Coach Blake Anderson placed an offseason emphasis on accountability after the Arkansas State Red Wolves watched a Sun Belt title and a bowl victory slip away last season despite an offense that set five school records. The Red Wolves could be even more explosive in Justice Hansen's final season at quarterback.
Previewing Arkansas State Football's Offense for 2018
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Arkansas State featured the Sun Belt's most prolific passing attack in 2017 as coach Blake Anderson took over play-calling duties. The Red Wolves led the league (and ranked fifth in FBS) by throwing for 342.2 yards per game in a fast-paced system. Supported by an imposing receiving corps, quarterback Justice Hansen is poised for another banner season. Hansen passed for 3,967 yards and 37 touchdowns last year, easily setting school records, and the 6'4" senior is also capable of making plays on scrambles or designed runs.
Hansen's go-to receiver late last season was 6'6" senior Justin McInnis, who caught 22 passes for 409 yards in the final three games. Omar Bayless, a 6'3" junior who caught six TD passes, has a knack for making difficult plays. Other tall targets include 6'5" senior Kendrick Edwards and 6'4" Oklahoma transfer Dahu Green, described by Anderson as "an NFL-caliber player."
The backfield features 5'5" senior Warren Wand, a solid running back who contributed 860 all-purpose yards in 10 games. Armond Weh-Weh, a 214-pound senior who was given an additional season because of injuries, could provide a bigger option in the backfield.
While the Red Wolves led the Sun Belt in scoring and often moved the ball easily between the 20s, their offense was among the nation's least efficient in the red zone. ASU struggled to gain yardage in obvious running situations, an issue Anderson hopes to correct with four starters returning on the offensive line, including All-Sun Belt tackle Lanard Bonner.
Previewing Arkansas State Football's Defense for 2018
The Red Wolves suffered key losses at each level of their defense after ranking third in the Sun Belt in yards allowed and fourth in scoring defense. The departures include Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, who finished his career second among FBS players in total sacks.
Ironically, other vacancies might prove harder to fill than the hole Rolland-Jones left at end. Senior Ronheen Bingham, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds in the spring, had five sacks to earn second-team All-SBC honors in a part-time role last season. The Red Wolves remain deep at end and are counting on Ball State transfer Kevin Thurmon to be disruptive at tackle. Senior Christian Howard, a key contributor last season at tackle, moved to end in the spring.
The answers aren't as obvious at linebacker. Tajhea Chambers is in line for a key role, but the Red Wolves figure to try several combinations. Four different players started last season at outside linebacker, a position eventually held by converted safety Darreon Jackson.
ASU features one of the Sun Belt's best defensive backs in senior nickel safety Justin Clifton, and junior strong safety B.J. Edmonds made huge strides last fall. The Red Wolves are lacking experience at cornerback, however, after losing three seniors who started every game in 2017.
Previewing Arkansas State Football's Specialists for 2018
ASU has a gifted punter in Cody Grace, who averaged 41.1 yards and had only four punts returned out of 49 last season. Placekicker Sawyer Williams was 16-of-22 on field goals, though just 4-of-9 from 30-39 yards.
If the Red Wolves plug a few holes on defense and clean up some of the miscues, their chances of reaching the Sun Belt title game are strong. "They've got a lot of guys back, which makes them the scariest team in the Sun Belt," says one Sun Belt assistant. "Their receivers could start in any league. They are that good."