Location: Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro, AR
Date: Thursday, October 21
Time: 6:30 p.m. CST
Records: , Arkansas St 1-5 (0-2 SBC), Louisiana 5-1 (3-0 SBC)
Betting Line: Louisiana -18.0, O/U 70
Last Meeting: Louisiana 27, Arkansas State 20 (November 7, 2020)
“They don’t like us, we don’t like them”
This quote comes from former Arkansas State and current Utah State head coach Blake Anderson, but it still rings true.
No love will be lost Thursday night in Jonesboro.
Louisiana (5-1, 3-0 SBC) will look to lock in their spot in their 4th consecutive Sun Belt Conference championship game. However, Arkansas State (1-5, 0-2 SBC) and its top passing attack look to play spoiler on primetime TV.
Louisiana holds a 7-4 record over the Red Wolves in the last 11 meetings, including being victorious in each meeting under Billy Napier.
Coming off of their best performance of the season (maybe of the Billy Napier era) over App State 41-13 last week, the Cajuns will now focus their attention back to the West division and one of their storied rivals.
Louisiana’s domination of App State came as a big surprise to many people. After a season-opening loss to Texas, the Cajuns were barely able to beat FCS Nicholls St, Georgia Southern, and South Alabama in games they were favored. Their only dominant win before this was the 49-14 win over Ohio on September 16.
Levi Lewis had one of the best games of his career, and his stat line was anything but stellar. However, he was efficient, made great decisions in the pocket, and made plays that kept drives alive and put Louisiana in position to score. From there, he let Montrell Johnson, Chris Smith, and himself do the rest, giving App State their worst defeat since joining the Sun Belt in 2014.
Louisiana will look to attack what is statistically the worst defense in all of FBS. The Red Wolves are allowing 47 points per game from their opponents, while giving up 584 total yards of offense a game, 270 of that on the ground. Those numbers play right into the game plan that Billy Napier strives on: run the ball, and then the passing game opens up for a balanced attack. The Cajuns will put on a show under the lights in Jonesboro.
Injury wise for the Cajuns, nothing changed from last week. Almendares, Rubio, and Jax Harrington will miss time as well as Dalvin Hutchinson and Logan Newell.
2021 has been a comedy of errors for the Red Wolves. Blake Anderson went to Utah State at the end of last season, and Arkansas State brought in Butch Jones to lead the new regime. Jones, who has SEC coaching experience and some success in his time at Tennessee, was an analyst on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama (but come on, who wasn’t?). After a season-opening win over FCS Central Arkansas, things have gone downhill in Jonesboro. Five straight losses to go along with historically bad stats defensively leads to some head scratching questions from the fanbase.
But what are the pros for this team? I talked to Chase Gage of KAIT 8 in Jonesboro about that.
“If you’re looking for pros for A-State, there are two. One, Layne Hatcher will be starting at QB. Of course we want James Blackman healthy as soon as possible, but in the meantime, it’ll be nice to see what Hatcher can do with a full game. I still think he’s the best QB for the job. The other pro is that we’re coming off a bye week. This is a beat up team that needs rest.” said Gage.
However, he also feels there are cons with this program. And he didn’t hold back.
“We’re playing one of the best G5 teams in the country on national television.” Gage says. “They hung 40 on App State. They might hang 100 on us. At our place.”
Overall, he still feels like anything is possible in this cutthroat rivalry series.
Also, a newly pieced together O-Line will be an interesting thing to keep your eyes on in this matchup. Can switching guys around in the trenches fix some of the Red Wolves’ problems? We’ll see.
Injury status for the Red Wolves is unknown due to Butch Jones keeping that information close to the vest.
“Red Wolves and Cajuns are Sun Belt Original Gangstas that have helped build the conference through thick and thin. Watching these teams play is like watching two ancient god-beasts locking horns for control of the pride.”
Jeremy Harper, former Underdog writer and current writer for HowlRaiser.com and the host of the FunBelt podcast, gives his thoughts on this rivalry with that quote, and I don’t disagree with him.
However, a storyline in this game will be who scores more. According to Kara Richey from 95.3 the Ticket and 107.9 KFIN in Jonesboro, “The best chance for the Red Wolves to get a win is in a shoot out, so the offense will have to be on their game”, says Richey. “There are no concerns with backup QB Layne Hatcher stepping in for James Blackman, but a somewhat patchwork o-line will have to play their best game of the season. Wide receivers will have to eliminate the focus drops that have plagued them all year, and a non-existent run game is going to have to materialize.”
Scott Watkins of Sun Belt Pages magazine thinks Louisiana wins handedly on Thursday. I don’t disagree with him, but I’ll say that Arkansas State will do some things well offensively. In the end, Louisiana dominates on the ground and comes away with a big win over a big rival in the Sun Belt.
Louisiana 49, Arkansas St 21