Georgia Southern team on Wednesday night in the SBC opener for both teams.
You can say Arkansas State hit rock bottom with a home loss to Central Arkansas, an FCS team that had never beaten an FBS team before. The Bears scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 28-23 win, 15 of those UCA points came off ASU turnovers.
The Red Wolves have created only four turnovers in four games, but their offense has seven giveaways. The defense has not done well against the run (239.2 yards per game) or the pass (255.2 yards per game), with ASU giving up an average of 36 points per game.
Granted, A-State played some really good teams to start the season, facing Toledo, Auburn and Utah State. All three of those teams have really good offenses and are tough to defend. And ASU did play pretty good defense in most of those games. But that reasoning went away when Central Arkansas was able to gain 382 yards against the Red Wolves.
But the main culprit of ASU’s awful start is the offense, which has been dismal in its inability to run the ball and to get any consistent passing game going. Both Chad Voytik and Justice Hansen have been each struggling to find any rhythm in the passing game. Voytik has a 108.92 efficiency ranking (28-for-51, 349 yards, no TDs and one interception) while Hansen is a bit better, a 152.52 efficiency ranking (43-for-74, 746 yards, three TDs, four interceptions).
Meanwhile, A-State averages only 80 rushing yards per game. While Warren Wand has done well with the rock, he has not gotten any help.
Head coach Blake Anderson is going to try to hit the reset button on his team as it starts conference play. But it has a tough opponent to face while trying to change its fortunes in Georgia Southern, who has a strong and diverse offensive attack and a defense that is very good against the run.
A loss on Wednesday could put A-State in jeopardy of falling out of the Sun Belt’s top tier, as well as be in significant danger of not being bowl eligible. Arkansas State will need a complete performance from its offense and more turnovers by its defense if the Red Wolves want to show the country that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt.