Arkansas State opens the 2017 season in Lincoln Nebraska against the Cornhuskers on BIG 10 television Saturday night at 7pm CST. With so much discussion about turning around the recent OOC woes for the Red Wolves, it will be interesting to see if this year will start differently for Blake Anderson’s squad.
I reached out to Brian Towle (@BrianRTowle) of SB Nation’s Corn Nation to get some insight on the Huskers and what Red Wolves fans can expect on Saturday night. After exchanging multiple messages via tele facsimile, here's what I got. Enjoy.
Arkansas State is no stranger to playing in large venues, what is unique about playing in Lincoln against the 'Huskers?
Brian Towle: The whole “greatest fans in College Football” thing that folks will try to sell. That being said, a stadium that’s been sold out since the 60’s is no joke. Arkansas State shouldn’t be scared to play in this environment, but there will be first game jitters for sure on both sides of the ball.
There seems to be an interesting mix of players trying to take the QB1 spot going into the season opener, who will take the initial snaps and will there be another face appear in that game?
Brian: Tulane transfer Tanner Lee got the QB1 nod from Mike Riley & OC Danny Langsdorf just after spring football ended. While he’s the top guy, he’s not the only talented one. E11 finalist Patrick O’Brien & touted true Freshman Tristan Gebbia is behind Lee, but you’ll only see Gebbia if Lee gets a big time injury early in the season. The thought on Lee is that he has a NFL caliber arm & head, but needs better protection than he got with the Green Wave. Now, granted, his numbers in that offense at Tulane were not great at all. However, having a full year to take in the Riley/Langsdorf offense along with several WR/TE’s that he worked with on the scout team last year should help the cause.
The 'Huskers have a new DC in Bob Diaco (formerly HC at UCONN), 2 new defensive coaches, and a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4. What are the thoughts on how good this unit can be in '17 with all this change.
Brian: This defense will struggle early in the season, but with the passage of time this D should get better. Diaco won’t bail on the 4-3 totally, as Nebraska will have to get creative to get to the QB without blitzing. The back 7-8 will be the ones that dictate how good this game goes for Nebraska. The talent level at linebacker has gotten a big boost the past couple of years, and there are good yet very green players in the secondary.
Who is one player on both sides of the ball that ASU fans should keep an eye on when the game kicks off?
Brian: On offense, I would watch true Freshman Tyjon Lindsey. He’s the prime candidate for a lot of playing time at wide out, and the way the Bishop Gorman product can stretch the field is uncanny. Nebraska had a good longball WR in Alonzo Moore last year, and Tyjon is faster with better playmaking capabilities. On defense, watch who plays nose guard for Nebraska. Mick Stoltenberg is set to start, but the Huskers are going to trust 2 true frosh in Damion Daniels and Deontre Thomas to back him up. These 3 are big guys, but they’re going to have to be earth movers for Nebraska to stop the inside run.
What moment, play, or stat during the game would signal to Nebraska fans that things are not going their way?
Brian: I think Nebraska scoring first and getting out to a 2 score lead would be the best thing for this team. Nebraska really doesn’t want to go into the 4th with a tight game, wondering who will make a play. Granted, there’s a big game in Eugene vs. the Oregon Ducks next week, but Nebraska needs a confidence building win that’s also comfortable to get some 2’s in to get action.
After going 15-11 in his first two seasons, is there added pressure on HC Mike Riley to perform to a higher level this year?
Brian: There is pressure on Riley, but I also think it’s more pressure that Riley has self-induced in a way. He fired his best buddy in DC Mark Banker for Bob Diaco, and given more responsibility to not only players but to coaches and his support staff to run camp. According to Riley, this has been a relatively stress free camp. You have players taking control and accountability, which seemed to be an issue last season at times. Nebraska has to show that, even with a death trap schedule, there is a progression coming along. Folks won’t mind regression per se if the W/L record gets skewed due to luck like ’15. However, if Nebraska doesn’t get better on D along with issues on offense, then there’s a problem in Lincoln.