2014 CFN Preview - Arkansas State Red Wolves
Arkansas State WR J.D. McKissic
Arkansas State WR J.D. McKissic
Posted Jul 16, 2014

Preview 2014 - Another year, another new coach. Will it mean another Sun Belt title? (Getty Images)

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Blake Anderson
1st year
Lettermen Returning:
Off. 21, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 25
Ten Best ASU Players
1. LB Qushaun Lee, Sr.
2. CB Rocky Hayes, Jr.
3. FS Sterling Young, Sr.
4. CB Artez Brown, Sr.
5. LB A.J. Turner, Soph.
6. WR/KR J.D. McKissic, Jr.
7. LB Kyle Coleman, Sr.
8. RB Michael Gordon, Jr.
9. TE Darion Griswold, Jr.
10. DE Chris Stone, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Montana State
Sep. 6 at Tennessee
Sep. 13 at Miami
Sep. 20 Utah State
Oct. 4 ULM
Oct. 11 at Georgia State
Oct. 21 at Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 1 at Idaho
Nov. 8 South Alabama
Nov. 15 Appalachian State
Nov. 20 at Texas State
Nov. 29 New Mexico State

As long as the production keeps coming, who cares if the coaches keep on rotating in?

Give Arkansas State credit for knowing how to get top-shelf coaches, losing Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss, Gus Malzahn to Auburn, and now Bryan Harsin to Boise State after each just put in one year of service, and now it’s Blake Anderson’s time.

Known for his skills as an offensive coordinator and a quarterback developer, Anderson is the new whiz kid, but he has to run his own show now and he has to prove that he can keep the momentum going despite never being a head coach. He has a lot to live up to.

Freeze – outright Sun Belt title. Malzahn – outright Sun Belt title. Harsin slipped – tie for the Sun Belt title. All three won championships. All three led their respective teams to a bowl game and left. All three showed that it’s possible to keep reloading at Arkansas State.

However, it’s a new world in the Sun Belt. It’s a stronger league than the previous three coaches had to deal with, and it’s more dangerous with more landmines. With so much turnover on the offensive side, and so much firepower to deal with from several conference rivals, you can’t fault Anderson too much if there’s a bit of a fall off the program’s suddenly high perch. But if can’t be a big one.

The defense that was so average last year should be far better with eight starters returning led by the best secondary in the league. The front seven has the potential to be great, with the addition of Arkansas transfer A.J. Turner making the linebacking corps something special.

The offense was outstanding running the ball last year, tearing off 2,674 yards and 31 touchdowns, but it has to undergo a major overhaul losing four starters up front and needing new starting quarterback Fredi Knighten to be great. And that’s where Anderson comes in, working with the talented and experienced receiving corps and coaching up the new starting QB to shine early on with Tennessee and Miami coming up in September. But Anderson won’t be judged by the first month of the year.

Go to another bowl, keep the production going, and keeping this a winning program are all musts. Oh yeah …

Blake, win another conference championship.

What to watch for on offense: Expect the passing game to rock. Anderson knows how to get an offense going – his North Carolina attacks put up record-setting numbers – and he and offensive coordinator Walt Bell should be able to get even more out of a passing game that was fine and efficient, but didn’t always explode. ASU has been balanced offensively and tend to rock with its rushing game – that’s what happens when you have coaches like Gus Malzahn. Now there will be more of an emphasis on the air show, and that could mean huge numbers for QB Fredi Knighten and top target J.D. McKissic.

What to watch for on defense: The secondary should be special. It’s not like the Red Wolves shut passing games down, allowing 3,028 yards and 20 touchdowns, but it wasn’t awful outside of getting lit up by Corey Robinson and Troy for over 500 yards – it was more of a steady trickle, allowing 200 yards or more in nine of the last 11 games. This year, though, the secondary is where the star power is with corners Rocky Hayes and Artez Brown both destined for All-Sun Belt honors, and with Sterling Young a top free safety who should be one of the league’s best, too. If the pass rush can be steady, the defensive backs will do the rest.

The team will be far better if … the penalties stop. The Red Wolves had problems with the flags last year committing 94 penalties for 783 yards, getting worse and worse as the season went on. ASU committed ten or more in five of the final nine games with 20 in the last two and with 14 against Idaho in the middle of the year for 110 yards. This was an issue under Hugh Freeze committing 90 penalties, but ASU was better in 2012 with 64. Costly in the 34-31 loss to WKU with ten sins, the mistakes might be the difference in a game or two if they don’t stop.

The schedule: The Red Wolves will have some interesting early non-conference matchups with trips to Tennessee and Miami, and the home opener against Montana State won’t be a breeze. The Utah State game is like a low-level bowl matchup, but that ends all the pre-Sun Belt showdowns in mid-September. Beating ULM at home is a must with three straight road games to follow, but two of them are layups against Georgia State and Idaho wrapped around the possible Sun Belt title game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Three of the last four games are at home, getting another huge conference game with South Alabama to kick it off and with manageable dates with Appalachian State, Texas State and New Mexico State to close.

Best offensive player: Junior WR J.D. McKissic. It would’ve been center Bryce Giddens, but he needed to retire after head issues. A good punt returner and one of the nation’s elite kickoff returner, averaging 30 yards per pop and 8.5 per punt return, and was the team’s top target by far with 82 catches for 662 yards and four scores. While he has the pop and explosion to do more, he was more of a short-to-midrange target. With even more of an emphasis on the passing game, he could flirt with 100 catches, but he’ll be keyed on with key receivers Julian Jones and Allen Muse gone.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Qushaun Lee. The secondary will be where the stars are and should be the team’s biggest strength, and there are some nice pass rushers up front, but this is Lee’s defense in what should be another all-star season. Helped out by the addition of transfer A.J. Turner, Lee won’t have to do it all, but he should still be among the Sun Belt’s top tacklers and a force in the middle. He’s not big, but he’s quick, active and can hold up well. The potential is there for Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Fredi Knighten. Adam Kennedy was the typical Arkansas State quarterback last season hitting close to 70% of his passes for 2,363 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he finished second on the team with 524 rushing yards and four scores. Now it’s Knighten’s turn. The veteran saw time last year and did a good job, but can he be more of a passer and not just a good rushing threat? He’s not a big bomber, and he’s more of a baller, but with the improved defense and with eight starters gone off the offense, the quarterback has to shine – Knighten needs to be great.

The season will be a success if … the Red Wolves win the Sun Belt title. At this point, even with yet another coaching change, and even with eight starters gone on offense, and even with so many good, strong teams in the Sun Belt, and even with everyone gunning for them, if the Red Wolves don’t win the conference championship, the season will be a major disappointment.

Key game: Oct. 21 at Louisiana-Lafayette. South Alabama is strong, ULM will be dangerous, and Troy and Georgia Southern are going to be players, but the season could and should come down to the Tuesday night showdown with the Ragin’ Cajuns. ULL won last year 23-7 at ASU to make up for a 50-27 blowout from the Red Wolves in 2012. If this doesn’t decide the title, it’ll go a long way to determining the champion.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Arkansas State 94 for 783 yards – Opponents 70 for 556 yards
- Tackles for Loss: Opponents 91 for 317 yards – Arkansas State 71 for 297 yards
- Completion %: Arkansas State 69.3% - Opponents 55.2%

- 2014 Arkansas State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players