WHO: Arkansas State 4-3 (2-1) at Idaho 1-6 (1-4)
WHEN: Saturday, November 1, 5PM, ESPN 3
WHERE: Kibbie Dome
WEATHER: 45°/34° 70% rain
LINE: Arkansas State -14.5 (opened -15.5)
The Red Wolves travel to Moscow this week, and I suppose that's where we're supposed to include the state abbreviation. Because it's Idaho's Moscow, not Vladimir Putin's. Arkansas State gets to play the Vandals after an 11-day layoff following a brutal loss in Lafayette and-get this-I hear they might have worked on fixing the run defense. The Vandals are reeling in 2014 and will want to avenge last year's 48-24 drubbing during their visit to Jonesboro-that's a nice thought, but you need more than thoughts in football.
This is somehow Idaho's sixth conference game already this year, but only A-State's fourth. There is a method to the madness of the Sun Belt Conference, but unfortunately us mere mortals aren't quite privy to it. We can only need and play along. And write #FunBelt. For Sunday afternoon, there's rain on the forecast, but the Kibbie Dome is, yep, a dome. If the weather should have no bearing on the result, let's take a look at a few of the things and players that will.
ARKANSAS STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fredi Knighten, JR Quarterback: Fredi Knighten lived up to his poorly chosen nickname of Reverse Kid CuDi on his 60-yard rushing touchdown against Louisiana-it's "Good Night" for the defense and that's any time there's a hint of daylight. (Hey, a bad pun is a bad pun!) The first-year starter is up to No. 28 in the FBS in total offense, right alongside bigger names like Blake Sims (i.e. No. 31) and would-be Heisman candidate Rakeem Cato. Yet, having an explosive offense can be a problem-it's fine to score often, and easily, but one-play drives only mean your defense is coming right back on the field. And when that defense is struggling, then it's a problem.
Andrew Tryon, SR Cornerback: Chico has a tall order this week in Moscow, as he'll be asked to stop the most prolific QB/WR combo in the Sun Belt. The good news for A-State fans is that the senior just might be up to the task-his seven passes defended on the season is good for a tie for 79th place in the country. Of course, stopping the Vandals will be a team effort, etc. etc., but this would be a good time for Chico to decide to not get ejected from the game as it happened 11 days ago.
Chris Stone, JR Defensive End: In 2014, Chris Stone has shown he has the stones to dominate in the Sun Belt, with a team-leading 4.5 sacks. (I tried with all my might to not go for the low-hanging fruit, but sometimes life just tells you to have your moment. And write the dumb pun.) The junior defensive end is part of what had been, until the Lafayette game, a dominant defensive line. When he doesn't reach the quarterback, Stone is versatile enough to influence plays in other ways-he has two passes defended and 19 total tackles, good numbers for a defensive end. You could say he's leaving no stone unturned. (Is that one better?) Just don't ask him to complete a pass on a fake punt and all should be fine.
IDAHO PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matt Linehan, FR Quarterback: The redshirt freshman has been amazing this season, especially if you overlook his 11 interceptions-and that's what I did when I wrote that first sentence. Matt Linehan is second in the Sun Belt for passing yards per game and leading the 18th best passing offense in the US, so he should be fine against an A-State pass defense that has been vulnerable at times. More touchdowns and fewer interceptions, but you could say that about anyone.
Joshua McCain, SR Wide Receiver: The 2014 season is Joshua McCain's last rodeo (and his first as a receiver) and he's certainly making the most of it. The senior is eighth nationally with almost 115 yards per game, 13th for total yards, 12th for touchdowns and ninth for receptions per game. Someone with an even worse sense of humor than mine would write he's been vandalizing secondaries.
HOW TO BEAT THE RED WOLVES:
FORCE BAD A-STATE TRICK PLAYS: Well there's no way that A-State head coach Blake Anderson would ever stop trotting out trick plays, but you don't need him to. The Lafayette game proved that not all trick plays are equals-for example, Chris Stone throwing a pass to Luke Ferguson is a bad trick play. And more of these bad trick plays would be great for Idaho.
PROVE THAT THE RUN DEFENSE PROBLEMS ARE REAL: For all the problems that the A-State defense had at Cajun Field, the pass defense wasn't one of them, limiting Terrance Broadway to just 102 yards through the air. (But, I guess, if you're the Ragin' Cajuns, why bother throwing the ball when you're rushing at will, right?) While the rush defense has been great all season, save for one hiccup, the pass defense has been less steady. But if the Vandals ever want to start showing that they can rush the football, this week is the right time to start.
HOW TO BEAT THE VANDALS:
STOP THE PASS: That's basically all, literally. The Vandals rank 90th nationally in points for, 113th in points allowed, 108th in rushing yards and... 18th in passing yards. What's the expression? Do this thing and you're halfway there? Well against Idaho, if you stop the pass you're probably three-quarters of the way to a win. But of course-and here comes another cliché-that's easier said than done.
PLAY FOR THE WIN: Not to go all Herman Edwards on my readers, but the Vandals will play with the belief that the game is theirs to win. They are home and have a prolific passing attack that is perfect to take advantage of the weakest link of the A-State defense. Most importantly, there is only one Sun Belt head coach who is more bonkers than A-State's Anderson, and it's Idaho's Paul Petrino. In seven games, he's gone for it on fourth down a whopping 15 times.
This has all the makings of a high-scoring shootout and here I ask, what one thing in the world makes more vandalism than a wolf-be it red, or of another color? (The answer is nothing. Nothing is scarier than a red wolf.) The Red Wolves have also been road warriors, losing only two of its 13 Sun Belt road games since the 2011 season. Showing they can still compete for the conference title has to start today. They would need help, a whole lot of help, but the dream for a four-peat is still technically alive. As long as that dream remains, then they'll howl and turn others' dreams into nightmares. Idaho keeps it close for some time, but A-State pulls away in the fourth quarter. The Red Wolves win 41-28.