Date: Saturday, Aug. 31
Kickoff Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro, AR
Watch it here: ESPN+
Line: stAte -2.5, O/U: 56
Series: SMU 2-1
Much a-new about kickoff
The 2019 season arrives with its fair share of question marks hanging in the air for Arkansas State and SMU alike.
The Mustangs beat up on the Red Wolves two years ago, 44-21, but those were two entirely different teams.
Arkansas State is fresh off an 8-5 campaign with a bowl appearance, while SMU finished 5-7, including an 0-3 start to 2018, and is looking to build on head coach Sonny Dykes’ second year at the helm.
Still, both teams have similar issues: breaking in a new quarterback and trying to maintain some level of consistency on defense.
Whoever gains traction first under center will have the edge.
How many dimensions?
Texas transfer Shane Buechele is ready to start his Mustang career.
He inherits a passing attack that has seen talent move on to the NFL. There are a few wideout options that must be broken in [insert breaking in young horses joke here] and they will surely test the Red Wolves secondary often.
With the majority of the starters returning on the offensive line, the ground game will be essential to SMU’s success.
To help Buechele adjust, SMU must dig deeper for a quality running game. Last season, the Mustangs ran for 115.5 yards per game—good for only 118th in FBS.
Xavier Jones figures to be the first man up, but will most likely see shared carries if he doesn’t get off to a hot start.
The Red Wolves defense can capitalize by shutting down any semblance of a running game and force SMU to be one-dimensional. Look for Arkansas State defensive linemen Forrest Merrill and William Bradley-King to make an impact early.
Arkansas State’s secondary is a talented group as well. Jerry Jacobs, B.J. Edmonds and the rest of the back-end defenders will look to eliminate SMU’s big-play mentality.
Gone is the Sun Belt Player of the Year in Justice Hansen.
Enter: Luke Bonner.
Bonner looked good in the spring game. That growth must continue. Looking to get in a rhythm with All Sun Belt First Team receiver Kirk Merritt should be Bonner’s top priority.
SMU’s defense gave up 35.5 points per game last year—a finish of 110th in FBS.
Bonner will look to garner confidence early, so the Mustangs must make him uncomfortable in all passing downs. Defensive end Turner Coxe and Rice transfer Zach Abercrumbia will be called upon to ensure that comfort level stays low.
Their play up front will help free up linebacker Richard Moore—the team’s returning leading tackler —to disrupt the stAte offense.
Reigning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Marcel Murray will be counted on to provide short second and third downs. Also, he must be an effective safety valve to help grow Bonner’s confidence.
With head coach Blake Anderson on leave after the tragic loss of his beloved wife, Wendy, new defensive coordinator David Duggan steps in as interim head coach.
How the coaching staff and players adjust in-game will be something to watch.
It’s unfair to weigh how 18- to 22-year-olds will do emotionally with all that has gone on.
They’ll undoubtedly play hard for Blake, Wendy and the rest of the Andersons.
The defense dominates early and sees the Red Wolves through on Saturday.