Blake Anderson maintained Arkansas State's streak of winning seasons and bowl berths in his first year at the helm. The Red Wolves went 7-6 under their rookie head coach, stretching both their string of winning seasons and bowl appearances (all of them to the GoDaddy Bowl) to four. Anderson has his sights set even higher in 2015, as Arkansas State enters the season the favorites in the Sun Belt on the strength of an offense that returns nine starters.
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Previewing Arkansas State’s Offense for 2015
Senior quarterback Fredi Knighten and eight other starters return after setting ASU records for points and total offense in their first season in Blake Anderson’s fast-paced system. Speed makes Knighten dangerous on the move, and he was an accurate passer in his first year as a starter, completing 62 percent of his attempts and accounting for 4,000-plus yards of total offense.
Injuries cost senior running back Michael Gordon two games last season, yet he finished with 1,100 yards while averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Sophomore Johnston White was dependable in a backup role, but the Red Wolves missed Gordon’s big-play ability when he was out. A freshman will have an opportunity to play his way into the rotation.
The top six receivers return, led by Tres Houston, J.D. McKissic and Dijon Paschal. One of the Sun Belt’s most dynamic players, McKissic was hampered by injuries last fall after catching 185 passes in his first two seasons. Houston and Paschal are tall targets on the perimeter, while 6'5" tight end Darion Griswold provides versatility at his position.
The Red Wolves spent spring practice shuffling their offensive line, especially at the interior positions. ASU didn’t run the ball effectively enough in short-yardage or goal-line situations to suit Anderson, who stressed a more physical approach in the spring.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Arkansas State’s Defense for 2015
ASU’s defensive line deficiencies were exposed in the second half of the season. Opponents scored 28 rushing touchdowns over the final seven games, including seven by Toledo in the GoDaddy Bowl, while averaging 283 rushing yards during that span. The Red Wolves are counting on transfers Robert Mondie, Waylon Roberson and Jake Swalley to help sophomore Chuks Ota shore up the interior line. Mondie joined his brother Devin, a starting offensive lineman, at ASU when UAB dropped football. Roberson and Swalley are junior college transfers who also moved up the depth chart quickly in the spring. ASU has proven talent at end with senior Chris Stone and sophomore Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who combined for 15.5 sacks last season.
Xavier Woodson, the Red Wolves’ second-leading tackler last year with 95, moves into a leadership role at linebacker with the departure of All-Sun Belt linebacker Qushaun Lee.
While the secondary suffered significant losses, the Red Wolves return two safeties (Chris Humes and Charleston Girley) who were starters before suffering injuries early last season. Rocky Hayes could be among the league’s best cornerbacks, and junior college transfers Cody Brown and Allen Sentimore will contribute at safety.
Previewing Arkansas State’s Specialists for 2015
Extra points and field goals were an adventure for the Red Wolves, who missed eight PATs and made only 61 percent of their field-goal attempts. Luke Ferguson (8-of-15 last season) and several newcomers will compete for the job in the fall. Ferguson was more consistent as a punter, averaging 41 yards while placing 22 punts inside the 20-yard line. Blaise Taylor took over on punt returns as a true freshman, averaging 8.1 yards, and is one of several possibilities on kickoff returns.
The Red Wolves’ depth chart started to show the effects of four coaching changes in four seasons last fall. ASU was critically thin in key areas, starting with the defensive line, before a rash of season-ending injuries made matters worse. Still, there was enough talent on hand to pull out seven victories and make a fourth straight bowl trip. Anderson’s second season starts with a difficult non-conference schedule, but ASU won’t face defending Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern in conference play. While the Red Wolves should put up plenty of points, they will have to improve defensively to maximize their potential.