2012 Arkansas State Preview

Posted Aug 11, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Araknsas State Red Wolves

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Gus Malzahn
1st year
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 31, Def. 17, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 26
Ten Best ASU Players
1. QB Ryan Aplin, Sr.
2. WR Josh Jarboe, Sr.
3. WR Taylor Stockemer, Sr.
4. LB Nathan Herrold, Sr.
5. SS Don Jones, Sr.
6. OT Zack McKnight, Sr.
7. CB Chaz Scales, Sr.
8. DT Ryan Carrethers, Jr.
9. RB Frankie Jackson, Soph.
10. DE Ishmail Hayes, Jr.

Unit Rankings
QB - 7
RB - 5
WR - 6
OL - 5
DL - 5
LB - 5
DB - 4.5
ST - 7.5
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 at Oregon
Sep. 8 Memphis
Sep. 15 at Nebraska
Sep. 22 Alcorn State
Sep. 29 WKU
Oct. 4 at FIU
Oct. 13 South Alabama
Oct. 23 at Louisiana
Nov. 3 at North Texas
Nov. 8 ULM
Nov. 17 at Troy
Dec. 1 Middle Tenn.
It's sort of amazing how much everything seemed to change considering Arkansas State came up with just one winning season from 1990 to 2010.

ASU has had its moments coming up with a big 2005 season and a few 6-6 campaigns, but it's not like the program has been a conference superpower like North Texas and Troy were when those two were rocking and rolling. The Red Wolves had one really good season that crashed with a resounding thud, losing to Northern Illinois 38-20 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, and now it's acting like it's the king of the Sun Belt castle.

It might be.

There's a good chance that last season was a jumping off point for a program that did wonders in that one big year under Hugh Freeze, and that's because it pulled off a major coup getting Gus Malzahn to take over, considering no one would've been surprised if he turned out to be the main man at Arkansas after the Bobby Petrino scandal. While he's talking like he wants to build something big, it will be a bit of a shocker if he's around for too long if he has any sort of success. However, even if the Red Wolves get him for one year like Freeze, that might be enough to keep the momentum going.

Everything clicked at once with an offense that led the Sun Belt in scoring, passing, and yards, and an ultra-aggressive defense that led the way in sacks and tackles for loss. The two losses came to the BCS conference teams on the schedule – Illinois and Virginia Tech – and after a couple of Sun Belt battles over the first half of the season, everything kicked in and the team was unstoppable in blowout after blowout until the bowl game. But as good as ASU might have been last year, the expectations are even higher for Malzahn.

The offense should keep on rocking with Ryan Aplin one of the Sun Belt's best quarterbacks and offensive playmakers, but he has to work behind a retooled line with three starters gone. The receiving corps should be tremendous and the ground game should be good enough to give Aplin a little bit of help.

The D that was so good at getting into the backfield and so disruptive needs to replace three starters up front and loses both starting corners, but there's a good influx of talent coming in from the JUCO ranks and the shelves are stocked with decent prospects ready to step up and shine.

The Sun Belt overall is far stronger than it was a few years ago, but ASU has had a lot to do with that. Don't expect the production to slow down under Malzahn, but it's going to be asking for too much to go 10-2 again in the regular season.

What You Need To Know About The ...

Offense: Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee don't have to do much tinkering with the league's No. 1 scoring offense, total offense and passing offense running a hurry-up spread attack. Quarterback Ryan Aplin is the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year coming off a huge season as both a passer and the team's top runner. The hope was for Auburn transfer Michael Dyer to be eligible for 2013, but he was booted off the team so it'll be up to Frankie Jackson and Sirgregory Thornton to use their speed to take the heat off of Aplin. Despite the loss of 94-catch star Dwayne Frampton the receiving corps is terrific with Josh Jarboe and Taylor Stockemer two solid veterans. The line isn't a problem, but it's not a major plus with three new starters working around guard Cliff Mitchell and tackle Zack McKnight on the right side.

Defense: The offense got all the limelight but the defense was almost as strong last year leading the Sun Belt in sacks and tackles for loss. Now there's some work to do for defensive coordinator John Thompson with just four starters returning and some gaping losses in the front seven. 310-pound Ryan Carrethers is a good nose tackle to work things around, but it's going to take some time and a few JUCO talents to get the pass rush rolling from the outside. Linebacker Nathan Herrold is the team's leading returning tackler coming off an all-star season, but it will be a fight for the other two spots and the defense will more often than not go to a 4-2-5 alignment using a third safety. The secondary loses both starting corners but gets back a good pair of tackling safeties with Don Jones and Sterling Young to lead the defensive backfield.

