Arkansas State finally learned the benefits of being able to keep a coach for more than one season. After one-year stands with Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin, the Red Wolves were able to go into a season with a second-year coach in Blake Anderson. The result was a dominating Sun Belt season. Arkansas State went 8-0 in the conference, beating Sun Belt opponents by more than three touchdowns per game. Arkansas State might not be as dominant as it replaces a starting quarterback and offensive coordinator, but the continuity at head coach should ease the transition.
Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter:
Previewing Arkansas State’s Offense for 2016
The Red Wolves have plenty to sort out after losing their offensive coordinator and key skill players from a unit that led the Sun Belt in scoring. Their spread attack will undergo only subtle changes, coach Blake Anderson says, and they may play at an even faster pace under new coordinator Buster Faulkner, Middle Tennessee’s play-caller the last four-plus seasons.
Sophomore transfer Justice Hansen, a former Oklahoma recruit, is the leading candidate to replace Fredi Knighten at quarterback. Hansen is an accurate passer who completed more than 77 percent of his attempts in junior college and is mobile enough to make plays on the run. Chad Voytik - a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh - will push Hansen for the starting job.
Whoever takes snaps will operate behind an experienced line that features All-Sun Belt selections Colton Jackson and Jemar Clark.
ASU rotates running backs frequently. Johnston White and Warren Wand, last year’s backups, played enough to combine for 1,323 yards and 19 touchdowns. White is an effective if undersized short-yardage back who scored 14 touchdowns last year, while the 5'5" Wand offers an elusive change of pace. Junior college transfer Armond Weh-Weh, who began his career at Texas Tech, also figures to have a role.
Texas transfer Kendall Sanders and TCU transfer Cameron Echols-Luper join key returnees Chris Murray and Dijon Paschal in a swift, if mostly unproven, receiving corps. ASU will try to utilize Echols-Luper’s speed.
Previewing Arkansas State’s Defense for 2016
, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
ASU led the FBS with eight defensive TDs and tied for second in the country with 34 turnovers gained, including a national-best 26 interceptions. While duplicating those numbers will be difficult, ASU returns key players from a unit that made dramatic improvement in stopping the run. The Red Wolves made big plays on the back end but gave up a bunch, too, yielding 267.8 passing yards per game.
Sun Belt sacks leader Ja’Von Rolland-Jones returns at end, and nose tackle Waylon Roberson, an effective run-stopper, plugs the middle. The Red Wolves, who add Alabama transfer Dee Liner to the mix, have enough line depth to rotate frequently.
Linebackers Khari Lain and Xavier Woodson-Luster, who combined for 149 tackles last season, make up for being undersized with athletic ability and a knack for being around the ball. ASU welcomes back redshirt freshman Tajhea Chambers, who started the first two games at linebacker — and had 2.5 sacks against USC — before suffering a knee injury.
Replacing top cornerback Rocky Hayes is a key in the secondary, where Cody Brown leads an experienced group of safeties. Brown was integral to ASU’s improvement against the run, making 65 tackles, and was active on the back end with three interceptions.
Previewing Arkansas State’s Specialists for 2016
Explosive return specialist J.D. McKissic is gone, but the Red Wolves still have big-play potential. Blaise Taylor, who returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns last season, is one of the best in the Sun Belt. Echols-Luper was among the Big 12 punt return leaders in two seasons at TCU. J.D. Houston, who made 12-of-14 field goals last season, is reliable up to 40 yards. ASU’s biggest concern is replacing punter/kickoff man Luke Ferguson.
Anderson led a team recruited primarily by four other coaches to 16 victories and two bowls in his first two seasons. He patched holes on defense with transfers last season as ASU won its fourth Sun Belt championship in five seasons. This year’s unknowns are on the other side of the ball. The Red Wolves have enough talent to contend in the Sun Belt, but they also have questions to answer on offense before making plans for a sixth straight bowl game.