I spoke to RedWolfReport Publisher Luke Matheson to get the inside scoop on Arkansas State before this week's matchup against SMU.
1: What are the biggest things you have taken away from Arkansas State early in the season?
This is a team full of talent due to multiple transfer players who are now eligible. You have QB Justice Hansen who originally signed with Oklahoma, WR Kendrick Edwards who originally signed with Arkansas, DL Dee Liner who originally signed with Alabama, and DB's Michael Johnson who originally signed with Boise State and Jeff Gibson who originally signed with Clemson. Hansen led the Red Wolves to a Sun Belt title and win in the Cure Bowl over UCF, and has played well in the two games so far this season.Edwards has created mismatches this year, to include against Nebraska. Liner anchors the defensive line, and Michael Johnson created his first turnover as a Red Wolf last week against UAPB. There is talent on this team, and enough talent to win yet another Sun Belt title. They just have to keep working together and improving each week to reach the goals that they have.
2: What corrections will Arkansas State need to make heading into Saturday's game?
They came out rusty against UAPB last week, and had some missed opportunities that Blake Anderson wasn't happy about. I think it was the combination of missing the week two game due to Hurricane Irma keeping Miami from coming to Jonesboro, and I also believe that the team was looking forward to SMU. They knew they were bigger, faster, and more physical than UAPB, so I really think they were looking forward to Saturday's game.
3: Who has stood out on offense?
Justice Hansen broke his career high for touchdown passes against UAPB, throwing five in that game. He performed well against Nebraska as well. Kendrick Edwards has been solid at wide receiver, as has true freshman receiver Jonathan Adams. Warren Wand and Johnston White have been good at running back again this year and will be used heavily throughout the season. Receiver Dijon Paschal has been a good possession receiver, but got banged up against UAPB. He will be questionable this week, but Anderson believes he will most likely play.
4: Who has stood out on defense?
You can't talk A-State defense without talking about defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones - the all time Sun Belt Conference sack leader. He is just 13 sacks away from breaking the national record as well. He is big and fast off of the end, and gives opposing offenses fits. Kyle Wilson at linebacker has been huge this year. He's forced two fumbles, has three sacks, and an interception. Defensive back Blaise Taylor has an interception to his credit this year, and returned a punt for a touchdown against Nebraska. UAPB kicked the ball away from Taylor last week, but he was still able to get to the ball and make some plays. He is very dangerous on punt return.
5: What are the biggest concerns for Arkansas State heading into the game?
Blake Anderson wants to see more focus out of his team. On paper they are good enough to have a very special year, and they believe this is the best team they have had since the coaching staff has been in Jonesboro. Of course you have to play the game on the field, and things on paper don't always matter. That is what the coaching staff is preaching to this team. The team does feel like they left one on the field against Nebraska, and feel that they should have won that game. They have this game circled, and several players have said this is the game that they know they have to send a message in since Miami cancelled on them. If they can clean up the mistakes they made last week, and play with focus, this is going to be a dangerous team for the rest of the season.
Bonus: What are your predictions for the game?
I think it is going to be a fun game to watch, for starters. You have two explosive offenses facing each other, so we very well could see a score-fest. Arkansas State has put up close to 500 yards of offense against both of their opponents this year, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I think this one will come down to which defense can make just enough plays to slow down the other offense, and the A-State defense is looking for a challenge. They led the country two years ago in forced turnovers and points off of turnovers, and was at the top of the country in the same last year. They created five turnovers last week, and look to build on that moving forward. At the end of the day I think this is going to be a close game. Arkansas State 31, SMU 28