Texas State has had a trying season under new head coach Everett Withers. After losing a plethora of players up and down the lineup, this year’s team just hasn’t had the talent or experience to compete with its Sun Belt foes, stumbling to an 0-7 conference record to this point. At this stage of the season the main focus for the Bobcats is figuring out what they have on their roster moving forward.
Arkansas State, on the other hand, is fighting to defend its Sun Belt title. After losing to UL Lafayette last week, the Red Wolves conceded at least a share of the championship to Appalachian State. Arkansas State and Troy both have an opportunity to become co-champions with victories this week.
The “Border Brawl” began in 2013, with Arkansas State holding the edge 2-1. A victory for the Red Wolves would be the second straight title-clinching win in this rivalry.
Arkansas State at Texas State
Kickoff: Sat., Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Arkansas State -23
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas State’s Quarterback Carousel
Tyler Jones has been Texas State’s quarterback for the vast majority of this season. The senior has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,168 yards, 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Last week against Troy, however, Withers decided to replace his QB with two younger players who will be competing for the starting job next year. Junior Eddie Printz and sophomore Connor White each had their turn, with both signal-callers throwing interceptions while Printz added a touchdown.
It remains to be seen who will be under center for the Bobcats on Saturday. This would be Jones’ final game, so Withers may decide to give him one last start at home. However, particularly if the game gets out of hand, it could be another opportunity to give some younger players experience.
2. Red Wolves’ Offensive Balance
Arkansas State has had a successful Sun Belt campaign partially because of its ability to show balance on offense. The unit averages 251.3 passing and 143.4 rushing yards per game. The Red Wolves are getting contributions from a variety of players. The running back tandem of Warren Wand and Johnston White has been effective, combining for more than 1,100 rushing yards with 10 TDs. Quarterback Justice Hansen has done a good job distributing the ball, as five different Arkansas State players enter this game with at least 20 receptions. Texas State will have a hard enough time with the talent level of the Red Wolves, but the ability to incorporate so many different players will mean that the Bobcats have a monumental task ahead of them defensively.
3. Chinks in the Defensive Armor
Arkansas State built its six-game winning streak largely on the back of its defense, which gives up only 22.9 points per game (third in Sun Belt, 32nd in the FBS). In fact, opponents were held to 10 or fewer points three times during that run. However, there are two areas that Texas State can exploit if it hopes to have a chance of pulling off the upset.
While the Red Wolves have been stingy on the scoreboard and lead the conference in sacks, turnovers have been an issue. The defense is tied for seventh in takeaways and the team’s turnover differential is just plus-1. One turnover can do the work of multiple defensive stops, so this is certainly an area where Texas State can take advantage.
Additionally, Arkansas State’s defense has had some trouble in the red zone. The Red Wolves are fifth in the Sun Belt (81.1 percent), but UL Lafayette’s success in that area (10 points on two trips) was the difference in last week’s game. Texas State’s offense could have trouble moving the ball against the Red Wolves, but if the Bobcats can string together enough plays to get in scoring position, it could put more pressure on Arkansas State.
By all indications this game shouldn’t be much of a contest. Texas State is dead last in the Sun Belt in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and turnover margin while Arkansas State is among the leaders in most categories. The Red Wolves will come out with hunger and a share of the conference title on the line while the Bobcats will be taking a look at some young players who may be starting next year. There’s always the possibility of the unexpected, but this game just doesn’t feel like one of those.
Prediction: Arkansas State 45, Texas State 14
(Top photo courtesy of www.astateredwolves.com)