What to watch for on offense: The emergence of the running backs. The no-huddle Malzahn spread likes to get the passing game going, but it also does a great job of getting the running backs involved. Aplin will likely be the main option after leading the team with 588 yards and ten scores, but unlike the last few years, the backs will get more and more work with Frankie Jackson a smallish speed back with the ability to tear off big runs in chunks, and junior Sirgregory Thornton will provide pop as both a runner and a receiver. With Michael Dyer out of the equation, Jackson and Thornton will be the ground game for the next few years without looking over their shoulders.

What to watch for on defense: Revamping the defensive line. The ASU front four was fantastic throughout last season but top pass rusher Brandon Joiner and his 13 sacks and tackle Dorvus Woods is done from the inside. Ryan Carrethers is a big nose tackle to start with, but the D will rely on several key JUCO transfers to beef up with Ishmail Hayes supposed to take over one of the end jobs and 283-pound Dexter Blackmon working on the inside. The depth is coming from the junior colleges as well, and there's a chance ASU could keep on rolling without skipping a beat.

The team will be far better if … the running game works. Aplin and the passing game will be more than fine, but it's not as effective when the ground attack isn't helping the cause. The Red Wolves failed to hit the 100-yard rushing mark five times last season. Three of those games were losses – 60 against Illinois, 64 against Virginia Tech and 28 against Northern Illinois – and the other two were the lone Sun Belt close calls against WKU and ULM. When ASU ran for 100 yards or more it went 8-0 winning seven of them by double digits and beating ULL by nine.

The schedule: Like last season there are two games against BCS teams, and they're not likely winnable going against Oregon and Nebraska early on away from home. On the plus side, the other non-conference games against Memphis and Alcorn State are winnable. Going to FIU, Louisiana and Troy are going to be tough to deal with in the Sun Belt, but getting WKU and Middle Tennessee at home is a huge break. There's a rough stretch of three road games at four, but at least the Red Wolves get a week off to prepare for the trip to North Texas. Getting two weeks to prepare for Middle Tennessee will help.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Ryan Aplin. After earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors as a sophomore, Aplin came up with an even stronger season leading the team with 588 rushing yards and ten scores while completing 54% of his passes for 3,588 yards and 19 touchdowns on the way to winning Sun Belt Player of the Year honors. He's only 6-1 and 205 pounds, but he's extremely quick and he's tough; he can take a hit. Cutting down on interceptions is a must after giving away 16 last year including three in the loss to NIU in the bowl and going just two games without throwing one, but he's smart, accurate and the unquestioned team leader.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Nathan Herrold. The 6-3, 235-pound weakside linebacker is the team's leading returning tackler making 66 stops with 1.5 sacks with a broken up pass, and while he needs to do more against the pass, he's active against the run and he can play anywhere will start out the season playing an even bigger role in the middle. While he has had knee issues, he's a terrific tackler with great range and hitting ability.

Key player to a successful season: Junior OT Aaron Williams. The right side of the ASU offensive line should be more than fine with tackle Zack McKnight and guard Cliff Mitchell two all-star caliber blockers, but the left side is going to be an issue needing to replace Delano Moore at tackle and Alex Kautai at guard. Williams might be more of a guard, but he's going to get a long look at the all-important left tackle spot. The 6-5, 324-pounder is a JUCO transfer with nice upside, but he has to show he can handle the speed rushers.

The season will be a success if … the Red Wolves win the Sun Belt title. After such a strong and dominant run for the conference championship anything less than another championship will be a major disappointment. This might not be the league's best team, but the offense is going to rock again and the defense should be more than fine once the JUCO transfers get their feet wet. The expectations are there, and that's a good thing.

Key game: September 29 vs. WKU. After going unbeaten last year in Sun Belt play, the Red Wolves have to come out roaring in the opener against one of the favorites for the conference title. With a road date at FIU coming up and with other away games against Louisiana and Troy to deal with, losing to the Hilltoppers will be a disaster. Last season, the Red Wolves won 26-22 after losing 36-35 two years ago. It should be another great showdown.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 4th Quarter Scoring: Arkansas State 118 – Opponents 41
- Penalties: Arkansas State 90 for 785 yards – Opponents 79 for 620 yards
- Punt Return Average: Arkansas State 8.4 yards – Opponents 3.8 yards
- 2011 Arkansas State Depth Chart