The Arkansas State Red Wolves head into their second game of the season on Saturday, as they make the trip to Manhattan, Kansas, to take on the Kansas State Wildcats. Head coach Blake Anderson will be hoping for a more positive outcome than the 37-24 loss his team suffered at Memphis in last Saturday's opener.
Kansas State will no doubt be fired up for its first game and ready to get back to football after a tumultuous offseason that included a player boycott in response to a tweet from another student.
On the field, the Wildcats are once again expected to be a tough out, thanks to the winning culture head coach Chris Klieman brought and installed from North Dakota State last season. Getting off on the right foot is paramount in a season that almost didn't happen, and any hiccups will be magnified.
Arkansas State at Kansas State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas State -10.5
When Arkansas State Has the Ball
The Red Wolves went with two quarterbacks a week ago, and neither one had a banner day. That needs to change if they want to pull off the upset. Both Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher were accurate on short throws, but explosive, game-breaking plays were few and far between. Ideally, one of the two wins the job outright and provides a bit of consistency to the offense, but that does not appear to be in the cards.
Outside of the two-quarterback system, the Red Wolves has a couple of skill players who can do damage if the Kansas State defense is caught sleeping. Running back Isaiah Azubuike is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and wide receiver Johnathan Adams Jr. has a knack for being able to get open. Containing that duo will be of the utmost importance for Kansas State.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
The Wildcat offenses runs through dual-threat quarterback Skylar Thompson. The senior accounted for 23 total touchdowns last season — 11 of which were on the ground. The plan is for him to air it out a bit more in 2020 and turn the Kansas State offense into more of a passing threat.
When Thompson looks downfield, he'll have a familiar target in Malik Knowles, the team's top returning receiver. He'll also have Northern Iowa grad transfer Briley Moore — one of the top receivers at the FCS level a season ago — at his disposal.
If Klieman wants his offense to improve in the passing attack, this is the game to fine-tune things in that department. Memphis quarterback Brady White completed 72 percent of his passes and tossed four scores against Arkansas State last weekend. The Wildcat staff would love to see Thompson match those numbers.
Kansas State is a double-digit favorite, but this is not an Arkansas State team that's going to roll over. Expect a low-scoring contest early as the Wildcats struggle to find their rhythm on offense out of the gate, especially considering the team has had to deal with several active cases of COVID-19 within the team. Reportedly, two of the position groups most impacted by this have been wide receivers and offensive line, so it will be interesting to see how both units function. Eventually, Kansas State's line, unless the depth chart is significantly compromised, should take over the game. Look for the Wildcats to establish the run in the second quarter and then really start airing it out in the third.
Arkansas State might have a tough time moving the ball against a fairly experienced Kansas State defensive unit. New defensive coordinator and former defensive backs coach Joe Klanderman inherited a seasoned unit, and they'll be looking to make a statement to the rest of the Big 12.
In the end, the Wildcats should cruise with a sound win in this one as they prepare for a tough Big 12 slate. Arkansas State likely starts the season with two respectable losses, but the Red Wolves still have 10 more games to turn the 2020 season into a positive one.
Prediction: Kansas State 38, Arkansas State 13
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott